The Wonderful World of Horses


| December/January 1988



Horse

R1, Box 63, Avoca, Iowa 51521. 

After my last story about farming with horses was published, several people inquired if I had any more horse stories. A friend once told me that 'in the early days' one out of every family was a story teller. I suppose my dad could fit into that category. He told me many stories when I was very little. From these we will try to construct another horse story or two.

When we figure farming with horses was pretty well going out by the time I came along, I didn't have much of a chance to get in on much of the fun.

In the 1880's and 1890's the main source of power was horses. I'm sure anyone who has been to a threshing bee has seen 'horse power'. This was a circular device securely fastened to the earth. It had, in the center, an assembly of gears that were turned by a pole or 'beam' which was pulled round and around, often by four head of horses. In turn, a shaft was attached to the gears and ran along the ground to the implement which needed power. When running a threshing machine, the horses would be tired from walking around and around. They were replaced by another team. This was done quite often.

The most interesting source of power derived from horses, for me, was transportation. Let's take the old family doctor. Often he would own his own team of trotters. Usually a well matched pair. He would be known to travel 40 miles to deliver a baby. On trips like this it would become very boring. I don't recall how many miles per hour horses would travel. However, if I, as a boy, walked into the neighboring town 6 miles away, I usually could make the trip in good weather in two and one half hours. We might consider, babies are most generally born in bad weather. Old Doc would take along a gentleman to visit with, to help pass the time. Sometimes the two men would chew tobacco and make a small wager on how far they could squirt the tobacco juice. I once heard a tale of this old fellow coming into the local barber shop flashing a nice roll of bills. 'Where did you come across all that money?' all the onlookers asked. 'Well, by golly fellers,' he replied, 'it seems I rode along with old Doc to Topeka and back. He bet on the right horse and I bet on the left.' 'What do you mean you bet on the team?' was asked. 'Well sir, we was bettin' on which one would go to the bathroom first. I reckon my horse had a touch of the scours.'

My father had a smaller breed of horses. I'm sure most people are acquainted with the gigantic Budweiser team on TV. These are Clydesdales. There are several very large horses, others are Percheron and Belgian. I am told that the hoof of a Clydesdale can be 12' across. Some friends of ours raise Belgian horses. They are a medium build. However, the horses my dad had were Morgan. I recall as a small boy we still had Nancy and Jane. Both of these fine horses died before I was 10 years old. I asked Dad what breed they were and he told me he thought they were Morgan.