Saturday, April 14, 2007

Old Order Mennonites and Technology

I received a very interesting comment on my post An Old Order Mennonite Sunday from Erik Wesner who writes a blog called Amish America. He has a lot of interest and knowledge about Old Order Anabaptists and his blog is worth visiting. In his comment he wrote,
"...the majority of OOMs in Waterloo County use only open vehicles--
which looks to be the case in your pics,
though I don't know if that is your exact area or not.

Another one of your pics (Feb 1)shows a squarish-looking closed-top--
reminds me of the buggies around Nappanee, Indiana--
they always seemed a bit boxier than the Amish ones in the area.
I wonder if those are related to Pike Mennonites,
which is supposedly one of the most conservative groups it seems."

The pictures I posted on Sunday were all of open carriages, mainly because I found the faces of the people more interesting than the buggies they were driving. My parents took all the pictures in this post, including those that show a variety of closed buggies.

We followed this buggy through the covered bridge shown at the top of the page. It had rubber tires, which are forbidden by stricter sects of Old Order Mennonites. A couple of small children were peering out the back window if this small box styled wagon.

This lovely team of horses pulled a much larger buggy at a good pace down the highway. You can see the difference in the style of the wheels.

This very bony and mangey horse pulled a smaller buggy past a house with fieldstone walls. We saw several farmhouses built in this fashion in this area near Elmira, Ontario.

Erik also commented on the solar panels we saw on this farm house. If you look on the roof line to the right of the windmill, you can see the three panels.

And the solar panel thing surprised me as well too--
I've actually seen these in quite a few midwestern Amish communities,
some of them powering electric fences. I like this as another
example of the Amish way of making decisions on technology--I feel it's quite a sophisticated decision-making process concerning what tech they do and don't allow.

This farm had no electricity lines, but several black cars were in the driveway. The Conservative Mennonites drive black cars rather than horses. It is not unusual for one family to have members belonging to different Mennonite groups. My neighbour was raised in an Old Order home, but left to join the most progressive church. She and her husband were welcomed at family gatherings in their Old Order extended families and she always felt a close kinship with them.

I have been doing some reading this week on the Mennonites in our region. There are many different groups that have formed because of various interpretations of what constitutes a plain life. We had an Old Order lady admitted to our rehabilitation unit this week, which is quite unusual as many of them do not join our federal health care or pension plans. While her family uses a horse and buggy, she was transported by ambulance for treatment following her serious accident. On Kevin Williams' blog, The Amish Cook, (Kevin is Susan Gets Native's relative) he writes about the quandry in deciding whether cell phones are acceptable technology for the Amish community.

Technology is changing the world at a dramatic pace. It must be difficult for the Old Order people to maintain a lifestyle based on how their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago when they must interact with the outside world that is so different in customs and values.

The Kissing Bridge at West Montrose, Ontario
(between Elmira and Guelph)


  1. Anonymous4:12 am GMT-4

    Thank you Ruth for this great post and pictures.

    First time I’ve ever seen this type of rubber wheel of any buggy. Looks more like something the more progressive Amish groups might have on pony carts and farm equipment. Very neat photo.

    Just wanted to mention as I did before that the comment on the majority of OOMs driving open top buggies was taken from the Stephen Scott book Plain Buggies. It was first printed in 1981 and revised in 1998. Could very well be that closed-top OOMs have moved into area, or maybe there was a change in the rules, or maybe more likely, you are just near some that do use the closed carriage. I’m actually a lot more up on knowledge of the Amish so this is neat to learn more about.

    On the open-top topic, Amish around Allen County, Indiana use only the open-top buggy. And that would include during rainstorms and other bad weather. That’s why the black umbrella is standard on-board equipment. And hopefully you have a passenger to hold it while you work the reigns. This community and a few others belong to the so-called ‘Swiss Amish’ group. They speak a different dialect of German than the rest of the Amish. When I heard it I was 100% clueless as to the difference, but other non-Swiss Amish have mentioned to me that they find it quite amusing to listen to.

