Mailboxes and Old Barns: Horsepower

Dad with his teams, 1920's

Dad with his horses in the early 1920s

My brother wrote this monograph about the family horses, including some more personal memories. Much of what he describes was well before my time, literally, as he was seventeen years old when I was born.

Dad farmed with horses through 1934 before he bought his first tractor.  We had 12-15 head of draft horses when on Grandpa Soren’s place.   Pulling a duckfoot or the disc required eight horses; a two bottom plow, seed drill or binder used four and a cultivator or mower required a team of two horses.

Horse mailbox,farmcountryteams were replaced with fresh horses at noon.  The horses were rubbed down before harnessing and after removing the harness they were again rubbed and curried.

After moving to the Jorgenson place in late 1934 and having sold the heavy horses, Dad bought a team of light weight horses from Bud S who lived down near Lanark.  Swindle broke these horses, named Pete and Tony, with a whip.  The effect of such treatment would be with us as long as those horses lived.  They were skittish, unstable, easily frightened and they did not trust anyone.  Mother was afraid to have us kids near them.  We were scared of them.

horses 3We used this team to haul water three miles [from the community well] to our home cistern, to pick corn, to haul rocks, mow, rake and haul hay.  I also used them as a bundle team on one of the last field threshing machine operations in the area when I hauled bundles for Pete H over near McCabe in 1944.  Dad had a rubber-tired wagon made from an old Ford vehicle frame.  It was easy to pull and was used to pick corn, haul fence posts and to go fencing on the range land.

My memories of Pete and Tony started in about 1937 when a man drove in to the yard to see Dad just as he finished unhooking them from the wagon.  Dad, apparently wanting to show the visitor what a brilliant horse handler this 10 year old of his was, said to me, “Calvin, put the horses in the barn.”  I took the reins he handed me and drove the team down to the south side of the barn.  I had not ever separated the team before, and was I scared of them! So being basically crafty, I thought, “Well, I’ll just slide the barn door open and drive them into their stall.”

It had not yet dawned on me that when the team was hitched up, Pete was on the right and Tony on the left, but in their stall inside the barn, they stood just the opposite.  There, Pete was on the left and Tony on the right.  As soon as they entered the door, still being harnessed together, they both tried to get on the opposite side of the other.  Their harness was well torn up before they could displace enough of it to get into their own stalls.  Exciting afternoon.

Are you familiar with Bev Doolittle's nature/horse artistry?  Check it out

Are you familiar with Bev Doolittle’s nature/horse artistry? Check it out

A couple of years later, I had become quite the teamster as I was hauling manure out to the field north of the house on the stone boat.  Unloaded and empty, I started the team back over the frozen clumps of soil and straw.  I thought—why not ride?—so I jumped on the stone boat, promptly slipping on the manure and ice and winding up on my butt on the stone boat.  The extra noise and sudden movement scared the horses and off they went at a gallop.  I was bounced off in short order.

The horses continued east at a full gallop with the stone boat banging and flying behind them.  They went through the first three wire fences with no problem.  They  then headed north and went through the second fence on Hofman’s.  Here they took about 1/8 mile of posts and barbed wire with them as they moved on.  Soon they were on Hofman’s frozen slough and then both horses were down on the ice all missed up in the barbed wire and what was left of their harness.

A couple of years later I broke Pete to ride.  I was gentle with him and he was a good range riding horse.  I tried breaking Tony to ride over at Fred F’s.  I saddled him and got on as Fred held him snubbed up close to his horse.  Tony just quivered for about five seconds, then exploded straight up.  He was flipped over by the snub, down he went with my left leg under him.  I wound up with a very stiff and swollen leg.  I did not try riding Tony again.

