Press Releases

Amish in Ill. promise to repair roads damaged by carriages

By Jason Strait, The Associated Press
Friday July 12, 2002

ARTHUR, Ill. — Amish buggies ramble up and down the road that winds around Reuben Schrock’s farm, the horses tearing tiny chunks out of the oil-and-chip surface with their studded horseshoes. 

He can see, as anyone can, that the roads are in disrepair and that the horse-drawn buggies are partly to blame. But he doesn’t believe the Amish, himself included, should pay anything extra for the repairs. 

“I can’t deny the horses are gouging the roads, but I pay taxes just like everyone else,” said Schrock, one of four horseshoe fitters in this Amish community. “Are you going to tell me those trucks roaring up and down our roads aren’t causing more damage?” 

News has begun to circulate among the Amish in central Illinois that the governor signed into law a bill allowing townships to charge a fee for repairing roads damaged by horse-drawn carriages. Under the law, townships can charge up to $50 a year for each horse and buggy. 

The buggy bill, sponsored by Sen. Duane Noland, came out of discussions between Amish leaders, lawmakers and road commissioners in Douglas County, where about 4,000 Amish reside. 

Noland said the fee is warranted because of the damage the buggies cause to the region’s roads. 

Amish horseshoers, including Schrock, weld cleats onto the horseshoes to provide extra traction when summer temperatures cause the oil-and-chip roads to become soft and slick. The studded shoes work like snow tires, and without them, horses would likely slip and fall. 

“On a day when it’s hot, it’s damaging the roads,” Noland said. “I’m not going to say they’re excited about (the fee), but they’re law-abiding people and they understand the safety concerns.” 

They understand them, but they say the studded horseshoes aren’t to blame. 

Chris Helmuth, an Amish farmer who lives outside Arthur, said he would pay the fee, but reluctantly. He said the slick roads forced the Amish to use studded horseshoes, which otherwise wouldn’t be necessary. 

“We wouldn’t use these shoes if they wouldn’t put oil and gravel all over the roads,” he said. “My question is, ’Which came first?’ The road caused us problems, and these horseshoes were the solution.” 

Amish buggies have created questions before for lawmakers more accustomed to regulating cars. 

A judge ruled last month that an ultraconservative Amish congregation in Pennsylvania must use orange-and-red reflective triangles on their buggies for safety despite arguments by the group that gaudy decorations violate their beliefs. 

The Illinois law, which took affect this week, doesn’t force all buggy owners to pay the fee. Each township has to approve the fee, and only residents in the township would be subject to the licensing requirement. 

Drivers of buggies would pay the fee once a year and would be issued a license plate like the one used on cars. In Bourbon Township, where the idea for the law originated, the fee would generate about $125,000 a year. 

It also would help police identify the drivers of buggies, many of which are driven by teenagers who have no identification, Noland said. 

Paul Herschberger, who drove his buggy into town to have an aching tooth worked on, said most Amish would pay the fee and move on with their lives, raising crops and looking after their children. 

For others, the fee is the just the latest disruption of their lifestyle, which often finds itself at odds with the rest of society. 

“To me, this is just more red tape — another law from a government that my people aren’t used to dealing with and one some don’t understand,” Schrock said. “But we’ll survive. We’ve survived worse.”