    It’s actually fun to pick up a little PA Dutch/German if you’re non-Dutch. The kids sort of flip out to the extent that Amish kids do when you’re talking in English to mom and dad and then suddenly you pull out a bit of their at-home language. I’ve had bigger little kids laughing wildly, but usually the youngest who haven't learned English yet get really shy if you ask them how old they are in Dutch. And then they go hide behind mom. Cute. I only know like a total of about a dozen words and phrases but you can do more than you think with that. A lot of fun.

    Ok I’ll stop now before I get going on too many tangents! You have piqued my interest in OOMs and I plan to cook up a post on them shortly. Thanks again for the great post.

    Erik/Amish America

  2. Really interesting facts Ruth. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful insight to a fascinating community.

  3. Erik- My husband's ancestory is Swiss-German Anabaptist. They came from Buck's County PA in 1800 to Waterloo Region. His grandparents were progressive Mennonites and spoke Pennsylvania Dutch in the home. You have given me motivation to find out more about these people in our family. I know many OOM have moved out of the region to the north as the city has grown. There has likely been a shift in in demographics since Plain Buggies was written.

    Jayne- Thanks. It is good to try to understand people and cultures who are different than the mainline.

  4. Ruth- this was very interesting! Thanks for the insight!

  5. I'm going to have to check in with Erik's blog and see if he gives any Penn Dutch lessons!

    My father's side of the family was Penn. Dutch from Shamokin Pa.

    Interesting post Ruth. I want to read your link about the Amish and cell phones - can't quite imagine that!

  6. Anonymous5:53 am GMT-4

    Hi Laura, on PA Dutch, wish I could help...(: I'm just smiling to myself as I recall, 'koo' is cow, 'kee' is more than one cow. That usually cracks the kids up.

    If everything works out I am planning to live with an Amish family for a couple months later this year so we'll see how I do after that.

    I guess PA Dutch is learnable, even though it seems it's not really a written language--I met a New Order family once who adopted 5 English kids. They hired a PA Dutch tutor and all 5 apparently spoke flawlessly. Kids are like sponges when it comes to that stuff though.

  7. I am behind in blog reading, so just came on this. Most interesting. Erik's comment about the Amish around Nappanee caught my attention. Before my parents moved to Guelp, ON, they were in Nappanee, IN. When we visited them there, I was always interested to see the grocery store parking lots with a section for Amish buggies, complete with hitching posts for the horses.

  8. Lynne- Thanks. I love the way bloggers interact and stimulate interest in new subjects.

    Laura- I am sure you will find Erik's blog interesting, especially with your family background. You are linguistically gifted and would likely pick up a Penn-Dutch quickly.

    Erik- I would guess you plan to leave Poland when you stay with the Amish family this year. I haven't heard of Amish communities in Europe.

    KGMom- We have hitching posts in town at the malls and supermarkets. But it isn't common to see buggies in town. The OOM usually come in by bus.

  9. Thank you for good information on Memmonites. I've always been interested in their culture and lifestyle. In Delware, many of them would pile out of a vehicle and go mall shopping. Interesting?

  10. Anonymous6:22 pm GMT-5

    Hello, I found your website very interesting. I am a university student who was raised by mennonites in the Elmira / St. jacob's region of ontario. I noticed your interest in the differences between buggy styles that the mennonites use. The reason for this is because there are different groups of mennonites. For example the dave martin mennonites use steele wheel's on their buggies while the old order mennonites do not. By the way these mannonites do not have rules on open or closed buggies. Then there are the markham mennonites who drive black cars to church on sundays, and any other colour on regular week days. having been raised by mennonites up until eighth grade I would be glad to answer any question you have about the different mennonites of ontario. My first language is pensylvania dutch and so if u have any questions in that area as well. you can reach me at

  11. I just joined the Mennonites after years of being in other Protestant denominations. I created a website to chronicle my journey. Please stop by:


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