Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:06

HARNESS HAMES: COLLECTING, DOCUMENTING, PRESERVING

Written by  WIllis G. Parker, DVM
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My twin sister, Willa Dean, and I were reared on a general livestock farm that had Belgian horses near Coatesville, Indiana. As most know, the word "draft" means the acts of drawing or pulling a load. This definition is one of 32 given in the 1967 Random House Dictionary. The British used the word "draught" instead of draft. At the time Willa Dean and I were born in 1936, farm children knew of draft horses and harness. Postdate to 1966 and many people scratched their heads at the sight of a set of hames. World War II, it seems, was the veil that began to separate those who knew, and those who did not.

As a youngster, I'd be found in my Grandpa Fred C. Parker’s farm blacksmith shop most every week. Items that he needed to repair hung from wires stretched across the shop, and filled wooden boxes and nail kegs kept under his work bench–things like a seeder, a plow or harnesses. Someone would need him to fashion a piece of wood for a wagon, or repair a chain or any one of a thousand things involving iron. There were also extra hames hanging–but they never much caught my fleeting attention.

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Willis Parker, the author, working to clean, photograph and identify his hame collection, and name makers to preserve the history of their use and production.

 

I was 30 years old when my grandpa died in 1966. Later, my dad, Roy E. Parker, sent word to Wisconsin, where my family lived, asking if I'd want Grandpa’s hames that hung in his shop. At that time, history was becoming a subject of interest to me. The next time my family returned to Coatesville for a visit, Dad gave me the wood hames and brown leather collars. This was the moment that Grandpa "lived again" in my life. It turned out that these hames had been purchased at Brownsburg, Indiana, in 1906 when he and Mae Warrick were married. Her father and mother, Calvin and Evaline Warrick, had given their daughter a wedding present–a grade Belgian mare named Star.Apparently, a new "dress" harness was needed for the occasion.

Incidentally, the offspring from Star lived at the Coatesville farm for 70 years. Julie, one of Star's granddaughters, was my favorite mare when I was growing up. So Grandpa’s hames started the hames collection idea. Even the buggy that belonged to Great Grandfather Warrick after he came back from the Civil War remains a prized possession. I've fond memories of Grandma, too–especially the times that I would sneak into her house to snitch some fresh strawberries from a bowl cooling in her first refrigerator, circa 1948. She never caught the thief ... or at least she never made it known. Being a grandparent now, my two granddaughters, Erica and Anna, could get away with acts that their mother couldn't!

My grandpa’s hames were different than those that my dad had for his harnesses. They were different from the neighbors', but similar. A horse collar with a mirror and hames was seen at a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. These hames were different. I acquired them all and the collection began to take root.

In 1969, I was involved in a five-year equine research program to develop frozen stallion semen at American Breeders Service, Deforest, Wisconsin. On adjacent premises was an unused tobacco shed that could be renovated and used as a breeding shed for 200 mares. The shed was littered with years of old equipment: parts, straw, rocks, gates, poles, etc., but it had a good roof, ventilation and space for some foaling stalls.

 

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Brass templates (patterns) for making wood hames likely from the Whitby Hame Company that went out of business in 1964 in Whitby, Ontario, Canada. Acquired from Ivan Saunders, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
So the doors were opened and a tractor with a loader was used to push everything, to recycle or burn. I saw some driving harnesses with hames in one pile. I went to the farm shop and got tools to cut off the hames from the rotten leather before the pile was burned. These hames were different than any that I had seen, which further whetted my interest to make hame collecting a significant agricultural history project in memory of my grandpa and dad.
Both had been members of the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America. For about 20 years, Mr. Clifford Eller a director of the Corporation, would occasionally stop at the farm to select a horse for the spring sale in Indianapolis. In September 1983, I came back to Coatesville to load out Dad’s last registered Belgian stallion, Indiana Captain. After returning to the house when the stallion was en route to Wisconsin, Dad put his arms around me, shed some tears and said in a trembling weak voice, “I cannot take care of the horses anymore.” Dad died about 100 days later. In his and Grandpa’s memory, I took out a lifetime membership in the Belgian Corporation.

