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THE WAGONER (Driver, teamster)
Army vehicle transportation by animal consists of spring wagons, ambulances, and escort wagons

The Wagoner must have a thorough knowledge of the following:

1. The adjustment of the harness, driving, and the methods of receiving, stowing, and caring for cargo, and of securing loads on the wagon.
2. The nomenclature of vehicles (wagons), harness, spare parts, and accessories, and where they are carried on the vehicle.
3. How to groom, water, feed, and care for animals.
4. How to clean and care for vehicles, harness, and equipment
5. How to harness and unharness animals
6. How to hitch and unhitch animals
7. How to lash loads
8. How to repair his vehicle if need be
9. How to handle animals effectively

Escort Wagon and Wagoner and his 4-mule team of the 76th Field Artillery Regiment, King City march in 1932. DLIFLC & POM Archives

He must be skilled in the practical performance of all of the above-mentioned duties and ready to perform any other that may be required by the proper authority. He must be resourceful and able to cope with unusual situations, depending upon his own initiative for results. He is responsible for his team, harness, and wagon, tools and spare parts, and the condition in which he keeps them is a measure of his efficiency. A successful Wagoner is one who keeps his wagon and animals in good condition and gets his load to its destination at the proper time.

He must look over the feet of the animals of his team each morning and evening, clean them out, and note if the shoes are loose. It is a good idea to tap the shoes with a knife handle or hammer. If the animal flinches there is usually something wrong. He should be familiar with the individual characteristics of the animals, which make up his team. If referring to draft mules, two are called a pair; the one on the left side is called the “near” mule and the other the “off” mule. The pair assigned to the traction of a single vehicle are termed, collectively, “a team,” those in front being called the lead pair or leaders, those attached directly to the vehicle the wheel pair or wheeler.

It is a good plan to have a fixed time for every routine duty, as then there will be no chance of over looking anything. Certain duties should be attended to daily and others weekly. The following is suggested as a daily program to be followed:

Immediately after rising before or after reveille in the morning the Wagoner should feed grain to his team, brush off, harness them, and examine their feet. After the Wagoner has had breakfast the stalls of the animals should be policed just to make sure it has been cleaned and is fresh. The Wagoner should then make sure his team has been watered and if not he should water them. Make sure the water is clean and not contaminated. The Wagoner makes sure his wagon (all wagons are numbered and identified by markings) is parked in its designated space. Harnesses should be inspected for good order. If in need of repair contact the units saddler. Animals should be tied to a picket line or let out in the corral if not going to work. If assigned to work he will harness the team and hitch up his team to its wagon and go to its designated area for work. At the end of the day the Wagoner returns his team and wagon back to its designated parking area, unhitches his team returns them to the stables and unharnesses the animals and inspects his team. A special examination should be made to ascertain whether any abrasions or enlargements have developed. Their feet should be carefully cleaned and inspected noting any loose or missing shoes. Harnesses are inspected and hung on their proper hanging pegs and the sweat and dirt wiped off the collars, bellybands, and cruppers.

Animals should then be groomed, their shoulders washed, harnesses should be adjusted for the next day’s work so any pressure may be removed from any swollen parts which may have formed. The animals should be fed grain and hay. A thorough examination of the wagon as well as axle nuts on the wagon, minor repairs made immediately, and those requiring special attention reported to the specialist before the next day’s work. The wagon should then be greased if necessary. After reporting animals requiring shoeing or veterinary attention the Wagoner should wash and get his meal.

Careful fitting, adjusting, and cleaning of harness and equipment and care in use of the lines and brake, particularly at the time of starting heavy loads, will prevent bunches. Prompt attention will prevent bunches from becoming large. It is much easier to prevent them than to eradicate those already formed. Padding should never be placed over a bunch, as it makes the bunch worse. If felt collar pads are not obtainable, pieces of sheepskin with thongs attached are very handy for use in case of sore shoulders or collar boils. They are tied one on each side of the affected part and should be large enough to cover the entire half of the collar except the sore spot. Small pieces would only cause undue pressure on the spots covered by them. If felt collar pads are available, the padding should be removed from them so as to relieve pressure from the bunch.

The Wagoner should sit comfortably in his seat, body erect, without stiffness, elbows close to the sides. He should not lean forward; half stand, or slouch back in his seat, because in these positions a falling or shying animal may pull him off his seat. The driving gloves should be large and comfortable. The hands should be held close together in front of the center of the body, knuckles to the front, forearms nearly horizontal.

In the driving with the left hand, the right hand is used only for shortening the reins, assisting the left hand in stopping the team and for using the whip. The left wrist should be slightly bent to the rear. This gives a more flexible contact with the animal’s mouth than if the wrist is straight and rigid. The lines should never be shortened by elevating the left hand, which disturbs the seat. The right hand should be used to assist in shortening them.

To hold the lines the Wagoner brings the line on the near wheeler under the little finger of his left hand up through the palm of his hand and over his thumb. He passes the line on the near leader between the little finger and the one next to it up through the palm of his hand and over his thumb. He brings the line from the off wheeler between the second and third fingers of the right hand and down inside the third and little fingers. He brings the line from the off leader between the first and second fingers of the right hand and down inside with the other line.

