Sandburg's Hometown

Aug 19, 2013

A Horse! A Horse!

By Barbara Schock

One often hears unhappiness expressed about the prices charged for automobiles, and the cost of gasoline to operate them. Many of the same complaints were made about horses in Carl Sandburg’s boyhood, more than a century ago.

August Sandburg, Carl’s father, owned a horse named Dolly for a year or two. He had paid ten or fifteen dollars for the aged equine. That was the equivalent of several days’ wages.

Dolly was capable of pulling a two seat spring wagon, but only at an extremely slow pace. Mostly Dolly was used for short trips out of town. Otherwise, members of the Sandburg family walked to school or work.

Eventually August Sandburg sold Dolly, and received about what he had paid for her. Whether he needed the money, or found Dolly’s upkeep too great an expense, is not known.

The purchase of a horse a hundred years ago was no small investment. A really good equine would fetch three hundred dollars or more. That is the equivalent of seven or eight thousand dollars in today’s money. Moreover, hay and oats with which to feed the beast were not cheap. From time to time it was necessary to have it shod.

The harness had to be oiled and kept in good repair, so that it would pull a buggy or small carriage. The purchase of the vehicle was not inconsiderable, and it also required maintenance. Its wheels were prone to break, as were its shafts and thills. All things considered the ownership of a horse was an expense most people could not afford in those days.

From time to time before the turn of the century, drivers were charged with “furious driving.” It was not the road rage of these times. Instead, furious driving was simply a matter of exceeding the speed limit in a reckless manner.

In most municipalities there were limits on how fast a horse and carriage could be driven. Usually, it was six miles per hour. In the winter months, the same limitations applied to horse-drawn sleighs and cutters. They seldom approached that speed, because snow tended to slow the vehicles.

Having invested large sums of money in their equines and equipages, men were eager to demonstrate how fast they were. They would challenge other proud horsemen to races. As they sped down city streets, they would scatter pedestrians and other carriages. A policeman on foot could not halt them, but as a rule he would recognize the miscreants. Later, he would take them into custody, and into court.

Police magistrates and justices of the peace took a dim view of furious driving. A horse and carriage weighed several thousand pounds, and could do considerable damage. Moreoever, there was much doubt as to how much control the driver was able to exercise over his equine at high speeds. Therefore, fines of a hundred dollars or more were not uncommon. That might not seem to be a heavy amount. However, it was substantial in a time when monthly wages seldom exceeded forty dollars.

So far as is known, Dolly, the Sandburg horse, was never involved in a case of furious driving. With her plodding gait, she would have been likelier to be accused of “obstructing the road.”

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity