We’re welcoming Erik Wesner, author of Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, back to the Timber to Table blog today, to tell us a little bit more about Amish transportation – horse and buggy, and beyond!
Erik, you’re up!
As you probably know, Amish people don’t drive cars. But they still have to get from here to there—and sometimes here to there can be quite a distance. Below, we take a look at the different forms of transportation used by the Amish, for both short and long-distance travel.
The Horse and Buggy
The horse and buggy are the first thing that come to mind when we think Amish transportation. Amish use the buggy for travel to church on Sunday, excursions to town, and other longer journeys, especially when needing to take the family along. The buggy is a widely-recognized symbol of the Amish, and an essential part of Amish identity.
Amish households will own a number of buggies, especially if they have adolescent boys (age 16 and older), who typically receive a buggy of their own around the time they begin “going with the youth.” Some communities rely on the buggy more than others. Generally speaking, in smaller, more traditional settlements, Amish are more apt to rely on buggy transport (in larger, more progressive places, necessity and church rules may encourage more travel by hired driver).
Amish use other horse-drawn travel besides the classic closed-top buggy, such as open carriages and pony carts (often driven by children). A few Amish use the tractor as a form of transportation, but most do not.
Amish Transportation: Foot Power
Hitching up a buggy can be a hassle, especially if you’re not going too far. Amish rely on old-fashioned leg power to go shorter distances. This may mean simply walking from Point A to B. Amish also use bicycles in many communities. Men may use them to travel to work; they’re also popular for recreation. In some places, such as Lancaster County or Allen County, Indiana, bicycles are not permitted, though push scooters are common in this areas. Another form of foot-driven transportation common in Lancaster County are rollerblades, typically used by children and youth.
Amish Transportation: Hired Drivers
A third commonly-seen transportation option is to hire a non-Amish person as a driver. This may be done for various purposes—for a monthly trip to a large supermarket to purchase groceries, or to travel to and from a workplace, as in the case of Amish who work at Pennsylvania Dutch markets. Called “Amish taxis”, these are often 15-passenger vans, and rides will typically be shared with other Amish people. Additionally, some business owners will hire at least one non-Amish employee able to drive his own vehicle (or a leased vehicle) in order to transport Amish workers (this is common in the construction industry).
Some Amish need to travel even longer distances, and may hire a driver to take them to another community, out of state, or on a pleasure trip. Amish taxi drivers can be in great demand in some communities. Many make driving the Amish a full-time job.
Besides hiring drivers, Amish will ride with non-Amish friends and acquaintances if the opportunity arises. Not all Amish permit hiring drivers for errands and other trips. The plainest Amish communities forbid the practice, except for in emergency situations. As a result they are more dependent on the next category of transport when wanting to travel long distances.
Amish Transportation: Mass Transit
If you’ve traveled Amtrak between, say, Lancaster, PA, and New York City, you may have seen Amish people aboard. Amish use commuter and long-distance trains for a variety of purposes, including travel to a workplace in some cases as well as cross-country travel (youth may take train trips, and some Amish travel for medical care in another state or Mexico). Amish also make frequent use of bus lines. Greyhound buses transport Amish between cities, and specialty coaches shuttle Amish people from Midwestern states to the Pinecraft community in Florida, a popular winter vacation destination.
What about air travel? Most Amish churches prohibit it, but members of the New Order Amish churches do travel by plane. Amish do sometimes make overseas journeys, such as on historical sightseeing trips to Europe. In these cases, they travel similarly, in some sense, to their ancestors who journeyed to the New World centuries ago—by ship.
Amish Transportation: Alternatives to owning a car
Amish use these various ways of travel in large part because they reject owning automobiles. As we discuss in the section on technology, they do this in order to preserve their close-knit communities, as the automobile is a technology that can weaken communal ties, in their view. Still, Amish recognize the need for longer-distance travel, which is why they permit motor vehicle use in a limited way.