To hold all lines in one hand the Wagoner passes the lead line from the right hand over the top of the first finger of left hand and the wheel line from the right hand over the top of the second finger of the left hand, and turns both ones down inside the left hand.

In starting the team with a heavy load or in any situation where it is necessary to get the united power of the animals the lines should be held fairly tight, so that the animals may be made to feel the aid and guidance of the driver. The unremitting attention of every driver is required in order that each animal of his team shall at all times do its proper share of the work. In starting, all traces should be stretched before the team moves. A common fault is to start one pair before the others are in draft, the tendency of which is to make the animals balky, fatigue them by jerks, gall their shoulder, and break the harness.

While en route the lines should be sufficiently tight to prevent their becoming entangled or an animal passing his tail over one of them, to give each animal the feeling of being on the hand, and to maintain pairs abreast of each other. In reducing the gait, halting, and backing, the pull on the lines should be gradual and used in conjunction with the voice and brake.

In turning to the right, the off lead and wheel reins should be grasped in front of the left hand by placing the middle and little fingers of the right hand over them. These reins should then be shortened by pulling on them, or the near reins lengthened by allowing the left hand to move slightly to the front. In turning to the left, the near lead and wheel reins should be handled in the same manner. In stopping, all four reins should be shortened by pulling them through from behind, or the right hand may be placed over the reins in front of the left and the weight used to assist. In crossing ruts or turning sharp corners, the leaders should be out of draft; otherwise the pole may be snapped off of the wheelers pulled down.

Before arriving at the crest of a hill the team should be steadied for the descent, and with just enough traction from the leaders to prevent their singletrees hitting them. If a wheeler slips in descending the hill, especially if near the bottom, he should not be pulled up, but the team should be allowed to go a little faster. In no case should the lines be used to accelerate the pace or gait, and the Wagoner should never be permitted to “milk” the lines. Jerking the lines should never be tolerated other than to stop a team, which is running away.

1. Always keep a steady pressure on the reins
2. Never remove left hand from the reins, even though the right may be holding them in front, as it is very difficult to get the left hand back into its place again with the reins in the right places.
3. Lead reins should seldom be removed from the left hand.
4. Grip the reins tightly with the third and little fingers to prevent their slipping
5. Alter position of the bits if the team pulls hard.
6. Should the team be getting the better of you, and you find that you cannot stop it, it will be found a great assistance to place the right leg over all the reins, as you may be able to stop them by the extra power and leverage by the position of the leg. Of course, it is understood the brake has been applied.
7. Do not get into the habit of “jabbing” the animals with the bits, and do not flap the reins on their backs to start them or make them increase their pace.
8. Drive at a steady, even pace, as nothing tires a team so much as the constantly change of rate of speed.
9. When it is necessary to pull up in a hurry, the proper course to pursue is to catch hold of the reins with the finger and thumb of the right hand, just beyond the left, and shorten them as much as necessary by pulling them through. This is safer and more business-like than elevating the hands, which disturbs the seat.
10. The right hand is known as the whip hand. It is generally used only for holding the whip, for assisting the left hand, and for shortening the reins by pulling them through from behind the rein hand.
12. In starting feel all the animals’ mouths with the reins, and, if necessary, give them the word to go, dropping the hand to them at once until the vehicle is fairly off. The wheelers ought to start the wagon, and this can be effected by touching them with the whip, if they require a hint. It is never safe to start with having the whip in the right hand, ready for immediate use. The whip is to the driver what the leg is to the rider, that is, it keeps the team up to their bits. As soon as the team is going straight, take the right hand off the reins, at the same time keeping it close by, ready for any emergency.

To use the whip, the Wagoner passes the lines to his left hand, holding the whip by the butt end of the stock and the end of the lash between his forefinger and thumb. With a backward swing of the arm he releases the end of the lash, allowing it to swing back in a circular motion, and with a forward stroke the lash is brought down upon the desired animal. The whip is used only for slow or lazy animals and in a hard pull, in which case a slight cracking of it is preferable and usually sufficient. Use of the whip should be limited to necessity, and unnecessary cracking of whips is prohibited. The wheeler should be hit in front of the saddles, to avoid making then kick. It is no use hitting the wheelers if the leaders’ reins are too long. In this case you must first shorten up the wheelers’ reins, and then use the whip on the leaders; otherwise, as soon as the wheelers have jumped into their collars, the leaders will again press forward and allow the wheelers to hang back as before. The proper hitting of the leaders with the whip can only be acquired by constant practice when off the wagon. A good whip can hit his leaders wherever he desires and with the dangerous, flail-like swipes that some teamsters appear to consider necessary.

To put on the brake, the lever is pushed forward either with the hand or foot, and is held by the ratchet. To take off the brake, the catch is released from the ratchet and the lever pulled back. The brake is used in going downhill, in crossing ditches, to stop the wagon at a halt, and to hold it while the team is at a standstill. It should be used to hold the wagon at halts while ascending slopes. If a team starts to run away, the brake should be used to help stop it.

