In which J. Peery Miller describes sleds and sleighs used in his time…
Sleighing was a popular sport much enjoyed by the young people. Nearly every farmer had some kind of outfit on runners prepared for the snowy season. I recall three at our home. These were not all intended for sport, however. A log-sled was made from two heavy pieces of timber about five feet long and six inches thick, selected from a tree twelve or fifteen inches in diameter. Sometimes a tree could be found that had a natural bend that would serve for the front turn-up of the runners when hewed into shape with an ax. If a tree with a natural curve could not be obtained the farmer or his mechanic beveled the front end of a straight piece of timber into sled-runner shape. The two runners were held in their proper place by cross ties or bents about three and one-half or four feet in length pinned firmly into mortised out cuts in the tops of the runners. The pins were made of hickory or oak driven into inch and one half augur holes. The front was arranged to attach a tongue with double-trees to which two horses could be hitched as to a wagon. If more power was needed additional horses could be hitched to a chain with double-trees at the end of the sled pole or tongue. This bob-sled was used for sledding heavy saw-logs either directly to the sawmill or to a level place outside the woods where, at the farmer’s convenience, they could be easily loaded on a log wagon and hauled to the mill in warm weather. In loading, one end of the log was rolled on the back bent of the sled and firmly chained fast. Thus connected the log was dragged sled like to its destination. When I was too small to be of service as a helper I well remember the thrill enjoyed when I was permitted to ride astride the log when everything was ready for the start and the slipping was good.
For gaity and speedy motion something lighter and of better finish must be contrived. My brother Milton was ingenious and quite skillful in the use of tools. He fashioned the woodwork of a regular sleigh patterned after the best in use in our neighborhood in the early 50’s of the 19th century. The Donnelsville village blacksmith did the iron work, after which it was brought home to be painted and varnished in regular shop-work style. The threshing floor of the barn was swept and dusted as the best place to display artistic ability in painting. I can now say without fear of contradiction, that this vehicle, with its shiny yellow coat of paint and dashing red and white stripes, out classed every thing in the sleigh line in our neighborhood. Its lasting qualities were scarcely surpassed those of the deacon’s “One horse shay” of historic fame. I fact it was in use every winter with favorable snows from my earliest recollection until the final break-up by sale of all of our personal property after the death of my father (1863). I remember that its strength was tested in several horse run-a-way-fracases, coming out unscathed save a few minor breaks and scratches.
A hastily made run-about on runners which would be quickly constructed with little or no expense was sometimes used by men and big boys. It consisted of two runners obtained by splitting a small hickory or dogwood sapling of sufficient length to serve as both side runners and shafts for the horse. The runner section was about four or five feet long from the rear end to the front at which point the timber was shaved thin enough to permit it to be bent up to form the shaft not detached from the runner. The bed of this run-about was nothing more than a cut of a round piece of timber about eight or en inches in diameter and three or four feet long, held in place in the center of the vehicle, by four up-right standards two and one-half or three feet long anchored to the runners at the lower ends and to the center log at the other, or top ends, being pinned at the points of insertion in augur holes of sufficient size to insure strength. This arrangement served to hold the runners in their proper places and support the center log at a proper height to be used as a seat for the driver and one or two other fun desiring passengers. In case the rider’s legs were too short to reach the runners as he sat astride this log seat, his ability to stay put would depend greatly on the grip his hands could sustain. Thus it is plain to see that this style of joy riding was principally confined to men or long-legged boys.
For milling and general farm hauling a sled of suitable length to accommodate our two-horse wagon bed or box was constructed. The wagon bed, with tight floor and broad sides, made a suitable rig for the family to take long distant rides in very cold weather, if the snow was of sufficient depth and well packed. My sister, Elizabeth Hance, lived near Casetown, Miami County, O., and used to visit the old homestead in a sled of this kind in bitter cold weather. Plenty of straw or hay in the bottom of the box, warmed with well-wrapped heated stones or bricks, and warm comforts for lap robes, insured a nice comfortable ride of twenty or thirty miles in the most bitter cold. A return visit in a like vehicle was a delight to me in my early childhood.