How Do Amish Keep Warm In The Buggy?

Amish heat their homes in various ways, including wood and coal stoves and natural gas heaters. But how do they stay warm when they hit the road?

Photo: David Arment

The answer to this question would depend in part on what kind of buggy you drive. Those Amish whose Ordnung prohibits a storm front (the “windshield” enclosing the front), such as the Nebraska Amish group, have a harder time keeping the buggy toasty.

Nebraska Amish buggies have open fronts. Photo: Don Burke

Those that require only open buggies, such as most Swiss Amish churches, are most exposed to the elements.  On frigid days heavy blankets are a must.

Two Indiana Amish Community members enjoying a horse drawn carriage ride in 10 Views From the Berne.
Open buggy of the Swiss Amish group. Photo: Jim Halverson

On-board Buggy Heater

If you’re in a church that permits them, and have about 200 bucks to spare (note: prices have likely gone up since this was first published), you can also get a heater for your buggy. These photos were taken by a reader at an Amish-owned small engine shop in Indiana.

Amish Buggy Heater

This one shows the full setup with fuel source:

Amish Buggy Heater Fuel

How does this work? Our reader explains:

They usually mount the heater in the middle of the dash.  They run on propane gas and the the tank goes in the back of the buggy.  Most buggy heaters are blue flame as opposed to infrared.  Infrared heats by emitting infrared rays which nearby objects like buggy blankets absorb.  I believe some do use infrared heaters in their buggies, but I know they are not considered safe.

From their speedometers to their cigarette lighters to their alternators, Plain buggies share many features with cars. Some even carry roof-mounted solar panels and GPS systems. The important part as buggies evolve, of course, is that the horse stays attached.

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    30 Comments

    1. Buggy Heaters

      My number one most favorite question;

      Most of us use a “Arm Strong” heater and a good reason for 12 children.

    2. Lester Mast

      Back in the 60’s by dad used an Coleman infrared heater graduating up from a heated stone. We lived in northern Indiana. I beleive we were the only family in out district to do so. This was about a year before we left the Amish.

    3. Katie Troyer

      I was going to say, Arm Strong heaters don’t cost a cent.About 40 years ago in Charm Ohio a young Amish rebel boasted that he is using an Arm Strong heater to keep warm. Guess what? The bishop denounced Arm Strong heaters.

      1. Mary Miller
    4. Katie

      That’s a good one 🙂 🙂

    5. Sarah

      Staying out of the "wind" in pen buggies

      At least in Allen County, there are the big umbrellas one can use to keep out of the wind or air flow from moving along; they really do help immensely.

      Sarah

      1. Sarah you sound like you have some experience in this area 🙂

    6. Don Curtis

      Mark's buggies in winter

      I asked my son Mark about how he keeps warm in his buggies in the winter. He told me that first of all he puts his open buggies away for the winter. The only occupants are the barn cats. Mark turns the seats upside down so prevent cat deposits on the seats. The closed buggies or Mark calls them “top buggies” in Mark’s community have sliding doors and storm fronts. Mark said that just blocking the wind helps out a lot. Also, he has a specially made buggy robe he uses. It is fur lined on both sides with insulation in between the layers. Mark said that the buggy robe is so heavy that sometimes it’s like “wrestling with a bear” to get in. But he said that when it is tucked up around you it keeps your nice and warm. I asked him about a heater. He said that he’s seen them and a few of the Belle Center folks have them in their buggies but he doesn’t want one. He said that because of the size of buggies inside, to take up part of the room by attaching a heater on the dash really limits the space. Because your legs are so close to an open flame heater Mark thinks it has to be somewhat unsafe. Also, Mark is really skeptical about carrying a propane tank in the back of a wooden framed buggy in case of a rear end impact. So, basically, Mark shuts the buggy up tight, dresses warmly, and tucks up his buggy robe around himself. He said that there is a family from Allen County, Indiana that has recently moved into the Belle Center community. They still drive an open two seater surrey. However, this winter they have placed a kind of enclosed cab over the back seat of the surrey. The parents still ride out in the open on the front seat but the children are enclosed in this cab in the back. I haven’t seen this buggy so I’m not sure how it looks. Mark said it’s the first time he’s seen one but that he’s heard they are common in Allen County.

