TIMBER CARTING

We all enjoyed a day’s work off the farm, men and boys. There was an excited expectance this last couple of days. The harvest was home, ricks thatched, potatoes and mangels lifted and pitted in the their clamps. The potatoes left until early spring when they would be sorted for use, the mangels in a pit, close to the odd patch, near the barn. Also some in the barn near the mangel pulper. This machine was hand turned, the mangels were put in the hopper then you turned the handle with great effort. The mangels as they dropped on the revolving plates, were cut into fingers to be mixed with chaff, meal, oats, etc. and fed to the cows and calves with linseed cake.

Father looked around the wood pile at the post rails and wood for general use, for the rough carpenter to use for fencing, mending holes in the hedges, gates, sheep racks, mangers, etc.

The fields were bare, the ploughman walks back and forth behind his two horses drawing the single furrow plough, ten inches wide, three or four inches deep; the rooks wheel overhead swooping and settling on the freshly turned furrow searching for grubs and insects. His horses and the birds were his only companions, perhaps all day.

You hoped, one and all, that you would be in the team for wood cart. This was the time of year when the landowners of the large estates (the Cartwrights of Ayhno) which were all round us, sold cords of timber and the crop of ash saplings. These (stacks) cords, about three wagon loads in each, were much sought after by farmers. We were all mixed farms, horses, cattle, sheep, poultry, small fields, grass and cereals – small farms with buildings – which took a lot of upkeep. The rough carpenter and local stonemason, a must for repairing and rebuilding.

This day in November 1924, I was nine and a half years old, we were one of three horse teams with a man and boy to each – nine horse, three men and three boys and Bob, my yellow Labrador-cross-Collie dog. My brother Tom was my “Carter in Charge", our three horses were two in traces and one thiller (in shafts). Single file, the first team led off down Chisnell Drive. We were the second team, my forest (first) horse, Captain, was a steady six year old horse, Duke, a big horse getting on in years but he was a strong and knowledgeable road, was wise horse, in the second traces. The thiller in the wagon shafts was a three year old mare, a compact dark bay, named Dumpy – a name short for Dubious or Doubtful which my brother Tom gave her because of her way of sort of squatting stance she took when refusing to work, a sort of (I don’t want to). She wasn’t a jibber (a no-goer) it was just her thinking, ‘I don’t feel like it today,’ but next day she would go with no trouble.

We fed her up with linseed and extra feeds daily. This put an extra shine on her coat. All animals love it, domestic or wild. I didn’t as we boiled it up in the big copper in the kitchen that Dad brewed the wine in. When this linseed was boiled it was worse than jelly to try to get a bucket of this slippery, slimey linseed out of a copper almost head high. On a dark cold winter’s morning, with only a lantern for light, a muddy stone to stand on, we cooked two or three days’ rations at a time. Gallons of it was fed to one and all – cows, calves, poultry, pigs, horses, even the cats and dogs, November to February for the whole four months. How I hate it – the stuff slipped and slid everywhere – up my sleeves, down my shorts, sometimes down my front, as I manfully tried to lift it out and over the top of the copper.

Tom warned me as we came up into the village that Dumpy like lots of farm horses, had spent her life on the farm and never been on a road in amongst motors and general traffic. We had two sets of railways going through our farm fields and the odd motor barge once a week passed through our Chisnell meadow and the horse paddock. Nothing like machines passing and meeting her, sometimes almost brushing her, especially at the start of the day with the horses fresh and spirited and eager to go and the wagon empty down the big hills, anything could scare them and make them shy (jump sideways) on you or into something:

“So be on your guard. Close up to the horses.” As soon as we got up onto the top road it started, the horses had not had anything to pull and they hadn’t warmed their collars as we went down Hockly Hill and on down to Keepers Bridge – some half mile. Tom kept shouting to me as Dumpy jumped and shied this way and that:

“Hold them in, boy! Hold them in! Go boy, get out of the way! With those forests – get going – then hold back!” My, what a start – but from the Keepers Bridge to Ayhno Park Corner it was up hill and the horses settled down, the edginess of the start smoothed to a nice steady clip. How glad I was when we turned off the road into a field leading down into the wood.

Our cords (stacks of wood) were well inside the woods. Driving in the woods was a new experience to me. Skirting around the butts of trees and stoolings of the ash saplings with brother Tom shouting first this way then that,

“Keep off boy!” or “Back boy, come back!” All cords were numbered on a post holding the cord. I can see it now in thick white paint (No. 123). We pulled alongside facing the exit for an easy dash out of the soft leaf soil. Horses were unhooked, all three teams were put in my charge with a bundle of hard (clover) hay to eat. The men and older boys helping one another to load the three loads of poles – great big long ones, thirty and forty feet long, to be tied with rope and chain with much straining and testing. You tied and pulled with cross tying and testing. Father said “a safe bind is a safe find” – in other words if not a secure load then half would fall off or slip, making more work. The men worked hard and our loads were almost finished when we stopped for our lunch break.

We had heard two steam engines coming close to as we worked, so with lunch bags on our shoulder and sandwich in our hand, three or four of we younger ones left the two other carters in charge to go and see what was doing the other side of the wood. I had never seen the like of it. In a big rough field, sixty acres of it, was two big steam engines, one each side of the field, with a great steel wire from them, each attached to a three furrowed plough with a man seated on it. As he dropped the plough in at each end it was pulled on this massive plough with big coulters and shares tearing the ground apart. It was an eye opener to most of us, the speed, depth and width of ground to our horse drawn ploughs. A foot deep and a yard wide, as the plough reached the other side of the field the steam engines moved along a yard, the plough reversed and back it went across the field. Having seen and watched the steam ploughing for twenty minutes, we made our way back to our loading with our lunch bags empty and our tea bottles dry. Our tea was weak, no milk and with a little sugar added. Milk was never in tea in the field with jolting wagon and movement of horse – the tea would soon sour unless it was very cold weather.

We soon got two loads out with the use of the two trace horses (in chains) helping from the third team. Two of we boys were left in charge while the horses went back with the men to pull out number three, as soon as we got out onto the road the best team was away.

Brother Tom and I with our team second, we had Dumpy, she was an unknown quantity – what would she do? We were in a pinch, and it had to be found out. With her only earlier experience of road work and noise, we would not be sure of her. It came – Oh Brother! – she really flipped her lid. We were almost home, within sight of the village. My legs were aching as we came to the bottom of Hockley Hill, the horses noses set for home stepped along at a fair clip. I thought of home and tea in Chisnell Farm House still over three miles away and the fussing of my mother. I was proud to be a part of the grownups’ team of workmen. We quickened the horses with a “Come along my beauties – up my Dad’s horse.” They knew, they leaned into the collar, the clip of their shoes and sparks flew off the archal stone road. “Hi up” someone shouted, sounds like a Fodden becoming, this thing half engine half lorry steam and worse of all that steam whistle. Our first team at the brow of the hill went by with pricking of ears, ours, halfway, almost by vicarage gate, would dumpy do? with a whoosh and a shudder it was on us, Dumpy half reared, the Fodden was past – she flung herself forward almost on the next horse “move them boy” shouts tom “move.” I hit my horse with my new stick so hard it broke. Captain jumped forward snatching the chains and spreader tight. We trotted up that hill with slack chains, the little mare pulling the load – all two tons of poles. “Go boy” my brother shouted, fearing Dumpy would slip or blow herself. By the supreme effort it only lasted a few moments. To me, as a child, it was or so it seemed, ages.

The road at the top of the hill stretched on in a gradual include for another hundred yards then levelled. We turned off the main road down into the village. By this time the horses had settled down and were now to me manageable “keep tight into the grass bank.” Tom said. This was to hold the load back off the horses, then we stopped at the top of the road and dropped the iron shoe slide attached to the wagon under one of the rear wheels to skid the wheel to the bottom of the road at the pond, then backing the wagon back off the slide which was picked up and hooked up by chain and hook on the side of the wagon. The village was passed through, then down our lane, through and over mud, ruts, we were almost home. Half an hour and we were alongside the woodpile of post, stakes, (small posts) rails etc. Stacked the mounding wood used by the rough carpenter to mend fences, gates, troughs, mangers, hay racks etc. Horses were unhitched, watered at the horse trough in the yard. We led them into the stable to be unharnessed and then fed with chaff mixed with corn and plenty of hay. Then I went into the house to wash and have my food.

That night I was in bed in an hour, tired but pleased that I had done such a big grown-up job. My father never praised one, only well done or you did it all right. Yes you had, Father always put you on your metal, but I could send someone else, but I know you can do better – so I worked hard to prove it.

We were worked hard with big horses that were wearing heavy harness with chains and also a spreader. This spreader was fixed into the chains behind the horse to keep the chains wide apart, to stop the chains cutting the horse, especially as it turned. This spreader wood, or iron, was hard to me, a child. It was first head height, as I grew it was face high, now it was shoulder high. To reach through to lead the second horse as you turned you led the forest to a fence, rick, or in this case the wood pile (cord) with “come back boy”. I grabbed the second horse, to keep out not to cut short, if it did Tom with the thiller wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the stack with the wagon. Now as the horse stops and turns the chains slacken the spreader drops, your arm should be over it. As it straightens out the chains tighten, as the horse pulls this spreader, comes up hard quickly, to let go or the spreader would catch me, then I ran forward talking to captain “gee up” catch his rein and stop when told with a loud “whowa”. To start it was “gee up” never this “walk on” as is used today. To reverse you took the reins, pulled back saying “whowa back” “whowa back” pulling on the reins firmly. If moving a load with someone riding you shouted “hold tight” alerting man and horse that you were moving.