Category Archives: On Carriages

Learning to love (and understand) horse-drawn carriages

In a letter written in 1850 from Cleveland, Ohio, Johann Rapparlie described his Smith and Wagon Shop at the corner of Michigan and Seneca, rebuilt after a fire.

I have sure built everything out of brick, with the blacksmith and wagonbuilder work spaces in a building 60 foot long 24 wide 2 ½ stories high. Above are workplaces for the lacquerer and saddlemaker.

At first, my 21st-century mindset had difficulty making sense of the terms “lacquerer and saddlemaker.” A visit to the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond, Washington clued me in that a lacquerer was a painter. Paint applications on carriages were finished off with several hard, glossy coats of lacquer, or varnish.

Saddlemaker conjured images of horse saddles, until I realized it was an old-fashioned term for a “trimmer” or “upholsterer.” Here is a picture of some damn fine carriage upholstery, in a C-spring Victoria carriage also on display at the Northwest Carriage Museum.

(double-click on either image to enlarge)

Horse-drawn carriages

Saturday I made a visit to the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond, Washington.

I had never considered how specialized carriages were. If you were wealthy enough, you might have a carriage house full of alternatives: Landaus (the term basically means “convertible”), governess carts (for the children on an outing), and summer carriages made of wicker (pictured here).

I went with writer friend Stephanie Lile — I couldn’t have picked a better tour guide, for her carriage era knowledge, her rural culture savvy, and her willingness to share her chocolate-peanut butter milkshake on the drive home.

If you ever get to Raymond, the NW Carriage Museum is a must-see.

Draft horses

I came across this old photo in an album I was scanning. It’s not that old — maybe the ’70’s. But I think it’s a historic restoration of a nineteenth century fire wagon.