Animal-drawn vehicles should not be over-loaded, as doing so will result in injury to them and to the harness and animal. The standard load of 3,000 pounds for the escort wagon includes 235 pounds for weight of the driver, his equipment, and the grain carried for the team, and this load should not be exceeded except in cases of extreme emergency. In such cases the person should make a full report and explanation to the commanding officer responsible for the overloading. The standard load for the spring wagon is 1,000 pounds.

In loading, heavy articles should be placed in the bottom of the wagon bed and in the front, with lighter articles in rear and on top so as to have the weight of the load near the bottom and in the forward third of the wagon bed. Articles should be placed so that there is no vacant space between them, in order to prevent their shifting. Articles, which may be required en route, should be so placed in the load as to be always accessible. The tailgate should not be lowered to carry a larger load, as this not only makes the load too heavy in the rear but will be almost certain to split the side of the bed outward, there being nothing left to support its rear end. The bows should be pushed well down into their staples and should not be raised to provide greater loading space. The cover is then placed on the bows and tied down to the rings on the side of the bed. Its ends are drawn together by a rope, the ends of which are then crossed and made fast to rings on the opposite sides of the wagon bed.

When wagons are loaded the loads should be securely lashed with the escort wagon lash rope before the cover is put on. The manner in which the rope is used depends on the nature of the load. Ordinary loads are lashed by securing an end rope from side to side over the load, using the lash cleats provided on the sides of the wagon bed for engaging the rope. The rope should be drawn tight and passed around one end of the rear crossbar; after which it is carried forward along the sides of the load by passing it around the first (rear) loop that goes over the load, and taking all slack out by pulling it to the rear; after which it is carried to the next loop and so on until the forward loop is reached, to which it is attached by two or more half hitches, after all slack has been taken out.

In pulling heavy loads, or on heavy ground if there is any liability of the team stopping, the Wagoner should stop the animals before they get stalled. Many animals will not pull again on a load in the same place where they have met with resistance, which has impressed them as insurmountable. If the team should get stuck, it may be induced to try again by turning the tongue slightly to the right or left and then getting all off together, straightening the pole as the pull is commenced. If the wheels are sunk, the earth in front of them should be removed by using the spade, prior to attempting to start, and if the wagon is in a very difficult position, time will usually be gained by attaching additional animals, or making use of the snatch block and fall, or unloading the wagon.

Should the wagon upset, the cover, bows, and lash rope are removed, after which it is unloaded, placed upright on good ground, and the reloaded.

The rate of travel of animal-drawn transportation vary with the nature of the vehicle, the size of the load, the class and condition of the animals employed, condition of the roads and weather, and length of the column. Passenger carrying vehicles can be driven at the rate of 7 miles per hour for 3 or 4 hours under favorable conditions. Should the distance be greater and animal-drawn transportation necessarily employed, arrangements should be made to change the animals every 15 miles, by placing them in relays. Heavily loaded vehicles can maintain the slow rate of march prescribed for the infantry, under favorable conditions.

The rules in common use by drivers of private vehicles, no matter whether in the United States or foreign countries, must be strictly adhered to by drivers of all Government vehicles. Halts should always be made at one side of the road, leaving a clear passage. On a hill all teams coming up have the right away over those going down. In case of a breakdown the vehicle must be immediately removed so as not to obstruct traffic. On a narrow road a loaded team has the right of way, and it should be given ungrudgingly. On overtaking a vehicle, pull out to the left and pass it at a steady pace and without cracking your whip or coming in too close. When followed closely by another vehicle and both are at a good pace, signal with your whip if you are about to slacken your gait or change your direction. When approaching a railroad crossing, bring your team to a walk; halt if necessary, but always look and listen. Be courteous in observing the simple rules of the road; give plenty of room to others, and do not forget that a smile or a pleasant laugh will do more for you than a growl or a surly remark. Horsemen, as a rule, possess good dispositions; meet them at least half way.

The principal effort required to keep a wagon in order is the daily examination of all nuts to see that they are tight, and greasing the wheels about every 30 miles. Even if the wagon is used little, the axles should be examined twice a week at least. The 4 pounds of axle grease furnished with the escort wagon should last about a month. In greasing, remove the old grease, because, if not, the dirt and sand will accumulate and cause a “hotbox” and completely disable the wagon, making you late getting in, and cause a lot of trouble.

Army Escort wagons will be painted an olive-drab color. The following is the formula for mixing olive-drab paint; 6 pounds of white lead ground in raw linseed oil, 1 pound of raw umber, 1 pint of turpentine, 1/2 pint of japan drier, and 1 quart of raw linseed oil. Wagons should be kept well painted, and when not in use should be placed under cover if possible, to prevent the deterioration of material. Number of the wagon and unit will be stenciled on sides, front and back.

The Wagonmaster overlooks the Wagoner.

Note: Draft: The act of moving a load by drawing or pulling

76th Field Artillery Regiment, Gigling Reservation, fooling around, good shot of escort wagon No. 22. Taken in the 1920's or early 30's. DLIFLC & POM Archives

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