Amish go a long way…for business

I got a kick out of this story, about a Colorado resident who hired a Lancaster Amish crew to travel 1,700 miles to build a fence.

No doubt Colorado being the destination had something to do with their willingness to go. A less picturesque part of America may not have enticed the crew.  As a largely Midwest and Eastern people with a soft spot for the outdoors, the majestic West captivates the Amish imagination. A popular trip for young Amish men involves traveling by bus or train (or car) cross-country. Only a relatively few Amish have ever made Western states home, though (see Amish in Montana or Amish in Colorado for examples).

Amish Fence BuilderIn the interest of staying close to home Amish builders like to limit their work to about a 2-hour driving range. Sometimes Amish crews do go further, even staying overnight and for multiple days.   For example a northern Indiana Amish acquaintance I spoke with last summer had a bid out on a pretty significant job in Kentucky, a project which would require extended stays away from home.  Amish also consistently volunteer in disaster areas and will be gone for a couple of weeks at a time.  Not being married or having a big family makes it easier.

The three-man crew of State Line Fencing, led by 33-year-old Jonathan Esh, jumped at the chance to do the Colorado job for a homeowner living in Parker, a Denver suburb (more on Denver Amish furniture). What is interesting is that this doesn’t seem to be a particularly elaborate job, no offense intended to Esh and Co. The crew built a split rail fence, which I’m sure takes attention to detail, but it’s not like they were restoring a hundred-year-old barn or creating someone’s dream kitchen. I can see getting an Amish crew across the country for a big extensive project; this, not as much.

But I may be wrong on that. The homeowner apparently had a bad experience with a previous company: “It wasn’t that easy to find someone who does this kind of work to the specifications that we needed.” Plus it sounds like this was a chance for a little sightseeing while doing a quick project. Esh called the opportunity “out of our dreams”. No info on who paid travel costs. It sounds like they will be invited back, though.

Casting nets further

State Line Fencing crew did something else that certain Amish would consider “going a long way”–they created a website with the help of a third party.  This Colorado job happened, according to the story, thanks to an online ad the crew had posted.

I don’t have statistics as to how many Amish businesses advertise and sell online.  There are Amish companies who have their own English-run websites. There are also companies who have an online presence by virtue of their products being retailed by non-Amish firms. If we count Amish furniture businesses who sell through third parties, the number could be significant. In this group we would also include Pennsylvania Dutch markets, builders and remodelers, and tourist-oriented businesses. If I had to guess…a fifth to a quarter, maybe?

As Amish advertise online–and competition increases–will the geographic scope of their work continue to expand? This blog and my email inbox often get requests for Amish builders in out-of-the-way places. If it’s the right project, they may hit the road for you, as Esh and Co. show us here.  According to their site, State Line Fencing “will quote on a job in PA, MD, NY, NJ, DE, VA, and WV”.

Any Amish “business travel” stories you might have are especially welcome.

Update: linked article removed by source.

Photo credit: ghbrett/flickr

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    1. Richard from Amish Stories

      Good morning all, and some of the older Amish folks that I’ve talked with about the internet seem to have “no use for it”. But the younger ones are much more open to the idea as I’ve found, and like certain other allowance’s the Amish have made, the internet seems like another necessary evil for some to help stay competitive. Richard

    2. Lee Ann

      Very interesting. I wonder if any of these Amish men that worked in Colorado will move there one day. Its good they are using the internet for business to help support themselves and stay competive.

    3. OldKat

      Have chisel, will travel.

      After Hurricane Ike virtually wiped the Bolivar Peninsula clean of structures there was an Amish crew that came down from somewhere in the Mid-West and was doing timber frame construction for people that wanted to rebuild with class. There was an episode of The Eyes of Texas (a TV news/special interest series) that focused on them. Several of them were willing to be interviewed, some would not. They stayed about 6 months I think to do these jobs.

      1. Oldkat, thanks for reminding me, I think this is the same story. The Amish owner in this one didn’t seem too camera-shy as I recall:

    4. Carolyn B

      Amish businesses

      Erik, questions on my favorite topic: wheelchair accessibility.

      1) Are there Amish home builders who have experience with accessible housing for disabled Amish/Mennonite/English? What would a wheelchair accessible Amish home look like as far as ramps, grab bars, etc?
      2) Are there Amish buggy builders who have built an accessible buggy or a low-riding pony cart? How do wheelchair users load & ride in buggies? I’ve often fantasized that there has to be a sliding hidden floor between the floor bottom and the undercarriage that can be pulled out as a ramp.
      I may be repeating myself as this is my favorite topic so don’t feel you have to answer unless you know something on the buggy loading/unloading. Thanks for tolerating me. 😀

      1. Amish wheelchair accessible buggies and homes

        Carolyn, about all I can say on this topic is that there have been adapted buggies made which are able to transport wheelchairs on the back…I have a photo of one that I will try to dig up if I can find it. I don’t know that any actually allow you to put the chair into the buggy, though I am willing to be surprised 🙂

        Actually, on your first question, I have been in a couple of homes inhabited by wheelchair-bound Amish…and I am scratching my head to recall what that accessibility aspect looked like. I am just drawing a blank, but I don’t see why ramps etc would not be a part of it.

    5. Carolyn, I’m sure there are Amish/Menno builders that know how to build handicapped accessible housing. My uncle in Indiana had his house built with wider doors to accommodate his wheel chair bound brother in law.
      Also my Grandma had a stroke that left her wheel chair bound for about the last 15 years of her life. A ramp was installed for access to the front porch. I don’t know if any interior renovations were made like wider doors or grab bars. They already had their bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. You will often see ramps built on at Amish places where there is an elderly and/or handicapped person living.
      As for my Grandparent’s buggy, the back flipped down from the top and was hinged unto the bottom to create a ramp that was used to wheel her into the buggy, wheelchair and all. I believe it only had a chair then for Grandpa to sit on, in order to have enough room for the wheelchair. I believe this is the standard way most buggys become wheelchair accessible.

      1. Carolyn B

        Rachel re: Home & Buggy

        Rachel, thank you so much for your response. Especially regarding the buggy, I am so glad to know this. I can just picture it in my mind. Have a great week; you’ve certainly brightened mine.

        1. Ditto me Rachel. What you write rings a bell…Carolyn I have been looking for that photo but not turned up yet.

          1. Carolyn B

            Erik, don’t sweat it. You’ve got more important things to do. if it is meant to be found it’ll turn up when you least expect it. Take care! 😀

            1. You are probably right Carolyn, but you have got me curious to see that shot again 🙂

    6. Bonnie

      Why would English specifically seek an Amish Builder?

      Obviously, I have no clue as to the specific motivations of the person who wanted an Amish builder to build their fence; however, I can say, that personally, I would love to have access to an Amish community of builders locally. Unfortunately, I live in Louisiana and although there are a few PA Dutch, I don’t think any are Amish.
      Why would I wish access to Amish Builders? Well, in my case, I’m 41yrs old and not in good health, I share a home with my 73yr old mother, and we really need to have our front porch replaced (like desperately, as steps have broken off during use an almost injured my elderly father at X-mas). Our porch is over 10yrs old (approx 4kx4′), was never built well (warping within a year, steps are oddly high and strangely spaced, etc.), but at the time, a family friend built it for us just a bit over material cost, so it served its purpose and as we didn’t know anyone else who did carpentry, it was appreciated help. Unfortunately, the porch has now completely rotten (from time, it is warping, water damage, poor materials, and I think even possibly eaten by termites at one time, steps have literally broken). Still why would I wish I had access to an Amish Builder? 1) Quality of work (a no brainer I think), as I believe the Amish take pride in their work, in so much as, I believe that they would do a good quality job, because I think that they believe in doing good work the right way; 2) Honesty – this may sound silly, but, as an English outsider, I feel that someone Amish, with their strong religious beliefs, would not attempt to take advantage or be dishonest in their business deals. Believe it or not, Honesty and Not taking advantage of someone in obvious desperate need, seems to be a tall order. I have had people give me quotes (at least 2 of them, lower quotes via phone, then again in person), and the whole time they were speaking to me (on-site) they were asking probing questions about our finances, like what we do for a living, who livs within our home, and various other questions that just seemed to be their way of gauging how much we could pay them (versus basing the job cost/quote on the actual job – via phone, I was very up front about exactly what we wished to have done), and yyet, after in-person, their pricing jumped several hundred dollars. Perhaps I’m wrong and the quotes are justifiable, but the experiences with them left me questioning their motives, and with a proverbial bad taste in my mouth. (No one wants to feel they are being taken advantage of or that they are receiving jacked-up prices). Does it hold true for every Amish person, that they would not take advantage of someone in business because of what they thought they could pay and their amount of need? Probably not, but I believe the ratio of those that would not take advantage of someone’s situation is far less with someone Amish, than with English Builder/Carpenter Contractors; 3) Cost – I have already gotten several quotes from local builders (ranging anywhere from $1,200-$2,000). I just feel that the quotes I have received are rather high, along with seeming to change greatly from quoted on phone vs, on-site (and collectively, we really don’t have a lot of income). I feel that either the job can be completed much cheaper (or at least more reasonably). I’m even willing to pay directly for the materials (if someone would just supply me a material list, this way I can possibly negotiate pricing or possibly find a less expensive materials supplier, but no one is willing to do that), so if I am forced to pay, what to me is a great deal of money ( it is more than I make in a month-keeping in mind, I have many medical bills/medications that I must buy out of that $1k mthly, so every dollar counts right now), I would at least rather have a Builder I trust, and believe would do an excellent job, who I feel is not trying to rip us off. And, where I believe the porch will last rather than fall apart in a year or two after being built due to shoddy work. I believe an Amish Builder would provide better quality work, and at a reasonable cost. Even if the cost is just as expensive as I have already been quoted by others, at least, I would have more faith that I would be getting what I am paying for. *shrugs* I apologize for the length of this post. I simply wished to explain why an English person would specifically seek out Amish Builders vs. Dealing with English Builders that are certainly plentiful.

    7. Marla Merante

      My husband and I have a small horse and naturally raised beef farm in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern NY. I found this website while trying to locate an Amish crew from PA that we were told has built cow barns for a very large (over 3,000 cows)dairy farm in a neighboring town of Peru, NY. The barns are well built and were constructed in a very short period of time considering their size.
      We are in need of a clear span barn (approx 75’wide x 160’long w/14’high side walls) to be used as an indoor arena in order for our small business to improve. Although this is a beautiful place in the mountains, in such a seasonal location, we need an indoor to train and school horses with consistency and to improve our boarding business.
      After reading your story “Amish go a long way…for business”, I thought I might put our search out there….
      Any suggestions would be very welcome-
      Thank you.

    8. John Ritchie King

      Ritchie's Home Improvements

      Hello,my name is John Richard King, I am from Lancaster County Pa. I enjoy doing carpentry work. My phone#(717)-629-4404. If you need a hand with a project,I would be happy to help you out. I prefer to stay local,but if circumstances allow I would travel 2 or so hrs to help you out