Amish also feel strain of high fuel costs

ByJonathan Starkey The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

— -- Inside his workshop near Dover, Del., Bennie Troyer, an Amish man, shapes and assembles wood. He builds about 30 to 35 custom kitchen cabinet sets a year, and each set takes about a week and a half to make.

Cabinetmaking, a trade Troyer learned from his father, Sam, who started the business in the 1960s, has become much more expensive lately.

The price of diesel fuel that powers Troyer's tools — a traditional table saw and wide-belt sander among them — has skyrocketed the past several months. At this time last year, Troyer says, he paid $2.35 a gallon for diesel. It cost him $4.49 a gallon recently.

Burning 125 gallons a month, that's an extra $267.50, not counting fuel surcharges suppliers are tacking onto deliveries of things such as stains and drawer slides, Troyer says.

"Our profit margin is not going to be this year what it was last year," he says.

The Amish, widely known for their horse-drawn buggies and a lifestyle that shuns many modern conveniences, are as susceptible to the sting of rising oil prices as anyone else.

From the diesel fuel for tools used in milking cows, building cabinets and sawing timber, to the gasoline used to power washing machines and freezers, the pinch is real.

Amish are banned from driving cars and trucks because Amish leaders worry that faster transportation could "pull the community apart." The prohibition, however, does not extend to fuel-powered motors and engines such as those used to run power tools and washing machines, says Donald Kraybill, a scholar on the Amish at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa.

"I don't know that there ever was a categorical taboo on the engine," Kraybill says. "They used steam engines in the late 19th century."

In addition to his own fuel costs, Troyer says, the Baltimore company that provides him with stains and finishes has tacked an additional $12 on each delivery. He says he may have to raise his prices to compensate.

"If this keeps on, we're going to have to do something different," he says.

At his sawmill, also west of Dover, Ervin Miller burns 250 gallons to 300 gallons of diesel each week, sawing and mulching timber. Miller, who remembers paying 95 cents for diesel only five years ago, paid $4.39 a gallon recently.

Loggers, who are also facing higher fuel prices, want more money, too, he says. And adjusting prices can be difficult because the struggling lumber companies are unwilling to pay more. "I just get what they give me," Miller says. "It kind of puts a jam on you."

For David Miller, a dairy farmer nearby, diesel fuel powers his milk pump and the compressor that keeps the milk cool.

The good news is that prices for milk have also gone up: Miller is earning more than 60% more for his milk this summer than he did a couple of years ago.

"It's helping a lot," David Miller says.

Still, he faces extra charges from haulers because of higher fuel prices. He calls such prices "ridiculous."

Harvey Yoder, who runs a nearby nursery, says the belief that the Amish are not affected by such modern factors as soaring fuel prices is a misconception.

"People think the Amish are old-time," Yoder says, "but we do use gas."

The water pump Yoder uses to water the plants in his greenhouse — from petunias to ponytail grass — is gas-powered.

His 5-gallon jug of gasoline usually lasts two weeks or so, he says. Through the spring, it may only last one week.

"We used to get it for half the price," Yoder says. "It knots you."

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