A mule-powered washing machine

Sometimes individuals and even whole communities transition away from being “classically Amish”, becoming something different while keeping elements of Amishness.

We saw the example of the ex-Amish in Parke County, Indiana last week.  Today Karen Johnson-Weiner shares photos from a group in Missouri which has also moved in a different direction.  These people, previously considered Amish, now describes themselves as Mennonite.

Karen says that the dress of this group is clearly Amish.  In contrast to the car-driving former Amish in Parke County, however, the people in this community have gone the opposite way technologically.

For example this group does not permit the small motors which even the most conservative Amish will allow to power things like wringer washing machines.  The solution here is mule power, as you can see in the photos below:

Mule Wringer

Mule Powered Technology

Wringer Pulley

Mennonite Washing Machine

Mennonite Mule Power Washer

Old Style Washing Machine

Karen once told a Swartzentruber Amish bishop about this group, who in turn “shook his head at folks who go to extremes!”

Something to think about next time you fire up the washer-drier.

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    1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Where’s my - my Mule?

      Can Karen, or you, Erik, talk about the soap that these Missouri Mennonites are using? Are they using store bought detergents or homemade soap?

      My subject line comes, by the way, from a Canadian rock band, Big Sugar, and their song “Nashville Grass” in which the singer wonders “Where’s my – my mule?”

      Of course there are lots of mule references in a number of different songs over the years.

      Incidentally, I noticed that Karen didn’t picture the mule in this collection of pictures.

      1. Karen M. Johnson-Weiner

        They use commercial laundry soap, but they also make their own. There is no mule in the picture because I didn’t happen to be there on washday! As for the group’s origins, these folks moved to Richards, MO, from central Ohio (where they identified as Amish). Many in the community have family ties to Amish settlements in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York. They began to identify as Mennonites in order to fellowship with a Mennonite group already there.

        1. Makes sense. The group from Scottsville and this from Ohio can fellowship with each other if both go by the same name, Mennonite or Amish.

        2. Ed

          So would it be correct to say that this group moved to a new location and joined with Mennonites already established there? In other words, they did not “leave the Amish” over doctrinal or technology differences. Are they still in fellowship with the Amish groups they have family ties to?

          1. Ed I checked with Karen, and she said yes to your first question, and that she’d be surprised if they were fellowshipping with any Amish groups.

            1. Ed

              Interesting. From what I understand, two potential spouses must belong to groups “in fellowship” with each other in order to marry. So when parents join a new order or break away group, that can have a huge impact on the marriage options for the next generation.

      2. Homemade soap

        Shom just to add sth to Karen’s reply, here is a post with photos Karen took of soap made by a Swartzentruber Amish woman (recipe as well): https://amishamerica.com/amish-soap/

        I’m not sure how close that is to what the Richards, MO people make, but looks like a good simple variety of soap.

    2. Linda

      It seems like this would be a cold job in the wintertime unless they move the washing machine or add some protective walls.

    3. Lattice

      My closest friends are not allowed motors of any type. They use “horse” power for most things, and good ole “arm” power for the washer. They make their own laundry detergent.

    4. Naomi Wilson

      Pretty fancy

      Seems a lot of trouble to go through, hitching up the mule(s), etc. to accomplish a task that can be done by hand. I wash our family of four’s laundry by hand, with a hand crank wringer. And I make my own detergent, which is so easy and cheap.

    5. I do laundry by hand, here in the city, very often. I am thinking of getting washtubs again and doing it out on the roof of the building! Funny, the son and I were talking about getting “urban donkeys.”

    6. My reaction to this was the same as the other Linda who commented: ‘What about winter? This makes me very grateful for our push-button washing method…wouldn’t want to have to think about getting a mule to drive my machine. But I appreciate the resourcefulness.

      1. Yikes…winter is when the laundry mules must wear their heavy coats 🙂

        Does make you appreciate the electric version.

    7. There is no name to this group in the article. But if this community started from the Scottsville KY group, then they are indeed Mennonite and never have considered themselves Amish, unless other people tagged them as such.

      1. Lattice

        Hi Katie. You’re right, the Scottsville group is Old Order Mennonite. The Delano, TN group is a branch of the Scottsville community, and they are allowed no motors at all, so I doubt these pictures are from either area.

        1. Lattice

          Whoa, my mistake! Sorry for my lapse of “making sense.” Well, you may very well be exactly right. I don’t know why I imagined a motor in those photos. Sorry!

        2. Lattice, have you been to Delano?

          1. Lattice

            Yes, I have (it’s been a couple or three years) and to Scottsville.

    8. Do they also use 20 “Mule Team” borax for washing? Sorry…just had to ask!

      1. Good call Denise…that’s the mules’ favorite brand, anyway.

    9. ramblinjodie

      Where in Missouri are they located? A hard way to wash clothes.

    10. Colleen

      Seems easier just to use a wash plunger and a 5 gallon bucket in the bathtub with a portable wringer attachment. Warmer in the winter, too!

