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Questions about Excelsior road coach at Devon

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  • Questions about Excelsior road coach at Devon

    I had the pleasure of attending Devon on Thursday evening and got to watch my very first timed obstacles coaching class. Among the many things that fascinated me were the refurbished vehicles. I noticed something on the Excelsior that I did not see on the others: a sturdy-looking wooden bucket was hanging on the very bottom towards the rear axle. Would this have been for watering the horses? My reading tells me that the teams were changed approximately every 6 miles or so on a 30-mile route, so I am wondering if the bucket would have been for another purpose since the horses would be watered and attended to after reaching their destination.

    Also, I looked closely at the lanterns. How would they have been lit originally? Modern coaches seem to use flickering bulbs that could either have been electric or battery-operated.

    If anyone could recommend a source that can answer these questions, I'd be grateful. So far, I've come across some very interesting e-books published before 1900.

  • #2
    That bucket was actually used for water to keep the skid cool when the coach was going downhill, when the skid was employed to lock one of the wheels. If the skid got hot, it needed to be wet down so that it didn't accidentally catch the wheel on fire.

    Lanterns for coaches used oil, not candles, so that the light was brighter and lasted longer without having to replace worn down candles, or trim a wick. Still a flame, still flickers. I'd be horrified if a modern coach had battery lamps. Really, that's just a big NO.


    • #3
      Not all coaches had oil, I have cleaned wax out of antique lanterns in the past.


      • Original Poster

        On page 98 of this book, I found a paragraph about lamps saying that they "should be made to burn the large, ordinary carriage-candles"



        • Original Poster

          I never would have guessed that the bucket would have been used to pour water on the skid! Very interesting. Thanks to both of you for your responses.


          • #6
            Thanks GTD for the helpful comments. Guess I always thought the bucket under the Coach was for grease, like covered wagons had. Never thought of the brake shoe getting hot! Certainly not enough to burn the wheel!!

            On the Coach lamps, wouldn't there have been various kinds of light sources, both candles and oil? I can see the fancy Road Coaches running routes wanting better lighting with being on the roads so much, along with private vehicles, Park Drags, because their owners could afford it. Other Coaches that were less fancy, used in "back country areas" might not have had easy access to the better fuel oils for their lamps. Candles would sure be easier to carry and never spill!

            The only night driving with carriage lamps we did was about the MOST scary ride I ever was on! Even with the full moon, light colored horses, you really couldn't SEE anything!! And WE were not very visible either for cars using the road, so I worried about them hitting US. This is not Amish country, so no one EXPECTS to see carriages on the road much, let alone in the night time. Standing back from the vehicle, those candles WERE SORTA visible, but easy to miss. We ended up going half a mile, then drove around the Cemetary which has almost 5 miles of roads. We ended up only doing one little loop of the Cemetary, because with the big trees shading out the moon, it was VERY DARK. Husband couldn't see the Leader of the Tandem out there to aim her very well. Good thing she was an experienced Trail horse, knew enough to stay on the road from some night trail rides. When we got home we said "Never again!" to driving in the dark down the road.

            I guess the candle and oil lamps were the best they had, but really all light does is mess up the Driver's night vision for looking at the road. Eyes couldn't adjust fast enough for looking beyond that bit of light always in your eyes. We had a good view of our Wheeler's rump, a little bit of the road surface and flame made the TINY red glass shine a bit on the back of the lamp. Again, not very visible for approaching cars to notice us until they were RIGHT behind. I DID put reflective bands on the horse legs and down from browband to noseband, and they lit up fine in headlights, but floating in the air high and low, gave NO CLUE what the sparkles were attached to! Would not want to meet us on the road if I was in a car!!

            A very interesting experience using lamps "like the old days", which has not been repeated.


