The Surprisingly Modern Tech inside an Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy

Saturday, January 14th, 2017 - Amish, Amish buggy, autos, Featured, mobile

The Surprisingly Modern Tech inside an Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy



Despite what you may have heard, the Amish aren’t against technology. Communities adopt brand-new gadgets such as fax machines as well as business-use cellphones all the time—as long as the local church approves each one ahead of time, determining which the idea won’t drastically change their way of life.

So the idea can be with the Amish horse-drawn buggy. You might have thought the technology inside This kind of 1800s method of transportation stopped progressing right around then. Instead, buggy tech keeps advancing, as well as buggy makers have become electricians as well as metalworkers to build in all the brand-new tech you can’t see under the traditional black paint.

One builder in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was rather busy when we spoke. In a half-hour, four people called in to discuss orders. Amish people often shy away by using their names as well as businesses in publication, although one of the shop’s builders was happy to talk about all the brand-new systems being developed with This kind of old technology.


Buggy brakes are automotive-style, non-powered drum or disc brakes mounted to two wheels. When a driver wants to stop, he or she halts the horse using the reins as well as halts the buggy by stepping on the brake pedal to ensure the idea doesn’t run into the horse. Our builder estimates 0 percent of buggy buyers stick with drums, in part because of the old-fashioned aesthetics—braking systems on buggies are very visible—as well as partly because all drum components can be made in Amish communities.


“Back inside ’60s, a local Amish man commenced going through junkyards as well as getting the old seven-inch VW brakes,” our builder says, “salvaging them, repairing them, as well as cleaning them up as well as retrofitting them to buggies. After a while, he commenced getting Great castings made. today all the buggy brakes are manufactured by buggy shops.”

Builders cast the drums in steel as well as the backer plates as well as shoes in an aluminum-tin alloy. “We’ll buy the castings, as well as we’ll machine, we’ll drill the holes, we’ll process them as well as install the components,” he says. “We actually bond our own shoes. We buy brake linings by a brake company in Ohio.”

The few disc brakes used on buggies are off-the-shelf parts bought by outside Amish communities which usually were manufactured for dune buggies. For both drums as well as discs, the brake master cylinder, which moves the hydraulic fluid which actuates the brakes, can be mounted underneath the Centeng near an Amish-made pedal assembly which has a foot pedal which pokes up through the floor into the Internal. The master cylinders are made of anodized aluminum at an Amish shop, also in Ohio.



States with large Amish populations, such as Ohio as well as Pennsylvania, have laws which require buggies to light up when sharing public roads with automotive traffic. Which means these old-fashioned vehicles have electrical components.

“Ninety-nine percent of buggies are built which has a dash—a console on the front panel—as well as in which switch box are all the switches you need,” says our builder. “We have headlights, taillights, Internal lights, as well as a turn-signal switch.”

Shops buy LED components as well as assemble systems based on a customized turn signal developed by Lancaster County’s Amish builders 50 years ago. the idea’s a pedestal lamp with an amber headlight on the front as well as a red taillight on the back, one lamp for each side of the buggy. Bulbs stay on low-beam during normal use, although flicking a turn signal toggle switch activates a brake-light-style system which turns on the high-beams. There’s your Amish turn signal: a buggy whose left-side headlight as well as taillight are brighter than their right-side counterparts can be about to turn left.

To power these lights, batteries are all over the place. “For many, many years, we just simply used a standard deep-cycle marine battery because everything was incandescent, as well as we needed more power,” says the builder. Nowadays, they use cordless-tool batteries. just one 20-volt/6-amp battery, the type which powers an electric drill, runs the whole electrical system For 2 to three hours on a charge. Those traveling for longer carry spare batteries.

“There was actually an alternator system attempted inside last a few years,” he says. “the idea worked about 60 percent, although the idea never took off.”


The main Centeng can be fiberglass. the idea’s pre-manufactured off site as well as shipped to Amish builders across the country for finishing. They add aluminum components to areas which see a lot of wear, such as doorsills. Everything else can be white oak or ash wood framing stretched over with fabric, plusher linings for Internal surfaces, as well as a tough polyester for outdoor surfaces, all to save weight.

“A brand-new technology can be thermally modified wood,” our builder says. “Thermally modified can be, basically, they cook the livin’ daylights out of the idea. Like a kiln. Your common dried lumber, they take the idea down to 10 to 20 percent moisture. Thermally modified can be taken down to almost zero percent moisture. They just bake the moisture out of the idea, as well as then the idea’s stabilized as well as real hard to rot.”


Tires as well as Wheels

Amish buggies roll on either steel or solid rubber tires, although our builder says most use steel. Both are built in-house. “Your steel-tire buggy actually pulls easier than a rubber-tire one because of the compression of the rubber,” he says. “today, if you’d have pneumatic tires the idea’d be different, although which has a solid rubber tire, the idea has compression. Of course, the pro with rubber can be which the idea’ll be quieter.”

Rubber tires also stress the turning mechanism (the fifth wheel) harder, so brakes are mounted on the rear wheels if a buggy has rubber tires. Steel-tire buggies contain the brakes on the front wheels because the sliding of metal on the road takes some of the stress off the fifth wheel. For the wheels mounted within the tires, they’re wood, steel, aluminum, or fiberglass.

“I prefer the wooden wheel yet,” the builder says. “which’s my number-one choice, for several reasons. the idea’s quieter, as well as the idea’s  repairable. If you bust a spoke or something, you can easily pop off a tire, replace a spoke, as well as pop the idea back together again.” inside past a few years, Amish buggy builders have developed an automotive-style tubular-steel torsion bar suspension which mounts the Centeng over traditional leaf springs or, more recently, air bags.

As with car shopping, the first step can be to choose a general product of buggy as a base to build on. You could opt for a two-seater, a four-seater, half enclosed, completely open, as well as so on. Then you pile on the options by the shop’s checklist. Even if you skip luxury options such as a propane-powered heater, cupholders, as well as a speedometer, a buggy can be expensive.

“Average cost of a buggy can be, I’m gonna say, $8000,” says our builder. Families usually have several types at once, for different uses, as well as each one they buy outright with cash. “We actually looked into doing financing through the banks,” he says, “although we don’t have titles for buggies, so the banks are squeamish about the idea.” If somebody needs the idea, though, builders will finance a buggy for them without the banks.

“A lot of people will get 20 or 30 years out of a buggy before they do any major rebuilding of the idea. There’s a strong demand for Great used buggies because of youth. Most people will buy their 16-year-old son a horse, a harness, as well as a used buggy. as well as then we have people who trade in their buggy every a few to eight years. the idea’s like the mainstream world. A lot of these buggies will be running 40 or 50 years, rebuilt once or twice.”

This kind of story originally appeared on well-known Mechanics.

The Surprisingly Modern Tech inside an Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy

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