Harness Hames Key to the Past

Harness hames held important places in the field, firehouses and mines

A firehouse combination hames/collar

A firehouse combination hames/collar, featuring the bullet-style quick release at the bottom.

Content Tools

Hog snouters are but a part of Jim Hicks' interest in farm collectibles: Harness hames are also on his short list of favorites. 

"I've always been a horse lover," he says. "My wife says I was born 90 years too late. My granddad never had a tractor, and my dad kept a team of horses through the war years."

With that foundation, when Jim stumbled on to a set of harness hames used on baggage horses in the early days of the Ringling Brothers Circus, he was a goner.

"I've always been fascinated with the decorative detail on those old things," he says. "As a kid, I can remember when the neighbors would form a threshing team. We'd get up early to get the horses ready. I can still remember my dad taking time to run a damp, oily rag over the brass on those harnesses so they would look good. They took pride in those teams."

The harness hames varied by use. Jim's collection, for instance, includes a set designed for use in a coal mine.

"They were for mine mules," he says. "They shaft-mined in the old days, with 36-inch or 48-inch shafts, so they had little mules to pull the carts."

The miner's hames featured a quick release on the bottom, eliminating any possibility of a deadly spark caused by metal scraping the top of a shaft.

Firehouse hames combined the hames and collar into one unit as a time-saving measure. Those hames, too, were operated by a quick-release button on the bottom.

"The firehouse hames were suspended by ropes, and they were attached to the steam engine," Jim says. "When the alarm went off, the firemen would throw the doors open, and the horses – they already had halters on – would run in and stand under the harnesses. The firemen would jerk a rope and the harness would fall down on the horses' backs ... a fireman would slip a bit into their mouths, and be out the door in less than two minutes."

Like the snouters he also collects, hames have become a hard-to-find collectible.

"It's getting very difficult to find them," he says. "They're getting quite scarce."

Spendy, too.

"I haven't found anything new in five years,' Jim says, 'and the last ones I bought I paid $65 for the pair. But even the plain ones bring $25-$30 now." FC 

For more information: Jim Hicks, 5120 St. Road 340, Brazil, IN 47834.