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.
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.
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!
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