            • #7
              A number of years back (late 1989) I researched and wrote a 3 part article for the ADS "The Whip" magazine on lamps, which also was reprinted in "The Best of The Whip" (pub 1993, pgs 12-21). If ya'all don't mind, I'll be happy to share a bit of that article:

              The lamps were only used for the carriage/coach to be seen by others on the road, not to light up the road. The Whip relied on his horses to know where the road was, his own knowledge of the road, and upon the better night vision of the horses.

              You can always tell what lamp was used for both front and rear visibility - there will be a red circle "bull's eye" glass in the back of any lamp that is situated away from the vehicle enough to be seen from the rear. Lamps without the rear bull's eye were used on carriages that had body parts that shielded the lamp from view when one was behind the carriage.

              The lamps that used (whale or kerosene) oil were generally higher quality and better built, and tended to require less work at cleaning and trimming than the standard candle lamps. It was easy to fill the oil reservoir, and the light was generally brighter and more consistent. It could be brightened and dimmed simply by moving the wick up or down. Lamps that used candles had a spring in the "tail" that helped push the (relatively soft) candle up into the bell housing, and new candles required a "trimming" (pre lighting them) before they were stored so that they would take the match flame easily when they were employed. Wax tended to drip, and clog the lamp housing, so candle lamps required a fair amount of cleaning to stay clean and bright. On a good note, they rarely smoked up the silvered interior. Since a candle wick wasn't capable of being increased or decreased at will to brighten or reduce the light of the flame, candle makers offered a three-wick candle that would throw a brighter flame if desired.

              DH and I took a nightime carriage drive (once) and had a blast. We didn't use the candles in our lamps (both sets of lamps had issues that prevented us from using them "correctly") so we used small penlight flashlights instead (which DID light up the road, which was nice!), and carried two flashlights to alert traffic we were on the road. And yes, we did surprise the one lone driver who was out on our gravel roads that evening (he was ENCHANTED!!). The story is here.

              If I ever do another nighttime drive, I'm going to hang some of my extra Endurance glowsticks from the back of the carriage, and also from the bottom of the neck collars. Can't miss those swinging lights in the dark, plus they won't bother the ponies' vision....or mine (as long as they aren't in my direct line of sight)
              Last edited by gothedistance; Jun. 4, 2013, 09:09 PM.


              • #8
                Thanks GTD for more complete coverage. I had forgotten how much mess candles make in a lamp. Guess the choice is a toss-up, on advantages and disadvantages.

                The glow sticks sound kind of interesting as a light choice, and nice to know they don't get in the way of vision so your eyes work as needed. I know my up-north Trail Rider friends carry them in case they get caught out riding in the dark, but hadn't considered them for Driving.

                Thanks also for the stories, always fun to read.


                • #9
                  I love your story about the evening drive!


                  • #10
                    Glad you all enjoyed it. Tempts me to do it again...maybe with incentive to finally fix those lamps so that they're useable!


                    • Original Poster

                      Wow---thanks for sharing your article and the nighttime drive stories! Very cool!

                      Now a question about the bucket of water for cooling down the skid. How would they have been able to tell that they needed to stop and (I guess) pour water on it? Would there be a burning smell or something?


                      • #12
                        Classically, the driver would have the passengers (except ladies, of course) disembark the coach before it proceeded to go down the hill. The Guard (the person responsible for protecting the mail, coach, and passengers) would be responsible for walking alongside the skid to ensure it didn't get too hot for the wheel. With enough people on the ground walking alongside, that was usually plenty of eyes and noses to gauge when water was needed.

                        I can only surmise that, upon knowing the road's topography and local streams/ponds/water sources intimately, the driver knew when and where to get water for the bucket.

                        I don't believe the driver ever stopped the coach mid-hill. That's a tremendous strain on the harness and the wheelers to stop and hold back all that weight, and then there is the inertia "cost" to start the coach sliding again.


                        • Original Poster

                          I see! Thanks so much for your responses! Much appreciated.


                          • Original Poster

                            Most definitely do the nighttime drive again and take me along!!!