From My WindowIssue Date: February 6, 2020
Jane Thibodeau Martin
I recently had two interesting encounters with alternative transportation methods while driving on back-to-back days.
The first one involved a horse-drawn buggy on a county highway near Shawano. The next day, on the snow-packed shoulder of a county highway very near my home, it was a musher on a dogsled, pulled by a gorgeous team of husky-type dogs. I enjoyed both of these brief encounters very much, and spent a lot of time while I was cooking, doing dishes and walking our dogs thinking about them.
The horse-drawn buggy, a typically-boxy fiberglass conveyance, was lit with battery-operated flashing red lights, front and back. I have read that some Amish resist these modern safety devices, but given the additional warning they give vehicle drivers on busy roads, I am happy when they choose to use them. My encounter was at dusk; and a slow-moving flat black object on the road at night, if unlit, would seem to invite a horrific disaster. The legal speed limit on the highway was 55 miles per hour, a buggy pulled by a trotting horse might be moving at 8 - 10 miles per hour. It's easy to see this sets up significant speed differential risk.
The buggy horses are lighter-built than the sturdy workhorses Amish and other plain people use to pull farm equipment. I was fascinated to read a lengthy list of horses available at an auction here in Central Wisconsin last summer. Nearly all the horses featured in the auction bill were off-the-track (a horse that had been intended for a harness racing career) Standardbreds (a specific horse breed.) A short summary of the horse's race record and speed clocking was included, and some had been successful enough to win as much as $300,000, mostly on race tracks on the east coast. There are a few hobbyists who keep harness horses for pleasure driving, and an association for harness horse racing in Wisconsin, but my guess is some of these horses ended up pulling black buggies down country roads, which must seem strange to them after trotting short distances as fast as possible against other horses on racetracks.
I also thought about the fact I have never seen an Amish person riding a horse. An article on Amish horse utilization said there are several reasons Amish do not typically ride horses: it is too close to the idea of a "sport;" (vs. a task for work purposes,) because of the modest dress worn by women and girls, making riding astride inappropriate; and because of their large family size, using buggies makes more sense than riding, along with the ability to transport goods in a buggy.
When encountering a buggy, I slow down to less than 30 miles per hour, and move to the left if I can do so safely before passing. If I have to wait for the oncoming traffic lane to be clear before passing, I do so patiently. And I would never honk my horn before passing, lest I spook the horse who is doing his or her job.
The buggies are not a highly unusual sight in my home area; but a dog sled absolutely is. I don't recall ever seeing one before, much less one traveling the shoulder of a highway. (My belief is the musher was headed to a trail that crosses the highway not far from where I saw him.)
I used the same methodology to pass the sled as I would a buggy, completely in the opposite lane after slowing way down. I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road, the sight of the dogs was so mesmerizing. The musher gave me a friendly wave as I passed. The team of dogs was running arrow-straight; unlike my two dogs who seem incapable of walking in a straight line on leashes, so distracted are they by sights, sounds and smells.
There are several breeds of dogs used as sled dogs, Siberian Huskies and Malamutes among them, as well as crosses of those breeds and others. My curiosity drove me to discover that there is a sled dog association in our state, Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dogs, who have race meets and network on training, dog breeding and other aspects of their hobby.
A dog sled can travel as fast as 20 miles per hour for short distances, and go much longer distances at 10-14 mph. Well-conditioned dogs in good snow conditions can travel as far as 90 miles in a 24 hour period.
Interestingly enough, there is a brewery in Milwaukee that got its start in Pembine, in northern Marinette County, called "Black Husky" brewery. The couple who started this little brewery in northern Wisconsin in 2010 named it after the sled dogs kept by their son at his kennel. They name their various brews after individual dogs in the kennel, and relocated to Milwaukee when the demand for their product got so large they could no longer deliver enough to the city to satisfy customer demand from their Pembine location.
So you could visit a brewery in Milwaukee with Marinette County roots, and have a "Big Buck Brown," or a "Sparkly Eyes" as you toast those who choose to travel a little differently than we typically do. Much slower, no radio, no seat heaters, no air conditioners, but a historically-rooted means of travel, with more time to contemplate the countless ways animals enrich our lives.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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