Our Berkshires | Bernard A. Drew: Horse-and-wagon days | The Berkshire Eagle

By Bernard A. Drew

GREAT BARRINGTON — Today it’s a DHL or FedEx panel truck. In 1895 it was a wooden wagon drawn by a horse or two. And horses had minds of their own.

“This morning while some pipes were being loaded onto T.M. Lucy’s delivery wagon at the store on Holden street,” the North Adams Transcript reported April 23, 1897, “the horse was struck by a pipe, and ran away. At Cutting’s corner the wagon collided with Nichol’s city express wagon and both were smashed. Breaking away from the wagon, the animal ran into the barn on Veazie street. The horse was owned by J.H. Conlon and had been hired by Mr. Lucy.”

Some incidents were amusing.

“A large load of straw caught in the covered driveway leading to Flagg’s livery stable yesterday,” the newspaper said Nov. 15, 1895, “and was pulled from the wagon. The usual crowd was promptly on hand, but none of them brought pitchforks.”

Flagg’s driver should have known better. So should Hosley & Lesure’s. The company’s furniture delivery van “was loaded so high Tuesday afternoon that it was necessary to remove a portion of the household goods when the wagon attempted to cross the last bridge over the river at the Beaver,” according to a Transcript scribe April 28, 1897.

Some incidents were less than amusing. Arthur “Doc” Robert hired a team and wagon from the above-mentioned liveryman Flagg and with a companion was headed to Blackinton when “an electric car bound for this city came along at a good rate of speed and collided with the front wheel of the carriage,” The Transcript said July 20, 1896, “which on account of the darkness was being driven close to the track. Both men were thrown out by the collision and the carriage wheel was broken. Robert was injured about the back and left side and was taken to the home of George Owens in Blackinton.”

Years ago, goods were delivered to the home. With the automobile, shoppers enjoyed a great degree of independence. They could go to stores and make their own selections. Today, thanks to Amazon, we’re reverting. Find something that looks like what you want, order it online and have it delivered the next day.

At least in equine days, you might be able to see samples. F.E. Lewis, for example, “has started a tea and baking powder wagon to Williamstown, George H. Barker being the salesman,” The Transcript said Dec. 13, 1895.

Victor Noel of the Cash Grocery had a handsome covered wagon “suitably lettered and is drawn by a fine gray horse. It is the most showy delivery rig in town.” The better to impress customers.

Few rules of the road

Of North Berkshire wagon and carriage builders, S. Vadner & Brother stood out. Liveryman Flagg appreciated the business, “having one of his tally-hos thoroughly repaired by S. Vadner & Bro. It will also be repainted in handsome colors and will look better than ever when it comes from the shop,” the Transcript said June 18, 1896.

Bottler John Madden ordered a new delivery rig from Vadner, “one that people notice and speak about,” the paper said June 18, 1895.

More than a century ago, drivers had a hard time with rules of the road. We all know to pull to the right when we hear or see an approaching ambulance, police or fire vehicle. Not in North Adams in 1899.

“Yesterday morning Marshall street was filled with teams while the firemen were responding to the call from box 51,” the newspaper said in on March 10, “and the drivers of the various vehicles showed little inclination to give the department the right of way to which it is entitled.” Fact is, it was years into the automobile era before it was decided for sure which side of the street one should drive on. The right.

The hard-and-fast rule, when there was a horse runaway, was to get out of the way. Way out of the way.

George P. Reed was driving a rig with George N. Rich’s horse, down Main Street near Notre Dame Church, when he attempted to turn around. This was in winter, the conveyance was a sleigh. The sleigh tipped over, Reed was thrown out, the horse trotted down the hill, picking up speed as it reached the monument. Downtown was busy.

“The horse evidently tried to turn into the former driveway where Weber Bros’ store now stands, and the plate glass window was only spared by his colliding with a telegraph pole opposite. In the collision the sleigh was wrecked. Several persons sought refuge in the stairway leading up to Dr. Wallace E. Brown’s office, and their feelings may be imagined when the horse turned into the same stairway. He missed Lonergan & Bissaillon’s large show window by a few inches only, even leaving the imprint of a shoe on the sill. The horse went up the stairs until stopped by the thills catching in the doorway. Benjamin Crawford of 6 Montana street was stepped on by the frightened animal on the stairs and his right foot was badly injured. Another man was so badly frightened that he jumped from an opening at the head of the stairs to the ground, a distance of twenty feet.”

The Transcript, reporting this Feb. 24, 1896, concluded, “The horse was backed down from his position and was taken to the stable in the rear none the worse for his adventure.”

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.

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