By 1943-44 Did had bought a good saddle horse, called Jim, from Holger for $25.  I had a big nicely marked sorrel.  As soon as we got home from high school in the spring, it was saddle up and ride the coulees looking for cows having trouble giving birth.  On one occasion we came across a cow with only the head of her dead calf protruding from her birth canal.  The objective was to get the dead calf out and save the cow.  Roping the calf’s neck with his lariat, running it to his saddle horn, Dick moved his horse easily.  The calf would not come instead  the cow was being dragged by his horse.  I then roped the front legs of the cow to my saddle horn with my lariat.  We each then pulled our end of the cow in opposite directions with our horses.  When the calf finally came out of that poor cow, his neck was over two feet long.  The cow lived—saved by Dane Valley cowboys.

I joined the Navy about then, early in 1945.

divider, star and branches

The last horse described—Jim—is the first and only horse I remember being acquainted with as a child.

I didn’t know anything about Pete and Tony—but Jim was frightening enough to me.

One day I wandered down the south side of the barn, headed for the pig pen which shared a fence with the south side of the corral.  I didn’t know the big corral gate was open and was shocked to suddenly realize there was nothing between me and Jim (who was in the corral) but open air.

I frantically climbed the corral fence and perched between the corral and the pigpen, until I calmed down enough to think to crawl across all the connected corral fencing to an area where I could climb down near the potato patch, and “out of” the corral area.

Unless such frights involved broken bones, they weren’t mentioned to anyone since it was obviously our own carelessness that created the situation to begin with. If we were alone when the scary event took place, we were just glad we hadn’t gotten hurt and–that being the case–we didn’t have to tell on ourselves.


A couple of days ago, my husband and I made yet another visit to Champoeg (pronounced Shampoo-ey) State Park which is the site of Oregon’s Statehood Vote back in 1859.  Among the features at this wonderful park are the huge black cottonwood trees which surround the clearing where the vote took place.  Nearer the Visitor Center is a large 1860s pioneer garden and, beyond that, a restored barn from the same era.

The wood floor in the barn is worn to a silky shine. There are huge benches made from rough tree trunks both inside and outside the barn, which is sometimes now used for old-fashioned barn dances with live fiddle music.

I have a rule that I have exercised all of my life: wherever we are, if it’s a place that fills our hearts and “fills up our senses” and if no one else is there–at that moment, it’s ours. That was our barn the other day.

No one was in sight in either the garden or the barn for the entire thirty minutes we sat there and just soaked it in.  The clean straw smell of that barn was precisely the same as that provided in our barn in Montana when Pete and Tony and Jim were there.

divider, star and branches

horses 1

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22 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: Horsepower

  1. paulessick says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog snuppy.


  2. rashomon says:

    You make me laugh (Pete and Tony knowing their stalls) and cry (calving), but I always enjoy your essays into the past. You are a great example of what to do with that few minutes in the morning or the last ones at night before going to sleep.


  3. stella says:

    Sharon, I linked this over at Facebook, and a cousin shared it with her “friends”. Her dad also farmed with horses, and this picture of her dad in his cutter was used on her sister’s Christmas card two years ago. It was taken in 1951:

     photo 3d03c250-b3fc-4aae-a303-95810c9729b7_zps81e374bc.jpg


  4. texan59 says:

    Thanks for another trip back in time. 🙂


  5. michellc says:

