Often when people look at the Amish – a horse-and-buggy people, after all – they assume they’re dodging the pain of high gas prices. But is that really the case?

Image: Jim Halverson

First, there was recently a humorous column by Star Beacon writer Shelley Terry “Hubby going Amish due to rising gas prices“, which illustrates this view well. An excerpt:

When gas hit $5.09 a gallon, Hubby remarked that the Amish have the right idea, driving a horse and buggy.

Now, Hubby wants us to live like the Amish.

He’s gone as far as insisting I don’t use our clothes dryer any more. Instead, he wants me to hang our clothes on chairs around the house.

No kidding! I came home from work Tuesday to find his underpants draped over the kitchen chairs. Yikes!

“What on earth?” I said out loud.

As soon as Hubby came home, I abstained from any pleasantries and went right to the heart of the matter.

“Why is your underwear hanging all over the place?” I said.

“I’m saving money. Have you seen the price of gas? It’s exorbitant!” he said, waving his arms in the air and looking all wild eyed.

“But we have an electric dryer,” I said.

“So what! We have to cut costs everywhere,” he said. “I’ve decided that we are going Amish!”

I stood there dumbfounded.

Faithful readers know Hubby keeps a tight grip on his wallet even in the best of times, but this is ridiculous!

I told him he’s ridiculous and you know what he said? “Amish wives obey their husbands!”

Good grief! Surely, there must be a more sane solution. I suggested a clothes line. He’s “thinking about it.”

While this is funny, I have to say that no, the Amish are actually not as protected from high fuel costs as we might think. Here are five reasons why.

5 Reasons Amish Aren’t Immune From High Fuel Prices

1. They use gas for other things – First of all, so while they’re not pumping gas into their personal transport vehicles, they do consume fuel in other ways. I have referenced this before but here’s a quote from an Amishman in Ohio on his family’s use of gas:

We do buy gasoline. It goes into our generator, lawn mowers, pasture mower, and into other things as mixed fuels (garden tiller, weed eater, chainsaw, etc.) During the winter we can get away with buying 8 – 10 gallons of gasoline a week at the local gas station, but during the warm parts of the year, that often doubles. Add in the $50 per buggy [road maintenance] fee and it adds up, especially in a community this size.

In other words, the Amish consume fuel for other purposes besides driving a car. Even the plainest Amish groups do this – for example this weekend one Swartzentruber Amishman (essentially the most conservative Amish group) who runs an outdoor furniture shop showed me his 160-gallon diesel tank he uses for powering his shop tools via a diesel engine.

2. Horses & buggies aren’t exactly cheap – In addition to that, the supposed cheap alternative to driving a fossil fuel-powered vehicle – a horse-and-buggy – is not exactly cheap. Now, the price of a buggy can vary widely – from the $10,000 range in Lancaster County to around $3,000 in a Swartzentruber Amish community.

Add to that the price of a horse which is probably going to be in the $3,000 – 5,000 range for a decent driving horse. Next you have the costs of feed, veterinarian, as well as having to build a horse barn and have sufficient land for the horse to walk about. I’m not going to be able to break that down here as those costs can vary as well, but the point is, a horse-and-buggy is not some super-low-cost alternative to driving.

3. Hired drivers – Then we come to the cost of hiring drivers. Most Amish hire drivers to go to places like the store for a big shopping trip, travel back and forth from a distant workplace, or long-distance trips to visit family or attend weddings and funerals.

They typically charge per mile and that can cost one dollar or higher per mile, which adds up depending on how far you’re going (I recently asked in Lancaster County if the price had changed much due to the gas prices, and one family somewhat surprisingly told me that it hadn’t, but I have to imagine that it probably has in some places, and will if it hasn’t yet in others). Depending on your lifestyle and job, this can add up.

4. Some Amish pay for vehicle fuel directly – In some cases, Amish are actually owning the vehicles so they are directly paying fuel costs themselves. This would be the case in more progressive communities like Lancaster County. Examples of businesses where Amish would own vehicles: construction-related companies (work trucks) and market stand owners (van for transport the 1-2 hours to these urban & suburban PA Dutch markets).

5. Higher shipping costs = higher prices – The final important bit is the price of other products affected by higher fuel costs. Everything you buy that is shipped – food, tools, mechanical parts, building supplies, etc. – is going to be affected as well. Those are all things the Amish pay for.

So no, the Amish are not immune from higher fuel prices, though I would say some are more immune than others. The folks in the plainer Swartzentruber Amish settlement I just visited Saturday would be one example.

Besides their cheaper buggy costs, they as a rule do not hire drivers. Their lifestyles are plainer as well – less travel and less purchasing products from conventional stores.

It all goes to say that like just about everything Amish, it varies. But the Amish are not in some bubble on this one. They do feel the pain of higher fuel costs.

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