Thoughts on an Amish Auction and Preparedness, by 3AD Scout

Previously, in my August, 2020 SurvivalBlog article titled Going Old School,  I discussed how when we prep by having a primary and back-up, I stated that one back-up should be old school or vintage to accommodate loss of electric and other technology in a prolonged (years) event. Practicing what I “preach” I sometimes attend Amish auctions for non-electric and off-grid equipment and supplies.

Recently I spent a Saturday at an auction where the property of an Amish Wheel Wright and buggy maker was up for sale. My first observation was “English” (non-Amish) buyers were the minority. So, if you go you may not have a lot of competition from other non-Amish bidders. Absent were the antique dealers, second-hand shop owners and flea market vendors looking for merchandise to flip. I believe this lack of attendance by non-Amish is indicative that these types of auctions are an under-tapped resource for serious TEOTWAWKI preppers.

This leads to my second observation, the prices at an Amish auction can tend to be higher (but not always the case) than the prices where the majority of bidders are non-Amish. This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t get any good deals at an Amish Auction. So why do Amish tend to pay more at auctions? First, most don’t utilize \online E-Commerce. Second, if what they need isn’t within buggy distance, they have to pay someone to drive them to the store or business thus increasing the cost of whatever they buy. Another reason Amish tend to pay higher prices is that their lifestyle is simple and many own and operate their own “cottage industries” and hence they require the means of production that also align with their religious beliefs as well.

So, when we look at a hammer, for most of us we see a tool we might use once in a while but when an Amish person sees that same hammer, they think in terms of means of production, their livelihood, or quite simply their survival. The age-old theory of supply and demand also comes into play. An auction where non-electric tools and equipment are auctioned and there are no Amish versus an auction that has serval Amish in attendance greatly impacts the demand side of the equation. Up for bid were about two dozen Coleman lanterns and eight Coleman camp stoves. I watched as used (although very good condition) Coleman camp stoves sold at $75 apiece and lanterns (most without the requisite glass globe) sold for $30 to $50 apiece. Although I’m always interested in lanterns and stoves, I didn’t even make a bid on these. Why? Just take into account the demand variable. With 200-300 potential Amish bidders this equals a high demand versus a non-Amish auction where the demand for used camping equipment is very low.

Broken Coleman Lanterns?

At a non-Amish auction, I can buy Coleman stoves and lanterns for around $5 all the time. Some other variables that influence prices at Amish auctions are scarcity, and quality. It isn’t like you can walk into Harbor freight and by the tools used specifically for trades such as Wheelwrights, Coopers, Harness making and other dying trades. The quality of the tools and devices manufactured in the United States in the 1800s and up to about the 1950s was superb quality. So even if you could find a specialized tool for coopering or wooden wheel making what type of quality would it be. How many of these specialized tools are even around today?

Also, keep in mind that the population of the Amish doubles about every 15 years hence drives demand for these old school tools and devices can theoretically increase as well. As I was watching the bids go higher and higher it dawned on me that these items, and other non-electric items would be priceless in a post-TEOTWAWKI world where demand would spike like hand sanitizer and toilet paper during a pandemic. But unlike the pandemic, the supply chain would not be able to catch up with demand. Unlike a product, like toilet paper used by most of the people in the western world, white gas stoves are more of a niche market and wouldn’t be able to spin up production like toilet paper. Look at the time that it took to increase ventilator production for just a few thousand more machines.

A Non-electric, simple lifestyle

Besides the pure economic lessons of an Amish auction you also get a glimpse into a non-electric, simple lifestyle. Many Amish use generators or other means of electric power specially to power their businesses. I watched as wood planners, lathes, drill presses, and various saws that were powered by belts and pulleys driven by a large gas or Diesel motors were auctioned off. We have become so accustomed to just plugging something into an outlet and turning a switch on we have lost some of the science and much of the art around understanding and applying simple theories such as force, thrust, lift, mechanical advantage and others. When we look at a lawnmower, we see a device to cut the lawn, but an Amish man sees a power plant.

When we are in the midst of TEOTWAWKI and there is no electric but you still have some gas for special circumstances you can take the motor off your lawnmower to provide mechanical power to help make a task easier and/or quicker. In my Prepper inventory I keep an assortment of belt pulleys, bearings, and other accessories to modify or make devices that will help power my Post-TEOTWAWKI world. I keep a few small engines around to “turn things”, whether that turning is a grain grinder or lathe or to produce DC current.

