By Atherton Resident
Christmas 1945 Altona, IL
While rummaging through all the interesting things in my Uncle Roy’s farm machine shed, I spied something of special interest. It was an old “One Horse Sleigh”. Immediately, a plan began forming in my imagination as to how I would clean it up and then ask that cute farm girl in my High School freshman class for a date and sleigh ride! A bemused Uncle Roy listened patiently to my plan, then said that he guessed that we should first get it down and see if it was “all there” and usable. It was “all there”, but the leather upholstery had been chewed off by mice or rats and the runners, though still firmly in place were rusty from years of non-use. I set to work polishing the runners, and re-upholstered the seat, covering the horse-hair padding underneath.
As the Christmas Season was fast approaching both Uncle Roy and Aunt Lois got into the spirit of my proposed Sleigh-Ride date. Uncle Toy found an old heavy Horsehide Robe, complete with sleigh bells to fasten under the mares’ belly as she trotted down the snow-covered country roads. Aunt Lois found still more warm blankets and made me promise to bring my date into their house to warm up by the fireplace with hot chocolate and marshmallows.
With that all in place, I finally asked the cute farmer’s daughter, Nancy, on a special winter’s night date in an authentic “One Horse Sleigh”! She accepted, and God also cooperated by completely covering the Illinois Countryside with a beautiful blanket of fresh snow. The last words of instruction that Uncle Roy gave me as I prepared to go pick up my date was, “John, just give the horse her head as she knows both where to go and what to do.” Arriving at Nancy’s farm home, the tinkling sleigh bells called the entire family out to greet the approaching sleigh. Cameras appeared, flash-bulbs popped like firecrackers as the family did their part by putting soapstones they had heating in their oven and then wrapped in blankets, to place on the sleigh floor to keep our feet warm.
So, off we went with a “Ho! Ho! Ho! And a Merry Christmas to one and all. Cuddled up closely under the horsehide robe and blankets, we took one of the totally white, unblemished side country roads toward my hometown of Altona, some four miles away. At first, we were in awe of the Christmas card – like beauty of the snow covered countryside and the near silence with only the exception of the horses’ hooves plodding down the middle of the road, and with the added sound of snow crunching under the runners. Oh yes! There was occasional flatulence by the mare when under increased stress in pulling the sleigh. And when flatulence happens, it’s sometimes accompanied by the “plop, plop, plop” sound of falling “Road Apples”.
News of our historic Sleigh Ride re-creation had preceded us into town, so as the ever jingling sleigh bells rang out, many folks appeared on their porches or yards to call out greetings to us as we slid quietly by. More photos were taken, and quite a few old-timers claimed that long ago, they too had ridden on some form of sleigh or sled. Often, famers placed a heavy wagon on a set of four runners. A team of horses pulled the sled. It appeared that only the wealthier folk actually own a one-horse sleigh.
Yes, I and my “One Horse Sleigh Ride Date” were the talk of the town and surrounding countryside for a brief time. For some reason, I never had a second date with Nancy. Perhaps it was because I was only 15 years old. A good time was had by we adventurous young teenagers, and our sleigh ride brought back warm memories to those who saw us glide by.