Many, many years ago, I operated a small museum in Virginia City called the Pioneer Livery Stables and had more than twenty buggies, carts, wagons, and sleighs on display. I also had a team of Clydesdales and access to other horses and ponies that were trained in the harness.
It was a lot of fun to take the big team and a spring wagon into the Long Valley area, now all grown up with hundreds of houses, sometimes to spend the weekend at a springs or just take a day ride. Driving a beautiful team that is pulling a wagon that has seen a century of duty is pure happiness for me.
What brought this little commentary about has to do with driving, whether a single, a team, or more than one team. One of my wagons was used in the movie Silver Dollar, and we had four teams up on that wagon. That was surely a thrill.
The wagons, buggies, and carts were all set up to be driven from the right side, and in olden times, roadways and trails were often left hand traffic. There were few communities, territories, or states that had laws on driving. A quick view of old photos will show that, but don’t look for it in every western movie because that fact is often overlooked.
My child bride and I were watching a movie the other night and I pointed out that they got it right. The wagon was driven from the right hand seat and travelled on the left side of the road. Patty said, “When did we change to right hand traffic and left hand driving?”
There are more countries in the world with right hand traffic than left, with Great Britain and many of the old British colonies leading the left hand traffic pack. Consensus seems to be that because most people are right handed, and most weapons prior to the general use of gunpowder were operated with the right hand, if one were to meet an adversary on the road, it would be best if that enemy were to be on one’s right side. Thus, left hand traffic, which predominated until good old Henry Ford came along.
Before automobiles, though, Napoleon, a lefty, decreed that all the countries he conquered would have right hand traffic. Wonder what he would have done had he been ambidextrous?
A man named Albert C. Rose, some refer to him as being the unofficial historian of the U.S. Public Roads department, seems to think that in colonial times we had right hand traffic, but I challenge that simply because of the way buggies, wagons, carts, and sleighs were built, particularly I would like to point out, that brakes for those vehicles were operated from the right side and harness for teams was such that they worked better from the right side.
The earliest automobiles that were steered by way of a tiller had them mounted in the center, but when steering wheels came along, they were, for the most part, mounted on the right side. It was Henry Ford’s Model T that changed things. Ford put the steering wheel on the left side, and by about 1915 or so, all the American manufacturers did the same. I couldn’t find out why Ford decided to put his steering on the left side.
I also spent many years working in the mines in Nevada, and driving the huge haul trucks is something else again. Most mines demand left hand traffic on the haul roads leading from the pits to the mill. And, to make things a little more interesting, the driver often sits on the left side, but there is a good reason for that. The machine is huge, carrying as much as one hundred fifty tons of ore, and knowing where that truck is when approaching another truck is tricky. The driver is trained not to look at the other truck but rather guide his or her truck by watching the left side of the road. It works.
Driving the underground haul trucks is a whole nuther story. The drifts and tunnels are just wide enough for the vehicles to get through, and if you value your job you do not want to take out rib posts as you haul the ore out of the mine. You’re trained to look far down and in the middle of the drift or tunnel. That way your vehicle stays in the middle of the very narrow roadway.
Until next time, read good books and stay regular
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