Christmas Memories

By Lew Pewterbaugh

Thanksgiving is over and it’s time to decorate the house and horse for Christmas! Battery powered Christmas lights are an easy way to make your horse a shining, glowing, festive critter in the Christmas Parade. When I lived in Tennessee, I was chairman of our small town Christmas Parade back in the mid 80’s. It doesn’t seem that long ago. There were a lot of horses in Middle Tennessee back then, and a lot of mules. People didn’t ride mules much back there, but mule wagons were real common.

One year, I decided we were going to have all horse or mule drawn conveyances carrying the V.I.P.s in the parade, and everyone was on board with the idea. People dusted off surreys, buckboards, democrat wagons, even a vis-a-vis and hitched up for the parade. A friend of mine called “Big Apple” wanted to drive someone in the parade, and he had just finished building a mule wagon.

Horse and carriage rides at the Historic Village Credits: Middlesex County

Back in Tennessee, a mule wagon is a modern day covered wagon. They typically took rear axles from front wheel drive cars, which had hydraulic brakes and of course took car tires for a soft ride. The wagon box was pretty typical of a farm wagon but sat out over the wheels instead of inside like an old farm wagon. This gave a lot more room inside. Bows and a canvas top closed the wagon in, and they often had a zippered heavy plastic front to close the driver in from inclement weather. There would be a slot for the reins under the front window. Sometimes there was a little generator running off one of the wheels to supply energy to an ice box or stereo. Well, Big Apple’s new mule wagon had all of the amenities, he was only lacking the mules.

Big Apple had made his entry to the parade and we had assigned him a spot, and a V.I.P. Passenger. Our Christmas Parade was going to be on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday night, Big Apple went to Kentucky and picked up a cute little pair of blond mules, full sisters, about 13 & ½ hands tall. Sunday he hitched them up to his new mule wagon and drove them to the staging area. The parade route was 4 and ½ miles long, plus returning to the staging area, so nine miles. Everything went off without a glitch.

The next week I stopped by Big Apple’s muffler shop and he was putting new 8 lug axles under his mule wagon with some big old wide tires on 8” rims. He said, “By God, if those mules want to drag the wagon for 9 miles with my foot to the floor on the brakes, I’m going to give them something to pull!” Those mules had pulled that wagon for 9 miles with the brakes locked the entire way!

I also remember when I had a draft cross and a hotel wagon, and would do the Bandera Christmas parade. I carried Santa and Mrs. Claus for 2 years before my horse died on the eve of Christmas Eve. I loved driving that horse for parades and weddings, etc.

When I was a kid, about 11:00 on Christmas Eve, I would saddle my horse, and take a set of real good sleigh bells from my Mother’s antique shop, and I would ride around our small mountain village ringing the sleigh bells. Parents would tell me the kids would hear those bells and jump into bed with their eyes shut tight so that Santa wouldn’t catch them up and spying on him. I loved doing that on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is a wonderful, magical time of year, and I hope everyone is comfortable saying “Merry Christmas” and that your holiday is filled with love, laughter, family, and friends. Let’s all try to bring peace and happiness to someone who may be struggling with something, even if it’s only one other person.

Merry Christmas to everyone.