All posts by Kathleen

From Bondville to Bondville in Four Days: A Buggy Trip to Nowhere in 1959

The Last Hill

A few years before I married my first husband, Don Knox, my cousins Edie & Bob McNair gave up the collecting of old cars as too expensive and transferred their interest to the acquisition of old horse drawn vehicles and related items which could then be gotten for little or nothing. Being myself a horse person enamored of old stuff in general, I had by then begun my own accumulation of horse related artifacts including a couple of old buggies and a sleigh. We all began to spend time looking through barn windows, crawling through barn lofts and basements and watching for yard “decorations” seeking unwanted restorable vehicles. My father and I had also unsuccessfully tried to teach my mare to drive, resulting in a grand runaway and the total disintegration of the one ancient harness that we had found in the barn. It also frightened the horse too much to ever be driven again.

In the year following our marriage, Edie and Bob suggested that we all go on a buggy trip together in Vermont during the summer of 1959, and we began to make plans. Don and I spent weekends at my parent’s farm in Connecticut cleaning up and repainting a buggy and trying to locate a horse to pull it. No horse could be found in that nearly horseless time and place and it was finally decided that we would all go together in the McNair’s very light seaside surrey pulled by their four year old grade Morgan Jeckie.

Newfane

When Don and I arrived at the my Aunt’s family summer farm in Bondville, Vermont all was the usual last minute chaos. Edie was tacking down new upholstery on the buggy seats and Bob was fussing about trying to attach a platform he had made to hang on the back of the buggy and hold a large covered basket for supplies. Everything else: sleeping bags, backpacking tents, clothing and cooking gear was to go under the seats and around our feet. A bucket was hung under the buggy both for watering the horse and to carry his grain. Everything had to be kept to the minimum as with four people it was already a heavy load for one horse to pull up and down the hills of Vermont. We finally got the last minute things fixed, the buggy packed and the horse harnessed, all while surrounded by a crowd of helping siblings and watching young cousins, and managed to get off – almost on time.

Making hay with horses

Bob had planned the route for the four day trip using geodetic survey maps and took us by as many back roads as possible. It was on one of those old roads that we came upon hay makers using horses to do the work, and were invited to see the fine sleigh they had in their barn. We drove through historic Newfane and spent the first night camped in the yard of an empty house belonging to friends. Jeckie was staked out on a long rope that night and Edie found him in the morning totally tied up in it like some sort of a huge breathing package. Being a sensible animal he had waited for help rather than struggling against the rope and hurting himself. The only result of this misadventure of his was a desire on his part to get out of there FAST. Once hitched and with Edie in the buggy he took off like a rocket and she had to circle him back twice to get us all aboard. Don and I leapt in so fast from opposite sides that we cracked our heads together in the center and nearly died laughing as Jeckie shot down the road.

I can no longer remember our exact route, but I do know that we visited a small carriage collection belonging to McNair friends where Bob drooled over an ancient shay, and on another day drove through the Dummerston bridge over the West River and on to someone’s cousin Grace’s summer farm where we crawled through her huge barn tightly packed with a treasure trove of antique horse drawn vehicles of all kinds. Among them was a huge yellow road coach like sleigh with brakes that were claws designed to dig into the road ice. On our way back through the bridge we totally astonished the ice cream stand, which then stood at the Rt 30 end, by driving up and ordering cones. We were a sensation everywhere we went. Children followed us down the road and sat on curbs staring when we stopped to buy food. When we unhitched Jeckie and went swimming in a favorite local place under a covered bridge people were amazed. In those days no one had ever seen people
driving a horse for pleasure. We were an event!

Don driving through countryside

After four days of leisurely driving along country roads enjoying the contrast between our historic transport and the jets leaving trails in the sky above, we returned to the farm, walking up the last hills, as we had many hills before, to spare the tired horse. It was only after we returned that we discovered that it was quite a major trip for a horse who was only a four year old. We were lucky that Jeckie was such a durable fellow and was able go on to give the family the many more years of driving pleasure that followed.

Submitted by Ginger Laplante, Canterbury, N.H

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The Jaunting Car

Irish jaunting car circa 1890
Irish Jaunting Car Circa 1890-1900

In 1952, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara re-introduced the Jaunting Car to the world when they went courting in the horse drawn cart. Long before the movie, there was another romance that resulted in the Jaunting Car being the most recognizable Irish cart.

