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).