When horsepower was still supplied by horses
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
September 12, 2020
My grandfather, who was also named Lance Estes, owned freight wagons and teams of horses, and he used them to haul merchandise to general stores and trading posts in California. He sometimes had to travel across muddy plains, and oddly enough, it was easier to cross when the ground was thoroughly soaked rather than when it was only moderately wet, for when merely wet the adobe soil stuck to the wheels until they could no longer turn, and the mud could not be knocked off, but had to be cut off with an axe.
In the spring of 1869, a group of my grandfather's wagons, each pulled by four horses, was hauling merchandise across a plain, and since the ground was soaking with water, the slow-travelling wagons rolled steadily along. My father, Arthur Estes, was with this freight caravan, and he told me of an instance when they came to a considerable area covered with water. It was not more than six inches deep, and to go straight across would save several hundred feet. The travelers decided, after conferring together, to follow the shorter route through the middle of this shallow pond, as every foot was important. The owners of the merchandise, a Mr. Cressler and a Mr. Bonner, were both with the wagons, and Mr. Cressler voted to drive across the water, but Mr. Bonner, who was cautious by nature, determined to walk around the pond and meet the teams on the other side. All went well until the last team was about a hundred feet from their destination, when one wheel sank into the mud and the horses could not pull it out. Mr. Cressler, with the rest of the men, was out in the mud and slush trying to dig the wheel loose from its resting place when Mr. Bonner appeared on the shore nearest them and shouted, "After due deliberation and consequent consideration, at what conclusion have you arrived?" Mr. Cressler's temper was somewhat frayed by this time, and he responded to this flowery question with an uncharitable but succinct, three-word response: "Go to hell!" Mr. Bonner had no further questions. By hitching one of the other teams in front of the struggling horses and giving a mighty heave, they freed the wagon from its muddy bed, and without further incident the wagon train continued on its trek.
I always owned a horse, and as I grew up on my father's 160-acre ranch, supplying my horse with feed presented no difficulty. When I wanted to go to town, a mile away, I went out into the pasture and chased the horse all over the 160 acres until I caught and bridled him. I probably walked or ran several miles in order to ride one mile, but that did not occur to me at the time. With a good horse or a good span of horses, one could travel about fifty miles in a day. Before trains became more prevalent, freight was usually hauled in wagons pulled by teams made up of six or eight horses hitched in pairs, often guided only by a jerk line. The driver rode the left wheel horse, using a single line to the left lead horse to control the team. A jerk on the line sent the horses to the right, and a steady pull took them to the left. Each lead horse was equipped with a set of bells fastened to the collar, and these bells gave forth a pleasing melody as the teams plodded along the dusty roads, or fought their way through the deep mud of winter. I appreciate the automobile but I'll never forget the horse.
– Lance Estes
Lance Estes moved to Tehachapi in 1921 and started Linda Vista Ranch on Cherry Lane, growing vegetables and fruit and raising pigs, chickens and rabbits for sale to area residents. He served for many years on the local school board. He was the great-uncle of The Loop newspaper contributor Jon Hammond.