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The Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Heritage - October 2010

Horses of the Great Depression
Submitted by Don Conrad, Age 81, Lewis Center

During the depression years, our family always had a small garden. In it we raised lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers. There was not room to grow all types of vegetables. Those we bought from a farmer. Starting in the spring, a farmer came through the neighborhood one afternoon each week with his horse-drawn wagon. He had a scale on the back of the wagon with a tray in which he weighed the in-season produce from his farm. The price of his wares was much lower than the prices charged in the neighborhood stores. We had no supermarkets in those days.

Starting in the spring, a farmer came through the neighborhood one afternoon each week with his horse-drawn wagon.Housewives would go out to his wagon when they heard the sound of his cowbell that he rang as he entered the neighborhood. They would bring paper sacks, pots and pans to hold their purchases. They knew the produce was fresh because it had been picked the day before, or even the same morning. If a lady wished a large quantity to can, which most women did at that time, they would order a bushel basket of what they desired. This included all vegetables and fruit. On a later visit, he would bring their order.

Produce was not the only thing delivered with the aid of a horse. At five or six o'clock every morning, milk was delivered to the front porch of customers. White and chocolate milk and buttermilk (some dairies also included butter) were delivered by a horse-drawn wagon. The glass bottles were capped with a paper disk pressed in to the top. These bottles were washed when empty and placed on the porch for the milkman to pick up when he delivered the next day.

The milkman had a wire basket that held eight one-quart glass bottles of milk. After, filling the basket with eight bottles of milk, he would hop off the wagon and carry the milk to one house after another, until he had no bottles of milk left in the case, only empty bottles. He then went to the wagon, removed the empty bottles, refilled the case with milk and went back delivering. Occasionally, the resident of a house needed something different. They would place a note in one of the empty bottles. If he did not have the item in his case, he walked back to the wagon to get the item. During this whole process, the horse pulling the wagon would move along the street with no controls, keeping even with the milkman. If the milkman stopped, the horse would wait patiently until the milkman moved on.

Horses were an excellent, economical transportation mode during the depression. They did not need gasoline or oil. They only required oats and hay, which most farmers grew on their farms. The only problem was the "road apples" deposited by the horses on the street. Generally, someone in the neighborhood would clean them up and put them in the garbage can.

Story collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)