Like all new businesses, creating a streetcar company in 1863 was a learning experience for all - the company, the employees, the customers and even the horses. There is evidence that each of these constituents had difficulties fine-tuning their roles over the nearly thirty years streetcars were powered by horses.
Click to enlarge
The noble horse.
Horses were a large expense; one estimate states that 40% of a streetcar company's investment went to the horses. A streetcar cost about $900 and a horse about $200. However, it took nine to ten horses to keep one two-horse streetcar on the street for 16 hours making the horse's investment the greater. To get peak performance, from the horses, required good food, adequate rest and care in a suitable stable, close monitoring for illness, and proper treatment by the drivers. The industry standard was to purchase horses when they were five to nine years old and to keep them for 3-5 years. If the horse was still healthy it could be sold for about three quarters the purchase price. Some lines used mules, which eat less than a horse but were not quite as strong. The big disadvantage with a mule was that they had no resale value. The Columbus lines did have some mules. Horses could be worked 4-5 hours a day and would need to rest the remainder of the time in a clean well-ventilated stable with adequate space. One stable hand could take care of about fourteen horses. The horses were subject to infectious illness and had to be carefully handled and monitored while in the stable area. It was learned during the great 1872 epizootic epidemic that broke out on the east coast that horses should not be stabled all in one direction, but, rather, alternated so they did not breath on each other. That influenza like illness wiped out whole herds of horses in Boston and Philadelphia. Fortunately it did not seem to have reached Columbus. Horses performed best when fed hay and oats. Horses fed corn did not perform as well. And then there was the issue of the manure. A single horse could produce ten pounds of manure per day. In 1891 the streetcar company had 540 horses and 80 mules. In the early days the waste was just dumped in a pond, later it was learned the manure and straw bedding mixture could be sold. The issue never completely solved was storage until it was carted away. The earliest stables were in the country, but civilization kept intruding bringing complaining neighbors. The company's best PR person could not convince the neighbors that the storage piles weren't detrimental to their health. The Columbus streetcar companies experienced periods of prosperity and hard times. It could be imagined that during the hard times the horses were not as well cared for. One 1877 newspaper article referred to "hipshot, wind broken horses". The hardest task for a horse was to start a streetcar. If the streetcar was overloaded, the track bad, or the car stopped on a grade, it took even greater effort to get the car in motion. Once the car was moving the team would have an easier time. A pair of horses would not necessarily each pull an equal share. A lazy but cleaver horse could appear to be working while actually letting the partner do most of the work. An experienced driver could straighten that out. In the early days the streetcar would stop anywhere to pick up a passenger. Later the stops were limited to cross streets giving the horses a break. The Union Depot tunnel, built under the steam road tracks in 1875, must have been a difficult strain for the horses. One newspaper account quoted a witness saying that a mule was stationed at the tunnel as a helper for the climb out of the tunnel. This is backed up by a picture of a single mule stationed at the entrance of the tunnel. It was reported that there wasn't much cruelty, other than the plain hard work, for the horses. The drivers had a strong incentive to treat the horses right, as their job depended on it. The company wanted their investment in the animals preserved and was very strict about the treatment horse received. While horsecars didn't travel very fast there was still plenty of opportunity for an accident and when there was an accident the horse would often be the worse for it. Three incidents from the 1888 Columbus Dispatch illustrate this point. In the first incident a horse while pulling car 113 slipped and fell down, before the car could be stopped, it ran upon the poor animal, pinning it to the ground in such a manner that it was thought the horse must be badly injured or killed. After the car was removed from the horse he was able to get up, shake it off, and resuming the trip. Horses often had problems keeping their footing on the slippery mud that resulted after a rain. There was much study put into finding the right shoe for use on city streets without ever fully resolving the problem. In the second incident a northbound two-horse streetcar was descending the ramp into the North High Street tunnel. It was normal practice to tighten the hand brake, which was all the brake a horsecar had, when entering the descending ramp to keep the car from overrunning the horses. In this case the brake did not take hold and the driver called to the conductor to apply the brake from the back. A woman hearing this call panicked - with some justification - and leaped from the moving car hitting her head as she landed. As this was going on the driver pulled the hitch pin releasing the horses so they would not be over run. The horses bolted, ran through the tunnel and continued running down the west side of High Street. One of the horses ran into a pole breaking his back. He had to be destroyed, a loss of $130. The woman was taken to a doctor with a two inch wound in her head. She was later driven home in a hired hack. The article stated that "The accident is unaccounted for, as nothing was found broken about the brake on the car." There was no mention of discipline for the driver. The third incident took place near the corner of Cleveland and Mt. Vernon Avenues in the dark of night. There were no street lights. The horsecar was going slowly up a hill when the driver saw what looked like a lighted cigar in the middle of the rails. The next instant the horse shied and the car wheels bumped against a human body which belonged to the intoxicated Mr. Henry Murray a journeyman tailor. He suffered a broken leg. "The driver was arrested and placed in the lock-up on 'suspicion'. He was afterwards released on bail. The accounts fail to show that he was blameworthy in any degree." To answer the title question, "How was it for the horses?", it does appear that the horses were treated a little better than the drivers who had to work 12-16 hours a day for what amounted to chicken feed - $1.25 per day. Still they had to work very hard and being out front, always in danger of injury. Even with the end of the horsecar, horses were still used throughout Columbus for construction, delivery and personal use. They did not completely leave the streets of Columbus until well after WW I. In 1917 the Columbus Railway Power and Light Co. still owned 14 horses, used to pull construction wagons. Their names were Bill, Duke, Daisy, Bill, Tanguay, Fred, Steve, Dick, Bill, Pat, Bob, Jerry, Jack and Fred. Their total value was set at $2,289.80.