|Beautiful Belmont, Part 03 -- Stage Coaches and Wagons.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 02 -- Our Neighborhood.
Traffic and travel had become so important on the old state roads in those times that taverns for the accommodation of travelers were established about every five miles, each of which brought a comfortable living to the landlord and his family. I can recall when the old stagecoach, its bed hung on leather straps and hauled by four to six splendid horses, came thundering in with its lazy swing, everyone at the Old Tavern was busy and full of curiosity. The usual loafers were also there to stare, comment, and take an inventory of all travelers or newcomers -- with the hope of a free drink at the bar when the occupants of the coach would alight to shake themselves out and stretch while the weary horses were being exchanged for a fresh team. Then, perhaps for the first time, the community would learn some important news, although already more than a month old.
On the arrival of the stagecoach, the landlord and landlady bustled with activity, for they saw possibilities of increased profits from sale of dinks at inflated prices as well as the promise of a new boarder. There was a real atmosphere of hospitality around the tavern at such times, and when the passengers had satisfied their thirst from the old well and at the bar, and the coach went lumbering off again, a sense of loneliness again settled over the idle dreamers around the porch. The lazy old dog that usually slept in the middle of the floor in front of the bar, but recently disturbed by the occupants of the coach, again flopped himself down in the same spot and was soon basking in the sunshine that streamed in through the window, snoring away the dreamy hours.
The stagecoach was a strange mechanism, and yet it was a great civilizer. It was an instrument of commerce, and commerce more than any other process was bringing the white man's civilization to this part of the world. Riding in a stagecoach over the roads of that early time was not the most pleasant mode of travel, but it was the best and quickest at the time. The coach did not jolt, but it had a pitch and return sway, and a side and diagonal weave, which made the ride uncomfortable and caused many persons to become "seasick." When the roads were rough and the pace was rapid, it became necessary to brace oneself by placing one's feet against the opposite seat while grasping hold of the broad leather straps suspended from the sides of the coach for just this purpose. Even these precautions at times were not sufficient; in passing over deep ruts, which were numerous, one might find oneself suddenly and involuntarily planting his or her knees in the stomach of the person in the opposite seat, and then just as suddenly being thrown back to one's original seat. The baggage was carried in leather boots at the back end and on top of the coach.
The coach drivers of those days had only one objective, namely, to get to the next stop as quickly as possible. The horses seemed absorbed by the same objective. With the well-known whoop of the driver and loud crack of the whip, they were off like a shot. I well remember with what awe I looked upon the stagecoach, for they said it carried the United States mail, and to the pioneer his government was a matter of the most profound veneration and respect.
Apart from the stagecoach, wagons were about the only mode of commercial transportation in the country those days, and it was remarkable what an amount of goods was carried on them. Primitive vehicles of all kinds and description were in use, with oxen as well as horses used to pull them. The most popular was the "Schooner" Wagon, and the vast quantity of merchandise one of them would hold was truly surprising. They were usually pulled by from four to six horses. Their old English-style wagon beds were usually painted blue and took on somewhat the shape of an inverted crescent. The end gates were as high as a man's head, and the sides sloped in a uniform curve to about two-thirds that height in the center. The bed was covered with canvas over strong hickory bows, and was usually filled to the top of these bows with articles of commerce and transportation. These Schooners usually traveled in groups of two or more, and when arriving at a steep hill they "double teamed."
Many of the teams were furnished with bells fastened on an arch over the tops of the manes, and on a clear frosty morning the monotonous jog of their music could be heard for miles. The presence of these bells indicated the owner was a little better off than the ordinary "roadster" -- and also that the owner wanted to make that clear to others. I recall how, as a boy, I looked upon these as a grand and stately affair, and what little importance I attached to a driver who had no bells on his horses. To me the music of those bells was more metrical and sweet than the compositions of Mozart or Hayden. Even the dog belonging to one of these belled-teams took on a more aristocratic trot under the hind axle of the old Schooner Wagon and bristled up as if to say, "I'm no poor man's dog." Nevertheless, whether the horses had bells or not, the "tar bucket," supplied with material for periodic greasing of the wheels, hung suspended from the hind axle.
The last horse on the left of the tongue was called the "saddle horse," and he was uually the strongest, as he was made to do the double duty of both pulling his share of the load and carrying the driver. The team was usually managed with a single line on the left-hand lead horse extending to the saddle horse. A more humane driver would walk by the side of the saddled horse, or ride on the end of a board, which extended out from the wagon bed between the wheels on the left side of the wagon.
The stagecoach was always managed by sets of double-check lines in the hands of the driver, who's seat was on the top and front of the coach. At the driver's side was the rubber bar handle that functioned as a brake, which also was managed by him. With the brake, long whip, and from four to six lines to manipulate, it required considerable skill and cool judgment to drive the coach, especially when the teams were troublesome, the roads steep and icy, or a race was on. A skilled coach driver commanded high wages in those times.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 04 -- Log Cabin Homes.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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