Preserving the Horse-drawn Carriage

Pierce A. Miller remembers the days of horse-drawn transportation and preserves them in his collection of antique carriages and wagons.


| March/April 1962



Old Carriages

One of the old horse carriages before 1900.

Fifty years ago every large city was almost as jam-packed with horse-drawn vehicles as it is with automobiles today. Names like Studebaker and Brewster were turning out thousands of carriages each year and making transportation available for as low as $40 to families that previously could not afford a carriage. The livery stable was a sign of prosperity and every town that “amounted to something” had at least one; every enterprising merchant provided convenient places for the hitching of the patron’s horse and buggy, the social state was judged by the kind of animal and carriage one prided himself on owning.

However America’s modes of transportation changed in the 50 years between now and then, for with the birth of a century came the birth of that revolting, smelly, noisy, horseless carriage. Symbolical, perhaps, was one frenzied reaction to this new machine – that of the faithful horse himself, that left mailboxes and fences strewn about in its wild effort to get away from the path of the auto. Thus an old family servant had to be dismissed from his duties.

A wide-eyed, towheaded boy named Pierce A. Miller was growing up in the green rolling Pennsylvania hills in those days. Resting on his plow he loved to shout friendly greetings in Pennsylvania Dutch to passing Conestoga wagons. He loved this day when the country store was the community center, when church picnics and the circus were the main forms of entertainment, when the country doctor came three miles for a dollar and furnished the medicine, and when you went for the water instead of it coming to you. This happened in the good old days when most of the bread was baked at home and what was bought came without wrappers and was un-sliced. A good hired farm hand got 50 cents a day and board. Relatives were then called kinfolks, and how we enjoyed their visits, going on a trip which involved changing trains was considered a dreadful ordeal.

In those days we stood in line at recess in the one-room school, at the uncovered water bucket waiting our turn to drink out of the tin dipper, Uncle Sam and most of us lived within our means. Girls then had a best and a second best dress and they never thought about wearing either one to school. On Saturday we trimmed the coal-oil lamp wicks and cleaned the lamp chimneys. Parents used switches and paddles instead of psychology and it was respectable to act embarrassed at the sight of a lady’s petticoat and a wedding ring was the only security a girl needed to keep the flirts away.

This same Pierce A. Miller, hair slightly grayer now, looked back on this boyhood which he knew so well. It saddened him to think that it might be all forgotten, and that the younger generation, which included his own children, would know little of the age in which he was reared.

In 1933, the same year his youngest son, Bill, was born, Pierce had the chance to rescue an old stagecoach from being junked – and thus began a collection of old transportation that was to grow rapidly. They grew up together, his hobby and his son Bill, and they became fast friends. Whenever possible Pierce enthusiastically added to his collection, which soon included bicycles and autos as well as carriages.