Work Horses

I was born in 1936 so I did most of my growing up during the 1940’s. Of course, the most important part of that decade was World War II but there are a lot of memories in addition to that. For instance, I’ve got some fond memories of draft horses. We referred to them as “work horses” as opposed to saddle horses or pleasure horses. In the early 1900’s, my great grand-dad, Will Peebler drilled wells but also had what was described as a “handsome” black team of horses and hired himself and the team out in order to make a living.

By the time the 1940’s rolled around, cars, trucks, and tractors were already doing a lot of the work that horses had done for us. I can recall a few teams that were still working as I grew up and will try to tell you about them.

Across the street from the house we lived in was a regular-sized city lot. The owner put the whole thing in as a garden each year and hired a man with a team to plow it for him. The place wasn’t big enough for a tractor and at that time, we didn’t have things like roto-tillers or small garden tractors so it was the perfect job for a team of horses. I always enjoyed watching them because the man and the horses knew their jobs and got the work done with a small and subtle amount of communication.

Another team of horses I saw practically every day was the team that worked with the street cleaners. The street cleaners were two men who worked for the city and with the help of a team of horses kept our city streets clean. At that time most of our streets had concrete gutters and the surfaces were either covered with bricks or asphalt. The street cleaners had push brooms and shovels and a team of horses who pulled a specially designed wagon that had high sides and was a bottom-dumper. The surfaces of the streets stayed pretty clean from the normal breezes and the wind created by passing cars so the men mostly had to sweep the gutters. They would sweep along for a few feet until they had a small pile and then the horses would automatically advance the wagon to where the men were and the men would take square point shovels and pick up the dirt and throw it in the wagon. The horses would stand still until the men advanced a few more feet and then they would catch up with them again. The men were nice guys and would talk to us and let us pet the horses. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember the men’s names but the horses were Dick and Prince. Of course, at that time, 95% of all teams in the world, I think, were named Dick and Prince.

The next team I’ll talk about is the team belonging to the Garbage Man but I need to start with an explanation of how trash and garbage worked back in those days. There was no trash pick-up by the city. When the trash baskets in the house got full, you took them out back to the alley and dumped them in the trash barrel. The trash barrel was a 55 gallon drum with the top cut out and would have a piece of screen or mesh over it to keep sparks and embers from flying out and setting your yard on fire. You burned the trash when the barrel got full. If you had items that were too big for the barrel or wouldn’t burn, you hauled them to the city dump and there was no fee for dumping.

You took care of your own garbage, too. There were no garbage disposals back then. You would set a pan or can by the sink and as you prepared a meal you would put the peelings or cut-offs in the pan or can. Then, after the meal you would scrape the dishes into the pan. When everything was cleaned up you would take the pan out back of the house and dump it in the slop bucket. The slop bucket was a 5 gallon bucket with a lid on it to discourage flies and critters from getting a free meal. Once or twice a week, depending on the schedule, you would set the slop buckets out for the Garbage Man.

For most towns the garbage man was a local farmer who raised pigs and used the garbage for feed. Quite often he was one of the most successful farmers in the area. Along with being enterprising enough to pick up the garbage so his hog farm would prosper, he generally had a good business head and was productive in all his ventures.

The garbage man would take a standard 4-wheel wagon and line it with galvanized metal to make it as waterproof and drip-proof as possible so his profits wouldn’t leak away and also so that the townspeople wouldn’t get mad at him for stinking up the neighborhood.

To make his collections, the Garbage Man would walk alongside the off horse from house –to-house, stopping to pick up the buckets and dump them in the wagon. The horses knew their job and always stopped with the wagon right beside the buckets. Quite often we kids would walk alongside and visit with the man and the horses.

My great-great uncle, Will Church, had a team of mules. One day, when I was around twelve or so, I rode my bike out to his farm to see how he and Aunt Ella were doing. They happened to be harvesting corn that day. Uncle Will or one of the men helping him would cut the ear of corn off the stalk and pitch it into the wagon that the mules were hitched to. The mules knew their job and would only take a couple of steps at a time so the wagon was never too far from the men doing the picking. The mules pretty much took care of themselves until they got to the end of the row and then one of the men would help them to get turned and lined up to go back the other way.

It was always fun to see the horses and mules and watch them work. They knew what they were doing and would patiently do whatever was asked of them. Also, they never seemed to mind when some kid wanted to talk to them and pet them a little.

Dave Thomas
October 28, 2013

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3 thoughts on “Work Horses

  1. Still enjoying the stories, Dave! Always used to smile at the horse drawn street cleaner with gut sweeping and horse pooping. Is that a conundrum😜

    Sent from my iPad

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