Amish buggy

An Amish buggy rolls along a state highway. Photo by Ad Meskins/Wikipedia Commons.

The four million tourists who visit the heart of Ohio’s Amish community, Holmes County, each year will soon enjoy a smoother, safer ride thanks to an Ohio University civil engineering researcher, according to a news release.

Russ College associate professor of civil engineering Munir Nazzal’s project, supported by a $320,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), will evaluate how to minimize damage to roadways from the traditional Amish travel method – steel-wheeled, horse-drawn buggies.

While the most significant pavement damage is caused by motor vehicles, horses and buggies impact roadways in a unique way, often causing rutting and occasionally fracturing the asphalt on the most heavily used roads. ODOT has asked Nazzal to develop long-term and cost-effective solutions to the problem, the release said.

The main source of the damage is the horseshoes, specifically the calks, or cleat-like welds used to increase traction.

“The loads that aren’t huge, but they’re being transferred to the pavement through this small area,” Nazzal explained in the release. “This is resulting in huge stresses being applied on the pavement.”

In the first phase of the project, started last year, Nazzal identified multiple potential solutions to the issue: two kinds of horseshoe modification and new asphalt mixtures that will be more resistant to rutting. Now in the project’s second phase, he plans to test these solutions in Holmes County, which has the state’s largest Amish community.

Nazzal’s research team will design new asphalt mixes and evaluate them in the lab, according to the release. The best performing mixes will be used in the field for repairs conducted on Amish buggy routes. The performance and longevity of those repairs will be monitored to determine the effectiveness of the designed mixes.

Nazzal also will test replacing the calks, which are typically made of borium, with screw-in studs that have a larger surface area and are made of a hard polymer. Nazzal said he and ODOT met with a representative of the Amish community in January to discuss the project, and the Amish community is receptive to trying the alternative methods.

“Drilling holes into the shoe itself and screwing in the calks likely would reduce stress on the roadways,” Nazzal said. “The calks would have different designs for each season to adjust for changing road conditions, and they would possibly be made using 3D printing technology.”

He’ll also work with ODOT to test horse boots, which would cost more initially but last longer than horseshoes and are healthier for the hoof. The horses’ responsiveness to both options will be a major factor in deciding which to adopt, the release said.

Amish community members will record their driving activity to help determine the lifespan of the newly designed calks and the horse boots.

“We want to make sure that it is cost-effective and that the Amish community would use it,” Nazzal said. “At the end of the day, they’ll be the ones who are using it, so we need their feedback about whether they would be interested in using it in the future.”

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