Exploring The Need For & Use of Hames:
The importance of draft animals in the development of America was huge. These animals worked by pulling plows, discs, seeders, reapers, wagons, buggies, logs, blocks of ice, street cars, canal boats, road graders, cider and sorghum presses, slip scoops, hauling gravel, pulling tombstones to the cemeteries and many other needs. These tasks have been nearly forgotten and, thus, underappreciated today by those unfamiliar with our history. Most citizens would not know how to harness a draft horse today. These draft animals were a vital part of daily living for countless people striving to make a living in the colonies and expanding into the frontier.

 

A draft horse was occasionally ridden by a boy, particularly during haying season. The horse stood at one end of the barn hitched to a singletree with an attached long manila rope. The rope coursed through a pulley next to the barn at ground level, vertically, to the top of the barn over a pulley, through the length of the barn, through another pulley and dropped vertically to the wagon of loose hay. The other end of the rope was fastened to a hay fork set into the loose hay. A portion of the hay was drawn up and into the haymow by the horse. The hay fork with a trip rope engaged into a carriage at the top of the barn allowed the hay to be pulled along a track in the haymow. When a man in the haymow yelled, “Whoa!,” the horse stopped. The man on the wagon jerked the trip rope and dumped the hay. The boy could guide the horse with the bridle reins, but the horse knew what was needed and the boy could hold onto the hame tops. Children enjoyed riding on the big gentle horses holding onto the hames while their dad led the horse.

Horse harness was a standard item stored in the barn where the horses were housed. Harness was generally made from leather strips, sewn with waxed linen thread and fastened together with buckles and metal rings. The hames were fastened at the front of the harness. They were two slim curved pieces of wood or metal that fit in a groove around the leather collar. The hames were secured at the top and the bottom generally with leather straps. However, a withe was used in Colonial times. In the 1800s and early 1900s it was common to see twisted thin leather strips (twang) tying the tops and bottoms. This twist was of a peculiar pattern. In the 1850s, three metal hame fasteners were patented. From 1860 to 1873, 51 hame fasteners were patented. Wood hames were mostly used in early America before the Civil War and metal hames became more prevalent afterwards. The military hames used during World War I that pulled the heavy artillery were steel; and wood hames pulled the wagons. Both types, as well as twang, are included in the collection.

In 1904, the James H. Walsh Company of Milwaukee invented the “no-buckle harness” that was three times stronger than harness with buckles and rings. Leather straps would often wear and break when rings and buckles were used. It is interesting that ten years went by and after hundreds of experiments, the first no-buckle harness was finally put on a team of horses in 1914. Demand was huge and the Walsh harness factory expanded year-after- year. By 1928, it was the world’s largest harness maker. Then Walsh developed the Lynite Aluminum hames, another important modification that no other harness manufacturer had developed. They were lightweight, but strong. The first hames Walsh used were of a unique style of cast iron with a convex back. They were strong and heavy. These were patented in Canada in 1916. The Walsh name is molded into the lower face surface of the hame and the patent date is on the convex back surface. Walsh was different in that the company made both the harness and the hames–harness shops did not usually make hames, but bought them from wholesale and retail companies that specialized in making hames. Both styles of Walsh hames are included in the collection.

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Walsh Lynite Aluminum hames made by James M. Walsh Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Listed in a 1928 Walsh No-Buckle Harness catalogue insert. Cost was $4.25 per pair for a 22" collar. However, the line ring, back strap staple and bottom hame fastener chain is steel. Acquired from Huber Gilllaugh, Lewisburg, Ohio.

 

The draft horse and mule became economically more important to the nation after the Civil War. The 1875 book, The Harness Makers’ Illustrated Manual” by William N. Fitz-Gerald and reprinted in 1974 by Bill Taggart, provides worthy data from the 1870 census. About five years after the Civil War, the harness and saddlery trade was ranked 34th among the 258 specified industries. There were 7,607 harness and saddlery businesses that employed 23,557 workmen (841 were under 16 years of age). The goods they produced was valued at nearly $33 million. The leading states were Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and New Jersey. There were 7,145,370 horses and 1,125,415 mules and asses at the time. Thus, the product value per animal was near $4 which seemingly was not a prosperous industry. The average yearly wages for workmen were $299. This was $78 below the average for the 258 industries considered important for the whole country and $10 above the average of 1860. Today, there are people who spend near $300 for an evening out at a professional football or basketball game in Indianapolis. They do not have a milk check to depend upon nor a horse to work!

