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Driving Horse-Drawn Carriages for Pleasure
The Classic Illustrated Guide To Coaching, Harnessing, Stabling, Etc.
By Francis T. Underhill
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
WHAT CONSTITUTES "GOOD FORM" IN EQUIPAGE.
Simplicity of outline, appropriateness, consistency, harmony, and good judgment in the selection of vehicles, form the foundation of what may be termed good form.
The selection of vehicles is mentioned, because that is practically the basis of operation. Each vehicle demands consistency in the choice of its horses, servants, harness, livery, etc., and simplicity in its design and treatment, resulting in that much-to-be-desired harmony of the whole.
A good carriage is intended for many years of hard use, and not to be thrown aside, like a woman's gown, in obedience to the dictates of any and every whim of so-called fashion. The same may be said of a well-kept harness; and all this goes to show how important it is that the first choice should be carefully made.
Of course, there are many incidental details which are factors, and which are liable to some slight change from time to time. The silk hat, for example, although looked upon with favour to-day, may be considered absurd ten years hence. An avoidance of extremes in all such trifles will keep one within limits for many a long day.
One occasionally sees an equipage belonging to elderly people; the carriage evidently an old one, but in good condition and on good lines; the servants respectable-looking men past middle age; the horses sleek and well cared for, and possibly adorned with flowing tails—the whole effect savouring of what one might call the days gone by. Such an establishment is in far better form for its purpose than one which shows in its every detail that it has but recently come into existence.
It is unfortunate that we have so few examples of this type in America, but the fact is, very few of our coach-builders of a past generation approached the foreign-built carriages in design, so that almost all the good carriages of that period were imported, and the importations were not numerous; besides which, the then condition of our roads and streets was not favourable to heavy vehicles.
Young people, of course, must be equally consistent, and select carriages somewhat suited to their years. They should be more thorough also, for, while a slight deficiency in the grandfather's carriage might be overlooked, such leniency can not be extended to the younger generation, for they have advantages which their grandfathers did not possess.
Money, that god which seems to be so much worshipped to-day, has a tendency to incline its possessors toward a display and flashiness in equipage which is distinctly bad form.
To this source can be traced most of the shoddy "turnouts" which constitute far too large a proportion of our private establishments. Such people can give their pockets quite as much relief, and at the same time contribute to their pleasure and amusement, by running an extensive stable and doing it smartly.
Americans are known as a most adaptive race, and when once the appreciation of a good thing is inculcated, the improvement achieved is extraordinary. So let it be with good form in equipage.CHAPTER 2
The preceding chapter is designed to point out the necessity of adhering to simplicity, combined with as much symmetry of outline as is possible, in every variety of carriage.
This simplicity should be carried out in the harness, livery, etc. The owner, if his means allow, can produce a brilliant effect by means of uncommonly good horseflesh. What can look worse than a poorly designed and gaudily painted brougham with enormous, fantastically shaped lamps resembling those used on the Lord Mayor's coach of yore? The whole tawdry effect is generally emphasized by an elaborate harness replete with enormous monograms, and partially hiding a pair of "screws" which would disgrace a street car.
The contrast between such an equipage, and the perfectly-turned-out brougham, which is so quiet in design and treatment as to be almost unnoticeable, is very great. In this case the harness is plain but handsomely made; the servants are clad in smart, well-fitting and well-put-on liveries; they carry themselves with an air of pride, and seem to feel that the effect of their equipage depends on them—as in a great measure it does.
With such appointments, a carriage will at least look respectable when drawn by even an ordinary pair; and when the horses are really fine and thoroughly adapted to their work, the effect produced will compel the admiration of the intelligent on-looker, although in most cases he will not know what attracts him. This, then, is the ideal which should guide those who wish to turn out really well.
The colouring of a carriage has much to do with its general effect. Plain black, and the dark shades of green, blue, and claret, produce the best results in carriages for town use of the non-sporting class. Bright-coloured wheels and undercarriages should never be attempted unless the owner be more than ordinarily well versed in the remainder of the appointments. A departure such as this requires the extreme of severity in treatment to make it pass muster.
