Classic Tales of Old Dorp: Horses once pulled hearses and ice trucks

The horse and wagon days were passing into history back in the pre-World War I era, but most of the

The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart’s long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” The summer highways are crowded with cars, trucks, motorcycles and sports utility vehicles. Today, Hart remembers when life on the road was beginning to change: horses and wagons were starting to fade away from main thoroughfares and side streets. This column originally was published June 12, 1984.

The horse and wagon days were passing into history back in the pre-World War I era, but most of the witnesses about 1910 or so either refused to believe it or didn’t realize such a thing could happen.

Bicycles, trolley cars and some of the new horseless carriages chugging or puffing along otherwise quiet streets provided traffic excitement, especially for the youngsters.

There were other special features. High-wheeled dump wagons drawn by two huge draft horses were objects of interest. The driver was able to let a load of sand, stone, gravel or brick drop right out of the bottom by working a lever beside him. C-r-a-s-h! There was a terrific sound, the dust billowed outwards and the wagon shook as the load was deposited. Yet, the horses were trained to this, and they stood firm.

Two doors forming the bottom of the wagon opened lengthwise. They were hinged to the bottom edge of the vehicle. The Beckwith Brothers, a heavy teamster operation with barns and liveries at 113 Lafayette St., had quite a fleet of these.

Downtown, boys ran after theater drays, especially the Van Curler Opera House or the old Proctor’s wagons. Loaded on the big vehicles were scenery flats, which were painted canvas mounted on wood frames.

Glass-sided undertakers’ hearses, usually drawn by teams of black horses with black plumes on their heads, had no disguise of their purpose. Many people removed their hats when the hearse passed by.

Bright-colored, high-sided ice wagons were hailed as they arrived on the summer scene with big-muscled, short-sleeved leather-aproned drivers. These good-natured fellows let kids grab chunks of ice from the floor of the wagon, usually littered with straw and dirt. But not to worry. You had to eat a peck of dirt during your life, everybody said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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