Central Kansas is home to a a patchwork of Plain communities ranging from the more progressive Beachy Amish Mennonites to more conservative horse and buggy groups. The Amish communities are clustered in a crescent shape around the city of Hutchinson which serves as the area’s commercial hub. The best known of these Amish churches is around the aptly named town of Yoder, perched along Highway 96 between Hutchinson and the metropolitan city of Wichita. But the Partridge community southwest of Hutchinson also is home to a horse and buggy church – sort of. The horse and buggies are mainly used on Sundays for church and perhaps for a leisurely ride in the country. Everyday errands are more often done in tractors. Women, teenagers, and men pilot these massive monsters as they rumble down the roads. It’s almost surreal at times to be jockeying for position on the roads among these tractors, but it’s a technological compromise that works for them. The whole premise of Amish life is staying close to church and community and the thinking is that one can only go so far in a tractor (although one Amish man told of a youngster who took one of these 180 miles to visit Amish friends in eastern Kansas).
Other aspects of the Partridge settlement take on a more traditional Amish flavor: home-based businesses, a strong sense of community, and monochromatic clothing fluttering on the lines. A constant wind seems to blow across the wide open Kansas prairie. Families plant tree lines to serve as wind breaks. Unlike many Amish communities where farming has lost its economic viability, many here still do farm. But a withering drought has been choking Central Kansas for a couple of years now making it an increasingly precarious way to make a living. More photos and observations about the Partridge community in the days ahead.