cover issue196Just as the daffodils bloom and the robins return north, carriage and horse auctions mark the beginning of spring. At the end of April in the Mid-Atlantic region – eastern Pennsylvania to be more specific – hundreds are drawn to the area. Some bring carriages and harness, books, prints, lamps, whips, memorabilia and even silly stuff to sell at the Martin’s Spring Carriage Auction. Others come with empty trailers, hoping to get a good buy and take something home. Some come just to socialize with one another.

They come from near and far: as close as Lancaster County and as far as Germany and Belgium, California and Hawaii.

This year’s inventory of sale items was smaller than usual. But the variety was still interesting. A collection of commercial vehicles attracted great interest and some fairly good prices.

Within an easy hour’s drive are many other places to visit for carriage drivers. Some of these you may already be familiar with, as their advertisements can be found in Driving Digest. Over 60 harness makers are located just in Lancaster County, Pa.

Our first stop was at Driving Essentials to visit with Jack and Jan Alvarez at their store in New Holland. I remember when the Alvarez’ first started their business not all that long ago – or so it seems to me. I did not expect to see what I saw when I walked through their door – a beautiful display of almost everything a carriage driver could want or need. Because so many people who come to Martin’s Auction stop by Driving Essentials, Jack and Jan put out a vast array of snacks and beverages on Thursday for their customers and guests to enjoy. And of course they’ll be glad to help you choose a carriage or harness while you are there!

Next, we found Daniel Smucker of Smucker’s Harness in his shop in Churchtown. Daniel, a third generation harness maker, recently moved back to the building previously used by his father Moses Smucker, and continues the tradition of making finely crafted harness by hand. He showed us the 100-year-old stitching machine that he uses every day. The number of that particular machine is in the single digits, still going strong.

The Amish do not use electricity, so their machines are powered by propane powered air. Daniel finds that air power is more reliable than electric power, without the ebbs and surges. He can stitch as fast or as slow as he wants to. He showed us the dies that he uses to cut certain pieces and the sides of leather – all from the U.S. - that the harness pieces are cut from. Daniel has begun to make other unique, specialty items from leather.

Yonies Harness Shop was next. Located in Honeybrook, Yonies manufactures synthetic driving harness and other products for the Amish and Mennonite communities as well as for the pleasure and combined driving population. Yonie is a nickname for Jonathan Stoltzfus, derived from the Hebrew language of Yoni, which is short for Yehonatan, which is the Hebrew form of the name Jonathan.

Claudette Robinson and Ray and Pam Knisley helped Yonies develop their current line of harness for the pleasure and combined driving community – from individual pieces to full harnesses. But their inventory includes much more – from number holders and belts, marathon pads, spares kits. They can also add reflective strips to the harness pieces for safe driving at dusk or nighttime. They are very proud of the quality of their harness. Their products are now selling in South America where carriage driving is growing.

Next stop was Weavertown Coach Shop in Bird-in-Hand, Pa. Jacob King owns and operates the carriage shop established by his father Ephraim in 1970. In fact Jacob was born in the building where we met him. Once the King’s home, it is now turned into their office. Weavertown Coach Shop builds 50-60 new Amish buggies every year. They come in a variety of styles: an enclosed carriage, a pickup wagon, spring and market wagons. The carriages have fiberglass bodies, fiberglass doors, headlights, full view acrylic windows, optional windshield wipers, optional front fog lights, an aluminum hatchback and more. Halogen and LED lights front and rear help to keep the carriages visible to car and truck traffic that share the road with the Amish.

Another large part of Weavertown’s business is carriage restoration. Currently in the shop was The Gem – a Brewster coach belonging to Tucker Johnson undergoing restoration.

Roof Seat Breaks are a specialty of Weavertown Coach Shop. In 1980 they developed a break that is a combination replica of Brewster and A.T. Demarest roof seat breaks. It is stronger, lighter and more versatile than the antique. Over the years, they have custom built nearly 20.

If you need it, they will fix or make it, from woodworking, upholstery, painting, metal fabrication, replacing missing pieces, retrofitting brakes.

Carriage Machine Shop is impressive. The Stoltzfus family, Christian and his many sones, manufacture Bird-in-Hand and Bellcrown carriages from their facility in Bird-in-Hand, Pa. They also fabricate cream separators, butter churns and other items for the dairy industry. The Bellcrown carriages were originally designed and built in England for over 25 years, exporting them to the U.S. Carriage Machine Shop now produces these proven designs at their own facility, offering local service, reduced delivery times and lower prices. Many of these are suitable for the growing VSE market. They also manufacture the Freedom Therapeutic, a two-wheeled carriage for special needs drivers.

The Bird-in-Hand line has been popular for many years, with the Flyer perhaps the best known. Other pleasure and competition models complete the line, along with a wheelchair accessible carriage.

Last but not at all the least was our stop at Double E Carriages. Also in Bird-in-Hand, Elam and Emma and their family own and operate their restoration shop. This friendly family welcomes visitors on Thursday for a Customer Appreciation lunch (feast might better describe it).

On display was a roof seat brake that Elam restored and is for sale. Exploring the upstairs we saw racks of wood ready to be used, stacks of spindle seat backs, shafts, boxes of hardware, carriages waiting for restoration. Another room was the upholstery room, with sewing machines, fabrics and tables.

On a shelf on the main floor, paint cans wear labels with the name of the owners- Mrs. Rockefeller, Frolic Weymouth, John White – and their carriages, ready should touch-ups or pinstriping be required.

Some of the Amish are feeling the squeeze of today’s local ordinances, taxes and other requirements. They are both the beneficiaries and victims of the commercialization of Amish country in this little part of Pennsylvania.

If you plan a visit to this part of the country for whatever reason, do plan extra time to visit these and other places – you’ll be welcome and you’ll thoroughly enjoy your time learning about how harness and carriages are made.

Contact Details

Driving Digest Magazine
PO Box 120
Southern Pines, NC 28387

(910) 691-7735

Email: ann@drivingdigest.com

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