Horse-and-buggy Amish take up in-line skating Some congregations embrace new blades as efficient transportation


INTERCOURSE, Pa. -- Andrew Herschberger's girlfriend lives in Delta, almost 25 miles across the gentle hills of the Susquehanna Valley. But as a member of the Amish community, he may not drive a car, ride a motorcycle or even hop on a bicycle to go there.

He travels using an increasingly popular mode of Amish transportation, in-line skates.

"It's faster than a horse, and it's fun," said Herschberger, 20, who skates the 25 miles in two hours, almost twice as fast as an Amish buggy. "You just feel free."

Herschberger has abundant company on the roads of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

In the past few years, hundreds of Amish, most of them young, have taken up in-line skating to run errands, play hockey or just zigzag for pleasure.

Among the 150,000 or so Old Order Amish, who live in 230 settlements in 22 states and Canada, in-line skating is justified as an efficient, sensible means of locomotion, another example of how the modern can square with the traditional.

"The Amish always try to see if something new fits in with their way of life, and sometimes there's shady areas," said George R. Smith, national editor of The Budget, an Amish and Mennonite newspaper in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

"But when they do change, it's usually very well thought out. The Amish don't go in for any fads."

In some Amish settlements, in-line skating is impossible because many of the roads are gravel.

But perhaps one-third of the Amish congregations have tacitly approved their use, said Sam Stoltzfus, an Amish historian, writer and gazebo builder in Gordonville.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a few thousand pairs of skates have been sold to Amish in recent years, said Will Marion, sales manager for the Roller Derby Skate Corp. in Atglen, which distributes to the Intercourse area.

In-line skates are permissible, Stoltzfus said, because they are seen as a newer version of roller skates, a cousin of the ice skate and an improvement over the leg-powered scooter -- all long used by the Amish.

Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited, in part because of concerns that they could take residents too far from the community.

"Rollerblading is a midpoint between walking and bicycling," said Donald B. Kraybill, provost at Messiah College in Grantham and author of books on Amish culture.

"It's sort of a negotiated cultural compromise."

But some Amish worry that the convenience and speed of skating might, in a small way, dilute their no-frills style of life.

"For some elders," Stoltzfus said, "anything that looks like modern entertainment is a no-no. So there's more of a wait-and-see attitude at some churches."

Roller Derby in-line skates, which cost up to $180, are especially popular with young people who play hockey or commute to one of more than 100 one-room Amish schoolhouses in Lancaster County.

With 18,000 Amish, Lancaster is second in population only to Holmes County, Ohio, among settlements in the United States.

"Roller skates, I never got into them," said Amos Stoltzfus, 22. "They didn't have enough speed. The Rollerblades are more of a challenge, more smooth and more exercise."

Stoltzfus, no relation to Sam Stoltzfus, was running errands on his in-line skates near the new traffic light here, the first in town.

Not as many women use in-line skates, but the number is increasing, said Stephen Scott, a writer and historian at the People's Place, a cultural center in Intercourse.

Priscilla Stoltzfus, no relation to Amos or Sam Stoltzfus, occasionally glides five miles to her job at a commercial kitchen in Intercourse that makes jams and pastries.

Other women skate for fun or visit friends on weekends.

The Amish dress for skating in traditional formal clothing: trousers without hip pockets or zippers, suspenders, solid-color shirts and the occasional broad-rimmed hat for men. For women, it is bonnets, full skirts of a single color and cape and apron.

Helmets, wrist pads and kneepads are considered extraneous and a bit showy.

Shinguards are sometimes worn, mainly to keep pants unsoiled.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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