This past Sunday, June and I (June is my good friend who helps out at Triple Mountain, for those who haven't met her yet) took a field trip to Skyline Farm Museum in Yarmouth, Maine. Skyline Farm is a non-profit organization working to maintain and display their 150+ piece antique carriage and sleigh collection, as well as preserve the open fields around the museum for equestrian and agricultural events.
Last Sunday was their fall pumpkin celebration, and despite the cloudy sky, lots of people came to see the giant pumpkin catapult run by Andy Cole and his assistant, who are known as the "Dayton Destroyers." They flung pumpkins so far into the air that we couldn't see them until they crashed back to earth in an explosion of pulp and seeds!
Where did that pumpkin even go?!? The kids loved it, and some even got the honor of pulling the cord to fling the pumpkin. We joked that next year, they wouldn't have to bring in pumpkins because he was seeding the field for them, and they'd have plenty of their own next fall! A video is included at the bottom of this post for those of you who love watching pumpkin destruction! (Don't we all?)
On display by special arrangement was the regionally famous Pumpkin Coach, which was a star attraction at Story Land Amusement Park from 1957 to 1979. I was lucky enough to see it during its final year of touring the park, as Cinderella waved to the crowds from inside the pumpkin, while a liveried driver handled the two horses negotiating the twisting streets. It was a cherished memory from my childhood, so it was exciting to see it up close after all these years. It features a lightweight sculpted body with wrought-iron vines and hardware, custom made for this carriage.
Bench seats sculpted into the pumpkin allowed special visitors to ride with Cinderella, and it's estimated that in its 22 years of service, the coach traveled roughly 16,000 miles!
The Futures For Standardbreds organization was in attendance with some handsome ex-racehorses, showing off how wonderful they can be as companions and working horses after their racing careers are over. They accept Standardbreds from racetracks and homes, retrain them for pleasure riding, and rehome them.
The small but important organization, based in Maine, has so far rescued 18 Standardbreds and continues to work with breeders, trainers, and owners to help insure these horses have long, happy lives. Bravo to them for their hard work!
The star of their group was Western Warrior ("Wes"), a four-year-old Standardbred gelding who enjoyed the attention of kids and adults all afternoon, while never even batting an eye when the huge pumpkin catapult rattled to life over and over.
Skyline's main attraction is its huge and diverse antique carriage collection. At Triple Mountain, we're enthusiastic over horse-drawn vehicles because they're becoming a forgotten part of equine history, and the craftsmanship required to build them is also becoming a lost art. It's with great excitement that we heard that Skyline is creating trade buildings to rekindle the arts of harness-making, blacksmithing, and wheel-wrighting, and hopes to showcase talented craftsmen who will teach their skills to others.
Join us now for a tour of the carriage museum! You're about to see horse-drawn vehicles you've never seen before, along with some classics. Seeing these horse-drawn vehicles makes us realize how easy we (and our horses) have it today, and helps us connect with our forebearers who traveled down bumpy dirt roads at slow speeds... but only after spending almost an hour grooming and harnessing their horse and hitching him to the family wagon. Travel was a major procedure back then, and wasn't undertaken lightly!
Here is a sampling of the many wonderful vehicles and interesting accessories that go with them. Let's see if you can guess what they are! Descriptions follow the photos, so if you want to guess, don't scroll ahead:
Can you guess what this vehicle was used for?
This is a horse-drawn school bus sled! Inside are bench seats around all four sides for the kids. To allow the driver to supervise while staying warm himself, the team's reins run through holes above the front windows:
Inside we find a student (I love that they use clothes only - no manikins with creepy faces!) holding a potato. Why? Can you guess?
Children in Maine were often given a baked potato to carry with them to school. Potatoes stay warm for a long time... It served as a wonderful hand warmer, since the bus was unheated and the journey down the snowy roads was long. At lunchtime, it provided the kids with sustenance to get through the rest of the school day.
