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D. FREIGHTING—1858-1915

T. H. Miles of Trinidad recalled that before the automobile the roads were atrocious. They were steep, dangerous, and rough. In the summer, dust was ankle deep, while in the winter the mud all but put a stop to freighting. In building roads, little thought was given to making easy grades, and no effort at all was made to eliminate hairpin turns. The grades were narrow with few turnouts. Repair work in the spring consisted of filling in the worst mud-holes with small rocks, cedar bark, and brush. There was no gravel, because of the primitive equipment. Here and there were toll roads which were kept in fair condition.

At first, the teamsters hauled their own beds and camp outfits, and pulled out of the road whenever night overtook them. As the years rolled by, ranchers along the different freight roads began to cater to teamsters, building corrals and feed sheds and boarding drivers. Eventually, the number who camped out were few. The "stopping places," as they were called, that put out the best meals got most of the teamsters, and it was not uncommon to find six or eight big outfits—stopping for the night—at a popular station. [72]

The big front wagon was "a creation of great skill, strength, and precision, and was made by hand." High grade Norway steel was used in its construction. The front axles were two and one-half inches in diameter, the rear two and three-quarters, with corresponding heavy wood stock. The wheels were high, the rear averaging from five to five and one-half feet in diameter, the front in proportion. Hubs and boxes were massive, bored and tubed to allow oiling without removing the wheel. The brake beams that held the brake blocks were of white oak or hickory. The brake blocks were of white or sugar pine, bushed in the initial groove worn by the wheel with dagger pine. These blocks were at least two feet long. The tail wagon was rigged in similar fashion, with the brake rope leading through rings on the side of the front wagon. The wagons were coupled by "crotch chains" with a few long links in the bight of the chain. The short coupling tongue had a heavy slot iron clamped or bolted to it. [73]

The largest rigs required a ten-horse team which was a single line or "jerk line" team. The line was snapped to the lip strap of the near leader (who had been broken to turn "gee" when the line was jerked) and led by rings on collar and harness to the wheel-horse and hung on his hames. The off-leader was kept in place by a four-foot jockey stick, one end of it fastened under the collar of the leader, the other snapped to his lip strap. To keep him from surging ahead, he was controlled by a "buck strap" which kept him in his place; otherwise the leader would have no control over him. Behind the leaders (of a ten-horse team) came the "eights," the "sixes," and the pointers. The pointers' stretchers were hooked to the tongue. The pointers were the most important horses in the team, because they—and, to a lesser extent, the wheelers—kept the big front wagon in the road. They were accordingly selected for their pulling qualities and intelligence. [74]

These long teams were seldom composed of big horses. Heavy draft stock could not stand the travel (an average of 15 miles per day) and would become so "leg-weary and slow that, by early fall, the team would lose a day every trip, and a six-day haul would take seven days." A good free-walking team would average about 1,200 pounds to the horse, though the pointers and wheelers were usually a little heavier. [75]

The average rate of travel for a team loaded to capacity (on the down-grade trip) was about two miles an hour, and the load (generally lumber or concentrate from small mines) was a ton to a horse. From the seaport or railhead up to the mountains, the average load for a ten-horse team was 16,000 pounds.

The mountain haul for the first two days inland from the coast was the hardest, as one had not yet climbed out of the searing heat. A good driver would "save his team in every possible way." If he came to shade, he would stop and rest his horses, pulling the collars away from their necks to permit the air to cool them. When he came to a steep grade, he would give them plenty of time, pulling not more than a few feet at a time. On reaching camp in the evening, the welfare of the team came first. [76] A wagon breakdown was bad, and could take half or all the profit out of a trip; but worst of all would have been to have a sick horse. [77]

"A well-found team," swinging down the road, wagons clicking and "chuckling" along, was an impressive sight. Most of the freighting companies took pride in the appearance of their teams. From the bridles hung gaily dyed squirrel tails. The horses' manes were roached, and the housing over the hames bore the owner's initials in brass tacks. The bells on the leaders lent a cheerful air to the scene. These bells, however, had a practical use, since they could be heard a mile off. This was important, because turnouts were few and far between, and it was understood that all teamsters, on starting up or down a long narrow grade, would stop and listen, repeating this at the first turnout, where they would pull over and wait for any outfit that could be heard oncoming. [78]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004