Rural vehicles

Before the advent of tractors and motor-driven vehicles, agriculture needed the power of animals to work the land and to transport crops and manure. Horses and other equines such mules and donkeys shared this role as animal-engine with oxen, depending on the region. Every kind of transport has its own teaming system, which links one or several animals to a vehicle in pursuit of the greatest possible efficiency. The teaming systems must be adapted to the relief, to the land and to the effort required on the paths leading to the fields and on the roads leading to the town. This is the work of the carter who leads as well as that of rural artisans such as the wheelwright who builds wheels and vehicles, the saddler who designs the harness and the farrier who fits the horseshoes.

Like town teams, horses are harnessed in lines, paired or with three or more abreast. The harness is adapted to the effort required by the use of a shoulder collar for heavy loads and, if less effort is required, by using a breast collar pressing the chest. The traces transmit force to the vehicle from the shoulder or breast collar through yokes or directly by carriage hitches. The horse can be placed between two shafts to steer the carriage. A pair of horses may be placed on both sides of a helm to turn the front-end axle.

Carts and trucks carried harvest sheaves or hay in bulk. Tumbril carts carried manure, marl or algae matter to the fields. Barrel carriages carried water or liquid manure while barrow carts carried the grape-picking boxes. The timber carriage was used for hauling logs. Charabancs took the household to parties...

Regional variations of these traditional vehicles are significant. Solid wheels and the axle rotating the wheels of Basque vehicles distinguish themselves from vehicles with fixed axles and "idler", sunbeam wheels found elsewhere. Long, four-wheeled carts with or without a bottom are located in North-Eastern and Eastern France and in the Massif Central where one easily finds large softwood trunks to build them. The two-wheeled wagon is the traditional vehicle in the West and Southwest. There are numerous types of vehicles. With or without sideboards, carts and trucks carried harvest sheaves or hay in bulk. Tumbril carts carried manure, marl or algae matter to the fields to enrich the earth. Barrel carriages carried water or liquid manure while barrow carts carried the grape-picking boxes. The timber carriage was used for hauling logs (pieces of wood not yet squared off and still covered with their bark). The carriole (farm wagon) enabled farmers to go to the town markets. Specific cattle and pork wagons took animals to the fairgrounds and charabancs took the household to parties. Over the centuries, all these vehicles developed technically, especially in the 19th century, which saw the development of elaborate braking systems and leaf-spring suspension. The early 20th century saw the introduction of pneumatic tires and small-scale industrial horse-drawn vehicle production. The advent of the tractor and automobile marked the end of rural teams, which had made peasant horses so valuable.

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Jean-René Trochet et Édouard de Laubrie, Véhicules agricoles des régions de France. Matériaux pour une ethnologie historique. Paris, Ministère de la Culture et de la Francophonie, Association française des musées d'agriculture, 1996, 660p.