Horse Team Pulls the Load

Farmer and horse team created unique partnership

| September 1998

  • Farmer with horse team
    Farmer with horse team

  • Farmer with horse team

Dad never bought a tractor. He loved his team of horses - rather, his two teams of horses. In the 1920s and 1930s, a three-horse team was used to pull many of the farm implements, such as the grain binder. But Dad also did a lot of work around the farm by using a single horse, Tom. Tom was a beautiful sorrel gelding with white mane and tail. The walking plow, the stoneboat, the cutter in winter and the buggy in summer, Tom was dependable for pulling each one.

Some of my first memories are of riding on this favorite horse of Dad's, hanging onto the hames, while Dad walked behind the plow. The reins were tied together and went around his shoulders and under one arm, while his hands guided the plow by its two handles.

In the spring of 1927, when I was 4, I felt really special to be riding. Dad always reminded me, "Hang on tight now." I sat on top of the harness. Once in a while, my skin was pinched a little when the leather straps moved back and forth with the horse's muscles. I didn't dare complain, because then Dad would say, "All right, time for you to run back to the house now."

When we'd been plowing for some time, Tom got sweaty and my overalls got wet from his sweat, but I never remember being embarrassed about it. I was having too much fun.

In early spring, the maple trees were tapped. Tom pulled the stoneboat over the crunchy snowdrifts in the woods, and Dad collected sap from the buckets which hung from spiles in the tree trunks. He poured the pails of sap into the empty cream cans on the stoneboat. I knew a little about gathering sap from being with my grandfather the two years before.

But Grandpa had died a couple of months after my fourth birthday, so now Dad had taken over the maple syrup operation. Tom obeyed every command Dad gave him, without the reins. He stood patiently and then walked steadily ahead. Still, Dad was cautious. "Hang on to my jacket pocket," he said, "so you don't fall off when we start off."