      1. Christine

        Mark's buggies

        I find it interesting that Don’s son is Amish…

      2. “Buggy robe” sounds like an excellent idea Don. The Allen County buggy compartment is probably what is referred to as a “kid box”, for children to have some protection from the elements in this open buggy community. They are seen in some Swiss Amish settlements but not others. I imagine the new arrivals will get a top buggy at some point.

    7. Carolyn B

      This post has me dreaming of a solar panel-powered “electric” heating pad or blanket for a buggy.

      Don Curtis, would it be allowable to post a picture of Mark’s buggy blanket? I am very cold-natured and taking a blood thinner sets me even colder. I’d like to know what company can this buggy robe be ordered from. Thanks!

      John & Katie, thanks for the Arm Strong heater jokes. 🙂

      1. Miriam

        Buggy robes

        I found that Lehmans sells them. They look warm and toasty!

        https://www.lehmans.com/p-197-authentic-buggy-or-lap-robe.aspx

        1. Carolyn B

          Miriam, thanks for the link. I will copy and paste once I’m done typing this thank you. Someone else had mentioned Lehman’s so I bookmarked that site last night but couldn’t find the right product.

      2. Don Curtis

        Mark's buggy robe

        I asked Mark where he got his buggy robes from. He said that he got them from a firm at Middlebury, Indiana that specializes in making and selling Amish clothes. It is called Gohn Brothers. They have a toll free number. 1-800-595-0031. If you want some Amish clothes you can ask for their catalog, as well. Mark got his buggy robes there. They come in various colors. Mark’s are black. He said you can them fur on one side, fur on both sides, or fur on both sides and insulation in between. That is what Mark has.

        1. Don Curtis

          Mark's buggy robe

          I forgot to give you the address as well as the phone number for Gohn Brothers.

          Gohn Brothers Clothing
          PO Box 1110
          105 South Main Street
          Middlebury, IN 46540

        2. Elva Bontrager

          We had an open buggy.

          In the small Amish church in Oregon where I grew up in the 1940s, some of the parishioners had ‘top’ buggies but my dad was scornful of them. He thought they were ugly and the people wimps. We had an open ‘double’ buggy which meant that sometimes our upper parts got cold and wet (didn’t dare mention that to Dad, though; he was sensitive to any implication that his decisions were problematic). We used buggy robes so our nether parts stayed toasty.

          It takes a long time to get somewhere in a buggy. Seven miles was about the farthest we had to travel and I learned to zone out. It is where I learned to day dream- I would put my face against the back of the seat in front of me and in the hum of the wheels on the asphalt let my mind wander. On occasion I even fell asleep.

          Speaking of Gohn Brothers, an Othodox Quaker friend of mine in New York told me that if it weren’t for the Amish factories, orthodox Quakers would have nothing to wear. Except for his mustache he could have passed for an Amishman. 🙂

    8. OldKat

      Lap blankets

      My mother grew up in an Alsatian community SW of San Antonio Texas. Many of the early Mennonites and also many Amish were also Alsatian. Though not Amish, members of her community were NOT “early adopters” of technology, fashion, etc. She was born in 1920 and her family was still using buggies and wagons for much of their daily transportation needs, though by the mid to late 1920’s they owned an automobile … a Model T Touring with no top. She told me that they used super heavy lap blankets to cut the wind off their legs and lower trunk & used lighter weight blankets (sometimes several layers) to wrap around the torso, limbs and all.

      Some 34 or 35 years ago when I bought my first horse drawn vehicle, a Racine-Satterly spring wagon, she produced one of the lap blankets for me out of storage. I never had seen it before and had no idea it even existed. It has a very thick felt like core and a covering of some sort of prickly material with a volure like appearance, but scratchy stiff and quite frankly not at all comfortable against bare skin. Then again, it was probably 60 years old by then so it may have lost something in storage. I still have it, but a couple of years ago I was handling it and it was literally falling to pieces. I have thought about reproducing it, but I seldom take any of my rigs out on the road and it isn’t really all that cold here anymore so it hasn’t been a priority.

    9. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Amish ingenuity amazes me. Although, because of the fuel sources I think I would worry about road accident caused fires in the winter.

    10. Lester Graber

      Lap Blankets

      Thirty Seven years of living Amish in states like Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee and Montana, all I was ever used to at home and all my family ever used was lap blankets. Of course we had a ‘top’ buggy and were able to close it up tight, dropping down the storm fronts and dropping down the curtains on the sides and snapping them securely into place.

    11. Alice Mary

      I got...s-s-s-s-steam heat!

