The words sleigh and sled are defined in the U.S. as a runnered vehicle that slips or slides over a surface. Technically, a sleigh is used to transport people and a sled to move goods and materials.
Historically, the sled is believed to have been man's earliest attempt to transport. It is written that round straight tree trunks were lashed together to form a type of platform that was dragged over the ground.
The prime years for these vehicles were from the eighteenth century to the advent of the automobile. This time frame was known as the Carriage Era.
For the purpose of simplicity of explanation, I have categorized these vehicles into four classes. First, the earliest sleigh style was known as the country sleigh. These were designed and built by local tradesmen who had no patterns or reproduction technology. The vehicle consisted of a box mounted on a runner assembly. Many of these sleighs had a dual purpose, to transport materials and goods along with taking the family to town or church.
Second was the low slung rough looking work sled that was utilized, as the word implies, for work. The sleigh box was rectangular in shape and mounted on two sets of runners known as bobs. These gave the vehicle great maneuverability and a shorter turning radius. At least one team of work horses was needed for pulling. A sugaring sled is an example of this type of vehicle.
Third, are specialized vehicles used by merchants, postmen, funeral homes and emergency services. Usually these were either fully or partially enclosed and many were mounted on bob runners. Merchants had their logos brightly painted on either side of the box for advertisement.
The fourth category is the most popular sleigh in America, the cutter. This sleigh was functional, light weight, cheap (sold by Sears and Roebuck for $16.93), had a straight runner system, was capable of accepting customization such as springs and covers, transported two people and was pulled by a single horse. Peter Kimball of Maine and
Peter Goold of Albany, New York, are credited with designing
and developing the cutter sleigh around 1830. Through the carriage era thousands of these were manufactured by more
than seventy companies.
Sleigh bells were certainly an important part of a sleigh ride. These bells served a very important purpose as a warning system for other sleigh drivers. The bells were cast bronze, graduated in size for sound and mounted on leather straps or metal bars. Strings of bells were placed over the horse and on the harness. Bells attached by metal straps were fastened to the under side of the shafts. These combinations gave off a distinct sound when the sleigh was in motion.
A ride in a cutter sleigh was bumpy, challenging and sometimes wet and cold. A horse hair seat provided the only comfort from the bumps and road ruts. The vehicle was light weight and had a high center of gravity. Sharp turns and snow banks proved to be hazardous, as tipping the sleigh was possible. Heating devices were portable and included lap robes, soapstone blocks, bricks, ceramic hot water jugs and charcoal heaters. Usually ample heat was available when going to your destination, but the return trip could be cold. With open sleighs, you were at the mercy of the weather. Snow or sleet made for a very wet and uncomfortable experience.
Today, these are facts and memories to be spoken or written. If you have an opportunity to take a sleigh ride, take advantage of this exciting and tranquil experience. It is something you will never forget.
Please click here to view the Allen Sleigh fleet.
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