Scholla: Sleighs and Snow

Before the advent of the automobile a six-inch fall of snow was welcome for it meant travel by sleigh and that was a very pleasant change from bouncing over the rough roads in a buggy or wagon. Those who started to travel after the “patent roads” (patenta wega), tarvia, asphalt, concrete etc., were made, can not imagine the condition of the side roads before that time. Even the main roads, usually toll roads, called turnpikes, were not too good.

The macadam and dirt roads were not so bad during the summer and early fall, but a few heavy rains followed by freezing temperature changed them into a series of holes. It was an adventure to go any distance for the riding was rough and as for speed – one afternoon a man traveling in a buggy offered a lift to a chap walking toward town, but the offer was refused for the pedestrian said he was in a hurry as he wanted to catch the 3 o’clock trolley. There were a few places where the horse could trot but the time he made there was lost in the low places where the going was so tough that the poor animal had trouble keeping his feet.

All this changed when snow covered the ground for it closed all the holes and evened all the bumps and traveling by sleigh was very comfortable.

Fastened to Runners

         On the farm the sleighs were kept in the back of the shed, sometimes suspended from the ceiling to be out of the way, so before the implements were put away in the fall the sleighs were brought out and put in order. Some farm sleds (blugshidda or Black-shildaa) had the body permanently fastened to the runners, while others consisted only of the fram and runners and the farmer merely transferred a body from a wagon. The sleighs usually had a single set of runners, that is one runner on each side extending for the length of the frame with the tongue fixed that horses and sled turned as one. Some sleighs had a double set of runners (dubblete-shlidaa) with the set in the rear firmly fixed while the forward set turned with the horses like the front wheels of a wagon. These sleighs could be turned more readily than those with a single runners and did not upset as easily. They were mainly used by business firms for heavier loads could be carried on them.

         Light sleds, or pleasure sleds, were commonly called cutters (Yaag-Shilda) and the earlier one’s were not very comfortable. They were light in weight and small in every way. The back of the sleigh was so low that it gave practically no support to the rider and every time time the horse changed pace and jerked the sled, the riders head and shoulders snapped back so that a long ride usually meant a stiff neck. Later the shape of the pleasure sleds was altered and the height of the back was increased which added much to the comfort. There was another form of pleasure sled which resembled the Russian sled. These were rather rare. The sled had a very high back extending well above the shoulders of the driver. The sides were raised and curved gracefully forward to end at the dash in a carved figure like the neck and head of a swan. Painted in flashy colors, usually red and yellow, they made quite a picture. A sled of this type in Womelsdorf bore the date 1801.

       Hauled by Horses

         The heavy sleds (bob-sleds) used two horses and the pleasure sleds usually only one so it was necessary to “set over” the shafts on the latter so that the horse could follow one of the two tracks made by the bob-sled. The shafts could be set to either side but were usually set to the right in front of the driver. Being directly behind the horse the driver had to learn to dodge the lumps of snow thrown by the horse’s hooves as well as other things, and he soon found out that it was not wise to open his mouth  wide while the horse was running.

Following a heavy fall of snow the tracks made by the bob-sleds were quite deep and light sleds frequently upset. this was more annoying than dangerous for unless the horse started to kick or ran away, a tumble into the snow was all that happened. Many upsets occurred when two sleds tried to pass, for while regular “turn-outs” were made by clearing a space at the side of the road, two sleds usually met half way between them. Unless the snow had drifted so that the road had to opened by shoveling, not very much was done to improve the roadway. It seemed as though the supervisors hibernated like the bears for they were rarely seen on the roads from November to April.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells”

“Jingle bells, jingle bells”

With the exception of the members of certain religious sects and a few contrary individuals, every one used bells either on the horse or on the sled. In addition to the music they made they served to give warning of an on-coming sled at a curve in daytime and of approaching sleds at night.

They were mounted on straps (string of bells) which buckled around the horses-large bells for bob-sleds and small one’s for the cutters and the kind of sled could be told by the sounds of the bells. Some cutters had sets of bells graduated in size fastened to the shafts. These produced very harmonious tones which could be distinguished at great distance.

On a clear cold night with the bright stars overhead; warmly dressed, snuggled under heavy robes with a hot brick at your feet; the tinkling bells keeping time to the thudding of the horses hoofs —

“Oh what fun it was to ride

In a one-horse open sleigh.”

L.J. Livingood M.D.

January, 1944