Technology

Amish Horse-Drawn Buggies Are Pretty High-Tech

If you've ever watched a horse-drawn carriage drive by and thought "how quaint," or even "how archaic," we've got news for you—you were wrong. While most of modern civilization has traded in their buggies for cars since the 19th century (save a touristy carriage ride through Central Park), the Amish have just taken the old conveyance through several technological advances. How? It's all up to their church.

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Bright Light Means Turn Right

We don't blame you for being fooled by the buggies' traditional exteriors, but trust us when we say there's a lot of high-tech stuff going on under the hood. For starters, Amish drivers don't just halt the horse when they need to stop—modern buggies have brakes mounted to two wheels. They also have modern safety features like airbags. According to Popular Mechanics, states with large Amish populations, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, require drivers to turn their lights on when using public roads shared with cars. Yep, that means electricity.

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As long as the local church approves, an Amish community is allowed certain forms of technology. Most buggies have a front console with a switch box that contains all of the electrical switches a driver would need (headlights, taillights, interior lights, and turn signals). How do you tell when an Amish buggy is turning right? They have a customized system where the right-side headlight and taillight will shine brighter than the other side's lights. Now, for the wheels. These are no rickety wooden contraptions. Modern buggy wheels were adapted from racing vehicles (yes, really). Buggies take either steel, wood, or hard rubber tires, and they're made in-house with mounted rear brakes.

You Can Judge An Amish Buggy By Its Cover

As for "that antiquated" exterior—it's actually not that different from the average car. In addition to fiberglass and aluminum, exterior materials for buggies include oak, wood, and fabrics. A new material being used is "thermally modified wood." As a buggy builder tells Popular Mechanics, this wood is "almost zero-percent moisture," so it won't rot as easily as common dried lumber.

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Amish carriages come in different colors, but each color has a special meaning. Black is the most common color, as it's from many Amish affiliations across the Midwest. Gray is used by the Lancaster County Amish and its 300 congregations across eight states. Brown buggies can be found in Pennsylvania and New York, while white is most common for the Nebraska Amish. Yellow is an unlikely Amish buggy color, but it can be found in Pennsylvania's Big Valley settlement. Want to be a proud owner of an Amish horse-drawn carriage? It ain't cheap. It'll cost you upwards of $8,000, although you'll likely get 20 to 30 years out of it. And in most cases, you'll pay in cold hard cash. Because according to a buggy builder, banks are a bit "squeamish" about financing them.

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Written By
Curiosity Staff
January 27, 2017