Amish GPS

Today’s photo, from Mike of Primitive Christianity:

Amish GPS Buggy

Mike adds:  “I know Old Order Amish are not opposed to some forms of modernity. It just strikes me as a good representation of the mixture of old and new. Somehow one doesn’t seem to think that GPS units are needed on such a slow-moving, short-distance vehicle.”

I first assumed this is a youth buggy, though, perhaps not.  The usual caveats about different Amish accepting different technologies apply here.   I think a good rule of thumb is if your buggy doesn’t even have a storm front (the “windshield”) to stick the GPS to, your church will be less likely to tolerate GPS devices 🙂

I don’t know the current thinking on this in Lancaster churches but I don’t see why GPS technology would be necessarily seen as threatening.  A GPS is basically a dynamic map.  Sure it has a modern-looking screen, but some Amish already permit, passively or actively, a number of tools with screens (cell phones, some manufacturing equipment, etc.).  That said I believe some GPS devices have internet browsing capability (though so do most cell phones nowadays).

The authors of An Amish Paradox touch on this technology, noting that “Many products…such as iPods, GPS devices, and cell phones are not easily detected by bishops and, in any event, may not have been anticipated when church Ordnung were formulated. In some cases, usage of these devices has been explicitly forbidden, but in other churches and districts, church members and leaders alike simply “look the other way” (An Amish Paradox p. 108).

Have you ever been struck by this Amish “mixture of old and new” as Mike describes it?  Another example that is more subtle but has always stood out for me, no pun intended, is Amish footwear.  Pretty much every other item of Amish clothing can be and often is handmade, in Amish homes or by traditional cottage businesses.  However I haven’t heard of many Amish making their own shoes.  

Many opt for store-bought major-label footwear, with brands such as Skechers and New Balance being popular (of course worn in the proper colors and styles).  “Old-fashioned” Amish clothes might not always seem the most comfortable but the modern footwear certainly does.

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    1. Robert L Gschwind
    2. OldKat

      I wouldn't be surprised ...

      I wouldn’t be surprised by it now, but nearly 30 years ago when I first visited a community in western PA I was surprised to see a young Amish man using a brand spanking new chain saw to cut firewood.

      At the time I didn’t understand that all Amish are not cookie cutter identical in what they will or will not accept in the way of technology; so it surprised me. Thanks to Amish America and other sources I have now gotten over that!

      1. Roberta

        Some of the Amish in the area west of us might allow use of GPS. They use buggy lights powered by the buggy so they would have a way to power the GPS.

        An Amish mom from a family here donated a flash light to our fund-raiser that had been given to one of her children because they were not allowed to use something with batteries in it. In reply to the chain saw comment, if hired to clear downed trees, the Amish here will use a gas powered chain saw but they ask the owner to start it. Didn’t ask why.

    3. Richard Stevick

      Amish youth, the internet, electronic technology, etc

      Interesting photo, Mike. I know that a number of Amish who travel by motor vehicles to their jobs are very familiar with GPS technology, but it’s a first for me to see one in a carriage. I’m guessing a youth buggy with a driver who likes to be cool.

      I’m especially interested in how wide-spread the use of electronic technology is among Amish youth in various communities, large, and small,especially smart phones,the internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc: Is it a temporary phase, are these things here to stay among most Amish, what impact might internet use have on a “plain and simple culture,” etc.,etc. If some of you have any observations or insights, I would be happy to hear them. Rich

    4. I love that GPS pic – crack me up! It’s funny you mentioned the shoes and I’m sure this isn’t the case with the older people (probably) but my kids went to Catholic school and they were very strict with their uniform policy. Well, the one way the kids could at least be a little different was with their shoes ~ and the girls, with their purses. They still had rules for the shoes (only certain colors, etc.) but it was the one way they could be individuals, so I could see teens especially opting for shoes like Skechers and what-not. Great post ~

      1. Beth I was a uniform kid too, for 12 years. I can’t remember what we did to skirt the dress code. Untucked shirts I think was about as far as it would go. Some would try to wear borderline shoes but you’d usually have trouble making it through a full day.

