Horse-Drawn History

I’ve done a few “Remember When” posts about growing up Oh-so-long-ago, and in a small town at the end of the universe.  I’ve written a post about the development of roads, and if I don’t get my numbering mixed up, it will already be published.  What I haven’t put together is the horse and buggy combination.  Anyone want to go for a wagon ride?

I’m still a long way from being a suave, sophisticated, city-dweller, but, as a kid, I was far more urban than rural.  I don’t know if my little town helped make me so, or if I was just of that bent, and lucky to be born where I was.  When I got old enough to visit the next little town down the road, I was quite dismissive.

Our town had all the interesting, up-scale social amenities that they didn’t.  We had a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a pool-room.  They had none of these.  They did have a United Co-op farm supply store, and a Western Tire store, even back here in the east, not even a real Canadian Tire store.

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, it was not unusual to see horses pulling wagons around their town.  Local farmers hauling hay, bringing milk to the dairy, or stopping in to that Co-op store to pick up seed or fertilizer.  My town was not exempt from horse and wagon combos though.

When I was a kid, we still got milk delivered to the house by horse and wagon.  I don’t remember seeing milk taken to the little dairy in my town by horse; it was picked up by truck from farmers who set it by the side of the road in five-gallon pails.  It sat out in the winter cold and summer heat until it got back to the dairy.  Thank God for Pasteurization.

This was all back when every little town had its own little dairy, before the economies of volume caused all the milk in North America to be controlled by a dairy-products company in Italy named Parmalat.

The milk guy delivered right to the door.  If it sat on the porch in the winter, it froze, and expanded.   Milk wasn’t homogenized, so an inch or two of cream would raise the cardboard cap out of the glass bottle.  The frozen cream would have to be cut off and saved, or it would melt and run off.

Later, the delivery schedule changed, and the wagon didn’t arrive till just after lunch.  Sometimes I would ask my Mom for a nickel to get a half-pint of chocolate milk.  The deposit on the glass bottle was another nickel.  We could have paid it once, and just kept exchanging bottles, but it was far more fun to climb into the delivery wagon and ride a couple of blocks while I sipped it finished.  Then I’d walk back home.

Townie boy learned a little about driving horses.  “Gee” meant turn right, “”haw” meant turn left.  I’ll leave “giddy up” and “whoa” to your imagination.  “Gee” was a crossword puzzle solution to the clue, “right to a horse,” last week.

We didn’t have an electric refrigerator for a number of years.  We had an icebox, which sat in a shed, attached to the back of the house.  Every couple of days in the summer we put a twenty-five pound block of ice in a top compartment.  The ice would melt, so there was a hole bored in the floor, where the melt water ran out.

Each winter, a businessman and his assistants would go to a small cove of Lake Huron, and cut blocks of ice out by hand, using large human-powered saws.  When the cove refroze, they would come back for another harvest, and another, until they filled a barn-like warehouse.  The ice was covered by a thick layer of fine sawdust, which reduced thawing during the summer.

The ice was delivered to most homes in town by horse and wagon.  Their blocks were about fifty pounds, and had to be hacked in half with a trowel-like hand-tool with a toothed edge.  I would often run out and grab a large sliver of ice, and suck on it like a no-cost Popsicle.  Occasionally I got to ride along for a couple of blocks, as I did with the milkman.  It takes a village to raise a child.  Since I was almost the only child in my neighborhood, these village men protected, entertained and educated me before I went to school.

The third horse and wagon for many years was the garbage-man’s.  The town’s work-crew was small and, immediately after WW II, trucks, and the money to buy them was scarce.  The garbage-man seemed ancient to a small child, but he was probably in his fifties.  He and his patient horse would make the rounds, and he would dump loose garbage from metal cans into the wagon.

When the wagon was full, he would take it to the south edge of town, about a half-mile from the lakeshore.  He would have the horse back the wagon into an open area, and then pry up the loose boards which formed the bottom of the wagon, and stand them on edge, dumping the garbage.

About the time the old man, and his horse, retired, and town employees using a truck took over, a real estate developer wanted space to build more cottages for the burgeoning tourist trade.  Suddenly all the garbage was compacted with a bulldozer and covered with clean fill, and the site was sold.  I wonder how many of the cottage-owners know what’s under their summer palaces.

Horses and wagons….as Benzeknees’ quiz proved a while ago, I am older than dirt.  At least this tale of long ago and far away didn’t contain any dinosaurs or woolly mammoths.  Be careful as you walk away from the wagon.  Don’t step in that stuff!

 

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