    We always had horses when I was growing up. I loved them all even the high strung horses. My Dad bought me a Welsh pony when I was about 7. I had graduated up from the little Shetland that was a huge pain and unpredictable, it’s a thousand wonders that horse never killed me. Anyway, I was so proud of this horse until my brothers without any of us knowing about it were putting a flank strap and inviting over all their friends and betting with them that they couldn’t ride him. The boys I guess assumed without the flank strap he wouldn’t buck. Well this little pony that nobody had been able to ride with the flank strap on turned into a bucking horse without a flank strap as well. I find this out by going and saddling up my pony one morning to go riding. I hopped on and through the air I went landing on my bottom. I was always told if you fall off you get back on. So I’m thinking something must be under his saddle, so I take it off and rub him down, inspect the blanket and the saddle and find nothing. Saddle him back up. Now I was 7 and saddling a horse wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for me to do and took some time and I was trying to do this without getting caught, because I was breaking the rule of never riding without permission. I avoided this step because the day before I asked to go riding and was told no and they were busy doing other things and I didn’t want to be told no again. So I hop on again and through the air I go again. By this time I’m mad, hurting, tired from dragging the saddle to the horse and saddling him twice now. I also have a problem, my horse has never bucked before now he’s bucking me off and I know something is wrong with him but how do I tell my Dad this without getting in trouble for trying to sneak off for a ride?
    So I go to my Dad and tell him I think something is wrong with his back, that I was brushing him and he kept flinching. Dad comes and checks him over and pronounces him fine, so I beg since he’s here, can we saddle him up to make sure he’s fine? He of course thinks he knows what I’ve done, just came up with an excuse for him to let me ride. Well he’s part right, he wasn’t flinching, he was bucking me off. But he goes ahead and saddles him for me and then I fool Dad again and ask him if he will get on him first because I had not ridden him in about a week and he might be full of piss and vinegar. (his words that he always used) I’m sure he knew I was up to something because I never wanted anyone to ride my horse. But giving me the look of what is my innocent little daughter up to this time, he hops on his back and through the air he goes and down on his butt he lands. By this time the two partners in crime had showed up and I heard them say something about they were fixing to be found out. As Dad gets up cussing and threatening to turn my horse into glue. I tell him to keep my self out of trouble, they did something Dad. They give me the brother look that you’re going to get it later and he naturally assumes as he’s just been bucked off the horse that they did something to the horse. My young mind had not made that connection, I was just wanting them to get in trouble so I wouldn’t be found out. They confessed to what they had been doing and I forgot what I had been doing and blurted out in my anger thanks to you my horse bucked me off twice.
    They got in trouble and had to tell how much money they had won over the 3 or 4 weeks they had been doing this and had to work off that much money. I got grounded from riding for a month and over that month, taking care of the horses was my sole responsibility, which was a much too severe punishment in my mind and down right cruelty to make me do this without getting to ride.
    In the end though it worked out I got a new horse, a beautiful Quarter horse and her little colt. So I was the big girl with a big horse and a horse that became my best friend for years to come.
    Except for Dad traded the welsh for a couple of huge white pigs, which is another story for another day.
    Sharon your stories always bring back memories that I have forgotten.


  6. Nice. Very nice. A slice of homemade history pie! None better than home made…


    • stella says:

      Hi, Andrea! Sharon writes a story for us every Sunday morning, which we wait for anxiously. If you’d like to see some of the others, they can be found under our “Mailboxes and Old Barns” category at the upper right on the page.


    • Sharon says:

      Thank you! Usually I include a little blurb explaining the series…I grew up on the high dry prairie of NE Montana. I share my mailboxes and old barns of memory, and then the best fun is when others share theirs. The America that “used to be” still is, I’m convinced. We just bought into a deception in the late 1960s that we were supposed to 1) not pass it on; 2) not talk about it and 3) not treasure it.

      We who love America still number more than those who don’t, I’m convinced. We gave up the right to speak up and it’s costing us dearly. So I’m speaking up from my corner.

      Thank you for your kind comment and the effective speaking you’ve been doing….(add: a long time). 😉 …and welcome to the Tree. Choose the branch that suits you best–we understand if you have to head down the Trail frequently and aren’t always around the campfire of an evening–but your rock and your branch will always be here waiting.


  7. teajr says:

    It’s refreshing to read about the olden time, where children were expected to do more than complain and play xbox. My Wife and I were having a discussion the other day about what’s reasonable to expect from our 8yr old, and I was telling her that kids are capable of much more than what’s expected of them now days. Thanks for the ammo.


    • stella says:

      There are always the Little House books, too! Children did lots of work, and still do, on a farm, or in a family business. We should definitely expect more of our kids – it is a kindness to them, as they will have a solid work ethic when they venture out into the world on their own (and they will know how to do stuff).