In England, of course, where family colours have been in use for generations, the conditions are somewhat different, but the family whose colours are quiet is to be congratulated.
Unless a wheel is of good design, a plain colour will emphasize its defects. In fact, it is often by this means that the uncultivated eye is brought to distinguish between the good and the bad in carriage designing.
A well-made harness is often spoiled by excessive ornamentation—gorgeous monograms or crests covering every available surface. Oftentimes the same decorations reduced one half in size would look perfectly proper.
For wet-weather driving, the smartest possible harness is made of black leather throughout, with the metal parts covered. Of course, such a harness as this must be well designed and appropriately used.
Good liveries are essential to a well-appointed equipage; and yet no department is as much neglected in this country. When one has seen the same carriage, well turned out in other respects, either improved or ruined by smart or slouchy servants, he will appreciate the point.
The very position of the servants contributes largely toward the general finish. Put a slouchy mustached coachman on the box of the best generally appointed carriage procurable, and its good points go for naught. No private coachman wears a mustache or beard, and the presence of such can invariably be considered an indication of ignorance of his calling. Such a man may be a good strapper, and in a general-utility place might be satisfactory; but he should never be employed as a coachman.
The town coachman must be a man of experience, and reasonable wages paid to such a man will often save a large expenditure in paint and repairs. The thorough coachman can be distinguished at a glance, and it is unfortunate that they are so few and far between.CHAPTER 3
Ah, what a charm that word has to the man who is really an enthusiast! It requires a knowledge of the highest branches of the art of horsemanship and equipage to insure a satisfactory result. It is a sport that has come down to us from the days of the old English stage and mail coaches, before the introduction of the railway.
In those days, a number of amateurs, whose names are familiar to all readers of coaching history, were in the habit of driving some of the regular coaches whenever the opportunity offered, and educated as they were under the very best professional whips of the then time, they acquired a practical appreciation of the points necessary to a master of the art.
When we consider to-day the speed at which some of the fast mails were run, we must realize that the men who drove them thoroughly understood their business. The Edinburgh mail, for instance, ran four hundred miles in forty hours, including stoppages. At first glance, an average of ten miles an hour will not seem a very fast rate; but when we appreciate that the time occupied in changing horses, in stopping for meals, etc., is included in the schedule—which means that the coaches must have maintained a running speed of practically fourteen miles an hour, and that over roads which, though good, were far inferior to the English roads of to-day, through storm and sunshine, by day and night, with nothing to steady the coach on a downward incline but the wheelers and a skid—we are convinced that those coachmen were by right the past masters from whom the disciples of coaching must acquire a great portion of their knowledge.
When the days of public coaches were at an end, and most of the famous professional whips were forced to give up the "bench," or to assume a more modest one than that of the road coach, the amateurs took up the ball of coaching enthusiasm and kept it rolling; and it is in a great measure through them that we are enabled to-day to be almost in touch with many of the famous old traditions of the road.
Some portion of their knowledge and experience has been transmitted by means of the pen, but in a very great measure the niceties of the art have been passed down through the medium of the real enthusiast.
A few—a very few—individuals in each succeeding generation, have gone into the work with a thorough appreciation of its nice points. They have, as young men, given the closest attention to the instruction afforded them by the representatives of the art in the generation previous, and in due course have themselves become the mentors of the rising generation.
It is only within the past quarter of a century that Americans have fallen into line in the pursuit of this sport. There were, of course, many gentlemen in this country long prior to that time who derived a certain amount of pleasure from four-in-hand driving, but very few acquired what might be termed "masterly coachmanship."
Although it may be very justly contended that many of the little fads which are advocated by experts of the school of to-day do not in any way contribute directly to the actual improvement of driving, they nevertheless serve to interest, and thereby keep the mind of the coachman more thoroughly concentrated on a proper indulgence in and perpetuation of the sport.
Outsiders often criticise the copying in our coaches of a vehicle which belonged to more primitive days. They forget, however, that although the outlines of the vehicles are similar, those of to-day have been enormously improved by means of the increased skill in coachbuilding.