I have always been a history buff. I like going through old Sears and Roebuck catalogs and study tools and device that have not been manufactured or perhaps even used for 100 years. As I looked over the tables of items up for bid, I saw something I had no idea what it was for. I must have stared and pondered uses for that “thing” for 20 minutes. Interestingly enough many of the Amish at the auction didn’t know what the devices were either. It was cast iron with gears on the left and right that raised/lowered two arms with hooks on the ends. When the item came up for bid, I found out it was used to keep the wooden wagon wheel parts tight when being made or repaired. Basically, a wagon wheel clamp. Therefore, these auctions are a good place to learn about “rusty gold” tools that we have never seen let alone ever used by the vast majority of us.

My Biggest Lesson

But perhaps the biggest lesson is just watching how the Amish interact with one another. It is like one big family. During the auction they had a Chinese auction going to help support two Amish widows and the profits from the food stand benefited the local Amish school. The Amish take care of their own. As the auction was ending and the food stand was closing all the extra food (extra uncooked meat, buns, and pop) were auctioned off. I watched a 36 pack of Mountain Dew sell for more than $125.

The Amish are known for their tight-knit community but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with them. My mom made friends with an Amish lady and the Amish lady taught her how to can strawberries, butter, and a few other food items. They traded recipes and uses for herbs. They are great people and if you engage them in conversation you will learn a lot. I am always interested in how they power and modify equipment to fit their lifestyle.

Many people assume that the Amish will survive TEOTWAWKI due to their perceived self-sufficiency. I believe they are better prepared to survive TEOTWAWKI but the Amish still rely upon electricity but just not directly, that is the manufactured goods they do buy are still dependent upon electricity to be manufactured and shipped. The Amish are also dependent upon gas and diesel which again is dependent upon our fragile electric system. Make and foster your relationships now just as you would with others of like mind. We live one road over from an Amish enclave. When you drive down the road just about every house has a sign on the front lawn advertising what trade or wares are produced or sold there. It is good to know that we have saw mills, harness makers, seamstresses, and other old school trades so close to us that we could perhaps call on in a prolonged TEOTWAWKI incident.

I recently had an Amish contractor come look at my old barn for a quote for a new metal roof and siding. While he was here, I asked him if he knew anyone that might be interested in a used wood burning stove, he took a look at it and told me he would let some people know I had one. It is simple relationships and conversations like this that can pave the way to a relationship that might someday be responsible for you or your family’s survival. In the spring I will be buying some piglets from an Amish farm nearby, establishing, I hope, a relationship that will be beneficial both in “normal” times as well as during TEOTWAWKI for both his family and mine.

Thinking about how the Amish are dependent upon our logistics system for items that they need to make their wares I have thought about having deep stores of hardware and consumable supplies such as steel wool, sandpaper, glues, and the like might make very good barter materials within the Amish community. So consider having a few Amish in your neighborhood mutual assistance group (MAG).




25 Comments

  1. Nice article thanks. There are Mennonite communities a couple of hours away from our location. They make and sell furniture, tiny houses, barns, and they ladies run a bakery. They also sell at farmer’s markets all around. Yes, their prices are higher than most but when you compare quality, it is generally worth it.

    1. There is still excellent hand crank equipment being made today. One example: https://www.fiskars.com/en-us/crafting-and-sewing/products/diy-precision-tools/precision-hand-drill-132420-1001

      Check out the other tools Fiskars makes. Their guarantee is fabulous. When a branch lopper broke, I called the number on the tool and asked if they might send me a part. The fella said they would send me a new tool, which arrived ten days later. Integrity.

      Carry on

  2. Refreshing read. From what I can see from the outside, I’ve always thought much like the Amish. It is worthwhile to recognize the distinction. My friends tend to be similar. I’ve tried to educate the few Amish I run into. Most use hybrid seed, and do not have a way to cut wood without fuel. There are Amish who have left their community who still some connection there. Hopefully these persons can help their relatives somehow. Yet the Amish are innovators. They will figure it out if they can defend themselves long enough to make the necessary changes. Our Amish have an usually well secluded location that would be fairly easy to defend. Yes, they have rifles.

