Driving wagon pulled by ‘Kate and Dobbin’
Dr iv ing a wagon pulled by horses and/or mules today is probably a purely “showy” or pleasure experience, such as in parades. In my generation (75 and beyond), there likely are more than a few who drove a team pulling a wagon on some regular basis early in our lives.
My maternal grandmother lived on her farm until she was well past the recognized retirement age of 65. She outlived two husbands and had worked her little farm by herself from 1939 until she sold it and “moved to town” in the 1960s. The farm was in a little crossroads community, Luna, and “town” was Teague (pop. 3,300), where I lived with my parents and younger brothers. Her shopping destination by wagon was Freestone.
Her grandchildren called her “Mama” as did her daughters, my mother and my aunt.
On her farm, Mama raised cotton, corn and peas (and frequently, greatly desired watermelons) plus she had a varied garden to provide the vegetables that graced her sumptuous table.
True to her generation, she tried to be entirely self-sufficient. In addition to the garden and to cash crops such as cotton, melons or peas, Mama had a couple of milk cows plus some cows for calving and/or fresh meat. Her hog pen always had several hogs, some for butchering for the household as well as a few to sell to others for the same purpose.
Her flock of chickens provided eggs as well as regular “fryers” and an occasional fat hen for “chicken and dressing.”
Mama had a horse, Dobbin, and a mule, Kate, that pulled her plow in both the field and the garden. They also provided her regular transportation, pulling a wagon that resembled those you’d see in Western movies, except it had no cloth “Conestoga” style cover. That wagon made the three-mile trip west to Freestone whenever she needed a “short order” of supplies. She had a 1938 Ford, left by her second husband, but Mama never learned to drive, so the car sat in a shed for years before she finally sold it. An extensive shopping list required our family car, driven by my mother or me or one of my brothers. We’d either drive Mama the seven miles to Teague (north) to shop or we’d get her lists (one for the specials at each of three Teague grocery stores) and deliver the groceries to her home. We were getting lessons in thrift that didn’t settle in until years later when we had to live on what wages we were earning at the time.
However, as a youngster of 10 or so, and into my early teens before learning to drive a car, it was a real treat to stay at Mama’s for a week or so and find any excuse to hitch up Kate and Dobbin and drive the wagon somewhere within the Luna community or to Freestone for a “small order” of groceries. The order included “coal oil” (kerosene) which she used to fuel lamps for lighting until rural electrification came in the 1960s.
On rare occasions, Mama would let us walk behind Kate and a plow on the initial “breaking up” of soil in either the garden or one of the fields in preparation for planting. Since plowing rows for planting required a fairly straight line and a certain depth for the plow to make the appropriate furrows, Mama wouldn’t let us puny “young ‘uns” guide Kate and the plow for the second stage in planting.
And, the drive of Kate, Dobbin and the wagon to Freestone was carefully monitored by Mama right beside us in the wagon seat. Whenever we crossed the creek bridge on the route to Freestone, Mama took the reins because the bridge was barely wide enough for the wagon. She didn’t want to chance us getting scared and/ or “spooking” the team on the narrow structure. Mama’s fears transferred in multiples to a young boy.
Of course, her grandsons looked and pleaded for any excuse to hitch up the wagon and drive the mule and horse wherever Mama directed, which she probably did more than necessary because she loved to make us happy.
Plus, there were plenty of valuable lessons to be learned at the business end of reins on a team pulling a wagon, not the least of which was how appreciative I was when I was able to learn to drive a car.