The modern park drag or road coach can not be said to be adapted to use on many of our sandy country roads, and in districts where such prevail a vehicle better suited to the purpose must perforce be used. But be it remembered, also, that sandy roads themselves are gradually becoming more and more a relic of the past.
There may be said to be two methods of indulging in the sport of coaching to-day.
First, the driving of a coach or drag simply for the amusement of the owner and his friends.
Second, the running of a "public" or road coach.
The gentlemen's drag differs quite considerably in many points from the road coach, and the rules of the coaching club, which are quoted herewith, point out the distinctions.
THE PAKK DRAG.
The park drag, as shown in Plate I, is an excellent type of a proper vehicle. Plate II shows the turning out of the same. The drag in this case lacks a little, in that mail axles take the place of Collinge's; the latter savour a little more of the refinement which belongs to the park drag. The harness is described in the chapter on Harness and Harnessing, and needs no further comment. This may also be said of the liveries, etc.
It is well to remember that when a drag is brought to the owner's door or is on exhibition the lazybacks of the gammon and back gammon—viz., the front and back roof seats—should be turned down, and remain so in case the only passenger is carried on the box seat beside the coachman.
Plate III shows the servants in the position of ascending the hind seat, and is simply intended to impress the necessity of having one's grooms carry out a certain uniformity of action. (The costume of the coachman in this picture demands an apology.)
Plates IV and V show the distinction between the rear view of a park drag and that of a road coach, and it is from this point of view that the difference is probably most noticeable. The hind boot in the park drag is hinged at the bottom, so that, when dropped, it forms a table for the serving of luncheon, etc.; in the road coach it is hinged on the off side, to allow of the guard having easy access to it from the near hind step when the coach is in motion. It will be noticed that the skid is hung on the off side, while in England it is carried on the near side. This change has been made necessary by the American rules of the road, which oblige one to turn to the right.
And so one might go on through the various distinctions which are carefully portrayed in the photographs, but such a minute description would be verbose and unnecessary.
It is the aim of every good coachman to have a sound argument in support of all the little technicalities, and it may afford the reader interested in the subject some amusement to examine in detail the differences which exist between the park drag and the road coach, and, after analyzing them, to draw his own conclusions.
Plate VI shows the drag "parked" for the races or similar use. The coach should always be in this position when the horses are out, except when in the coach room.
THE PRIVATE ROAD COACH.
Plate VII shows a park drag as turned out for private road use, or, in other words, for use in the country or on coaching trips.
The servants wear their stable clothes, as full liveries are not at all adapted to such a purpose; the harness is of the road order, and it is customary to attach a luggage rail to the roof, so that any luggage, rugs, etc., may be safely carried there. The horn case is strapped to the rail on the off side, so that it can be conveniently within the reach of the head groom, who is generally the one to sound it in case of need. (By the way, one never speaks of "blowing" or "blowing on" the horn.) This is not necessary, however, for it is generally wisest to carry the horn in the basket, mouthpiece up, most horns having shifting mouthpieces which are liable to slip off when the horn is put in the case, and for this reason the case is really only intended as a protection to the horn when in the coach house. The photograph also shows the position of the loin cloths, and is equally proper to the road coach. (The cloth on the off wheeler is improperly folded.)
Plates VIII and IX show very good examples of the genus road coach. As in the case of the park drag, all its essentials are described in the coaching-club rules and will need no further comment.
Plates X and XI show the cockhorse "alone" and "put to." The details are sufficiently clear in the photograph to require no additional description. The harness would be somewhat more proper were the hames without terrets, and were the bridle provided with blinkers and more on the harness order. It will be noticed that the bar is connected with the pole head by a rope which has a solid eye in one end and a spring cockeye in the other. The end with the eye is slipped over the pole hook and rests on top of that of the leaders' main bar; the other end is then passed between the leaders and through a large ring suspended by-straps from their kidney link rings, after which it is snapped in the eye of the cockhorse's bar.
A few suggestions as to the necessities in the "putting on" of a road coach may not be amiss. We will suppose the route to have been selected, the distance, variety of the road, etc., ascertained.
Excerpted from Driving Horse-Drawn Carriages for Pleasure by Francis T. Underhill. Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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