That's an early racing sulky! This high-wheeled sulky is the ancestor of today's lighter, fiberglass racing sulkies. It was made from hard, lightweight wood and included only the bare essentials: One small seat and foot rest, axle and shafts. Still, it looks more comfortable than today's version! (or it would be if this one's seat were intact, anyway.) Races were held just about anywhere that a crowd could watch in the 1800s. Usually a section of road was used, but here in Maine, we also had a famous annual race along the sandy ocean shoreline at Old Orchard Beach.
Can you guess what this small object is?
That is a wheel chock (Thanks for the correction, Loren!), designed to keep the carriage from moving unintentionally. When the wheel is driven up onto it, the raised area at the front prevents it from going any further forward. Now comes the problem of how to remove it after the driver has mounted the carriage... and that's what the metal link is for on the front of it. With a strap or rope attached, he simply backed the team up one step, then pulled the rope to pull the chuck up into the carriage, ready for deployment at the next stop.
How are you doing so far? Here's an easy one to give you a little break:
Why yes, it's a sleigh! Check out the curved front tips of the runners and the pin-striping, even on the runners themselves. This little family sleigh has a special feature, though, which we had never seen before: Offset shafts, with one being hinged. What? Have a look:
You'd expect the shafts to be spaced to place the horse in the center of the vehicle, right? Well, back in the days before snow plows, when roads were rolled under heavy wooden rollers like this one:
(if you were lucky), it was more likely that the road may not have been tended at all. In that case, vehicles that had taken the road before you would have left long ruts in the snow from their own runners, and often working teams were the first out, so there would be tracks of two horses along with the runner marks. When you went out with your single-horse sleigh, which is a lot harder for a horse to pull than a wheeled vehicle, that horse is going to try to walk in a rut instead of deep snow to make his work easier. Well, when the horse is centered, and he's walking in a rut off to the side where a horse from a team walked before, that's going to put your vehicle precariously close to the edge of the roadway! So instead, many clever sleigh makers set the shafts off-center to allow the horse to walk in a rut and keep the sleigh safely on the road.
You'll also notice that while the shaft on the left is fixed to the sleigh directly, the one on the right is attached with a single bolt. That one is hinged separately. Generally, when hitching a single horse, you want to bring the vehicle up to the horse, rather than backing the horse into the shafts. (One misstep by a backing horse could break a shaft, leaving you stranded!) In winter, though, a sleigh could easily freeze to the ground, so you couldn't push it up behind your horse. A hinged shaft allowed the horse to be brought in sideways, and then the shaft would be lowered so he could be hitched. How many of us would have thought of that today, if we needed to build a sleigh?!
Ready for the next one? What's this specialized vehicle?
It's a piano delivery wagon! Purchasing a piano was a big deal, a cause for celebration in the community. What better way to add fanfare to its arrival than with this colorful, circus-style wagon built just for the purpose? Pianos are super heavy (I know... We had an upright one for a while... The thing weighed about 600 pounds!) so the wagon must be strong but lightweight so as not to add to the horses' burden. The platform for the piano is low to the ground because no one wants to lift that heavy thing any higher than that! Here's a rear view photo so you can see how truly purpose-built this wagon is:
For the fine harness lovers among us, here's one of the many finely-crafted carriages on display at Skyline:
The beauty against the wall is a Gentleman's Phaeton. Named for the Phaeton of Greek mythology who arrogantly drove his sun god father's chariot too close to the sun, these fancy carriages were driven by wealthy owners to show off both their vehicle and their fine horse. This one was particularly interesting to us because of the sun / rain visors that look like ears on each side of the canopy.
Now for another small item -- What's this?
This is a very useful accessory to a family that has outgrown their carriage. If the vehicle doesn't have enough seats, you really don't want someone sitting on your lap for a long drive over bumpy roads, so this little booster seat is the answer. Called a Third Seat, the parent would sit on the bench seat, as far back as they could, then place this between their legs. A child could then sit on the top without having his weight on the parent for the whole journey.