The largest hame manufacturer in the United States in the 1880s was the U.S. Hame Company, Buffalo, New York. On the front of its Number 11 Catalogue of Wood Hames, dated 1907, is the statement: “Established in 1825.” It had hame factories in Andover and Sunapee, New Hampshire. The company grew by merging with and buying out the competition in New England and other places. Hermann Brothers, Tell City, Indiana, for one, incorporated in 1898 and made wagons and hames. They were bought by the U. S. Hame Company in 1902. At Tell City, the output of hames burgeoned to 22,000 per week, employing 200 men. The factory remained until the Ohio River flood of 1937 destroyed it. The water was up to the square of the buildings! The property was then given to Tell City and the business moved to Frankfort, Indiana, where hame making was phased out in the 1950s and replaced with making parts for automobiles. In 1925, the U.S. Hame Company sold ordinary common wood hames without brass or nickel balls and no brass or nickel trimming in a price ranging from $15 to $28.75 per dozen pairs ... very low cost.

After the Civil War, veteran and birthright Quaker, Col. W. C. Starr, returned to his native Richmond, Indiana, and, along with a son, began a significant hame factory that existed for about 35 years. Col. Starr died in 1897. Apparently at least some of the hame making later moved to Indianapolis. Many of the wood hames have a small brass button. It was embossed with W.C. Starr & Son, Richmond, or Indianapolis, Indiana. The button also had three stars. In 1885, the company began making the most ornate variety of wood hames in the industry. Several are in the collection.

In the 29th Edition of Thomas’ Register of American Manufacturers, published in 1938, the Ben Schroeder Saddle Tree factory at Madison, Indiana, reported to have made saddle trees since 1878. In 1880, saddle trees sold for $10.50 per dozen. About 225,000 pairs of hames were being produced yearly. During the Great Depression, Schroeder started making hames, work gloves, stirrups and clothespins, but with America in economic decline and their base disappearing, it wasn't enough. The business lingered on as family members died, but finally, the last sibling closed the doors to the small business in 1972. This one-of-a-kind business has since been restored and preserved by curator John Stacier for citizens to visit. It is a national treasure. Twelve firms had made saddle trees in Madison–perhaps more than any other town its size along the Ohio River. But, Ben Schroeder is the only one known to have also made hames.

Before 1910 not much moved in our nation without a horse, a mule or an ox. True, the steamship was on the river during the War of 1812, and the locomotive was on the steel rails before the Civil War in the 1860s, transporting cargo and people–but, it was the draft animals with wagons and buggies that brought the cargo and people to the dock or station to start their journey–and once the ship or train reached its destination, nothing happened without draft animals to take the cargo and the passengers to their journey's end. In 1910, there were about 24 million horses–or three times more than 40 years before. Needs for horses were great and business was booming for the nation. Harnesses, leather collars and hames were in demand and labor was cheap from 1860 to 1910, but interest rates to borrow money were costly at 5 to 7%. The next 50 years brought huge changes. The draft horse and the harness shop were nearly extinguished–hames were no longer needed. The industry folded and people acquired jobs in fledgling industries. Think what has happened in the next 50 years, from 1960 to 2010. Men landed on the moon. They put a few rocks in their pockets stopping, perhaps, to observe the cow jumping over the moon and dreaming of communicating globally with wireless phones. But not a draft horse was seen! No hames were needed on any satellite.

The commercialization of hame making began about 1828 in Auburn, New York, by Peter Hayden. Prior to this, hames were made in small hame factories east of the Allegheny Mountains and in the New England area.

 

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Left: Steel hames with unique ornate brass 'spots,' top ball, rare double-hinged tug hooks with brass plating. Steel wrapped around a near full length wood core with open seam. Face surface is round and back surface is mostly flat. Note the bottom end with an 'eye' to hold the hame chain and hook. Acquired from Mr. Mark Roberts, a harness shop owner in Denbighshire, Wales. Right: Steel hames with brass plating and rare brass acorn style top. Manufacturer's logo of a 'Lion' imprinted but the name is worn. There is a heavy spring for each tug hook. These absorb/transfer part of the load on to the collar when the horse eases into the pull. Used on horses that pulled the canal boats in England. Circa 125-150 years ago. Acquired from Ran Hawthorne in Woodcote, England.
Although the United States Patent Office opened in 1790, it was 54 years later that the first hame patent, No. 3,634, was issued to N. Post, Madrid, New York, on June 15, 1844. This was followed by J.K. Slater and S.G. Pratt, Boston, Massachusetts on September 20, 1844; J. W. Briggs, Cleveland, Ohio, on May 22, 1849; and C. Pope, Syracuse, New York, on November 6, 1949. From 1850 to 1873, there were 33 hame patents issued. Many more followed over the next 50 years.