In 1786, Charles Bianconi was born in Italy. As a young man he met and fell in love with a wealthy young woman who was already promised to another. Going off to make his fortune in Ireland, Charles was determined to equal or surpass the wealth of her family. He eventually set up a engraving and print shop, soon he had enough money to buy his first horse-drawn vehicle, a yellow gig with high wheels pulled by a grey mare. Having spent years walking everywhere, Bianconi was quick to see the advantages, as a businessman, to having access to horse drawn transportation. Suddenly trips that used to take him two days (causing him to lose business on those days) took him a day. Public transportation was nonexistent, private vehicles were highly taxed and river boats didn’t always go where you needed to go.

“On the momentous summer day of 6th July 1815 the first Bianconi car took the road from Clonmel to Cahir, and for the first time Charles Bianconi carried His Majesty’s mails in Ireland.”1 The daily trip traveled 7 1/2 miles per hour, with passengers being prepared to exit the two-wheeled Outside Car (aka a Jaunting Car) to traverse the steep hill in between the two towns. The fare was two pence per mile. Disaster loomed as country folks declined the ride. Then Bianconi had a stroke of brilliance – he set up another company under another name to compete with the original business. The drivers battled for passengers, creating excitement and interest. Soon people had become accustomed to riding in Jaunting Cars and the second business faded away.

Charles Bianconi became very well known in Ireland and made a fortune.  He never forgot his first love though and was devastated to learn that she had indeed married another.   All was not lost though on the romance front with Bianconi eventually marrying the daughter of a friend.

National Library of Ireland
Side cars, or perhaps more correctly, Jaunting Cars at Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. We knew this was taken between 1860 and 1883, and the “bare headed” Round Tower has helped us to date it more accurately, as derangedlemur tells us “The conical roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones”… From the National Library of Ireland

In the world of transportation, Charles Bianconi was a powerhouse and he is recognized as the ‘father of public transportation’ in Ireland. Choosing a Jaunting Car as the first mass transport vehicle in Ireland sealed its fate as being instantly recognizable as an Irish vehicle. So what is it that makes a Jaunting Car a Jaunting Car?

Looking at Carriages by Sallie Walrond identifies two types of Jaunting Cars – with and without a central seat, with the most common type not having a central seat.  Passengers on both types sit facing outward, the side foot-rests are typically hinged allowing them to be collapsed when going through narrow openings. Bianconi’s vehicles were known to have horse-hair cushions, which were changed every two stages in wet weather.2 Many early vehicles did not have springs and thus were built low to the ground.   Later vehicles often sport long double-elbowed springs and are much higher off the ground.  All were built on straight wooden axles.

“The backs of the two seats form a narrow well, as it is termed, for the storage of luggage in the center, a name by no means inappropriate, as it is generally full of water when it rains,” reports a recent traveler in Ezra Statton’s The World on Wheels.  Riding in one was by many reports a bit like riding in a Tilt-A-Whirl, going up a hill everyone leaned into the last person, doing down the first person was leaned on.  Learning to balance a Jaunting Car properly required skill and skilled drivers became very adapt at guessing the weigh of a passenger.  A driver was often called a “jarvey” and several songs have been written about them.

Slightly less known is that there were four wheeled versions of Jaunting Cars.  The larger vehicles were used by Bianconi and were typically pulled by four horses, much like a stagecoach.  A few carriage makers tried duplicating the success of the Jaunting Car, both two and four wheeled,  in other countries but they were never popular outside Ireland.

In addition to commercial use Jaunting Cars were used as private transportation.

A Gentleman Driving Tandem to a Jaunting Car by Edwin W. Cooper
A Gentleman Driving Tandem to a Jaunting Car by Edwin W. Cooper

To learn more about the Irish Jaunting Car we recommend reading Bianconi: King of the Irish Roads by M. O’C. Bianconi and S.J. Watson.  The Hub, May 1887 has additional information on how the shafts and body of the vehicle were made.  The Irish Cars by Tom Ryder is another resource, the article was published in the May 2006 edition of The Carriage JournalThe Origin of the Irish Jaunting Car by James Young originally was published in The Hub but reprinted in the Spring 1977 edition of The Carriage Journal.  Additionally Horses in the Morning has a podcast that includes Jaunting Cars.

Resources:

  1. Bianconi: King of the Irish Roads by M. O’C. Bianconi and S.J. Watson
  2. The World on Wheels by Ezra Statton
Perched at the back of this jaunting car (holding the umbrella) is the Right Honourable F.O. Roberts, M.P. and British Minister for Pensions, apparently enjoying a ride around St. Stephen's Green.  Date: 9 December 1924
Perched at the back of this jaunting car (holding the umbrella) is the Right Honourable F.O. Roberts, M.P. and British Minister for Pensions, apparently enjoying a ride around St. Stephen’s Green. Date: 9 December 1924

Irish Jaunting Car Song