      I imagine the more bodies in a closed buggy, the warmer it is. I’m one of those “naturally warm” people (even BEFORE menopause 😉 ), and tend to fog up the windows of any car I sit in during the cold winter months (ask my friends & family!). How do the Amish keep their “windshields” clear (un-fogged)—those who are allowed to have them, and don’t use heaters (Don, maybe you can run this by Mark?). Now that I think of it, what ARE buggy windshields usually made of? Plexiglass? Clear (soft) vinyl (kind of like what we English would have on our convertibles?)Not glass, I would hope—I’m clueless but curious.

      Alice mary

      1. Don Curtis

        Mark's buggy

        Well, I asked Mark about his windshield and keeping it defogged. He said he carries and ice scraper in the buggy with him and clears it off that way. He also keeps an old towel in the buggy to wipe the storm front off. He says that his stormfront is glass. Some are plexiglass. Some are a flexible vinyl. As far as he know Belle Center has no ordnung against using an open buggy. There are a number of Belle Center families that have started using open buggies during the summer. Mark was the one who kind of started that trend. Nobody had an open buggy in the community until Mark got one. Now, a number have them and use them in warm weather. Mark said that if they want to use them in the winter it would be up to them but he’s not planning on it. Too cold!

    12. Myron Yoder

      I Miss Nappanee

      I had the unique experience as a child to grow up near Nappanee and graduated for Northwood high school. My father left the amish church before I was born and I still have many dear amish relatives. The Millers family especially. We still cherish the invitations to “hay Stack” dinners and fellowship. From our experiences I have found that most of our buggy rides were fairly warm but lap blankets were welcome. Gods blessings on the Nappanee Amish who I have witnessed to be the most honest, hardest workers and soundest beliefs bar none.

    13. Nadja

      Lap robes used for decades

      My father’s family is probably about as far from Amish as one can get – they are pietist German Lutherans. When they drove horse drawn vehicles, they used what are known as “lap robes.” Some of the lap robes in the family continued in use through the early 1960s until car heaters improved.

    14. Jod Click

      Swiss Amish buggy heaters

      Erik,
      Do you think the Swiss Amish permit buggy heaters? I have never seen them sold in any of the Adams county stores, but I see many buggy blankets and the giant umbrellas (that always make me nervous because they can’t see around them – I know the horse is tge one who needs to see, but I appreciate the umbrellas with little windows!). I’ve never even seen a kid box in Adams County (but have seen them with the Swiss Amish in Allen county), so I’m assuming heaters would not be allowed…

      1. Interesting question, I don’t have any info on that, but I’m going to guess that they do not. I think that it wouldn’t be just a matter of whether the technology itself is permissible, but it just doesn’t seem to be very efficient or good use of resources to be heating a space that is not enclosed.

        I’ve never seen an umbrella with a little window, but sounds like a useful idea.

        1. Jodi Click

          I’ll have to see if I can get a picture of the umbrellas with windows for you. They are very expensive (as are the umbrellas withlut windows, but windows are about $100 more from what I’ve seen in the stores) so I don’t see them very often.

    15. Nadja

      Amish in Oregon?

      Someone mentioned an Amish colony in Oregon in the 1940s. I knew Oregon (I spent much of my childhood in Corvallis) had a rather large Mennonite presence near Woodburn – but where were the Amish?

      Oh, my Mom’s family – old line Mayflower descendant and colonial types along with some more recent British Isles immigrants – also used lap robes. My brother still has the last ones that were purchased by my parents.

    16. Katie Wengerd Palmer

      How do Amish Keep Warm in the Buggy.

      I had to laugh about the comments about being “toasty warm” in a buggy. In New Wilmington, PA it got awfully cold. In the winter a window type thing would be put over the opening in the front, which helped. And Mother would heat bricks in the oven than wrap them in towels to keep our feet reasonably warm in the buggy. Even with that, and coats and bonnets and blankets, we were never warm in the buggy.
      I left at age 17.

    17. Staying warm

      When it got really cold we used to fill up jugs with hot water to put at our feet for the ride to church.And yes, heavy buggy blankets are a must.
      https://amish-heritage.org/questions-and-answers-about-the-amish/

    18. Roger

      Question

      I am working on getting an Amish enclosed buggy. During the cold season what do people do to keep frost from forming on their windshields? Also, where is the best place to buggy replacement parts.