 

A 1917 U.S. Hame Company letter sent by “Sonny” in Buffalo, New York, to his father, Mr. C. E. Carr in Andover, New Hampshire, suggested that the need existed to make up to 8,400 pairs of Damascus Concord Hames over the next six months. It was stated that they relied on prisoner labor at a prison in Auburn, New York. About 80 inmates made about 90 pairs of hames daily; prisoner labor was used for about 46 years.

Early wood hames were often fashioned from tree roots. Presumably, with the clearing of the land and pulling of stumps, men found roots that naturally took the shape of a hame–and could be more precisely shaped with a knife to fit a horse collar. Beech and Rock Elm species were favorites, and were so advertised. Hames were also imported from Europe. A steel pair of hames with a Queen Anne logo imprinted on the tug hooks was unearthed, during the building of the Interstate highway, near Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania. These hames dated to the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763). Our collection also includes double-cased brass and nickel hames of English origin in America. The tradition in England was to decorate the horse and harness with a variety of ornate hames, rosettes, bells, hames and bridle noseband plates, woolen and floral decorations, plumbs and brasses made for many events. While this custom did not take hold in America, some ornate carriage hames did show up in the larger cities. A March 26, 1886, article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Marshall, Illinois, notes a pair of hames that were made by a Mr. Johnson in 1730 from hickory wood. The hames were connected at the top with a piece of light hickory withe. Holes were bored in them to run rope tugs instead of hooks (for chain tugs). These hames were used during the Revolutionary War to haul the American artillery into the battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina.

Another unique wood hame has a rope tug attachment. This hame type was commonly used to pull canal boats. The rope was about 90 feet long. Another style of canal boat wood hame had a heavy spring attached to the tug to absorb/transfer some of the burden of the pull from the horse as the animal eased into moving the loaded boat through the water. At the annual fall sale at Reading, England, Mr. Ran Hawthorne, late editor of the National Horse Brass Society’s Journal, bought them. He'd never seen a pair come up for sale and felt that they belonged in our collection. I have been a member of the Society since 1978. There is a similar pair at the museum at Queenstown, New Zealand.

My work as a veterinarian for American Breeders Service required extensive travel, both domestic and international. Over the years, opportunities arose to visit museums, historical societies, libraries, farms and ranches, antique shops, auctions and harness shops. As a consequence, I acquired many hames over a period of 46 years. I would store them as they were, then clean and photograph them as time allowed. I had chosen a meaningful agricultural history project to collect, document and preserve. There are some unique single hames in our collection for which I've never been able to find the mate. Nevertheless, manufacturing history has been preserved, which illustrates the rarity of these hames. To my knowledge, there are no other such collections on the continent. Though hame making predates the founding of the United States, hame making equipment was invented here, and patents were issued.
Identifying hames can be challenging–oftentimes the manufacturer’s logo has been worn off. In addition, some hame factories apparently bought their hardware from foundries. Thus, hames may look similar because of the attached hardware, but are from different manufacturers. Old hame manufacturing catalogues are rare and library archives have few sources for information. Nevertheless, it is interesting to pursue some of the agricultural livestock equipment heritage of our ancestors. They worked under huge limitations with hard work and strain. The pieces of the puzzle do begin to give understanding about this forgotten industry.

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Left: Wood logging hames with one mortise at top and one at bottom. Leather strips were used to fasten the hames to the collar. The tug hook curves gently and neatly turns down. Vermilion (red) paint. Nice tapered wood surface. Circa: 1880s. There is a brass medallion embossed with W. C. Starr & Son, Richmond, Indiana, on the surface of the left hame. Acquired from Eli Miller, Mesopotamia, Ohio. Right: Wood hames used in the mining industry. Note the hook and triangle ring on the left hame. This was used to hold a lantern for miners to have light while doing their work. Different style tug adjustment attachment with a small heavy hook that has molded on the face surface ... Pat' May 18, '97. Not identified, yet.