  8. Sharon – I always look forward to your posts on Sunday morning! This one is excellent. Thank you so much for sharing. It brought back memories of my own “bad” experiences with horses and being in the country and around farms and animals. There is NOTHING more comforting to me than the smell of a horse barn. I feel closest to God in a barn, sometimes. Thanks!


  9. Chewbarkah says:

    I always like the Mails Boxes and Old Barns stories, but this one really hit the spot. Enjoed MichellC’s comment too. Modern life might be “easier”, but is so much poorer for losing its connection to nature, land, and animals. Thanks so much for presenting these.


  10. nameofthepen says:

    Wonderful, as usual! 🙂


  11. Cyrano says:

    My brother and I grew up in a small town in Illinois, only fifty miles from Chicago. We did work on the farms when we got old enough, but we had it easy compared to our father who was born in rural Mississippi in 1910. Today’s story made me remember something he used to say to us. We were soft and spoiled in his eyes, and occasionally he would tell us “You boys need to watch the sun come up over a mule’s butt a few times”. He was right. We needed it then, and many of us still need it today. Most of all we need our memories of those people and those times. Thanks for the memories, Sharon. Well done as always.


    • Sharon says:

      Cyrano, when we were at Champoeg the other day (mentioned in the post) we visited at some length with the volunteers on duty. Found out they were from Arizona, and they come to the NW every summer in their RVs during the normally hotter AZ weather.

      We learned that quite a few of the OR State Park volunteers are seniors on the road for the summer, and they do it year after year. As we were about to leave, another couple who were doing the same thing walked up and introduced themselves to the first couple, explaining which Oregon historical site they were volunteering at this year. They were from AZ as well.

      That was a great conversation with some good people.


      • Cyrano says:

        That sounds like a good way to spend a summer. Pick a different park each year, and soon you would know all there is to know about Oregon. Unfortunately, we sold our motor home a few years ago. We find it difficult to get away from our medical base for more than a few weeks at a time. We should just move to Oregon :).


  12. ZurichMike says:

    OMG, this is a real keeper. The stone boat story had me laughing out loud. Get the book published for us! 🙂


  13. justfactsplz says:

    This story brings back memories of two mean ponies and I horse I dealt with growing up. Ouch!


  14. Sharon says:

    Ok, this is a weird note for me to leave….but a few moments ago I read a comment on the drop down “reply notification” thingy for this MBOB from some fine reader whose childhood home was just across from Champoeg Park…..and now, I can’t see or find evidence of that comment anywhere!!

    We’ve been having WP issues as they are revamping some software, and I don’t know if that’s what swept the comment out the door somehow….but I’m posting this just so that reader (a new commenter, I think) knows that I did see the comment.

    I’m absolutely delighted that you know exactly the beauty of what I’m talking about—we moved to OR a couple of years ago, and are enjoying, enjoying repeated trips to the state parks in the area. Thank you….and again, just wanted to be sure you knew I did your comment, in case it has actually gone off to the moon or something. 😉

    ADD: I’m just frustrated as to why this comment won’t show up here….so went and found it and c/p’d it,because it’s fun info to add to the post – so here ya go, carterzest–your comment by special delivery! 😉

    carterzest commented on Mailboxes and Old Barns: Horsepower

    Excellent SHaron. I share a similar pedigree to you, though, we had tractors to do all the work and the horses were just for play and showing and trail rides. I read this and it reminded me of my grandmothers days growing up on the plains. I was deeply engrossed all the way up to the very end, thats when the chills hit. You see, my boyhood home was directly accross the river from Champoeg Park.My Arrow of Light ceremony from Webelo’s to Boy Scouts was performed at the visitors center. My memories of growing up on our farm, all the arrowheads I collected, all the fun I had, just flooded me with happiness. Thanks for sharing


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