  3. We don’t have any Amish where I live but there are Mennonites not far away. I’m not totally sure of the difference but I do know they drive as when I go past their church on a Sunday, the lot is full of cars. I’m not sure if they have any particular home businesses here or are any more or less prepared than the rest of the people living here though.

    1. I’ve watched a YouTube channel called Montana Haven. Nice couple. His family is in the business of building log homes (and they also have a YouTube channel called Meadowlark Homes). His family, Amish, settled in Libby Montana. The way the gentleman explained the differences between the Amish and the Mennonites was basically the Amish are more “strict” in how they interpret the Bible, and some groups are very legalistic in regards to head coverings etc. Their family is not as strict and they wear “regular” clothing, drive trucks, use electricity, etc. They hold the Biblical values of the Amish, yet practice “freedom in Christ” as to way of life. I thought they explained it all very well in a couple of long videos.

    1. Scout, a very important insight IMO was this one: But perhaps the biggest lesson is just watching how the Amish interact with one another. It is like one big family.

      Carry on

  4. We deal with the Amish here in Ohio a lot. They have a lot of bicycle shops and they can fix or build a wheel or a bike from scratch for heavy duty use. They are very honest with the prices they charge. Also, we get most of our meat from them. They feed non-GMO feed to their animals and the meat is always fresh and local. Buy one of their pies or baked goods and taste the difference. Their motto is,”Do everything as if it was for the Lord” and it shows in all they do.

  5. We have the Amish down the road from us, and my brother in law’s farm has them on 3 sides. One interesting thing I learned from the group down around us. They will not fight to protect their family or property, if raiders come in a SHTF situation it will be “God’s will” if they are harmed. Of course, that is what they say now, once it happens they may hire security or change their mind. Maybe it’s an Amish thing, maybe just my area, I don’t know. They have guns, as they hunt. So it’s not a gun issue.

  6. We hire the amish to butcher our beef for us they do an excellent job and are very accommodating as we send roughly 15 cows a year their way.
    What shocked us was they are very connected with whats happening in the outside world they understand the importance of this election right down to the latest news of Joe bidens son and that scandal.

  7. Hey 3AD Scout,

    I missed this yesterday, I had to get up early and head to an all-day auction. Too bad we can’t sit down with some pie and coffee and swap auction stories. I’ll bring the blackberry pie if you can rustle up the coffee. 🙂 At yesterday’s auction I got so much for so little money I felt like a thief as I was driving away.

    Great article. My kids and I made two cart wheels once, without felloes, just two pieces of bent oak 1 x 4’s for each wheel. We had an old rain gutter which we boiled the water in to make the bends. We made the axle out of black locust and used a draw knife to form the skeins as well as to make the oak hubs. We even did our own blacksmithing on the hub braces. Everything we did was using old tools and methods. So when I read about your trip to the Wheel Wright auction, I thought boy, would I have loved to go to that one.

    So how do you find out about their auctions? I never see them advertised here but I’d love to go to some.

    Thanks again for the article, the Amish angle as well as the simple life admonition.

    1. There are several ways to find out about auctions, Auction Zip has listings of auctions around the country. Contact several auctioneers in your area and get on their facebook page or e-mail list, read the classified section of your paper, in Berks county PA they have a weekly publication from the windsor press that has advertisements of auctions in the area and sometimes surrounding counties.

  8. Very nice read and perspective. I did a project for someone in Indiana, where they have a lot of Amish around. You could readily tell the buggies owned by teenagers, as they had the crazy lighting packages on them. Many barns had solar panels on them, and I understand they did laundry and other chores in the barns with electricity. Depends on which sect one lives in as to options are allowed.
    The Amish in this area were not pacifists. Alcohol was not taboo. I am told that the horse would get the owner home when too much alcohol was consumed. Wish we had some Amish near my digs, I could learn a lot from them.
    I have a lot of Coleman lanterns and old stoves and support parts. But fuel storage is another story….its pricey stuff! Anyone with knowledge about Coleman lanterns who uses alternative fuels should write an article for us.
    Who growing up with Coleman lanterns were not awed by them at an early age?

