Sep 082010

This part of northern Indiana is a stronghold of the Amish people, and wherever you travel around the communities of Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, and the surrounding area, you are likely to see Amish women  in their simple handmade dresses, their heads covered in white kapps, and men wearing black straw hats or stocking caps.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Amish people, including that they will not ride in automobiles, use electricity, or telephones. Drive anywhere around here and you will encounter horse drawn buggies and wagons on the roadways.

Amish buggy

Amish wagon

But, while they do not drive automobiles, the Amish will ride in them, and they frequently hire a non-Amish driver to take them to restaurants, stores, or other places too far to conveniently reach by buggy.

Drive any Amish back road in this region, and you will see small white structures in some yards that look like an enclosed telephone booth, and that is exactly what they are! Their religion does not permit a telephone in the house, and the “phone haus” is built for function, not comfort. There is no heat or cooling, and usually no chair. This is a place to do business, not sit and gab! If an Amish person advertises something for sale, they will include the telephone number and instructions to “call between 7 and 8 a.m.” or whatever time suits their schedule.

Amish phone booth

Yesterday, we drove out to Nappanee to visit with our friend Carylye Lehman at Focal Wood Products. Carlyle is a fantastic craftsman who built the desk units in our Winnebago motorhome last year, and he has a fast growing reputation with RVers for top quality custom wood furniture.

Nick desk

The tools in Carlyle’s shop are all powered by electricity, courtesy of a huge 40 KW diesel generator.  So as you can see, while the Amish do avoid many of the “modern” conveniences of our way of life, they have embraced some technology to give them the ability to conduct business.

Carlyle Shop

We have also found it interesting to see Amish buggies lined up at the drive through window at McDonald’s, or to note such goodies as Pepsi and potato chips in their shopping carts at WalMart.

All day yesterday the wind blew hard, with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. If the wind lets up a little bit, we plan to leave Elkhart Campground today and start making our way eastward toward the Hershey (Pennsylvania) Thousand Trails preserve, where we will have a vendor booth at the Hershey RV Show next week.

It’s about 600 miles to our destination, and we’ll do it in two days. I have no idea where we’ll be tonight, but there is always an RV friendly WalMart, a truck stop, or someplace else to get off the road for the night.

Thought For The Day – Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  10 Responses to “Adventures In Amish Land”

  1. We had Carlyle make a Dinette/Desk and a Coffee Table for us and we will pick them up and have it installed this Thursday. He does great work and we would recommend him to our friends. Travel safe you guys and we will see you in Yuma in March at the Rally.

  2. We can second Carlyle’s craftsmanship. He built us new cabinets in both TV openings and replaced our drop down desk with a cabinet last year and we have been extremely pleased with the results. Amazing how he was able to match the woodwork in a five year old fifth wheel!

    Hope you guys have a good trip. If you are looking for a good campground along the way Stoneridge Terrace in Salem, OH is just north of US 30, SW of Youngstown. They are Passport America, a nice laid back place.

    If you have the time US 30 is a cheaper way across PA. We took the PA Turnpike from Harrisburg to Ohio on our way to the Gathering last month and tolls were around $24 for the HDT and fiver!

  3. It’s my understanding that there are many different groups within the generic “Amish” label, just as there are many types of other Christians or Jews. What is allowed or not apparently depends on the local group. Some groups would definitely not allow the orange “slow-moving vehicle” triangle or battery taillights seen on the buggy in the photo, even if required by State law. Some will allow a black triangle, and some allow a single kerosene lamp, etc.

    While Carlyle may be allowed electricity from a generator, the Amish around here would not. I visited a local wheelwright’s shop, and he was allowed to have a gasoline engine for his machinery, but it had to be isolated from the tools by drive belts. With the engine on one wall, and all the drive belts coming off of a distribution shaft, it reminded me of what an old water-wheel powered shop in the 1800’s must have looked like.

    I’m not an expert, but one book I read explained that each ‘congregation’ meets once a year to review and possibly amend what that group’s standards will be, and all agree to the original or amended guidelines during that meeting. The result may be that the Amish on one farm may have different standards than the farm next door, if they are members of different meetings.

  4. Great post. It’s true that there is a good bit of technological variation across Amish affiliations. The diesel generator setup you describe is fairly common especially among more mainstream/progressive Amish. That label would apply to many of the Elkhart/Lagrange churches.

    Meanwhile the drive shaft arrangement Redbear describes would be seen in more conservative churches, such as in Big Valley, PA, or even in the southern part of Indiana in “Swartzentruber” congregations.

    Redbear the meetings happen among church districts twice a year, and you are correct that what is allowed in one congregation may not be in another, and that may mean your neighbor has a slightly or sometimes very different arrangement than you do. This is especially true when different affiliations live near each other, which you see in the very large settlement in Holmes County, Ohio, for example–technology differences, clothing differences, different styles of buggy.

    Nick your photos brought back a lot of N. Indiana memories!

    Erik Wesner

  5. When we lived in Wichita, KS ,the Old Order Amish comunity of Yoder was just West of us a few miles. True each church group or small area had a leader that set the acceptable level of ‘need’ of a particular product. In one area just South of Hutchinson one group could have cabs on their tractors and accros the road that group could not. A friend of ours bought an acreage in that area. The house was set up with multiple T1 plugs in each of the rooms in the house. They would drive buggies to work, put the horses in a pen then ran an online investment business in the house. The house was not lived in by them rather it was the business office.

  6. We also had Carlyle make a table/cabinet unit with four folding chairs. Wonderful workmanship, install fast, would recommend highly. Great rally, see you next year, travel safe.

  7. Rather than discuss the Amish, which are well discussed by others, I will just comment that your desk arrangement is splendid! I’ll bet Miss Terry took a big garbage bag of “stuff” off the tops of those two desks for this picture!

  8. I read that some Amish communities are fine with owning cell phones, as they are not “connected” to any power source. I wonder how they charge them?

  9. Interesting comments today on the Amish people. I find it a fascinating way of life and I learned new things today reading your post. Thank you.

  10. More on the Amish Nick just look at all the comments .

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