    11. Alice Mary


      I think about doing laundry (etc.) by hooking a washer up to my exercise bike (same concept as mule power here). At least THEN I’d have some incentive to get some exercise! (I like multi-tasking, especially if it saves money)!

      I fondly remember scenes from Gilligan’s Island with human-powered (bike) appliances! If you ask me, we should be harnessing the power of kids at recess, health clubs, gyms, etc., rather than letting all that “energy” just go to waste (see multi-tasking comment above).


      Alice Mary

      1. When I lived in Cookeville Tennessee we also had a printing press run by bike power. Even the strongest of the young men got tired of pedaling as it was only a single speed.

      2. Slightly-handled-Order-man


        Thank you Alice Mary, you brought me a funny memory of my childhood.

        One year while on a vacation my family went to the Bruce Power Plant in the Georgian Bay, Lake Huron area of Ontario, and they had a children’s play area where we could produce our own power using our own energy.

        I remember specifically the exercise bike rigged up so that by peddling furiously you could illuminate a lightbulb. Maybe it was the setting, but it was hard to do, but it is possible.

        You’re idea would be possible, but I’m not sure how the energy from, for instance workout facilities, would be harnessed and stored, but there are brighter minds than I.

        1. Alice Mary

          It's possible!

          Actually, SHOM, I heard about someone (University? Not sure!) hooking up their array of treadmills in the health club/gym/whatever to charge up batteries or something…this was earlier this year. Of course, the Ammish & Mennonites being the hard (physical) workers they are, THEY don’t need to use this excuse/incentive for getting more exercise!

          I believe the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has (or had, many years back) a bike hooked up to a light, too. I recall pedaling like crazy to get a mere glimmer! (And I was in much better shape back then!) 😉

          Still, it seems like an idea whose time has come, I think. If nothing else, it might help a few folks still without power from Superstorm Sandy!

          Alice Mary

    12. PAUL

      about mule

      I was raised in the DUNKARD comunity and we had no moters at all,,and believe me i saw the back end of my pet red mule day after day,year after year,i now am disable and in my 70’s and now only push buttons..

    13. PAUL

      once was there my self

      I was reared in the DUNKARD cmunity and worked behind my pet mule for years,now in my 70’s and disabled,i appreciate being able to push the buttons.

    14. TOM-GA

      Mule power

      when I was a youth, (40s) I had a generator on my bike that you could lean aginst the tire and it would light a tail light. I was the power. Does anyone remember these? TOM-GA

      1. Don’t they still use this technology Tom? Unless I’m thinking of something else.

    15. Wm Justice

      Baby mules and baby Hondas

      And I thought my Randolph, Mississippi Swartzentrubers were old fashioned. Silly me! But then they don’t have mules since mules can’t make baby mules. So they prefer Honda lawnmower engines but won’t mow their lawns with them. Go figure? To the best of my knowledge, Honda lawnmower engines can’t make baby Hondas.

    16. Don Curtis


      Well, as far as doing the washing (pronounced “warshing” here in Central Ohio as in “Warshington D.C. etc.) For awhile after he became Amish Mark used a hand washer he got from Lehman’s. Looked like a butter churn to me. Mark used it for quite a while but then switched to his gasoline powered wringer washer. For his birthday I got him a big drying rack he was hanketing after. He keeps the rack out on his porch in the winter. He hangs his whites out on the rack. He says that if he hangs his whites in the basement that they turn yellow because of the propane he heats with. In the summer you can drive by his house on a Monday and see his wash hanging out on the line. During the winter he hangs it up in his basement but like I said, the whites to out on his screened in porch. The drying rack I got for him, the wooden dowels the clothes hang on are incased in plastic tubes. That is something Mark especially wanted. He said that if you hang your clothes on wooden dowels with no coating that something leaches out of the wood and stains the fabric. Anyway, I’ve solved that problem by throwing my clothes in an electric dryer and pushing a button. No wringers for me.

    17. Don Curtis


      This sounds a little rude but I think these Amish could stand to use a couple of weed eaters. If they can’t use the machine kind maybe they should get the four-legged kind and turn loose some goats. When the wife and I started out and actually until the kids were about grown we used hand grass clippers to trim around everything. I can still see my mother-in-law, (she lived with us after Charline’s father died) down on her knees on her old rug with her special grass clippers she had brought with her from her home. Actually the whole family would be down on our knees trimming the flower beds and along the walks. No string trimmers back then that I can remember.

      1. Linda

        Some conservative Amish let horses graze in their yard to mow it. At least one Amish cemetery keeps gentle sheep inside the fence to mow the grass.

        Officials in Chicago were recently looking for 30 goats to trim grass in a hard-to-mow area at O’Hare Airport. If the goats are not deaf, can you imagine how they might runaway at the roar of an airplane?

        Don, I like the quietness of the hand grass clippers. Weed-eaters are faster, but they can “eat” the bottoms of wooden posts, too.

        1. Linda I picture a herd of happily munching goats wearing safety earphones as 747s scream by overhead 🙂

    18. When I was young I had a washing machine functioning on water power. It is simple and effective.