I received a nice e-mail from a loyal CHAB listener earlier this week.
Sarah Peters was reacting to one of my commentaries (Carnie's Comments) about how we all used to walk everywhere. It's true. We did.
My walk to school in grades three, four and five were short. We lived a block away from Queen Elizabeth School on 9th Avenue NW here in Moose Jaw. When that school closed, my friends and I would walk the four blocks to King George School for grades six, seven and eight.
I also clearly remember walking ten blocks on frigid, winter nights to see the Moose Jaw Canucks play at the old Moose Jaw Civic Centre.
It sparked some memories for Sarah who shared this story and included a photo.
"I hope you enjoy this", Sarah wrote.
"This was a school bus that my neighbours used to take for school in the winter. It was pulled by 2 horses. There was a small firebox made out of a can about 12 x 15 with a little door on it. It held about 5 of us. It only had front windows . You can see where the chimney was located - a real fire trap! "
"The stove was right in the front .We would have never got out. Whew!."
"Yes, we did go everywhere but we walked - rain, sleet or snow . Those were the good old days . Take care. Sarah Peters"
Sarah told us this piece of history is long-gone. It was in a yard in the Preeceville area.
I wondered what those old "school buses" were called and it dawned on me, the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw actually has some. So, I got in touch with our friend Karla Rasmussen, the Education and Public Programs Coordinator at the WDM.
"That photo is terrific – it looks like what we would call a “caboose”, or an enclosed horse-drawn cutter. I haven’t seen many made of metal before, so this is pretty cool! Your timing is great because I’ll actually be speaking about all kinds of winter travel in Saskatchewan next Tuesday during our Virtual Coffee Club over Zoom (it’s a free program), and will include photos and information about the two cabooses we have on display in our collection!
Here is a little write up I’ve often used when describing them with a more detailed description about the black Buchinski caboose."
"There have been schools in Saskatchewan for over one hundred years, some in towns and cities, and some in rural areas. Often, the farm children drove themselves to school in a horse and cart in the warmer months; by the time a child was eight or nine years old, he or she would know how to hook the horse up to the buggy and would take their younger siblings to school. Carts and buggies had wooden wheels that didn’t work so well in the winter because they got stuck in the deep snow. So, some children took a sleigh or a cutter that could glide over the snow, but because they had no roof or sides, they weren’t very warm to ride in.
Even after motor vehicles were a common sight in Saskatchewan, horse-drawn vehicles were still a necessity in the winter. Particularly in rural areas, road conditions often made automobile travel impossible. The Saskatchewan solution to this problem was the enclosed cutter, known as a "caboose". The caboose is a good example of prairie ingenuity in adapting to western winter conditions. There were holes in the front just under the window for the reins of the horse to pass through to the driver inside.
A closed-in vehicle could be ordered through the catalogue from Eaton's or Macleod's, but most prairie people bought them locally or made their own. Cabooses were as varied as the people who built them. Most home-made cabooses were wooden construction, containing a small stove to keep the travelers warm. While it was wonderful to have a stove inside the caboose, riders had to be careful if the caboose ever overturned, as the stove and its contents could be incredibly hot!
In 1934, Mike Buchinski, a blacksmith in the Colonsay, SK area, was granted Canadian patent number 346,438 for an enclosed cutter with runners and load-sustaining mountings designed for quietness and safety. In his farm blacksmith shop, he had made over 200 cutter gears and many complete cutters. The black-coloured Buchinski caboose in the photo was purchased for $200 in the late 1940s by the Grey family of Colonsay and was used until the mid-1950s. It features hinged bench seats running front to back for storage; these seats were originally covered with buffalo hide. You could also access these storage spaces from the outside of the caboose. The caboose features a black and red coloured cab with a canvas roof, double type sleigh runners, side and rear doors, and a wood-burning, airtight heater-type stove.
In many cases, neighbours would share a caboose which often served as a school bus and for delivering mail and supplies."
You can see these old contraptions at the WDM - Moose Jaw.
And, if you're interested in joining the fun of the Virtual Coffee Club and perhaps seeing some photos, click on this LINK