Here's a beauty for you:
For those lucky enough to be able to afford vacation travel at the turn of the 20th Century, this lovely carriage would pick you up at the train station and deliver you to one of Yarmouth, Maine's earliest coastal resort hotels. The leather tarps would be rolled up out of the way in nice weather, allowing visitors to enjoy the sea breeze and incredible views on their way to the resort. You'd be dressed in your finest as you climbed aboard this posh resort wagonette with its padded seats and back rests, and headed toward the beach.
What are these?
If you guessed foot rests or foot warmers, you are correct! Remember those cold days when you traveled in open sleighs or unheated wagons? No? Consider yourself lucky.... and lucky also were those who had access to these wonderful devices. A rug covers a metal container with little doors at the end. Before a trip, the doors would be opened and hot coals from the fireplace inserted. Then you'd want to be sure to carry it by the handles to avoid burning your hands when you placed it into the sleigh, but it would keep your feet toasty warm for the journey ahead.
Sometimes things get TOO hot, though, and then you hoped this wagon could reach you in time:
The Fire Hose Wagon was drawn by one or two very brave horses. The lantern on the side was detachable to help direct firemen when hooking up the hose in the dark.
How did this work? First you had to get a pump to a water source, usually a pond or river. Once the pump was ready, you'd back this wagon up to it, attach the hose end to the pump, and then drive quickly toward the fire, with the hose unrolling out of the back as you went. (You and the property owner both hoped there was enough hose to reach to their building!) Notice that the bed of the wagon is slatted with space between the boards so any water can run right out instead of sitting in the body and causing rot. The red box attached at the back held axes and other necessary implements, and the step would give perch to the brave firemen who tended the hose. I mentioned the horses needed to be brave, too... That's not only because they had to gallop toward a flaming building that most would run away from, but they had to do it with this at their tails:
This iron mechanism, built along the same principle as a music box, is the fire alarm! Set underneath the dashboard, within two feet of the horses' rumps, it was hand-cranked to load a spring which would unwind with a wild howl when a metal foot pedal on the dash was pressed by the driver, alerting everyone to clear the way for the fire team.
Someone went to a lot of trouble to weave this from wicker. What's it for?
It's exactly what it looks like - a wheel cover. But why bother? When the ladies wanted to get in and out of a wagon like this one, which has no walls to hold onto, they might need to put a hand on the wheel to steady themselves, but wheels got dirty (think mud and road apples). This wicker cover kept their gloved hands clean while entering and exiting the carriage. Did you get that one?
So, what's this one?
Even in death, our ancestors weren't done riding behind horses. This beautiful horse-drawn hearse provided the "last ride" for many a citizen. Adorned at the top with metal finials and inside with tasseled curtains, the side windows allowed viewers to pay final respects to the casket as the somber procession made its way to the cemetery. Ever wanted to peer into a hearse? Here you go:
It wasn't all serious business back then, though. Some kids were lucky enough to own one of these:
Usually pulled by a goat, it was the equivalent of today's battery-powered toy cars. Of course, like the real thing, you first had to spend considerable time catching and harnessing the goat before you could drive around. Here it is hitched to an adorable stuffed pony who greets visitors to the museum with his long white eye lashes.
I hoe you enjoyed this little tour. If you find yourself in Southern Maine, check out Skyline Farm Museum's schedule - There are LOTS more vehicles we didn't include here and they hold fun events regularly. We had a great time on our field trip. We wish to thank:
Cynnie Henriques (above) for answering so many questions for us, Sheila Alexander (below) for explaining the offset shafts on the beautiful painted sleigh that she donated to the museum,
and all the wonderful folks that we got to talk with!
We were surprised and delighted at the end of the day, when Museum Director Greg Cuffey asked if we'd create a Breyer horse-drawn vehicle display for their next event, their annual Sleigh Day in February. It will be an honor to put together a display of model horses with vehicles made by a variety of model wagonsmiths to showcase at the museum. Stay tuned for pictures in February!
So, in the words of a friend who is a model wagonsmith: