Sunday, October 27, 2019

Before There Were Automobiles

People commonly moved themselves and their goods on foot; by bicycle; on horseback; using a carriage, cart, buggy, or wagon pulled by horses or mules; by boat, barge, steamboat, or ship; and by streetcar or train before the advent of automobiles in the 20th century. 

Though I am old enough to have grandparents who could have told me about riding behind or on a horse, neither of them spoke about the experience.  I do have a memory of travelling with my grandparents that I believe hearkens to Gramma Meinzen's comfort of riding in a horse-drawn carriage, at the speed of a horse.  I was in the backseat of the car.  My grandfather was at the wheel and Gramma was in the front seat beside him.  There were no interstate freeways yet so speeds of 45 miles per hour on rural roads were closer to the norm than the exception, with speeds of 25-35 miles per hour in towns and cities.  My grandfather started to pick up a little speed and inch toward 35 mph when my grandmother said, in alarm, "Bob, you're going too fast!  Slow down!"  Even at five or six years old, I was all for the fastest speed we could go.  My grandmother would not like riding with me.

I have a brief newspaper account of an experience -- an accident --  my great-grandfather Henry Meinzen had with horses and wagon in August, 1901, gleaned from The East Liverpool Evening News Review, of August 26.

It reads, "A team of fine horses belonging to Henry Meinzen ran off at Steubenville Saturday and caused great excitement.  The driver jumped from the wagon and escaped injury.  The horses ran at great speed for several blocks when one of them fell.  It was so badly hurt it had to be shot."

The driver may or may not have been my great-grandfather.  How sad for both the horse, who lost its life, and for Henry who lost the horse.

Two family history photos make me think that travel and transport by train were more common in the late 1800s and early 1900s than I realized.  

In 1908, great-grampa William Doyle's strawberry harvest, grown in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania, was hauled by horse and wagon to the train station to be transported to Pittsburgh.  These days they would probably have been shipped by a refrigerated semi-truck. 

And then there is an undated photo postcard Leota Gerner sent to her mother.  I have the scan but not the original and, sadly, being new to family history, neglected to scan the back of the photo. 

At the time this photo was likely taken, Gust, sitting in front, and Beulah, standing, were either engaged or had been married the previous December.  Gust lived in Stoneboro, Mercer County, PA.  Leota lived somewhere in Fairview Township, Mercer County, a distance of perhaps 9 or 10 miles.  Leota was either visiting her sister or she and Beulah were visiting Gust together.

On the back of the postcard, Leota had written a message similar to this:
     "Dear Mother, will return home on the 5:15 on Tuesday."

I can only take that to mean the train that left Stoneboro at 5:15 on Tuesday.  I think of trains between small towns as an early for of mass transit.

Last, I'm sharing this 1906 video of San Francisco (filmed four days before the earthquake!) where the road is shared by everyone -- pedestrians, bicyclers, horseback riders, horse-drawn carts and wagons, streetcars, and automobiles.

There seem to be no traffic laws yet -- cars weave in and out, pedestrians walk in front of cars without barely enough space.  I was amazed that no pedestrians were hit and there were no collisions.   The video was recently audio-enhanced which, I think, almost gives the effect of watching in real life.  I find it endlessly fascinating.

I put this post together for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The topic for this week was Transportation.


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