After I'd retired and moved back to Indiana, I was asked by the Hendricks County Museum staff to display part of our hame collection at the 2011 Heritage Days Festival at Danville, on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This opportunity was fitting because my great-grandfather Calvin Warrick, of Pittsboro, Indiana, was in the Union Army during the Civil War. The collection had never been shown anywhere. 75 different hames were displayed out of the 377 represented that vary in styles, composition, shapes and sizes, kinds of tops, hame strap fasteners, tug types and their attachments and ring sizes. Professor Dan Cassens, Purdue University Forester, identified their wood as ash, beech, birch, elm, hackberry, hickory, maple, oak and tamarack. Some hames were factory-made and some were likely handmade in a blacksmith shop. Many were varnished, painted black, vermilion (red), orange or yellow; making wood identification difficult. Some hames were ornate with brass or nickel trimmings. One rare steel pair with double-hinged tug hooks and copious brass spots of varying shapes and sizes, had been a gift from Mark and Janet Roberts of Denbighshire, Wales. They'd presented the set to me when we attended the 25th anniversary of the National Horse Brass Society at Walsall, England, in 2000.


Our collection includes four different pair of hames for cattle. One pair was handmade from cottonwood; and another from maple. Two pairs were made from oak though made in different factories–of which one pair has a manufacturer’s stamp imprinted on the back surface. Cattle were harnessed and oxen were yoked. Old dated picture postcards were helpful in sorting this out. In Europe, Simmental-like breeds of cattle were both milked and worked in harness. During the 1860s there were, apparently, more oxen than horses working the soil in Wisconsin. It appears that the height of the oxen numbers in Indiana was in the 1870s. In the 1880s oxen were used in the logging industry in Oregon.

Dogs were even used to pull carts. They were harnessed and had wood hames and leather collars. These were acquired at an antique shop at Stillwater, Minnesota, and are in the collection. This style is shown on an old picture postcard from Quebec, Canada, dating back over 100 years. Dogs were used to pull sleds but were dressed in a breast collar-style harness. Goats, too, pulled carts and usually wore breast collar-style harness.

Collecting hames is a unique challenge because of how limited they are, in respect to the vast variety that have been made over time. Our collection is merely a sampling of those made both in America and abroad. Our oldest hames may be about 150 years old. During international travels, we've obtained hames from Australia, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Lithuania, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine and Wales. A good variety of collars with built-in hames does exist. Some of these are in the collection.

During the 1890s, there were unique, steel, adjustable, hameless horse collars without padding made at Caro, Michigan, by the Johnston-Slocum Company. There were also hameless wood collars made. In one instance they were used on horses that pulled the milk wagons delivering milk door-to-door. These styles of collars are uncommon, but we do have a few.

Over 60 factories that produced hames in America have been identified. In proportion to its population, Indiana may very well have had the most. There were factories in Evansville, Frankfort, Hartford City, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Madison, Mishawaka, New Albany, Richmond and Tell City–and perhaps at Sullivan, Elkhart and Goshen. The latter two could have been associated with Mishawaka. Most of this industry was disbanded by the start of WW II. In fact, there's just one major hame manufacturer known to exist in America today. It's the Chupp Blacksmith Shop, Ltd. Hame and Harness Hardware business, established in 1967 in Fredericksburg, Ohio.

Continuing research will provide more documentation about this unique collection of harness hames. Perhaps there's no other known collection of hames because they were generally considered part of the harness. They were fastened to the harness and not considered a separate item once the harness was assembled. Once the hames are removed from the harness, it is not functional. When I would relate that no hames were found on a recent trip, my wife, Linda, would say, “No wonder–you have them all.”

Many people over the years have been helpful in numerous inquiries for information about the hame industry ... librarians, especially. Others, such as Mr. Huber Gillaugh and Mr. Eli Miller in Ohio, who started the annual Amish Harness Makers picnic, meeting and sale in 1966, have been open to gathering hame history. Mr. Melvin Rupard, who was the owner of the Wheat State Hame Company, has been interested in the hame collection project for nearly 40 years. These men have offered hames for the collection. They have been most helpful in networking. Rather recently, Mr. Bob Armstrong in Ohio has provided information about his work in assembling old wood hames and leather collars with mirrors which he sells. He has assembled 2,077 since 1964.

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