100 Cedar Drive, Enterprise, Alabama, 36330
Well, folks, this is a true story of two old gray mares on a
farm south of Carbondale, Illinois. Their names were Bess and Maud.
Maud was larger and had more horse power. Bess, the smaller one,
had more horse sense. The depression was on and this mismatched
team was used for general farm work, pulling an orchard sprayer,
logging and starting the old car in the winter. Sometimes I would
ride Bess to see my gal when I was courting her. That’s another
We had about forty acres of apples and an old Bean orchard
sprayer. The sprayer had a 200 gallon wooden tank, the pump had
three porcelain lined cylinders and was geared to a 4 H.P. vertical
gas engine. I don’t know but I think it was a Cushman. At the
time I was more interested in girls than engines. Bess, with her
superior mind, could guide Maud straight down the middle of the
rows of trees with no help from a driver. All she needed was for
someone to turn them around and get started down a new row. Two
people manned two spray guns and sprayed two rows of trees. No
driver was needed. As we progressed from tree to tree, someone
would say, ‘Bess getup’, and ‘Bess, ho’ and the
team would move forward and stop. We always talked to Bess. Maud
understood Bess and would stay with her. One might say Bess was
Maud’s agent or interpreter. This team wouldn’t even flinch
if the spray hit them.
One day Dad told my brother and me to plow the weeds out of the
corn. My brother is two years younger than I and we fought all the
time until he outgrew me. That ended the fighting. Since I was
older, I had to let him take Bess and I hitched Maud to my plow.
Now Bess of superior intelligence, could follow a row of corn or
anything else for that matter, with no help from the driver. And
old Maud couldn’t follow anything without help from Bess or a
driver. I had to stay on the reins (we called them lines in that
neck of the woods) every inch of the way to keep Maud off the corn.
This must have been in July because I had 4 or 5 firecrackers in my
pocket. Up North, Christmas is celebrated on the fourth of July
much the same way the South celebrates the fourth at Christmas time
– with fireworks.
By mid-afternoon, I was worn to a frazzle from fighting those
reins and I was mad at Maud. Temptation overcame me so I took three
of those firecrackers and twisted the fuses together, lit them and
tossed them up on Maud’s broad rump. One fell off, the other
two went off. Well Maud jumped and took off, jerking the plow out
of my hands, out of the ground and almost took my head off because
the reins were tied around my shoulder. I ended up face down in the
dirt! There was no sequence of events. It all happened at the same
time. When I looked up, Maud was making a bee-line across the field
toward Bess for help. The plow was being dragged by one trace chain
and was flopping around knocking down corn as it went. That is the
only time that I ever saw Maud go a straight line without help.
We had a sawmill and some good oak timber. One of the jobs that
befell us was to snake logs out of the woods and to the sawmill.
For this we would roll the heavy end of the log onto a sled and let
the light end drag the ground. Of course, Bess and Maud supplied
the power. Sometimes Bess would balk when going up hill with a
heavy load. No matter how much you used the whip or your voice, she
wouldn’t take the slack out of the traces. The best way to get
the job done would be to forget the whip and go pat Bess on the
head and neck, sweet talk her and give her a handful of corn. Then
without picking up the reins and in a low voice say, ‘Bess,
let’s go, HAA’. She would lay into the harness, belly
nearly on the ground, and with both rear feet working together,
would take the load over the hill. Big old Maud would have a hard
time keeping up. Bess like most children, you can get more out of
them if you don’t yell.
When we got the team out on the trail to the sawmill, we could
hang the reins over the hames and slap Bess on her widest part and
she would take Maud and log to the mill unassisted. Someone at the
mill would drop the log and put the team back on the trail then
turn them loose to go back on their own.
Somehow, I always liked Maud’s style – go with the flow and
let someone else do the thinking.