    5. It takes a lot of skill to make a good shoe! As a Plain woman, I can tell you that footwear is a much discussed matter. I have always worn commercial brands of footwear in plain styles and colours, mostly ankle boots. Blacking out corporate logos and decorations with a permanent marker is our usual solution for athletic shoes. Right now I have three pairs of shoes – a black ankle boot made by Clarke’s. bought at a church rummage sale, like new, a pair of black Modellista clogs, purchased at a thrift store, and a pair of black Doc Marten oxfords, purchased new. I got all giddy and chose the yellow lug stitching.The last two pair are shoes for work, where i am on my feet for hours. Because of old foot injuries, I had to have a really good shoe for support. Imagine what it is like to buy all new shoes for a family of more than six children! Hand me downs are possible, but I don’t see how a large family could go the high road (pun intended) and buy expensive, handmade footwear for all of them, in the name of Plain.

      1. I think mass-produced is the inexpensive option now–I’m not even sure were one would go for a handmade pair of shoes in these times.

        Footwear may be one of those things that is less stringently prescribed, at least in some churches. If you’re going to be on them all day, I guess it makes sense to wear a comfortable pair.

    6. Kim in NY

      comment on Amish GPS

      One word: Bizarre…….!

    7. Sabbath Goy

      The Amish who use the gas-powered chainsaw, but ask someone else to start it for them—this reminds me of conservative or orthodox Jews who cannot light ovens or turn on lights on the Sabbath, so they ask a neighboring gentile (a “goy”) to come over and do it for them.

    8. Alice Mary

      Night driving?

      I’ve read about a lot of Amish roads in rural areas being hard to distinguish in daylight hours, I’d assume even moreso at night. I’d think GPS could be handy (even a lifesaver) at night, but I’d also think that the light from the GPS might be a distraction inside the buggy (I don’t drive a buggy, and my 11 1/2-year-old Toyota doesn’t have GPS, so I’m clueless.) If it lights up the inside of a buggy, it would be a dead giveaway to anyone encountering the buggy at night—like a Bishop who might come down hard on the buggy driver, for using it. 🙁

      Several years ago, on my first & last visit to Arthur, IL, we stopped in to an Amish furniture store. There were no lights on (it was a sunny Fall day), but there was ample light from skylights. That didn’t surprise me, but this did: I made a small purchase and was surprised that they took credit cards—however, the machine they used was the old fashioned manual, carbon paper copy type. However, there was a phone next to it (to call to validate the card, I assume). It was also my first time encountering gas lights, which was interesting to me. (I grew up in an old house that originally had gas lights, but the fixtures had been removed/capped off when my father & his siblings bought it in the 1920’s.)

      I was struck by the rather ornate looking wood above the “windshield”—is that the norm? Sure seems “fancy”! 😉

      Alice Mary

      1. Nice carbon copy credit card anecdote Alice Mary, reminds me of what I was doing selling books in the late 90s 🙂

        The buggies can really vary, some while have a similar sort of ornate molding on the exterior, “framing” the top of the storm front.

    9. Andrea
    10. Chris

      Reminds me of...

      It wasn’t an item of technology, but seeing this picture reminds me of something my wife and I saw while visiting Lancaster, PA earlier this year. We had dinner with an Amish family while there and on our way out we noticed that one of the buggies had a pair of “fuzzy dice” hanging from the rearview mirror (if it had one) or from the roof near where the mirror would be positioned. The family had teenaged children, so we assumed that the buggy was probably one used by one of the children but were really suprised to see it.

      1. Amish buggy dice

        Chris that was probably the case. You see those sorts of things in youth buggies. It’s funny because I can’t recall the last time I saw fuzzy dice hanging from a car’s rear view mirror. Maybe 1986? 🙂

    11. Carolyn B

      Techno Question

      Erik, you may already have addressed this. I’m noticing that nobody’s little picture box (by the comment) is showing up like they used to. I’m missing getting to see all the different faces, especially the “Alice”‘s who I follow so closely here.

      Thanks for any reply, Erik.

      1. Carolyn, are you certain there is a problem? Most of the commenters should have silhouette icons unless they have uploaded an image at If you go to this post you’ll see 2 or 3 with personalized images in addition to mine:

    12. Lattice

      I’m a little surprised nobody has yet to comment on the jar of pickles!

      I can see how a GPS might make the bishop and ministers a little “prickly.” Seems like it might be influential in causing drivers to venture elsewhere, or farther than they might really need to go.

    13. Tom in KY

      Very true about cell phones Erik. Most smart phones now have GPS capabilities and thanks to Google many interesting interactive maps that show real terrain complete with local weather conditions, elevation,local hotels, stores, restaurants etc… Furthermore a smart phone is capable of complete web based interactions that have gone far beyond simple web browsing. All of this fits nicely in the pocket. If video killed the radio star then the smart phone has killed everything else.

      1. Ed

        I’d argue that a pure GPS receiver is in many ways a “plain” device. The GPS signal itself is absolutely free, a kind of bonanza from the government requiring no subscription or other payment beyond the cost of the GPS itself. A lot / most GPS receivers sold still just have maps and locations and need not be connected to the internet nor do they take photos. You just turn them on and go.

        There’s also some interesting agricultural applications — I’ve heard of farmers using GPS to plot their fields. Others have mentioned the climate and altitude data being useful.

        1. Tom and Ed good points. Ed I did not think about other applications. GPS seems more a useful tool than an entertainment device/potential tool of the devil, at least compared to similar technologies.

        2. Matt from CT

          >There’s also some interesting agricultural applications
          >— I’ve heard of farmers using GPS to plot their fields.

          It’s beyond simple plotting.

          If you go full in on the “Greenstar” (John Deere, but other companies have their equivalent) technologies the operator is basically just a safety mechanism — the tractors will steer themselves.

          But that’s not all. They’ll precisely map where you seed, then where you fertilize, then how what the yield is to very small areas of the field.

          Oversimplifying, but then next year the computers may recommend that between 500′ and 600′ in Row 347 that yield was low last year, so this year a bit extra fertilizer should be applied. Meanwhile between 1000′ and 1100′ in Row 512 yield was above average so let’s apply a bit less fertilizer.

          Especially with today’s “super sized” fields…soil conditions can change frequently. When we used to have smaller farms, smaller fields, and farmers could notice the differences easier they would do similar adjustments themselves — knowing what grew best where. They’re now trying to use computers to make up for flexibility lost going to the enormous fields that have be planted, fertilized, and harvested all at once.

    14. I would think a main reason would be to know the ground speed and how many miles traveled to not overwork the horse, as well as elapsed time pulling the carriage. (much easier than a cable driven speedometer with odometer) I consider the use of them helping you become a better steward of your animals. I never used one, so I don’t know if you can enter a way-point for creeks and streams. Movng steam traction engines, it becomes very important knowing where the next watering hole is to top off the water tender. I’d imagine it’s the same with a horse.

      1. Another interesting insight Paul. I suppose it could give you a more objective sense of where your horse is at in terms of miles traveled/exertion, in addition to what you sense and know about the animal. Hadn’t thought of that.

    15. George H.

      I have a comment which has nothing to do with the GPS.
      I saw on TV that starting next month, there will be a new TV series about the Amish Mafia.
      Anyone saw this?
      I wonder how the Amish will feel about this…

      1. Cathie

        Amish "reality" tv

        George, yes i saw it during an ad on the last “breaking amish” reuniin show.

        I am not Amish, but my thoughts on it are along the line of……….Can’t they find something a bit more realistic for a reality show.

        That is one show that won’t be on my list to see.


        1. Cathie

          Changing thread title 's

          Is there a way for members to change subjects on a thread? Or is that an “eric only” permission?.

          My reply to George about the upcoming New Amish reality show really needed to be in a new thread….its a bit off topic from Gps and buggies. 🙂


          1. Cathie I have just started a thread for “Amish Mafia”. You can find it here:

    16. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Naïve question; just how do they control the horses?

      I’ve been looking at that picture and I can’t figure it out. Looking at responses about the GPS the GPS unit does make sense, but, and I do understand horse driving to a certain extent, but how does such an enclosed buggy work.

      1. Lattice

        Good question, SHOM. Is that the front or the back of the buggy?

      2. Horse Control

        Slightly Handled; There are slots in the carriage front under the windshield for two leather straps. There is what’s called a singletree, like a cross piece of wood with center bolt that it swivels on. The harness connects to a “Line” (controls horse and must be the first connected, last disconnected) “Trace” and “Holdback”. Most carriages have hydraulic brakes with a single piston master cylinder for hills and holding at stop signs.
        Here’s a site with harness parts to give you an idea.

        When there is a third strap, it is wraped around the horse’s testicles. That’s the emergency brake. (OK, that’s an Amish joke I couldn’t resist)

        1. SHOM, Here’s a book with pictures showing a singletree to give you a better idea. Think of it as a hinge point in the harness, that swivels on a cross bar hehind the horse. So as the horse turns, the left or right strap doesn’t tighten to steer him differently from the carriage or wagon.

        2. OldKat

          Good answer!

          The two leather straps that he refers to passing through the front of the buggy have been historically called “reins” east of the Mississippi, but “lines” west of it. I think now the term “lines” is more common all over the country.

          Either way, that is your steering and what initiates the “brakes” (the one on the horse, not the brakes on the buggy). By applying pressure to the horse’s mouth you are asking it to slow down or stop. As Paul said, you also have a “holdback” of some sort; depending on what type of harness you are using, whether you are using “shaves” for a single horse or a “pole” (tongue) for a team, etc.

          This s a system that is at once very simple and in some ways very complex. Great explanation by Paul though.

    17. George H.

      Yes, Cathie it is. But am I the one to start one?
      If so, go ahead and give me instructions how to start one..I merely ask a question and thought perhaps Erik would.

      1. Hi George you can find a new thread on that topic here:

    18. kentuckylady717

      My GPS plugs into the car cigarette lighter…..what does the GPS on the buggy plug into ??? just sayin……………the signal is free of course, but you need power for the GPS…….

    19. Most are equiped with 12 volt lights. (legal requirement in some states) Notice the switches on the dash. A lighter recepticle can be added or anything requiring 12 volts DC can be directly connected to the battery. (via an in-line fuse I hope) Most have solar panel charger on a shed roof to keep it charged when not in use. Some use a wheel driven generator for charging, or solar powered battery maintainer on the roof. (trickle charger) This is the reason for a “deep cycle” battery. Meaning they are designed for a “deep” charging cycle going from fully charged to depleted and fully charged again. A regular car battery is kept fully charged all the time, and only depleted during severe cranking, but they normally stay between 90% to 100% charged. Two 6 volt batteries wired in series gives you 12 volts, with twice the duration of amperage, so that’s the way to go if you need a long duration of 12 volt power. (but not high cranking amperage)

    20. Linda

      Perhaps the buggy GPS is used to find the address of young folks’ gatherings. Or would they use it to find the time or temperature? They would hardly need to find a gas station like we do when we return a rental car to the airport; we search in our GPS under Points of Interest to find fuel. I also use the GPS to check my speed against the posted limit. Surely the horses don’t go over the speed limit. Or do they race? Or maybe they check their estimated time of arrival?

      About 15 years ago in Missouri, one Amish church did not allow the adult men to wear shoes made of soft leather for church services; their shoes were to be constructed with stiff leather or whatever shoes are made of.

      Back in the Depression, didn’t people make shoes from cardboard? That doesn’t sound as comfortable as the S.A.S. brand shoes of today.

    21. Linda

      One Old Order Mennonite fellow recently planned to use a GPS in his buggy to find the house address for a first date with a girl. However, he forgot the GPS, and arrived late. Afterwards, he learned the wrong address was programmed in the GPS anyway.

      1. Linda I wonder was this a practical joke? Could have had interesting consequences if he arrived in the evening at the wrong address for an unexpected date.