Ever open your car door and look down at the inside frame? If you do, you’ll notice a carriage symbol, the link from modern day to the past. Writing historical westerns, we rely on terms for modes of travel as in: buggy, surrey, wagon, cart, gig, and buckboard. But to use the terms correctly, we must understand the modes of transportation we describe.
We all have basic ideas of very early modes of horse drawn carriages. Chariots were two wheeled carts that propelled the ancient world to battles. Hollywood captured these vehicles in movies like Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments.
In the medieval period, four to six wheeled carts known had dome or house like structures for a shield against the weather. The 17th and 18th century saw the biggest change in which a front hub, in a triangular shape made turning easier and for comfort, steel springs took the place of chains. As economies grew, the need to move more food and goods, provided the push to make what we know as “modern carriages”.
Carriages can be open or closed, however there are some basic terms that we need to be aware of. The top, which can be solid or an accordion fold to lower, is called a hood or head. If the compartment around the seats were covered it was called a closed carriage. If the sides had glass, then the carriage was a “glass coach” aka Cinderella. The carriage driver would be outside the closed carriage on a seat called “box or perch”. In the rear, you can find a small platform for a footman to stand. If there was a seat, it was called a “rumble”. Removable platforms were called “jump seats”, sounds pretty familiar when we look at our automobiles today.
So what about where the horse goes? The long wooden poles, the horse would be back between were called limbers by the English. Western folk might refer to them as shafts. If you have a two horse team, the bar or shaft between them was called the “tongue”. On the edge of this tongue would have been the yolk or collars which the horses would have worn around their necks. Make sense? Of course it does.
By 1760 there were over 325 types of carriages from which to choose. A horse and buggy would refer to a two wheel, simple carriage, drawn by one or two horses. It was used for personal transportation; hence a doctor’s buggy or something easy for a woman to drive. They were easily to afford, the cost being anywhere from $25.00 to $50.00. As families grew, goods provided more income, people wanted more.
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A surrey was an open two seat that had upholstered seating for four. The tops would have been fringed or flat without decorative silk tassels.
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The buckboard is a uniquely American development. One seat, up front, with a spring on either side and the back a flat surface upon which to carry personal equipment or small, lightweight goods. It was actually invented by Reverend Cyrus Comstock from Lewis, New York. These grew popular in the Adirondack Mountain area and were widely used where ever settlements grew.
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A wagon would be a heavy duty form of transportation mostly for movement of goods, the forerunner to our trucks. The use of heavy draft horses were developed for suck vehicles.
So until next time, happy writing!