  9. Having spent the last 26 years living in an Old Order Amish community, I can say that there are many different types of Amish and they live quite differently. The area in which I live has members that are among the strictest about embracing advancements. There have been issues through the decades about them putting in and using septic systems, marking the buggies to be seen after dark and a number of other things. They are not even allowed to own any implement that would have a rubber tire on it (even a wheelbarrow or a wagon or a bike) as they are not allowed to trap the air.

    But I’ve see changes over the time I’ve been here. Many have cell phones (the mail man said he delivers lots of cell phone bills to their houses) but they will tell you they don’t have them. The younger ones are leaving in higher numbers than a few decades ago, and some of the youngest have admitted to us that they now will indeed defend themselves and their family, with guns, if it became necessary (there was a rash of burglaries of Amish homes here a few years ago, while they all were at Sunday meeting). There is drug trafficking and use as well, and hard to investigate, as they don’t share much with law enforcement.

    Most here are now working outside the community and off the farms (although there are still big farms, most have another business or job as well), and many are millionaires, some many times over. They are being more and more influenced by the outside world and dipping their toes into the water of the English world more each generation.

    They do still have a lot of basic tools and skills and operations that most English would know nothing of, but are living with one foot in each world. They hire drivers to take them to work daily. They often buy all kinds of equipment they are forbidden to use, but can own. For instance they can’t operate a large piece of equipment like a front loader or bulldozer, and in years past, would hire someone in the English farming community with such things to do work for them. When the bishops realized it was more expensive to do this, they made rulings that certain Amish could buy those things, and only hire an English person to operate them when needed. So it’s a bit complex as to understanding why something is too modern (evil) to own (a car, truck or large equipment), but it’s ok to use it when it belongs to someone else or is operated by someone else, or allowed to be owned by some, based on the bishops decisions. A strange balance for sure. The Amish are very much more money driven than their public persona leads the rest of the world to believe. They don’t amass the ‘things’ that English do, but they do believe in having large amounts of money. They invest in land, and use it to take care of each other in the community, when they are ill or experience tragedies. But make no mistake, while they are plain people, they do very much value and build wealth.

    The Amish in our area aren’t very willing to share wisdom or impart information on their ways of doing things. They tend to keep to themselves, unless they want something from you. They have a habit of taking advantage. If one is granted permission to cut wood on your land, you have to watch, because they will have 30 of their brethren back there the next week. They know the old ways of foraging for food in and along the woods, and will pull all your mushrooms and pick your berry bushes clean if they think they can get away with it. They tend to ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.

    And we too have seen things that could be bought for new at less than half the price, sell at auction to the Amish. They don’t ‘shop’ like we do and they don’t own nearly the ‘stuff’ we do, so they don’t seem to mind over paying for certain daily use basic things that aid their work or survival. Going to auctions, be they Amish or English, and watching what the Amish buy, is a good way to get a glimpse of things to consider having, or knowing about and how to use, should there be a situation where grids are down, and all the electric things we depend on are rendered useless.

    Many of our electric things, they use for the intended purpose, just differently. They use electric irons, just cut the cord off and place on a hot stove to heat for ironing. They use freezers, buried in the ground for a root cellar, or above ground as a cooler, with ice cut from ponds in the winter or delivered by the English. They use old wringer washers with engines on them, just drive the engine off of a gasoline powered engine, not electricity.

    All in all, I’ve found in living amongst them this many years, that they are a changing culture, misunderstood on a number of levels by the English world, a real glimpse into the past ways of doing things, and much more complicated than they would like you to believe.

    1. Thanks for sharing that lengthy and insightful comment. In our region, there is a “breakaway” Amish community. Over the past decade, it has been interesting watching them pick particular technologies to embrace, and which to reject. I wish that others would show the same level of discernment and deliberation. When I visit homes with “Ring” doorbells and “Echo” surveillance devices on their coffee tables, I cringe.

  10. Who growing up with Coleman lanterns were not awed by them at an early age?

    —the hiss and the smell bring me right back to my childhood camping with family.

    n

  11. As for the Amish surviving, I’m not so sure, but for a different reason. They are pacifists and any predatory individual or group would probably enslave or wipe them out. I live near both Amish and Mennonite and buy goods from them from time to time. I bought a Mennonite shed and the guy delivering was also Mennonite and we talked some, but he was man a few words, so it wasn’t much of a conversation. LOL.

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