The Livery Stable - Garage of Yesteryear

| July/August 1976

Courtenay, North Dakota 58426

There are not many of those venerable old citizens still among us whose memories bridge the vast passage of time from this day of the gliding automobile, back beyond the coming of the horseless carriage, to the era when travel in the country meant riding or driving a horse. Because it was as necessary then as today to make trips into the country, sometimes far from a railroad, it was essential that someone provide facilities for the purpose. This brought about the necessity for the livery stable where teams and buggies or sleighs could be hired for such needs.

Not only was the livery stable a place where one could hire a 'rig' for a trip into the country, but it was also a haven where farmers living far from town could shelter, water and feed their teams, either for a few hours or overnight. The rates charged depended on how long the stay and whether or not the farmer supplied his own feed. The prices charged for such services then was ridiculously small when compared to charges for like services today. The local livery stable also served as a clearing house (of sorts) for much information and talk. It brought together horse buyers and traders, and farmers with horses for sale, or who were looking for horses to buy.

Every town of any size had its stable and it was as necessary and indispensable then as the garage and filling station is today. It was generally located well within the town limits, often on a side street. The fact that a sizeable number of animals were kept within the town or city limits seemed to cause no concern or objections. It was often a long building large enough to shelter the many horses needed, and also the buggies and sleighs to which they were hitched, besides space for an office (such as it was) and sometimes sleeping quarters for the men who cared for the horses. These men served a dual role. Not only did they feed, water and groom the animals, but they also served as drivers for customers who did not trust their ability as horsemen. They were subject to call at any hour of the day or night in any kind of weather. The customers were many and diverse, coming from many walks of life, all in need of transportation. Most of them were honest men going about their business, but as might be expected, a few were not. There were the landlords checking on their tenants, and agents of all sorts - land agents, insurance agents, nursery agents, lightning rod salesmen, cattle and horse buyers, besides humble pioneer doctors making their house calls, and early-day clergymen tending to the spiritual needs of their scattered flocks. These journeys into the remote areas were not always made in the daylight hours, or in pleasant weather. As in the case of the country doctor or the dedicated clergyman, they went when and where duty called, in fair weather and foul.

The livery stable owner was an important man about town, and enjoyed considerable respect and prestige. His stable was as necessary in the community as the general store down the street, and the owner of both stable and store were on the same social level. He was often the rugged, outspoken type and unlike his grocer friend (who because of business reasons had to be more discreet) he spoke his mind freely and without reserve, on the subject of politics or other issues of the day. He was often a dyed-in-the-wool Republican or a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and said so for all to hear. However, under the rather rough exterior there was often a heart of gold, and it frequently went out to the poor and unfortunate. Many a homeless hobo was allowed to sleep in the hay - mow, and come morning, was handed 25 cents (the price of a meal) by the stable owner.

The livery stable has long since disappeared from the modern scene, as have the faithful horses and the men who drove them. It is only the old, and the very old among us, who can turn back to the distant yesterdays of their memories and see once again, the huge barn, the sleek horses, the shining buggies and sleighs, and hear once again the voices of yesteryear, boldly discussing the issues of the day. They will tell that the automobile did not completely replace the livery horse for many years, especially during the winter months. They will say that although the livery horse might loaf in a summer pasture, it was he who the traveler looked to when the winter snow lay deep, to take him to his destination and, in the event of a sudden blinding blizzard, to bring him safely home.


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