Thursday, April 29, 2010

We Do Have A One-Way Ride...

Ro and Cliff

Besides the usual historic tours, engagements, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, the company I work for, Carriage For Hire, also provides the final ride for horse enthusiasts— their funeral.

Tony, waiting for this gig to begin.

Several years ago, when Tony's original owner passed on, we provided the hearse for his services.

Last week, Tony's dad's brother, (so Tony's human Uncle) expired, and we were asked to participate.

Unlike carriage rides downtown, providing the hearse involves hauling both the horse and the conveyance offsite, usually to a location close to the cemetery, and transferring the coffin from a modern hearse to the 1840's Cunningham. A while back I wrote a blog about needing to "do" a funeral for research for a scene I was contemplating, because in order to bring the emotion and ambiance to the written word I prefer to experience some things first hand. So, when I found out that a funeral was booked close to my house, I asked Ro if I could assist.

Since the mortuary was located quite a distance from the internment, the plan was to meet up with the funeral procession along the route. Ro and Cliff found a gravel parking lot large enough to accommodate the stock trailer, unloaded both Tony and the hearse, and waited to intercept the departed about a quarter mile from the final destination.

Circa 1840's Cunningham Hearse

"Wait", here, is the operative word. Because you just can't rush a dead guy.

While the three of us killed time, we were approached twice by random strangers asking about our plans. The first person got out of his car and started asking questions about the provenance of the hearse. He seemed quite knowledgeable about varieties of horse drawn funerary vehicles, and we had a pleasant conversation with him. The second man was more interested in who died.

Warming up in the parking lot

While standing around waiting to rendezvous with the procession, we watched as a silver hearse drove by, and tried to flag it down. When they did not immediately flip a u-turn, Ro called dispatch and advised that they'd missed us. A few minutes later she was informed that it had been a different funeral procession, and our customer was still enroute.

Ro and Tony, waiting for our passenger to arrive


The correct deceased finally showed up, and the transfer process began. It was good for me to be there in person and observe, because if I am ever called on to work a funeral, on the job training is not necessarily the best way to go.

While Cliff assisted the pall bearers in guiding the beautiful natural light pine casket onto the rollers and into the hearse, Ro stood by Tony's head and held him steady; having a horse decide to walk off while loading a body into the back can be a Very. Bad. Thing.

Next it was determined that no one from the family wanted to ride up top with the driver (Cliff). This is an option offered to a representative of the deceased. Some do it, some decline. So Ro climbed up and rode shotgun with Cliff and I stopped traffic on the busy road so they could make a left out of the parking lot, then I kept traffic stopped while the balance of the funeral procession joined in.

I drove down to the cemetery in Ro's car, and walked across the grounds, meeting up with them in time for the pall bearers to remove the casket and proceed to the plot.

The thing about arriving in a horse drawn hearse it this: Most often it is because the deceased had some connection with horses. Whether it was that his family once owned the animal hauling the hearse, or the person loved horses, it represents an aspect of their life. Many of those in attendance took photos of their loved one's unconventional arrival, and several people wanted to pet Tony. One gentleman asked if the horse was Tony or Tom (Tony's equine brother and team mate, who passed long ago.)

After the beloved was removed, we headed back to the parking lot to pack up. On the return trip, Ro drove her car and I rode up top with Cliff. And let me tell you, it's high up there.

The Cunningham's interior

Now, anybody that knows me, also knows that I, upon learning that someone has an unusual occupation, will ask a series of questions that typically encompass the same theme.

And since the ride back took about 15 minutes, and because Cliff's done a lot of funerals, I had the opportunity to interview him about some of his experiences.

Note: The questions and answers are not verbatim. It's just a recap of our conversation;

SD: What is the weirdest thing that ever happened?

Cliff: We did a funeral where we used the buckboard instead of the hearse. Getting the casket in was difficult and it kept rolling backwards, which loosened the wheel nuts. When we finally got the casket in, we started forward, one of the wheels fell off and we dumped the casket. So we had to hurry up, lift the buckboard, put the wheel back on, tighten all the nuts and reload the casket.

SD: What was the funniest thing?

Cliff: The deceased's brother rode up top with me and kept cracking jokes the whole time. I laughed so hard that the hearse was weaving all over the road. The carriage company owner was driving behind us in her car and said it looked like I was driving drunk.

SD: And the saddest?

Cliff: A little girl 9 or 10, died in a freak accident. Her coffin was so tiny back there; it was like putting a match box in a car trunk. Very tragic.

SD: And the most memorable?

Cliff: We were in a small town out by Spanish Fork. The procession went from one end of town to the other; it was quite a distance and most of the mourners walked behind the hearse, which is customary. Little old Grandma rode up top with me and after a while I asked if she wanted to drive. She was delighted and drove the hearse for a little while, but as we got closer to the cemetery she handed back the lines and said, "Here, there are a lot of people walking around. I don't want to run any of them over, I've already killed several people that way you know…"

(And this is how it all goes back into the trailer:)

First in goes the hearse


In goes Tony


(I'd like to thank Ro and Cliff for allowing me to tag along. It was definitely a memorable experience.)


Belle's personal assistant said...

I'm surprised that Cliff did not mention when the a carriage driver died(not will driving). All of the carriage drivers walked behind the carriage in carriage attire. We had the riderless horse and had to walk through Ogden. The team that he drove often pulled the hearse, Dan and Doc, huge blonde Belgians, similar to Tony, but taller. Both horses died within a year.

I guess that that was a little before your time. I am not sure if that was before Ro's time or not.

Lisa Deon said...

He was limited to answering my questions, although earlier he and Ro talked about other funerals, like her husbands and Glens.

michelleblackler said...

Beautiful blog, my friend, wonderfully balanced, filled with 'life'

Once Upon an Equine said...

That's a beautiful hearse and this is an interesting post. I don't know if I should laugh or cry; maybe a little of both.

I absolutely hate funerals! I think I could handle them better if a big, beautiful draft horse were present. Petting such a horse would be very soothing for the attendees.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I've got a question to append...

What make of trailer is that and how long is the horse/carriage compartment? Is it steel? I'm curious because I want to take my Fjord and cart out to some training and pleasure drives. Thought I could remove the shafts and fit both pony and cart in my 2 horse slant. No way! Trailer is 6" too short. So I'll be shopping for a stock trailer that is long enough for both. And I've been advised, like you showed, that the cart should go before the horse for safety of the horse, right?

Lisa Deon said...

Dear Once Upon An Equine,

I called Ro to get the answer to your question, and since some days she has nothing better to do and is really just a paperweight with phone answering abilities she went out with her trusty tape measure (taken from the exclusive Ladies Tool Kit, which is hidden in a top secret location known only to Ladies or the men would forever be borrowing our stuff and we'd never be able to accomplish tasks like measure things ever again.)

For the a multiple carriage specialty, we use a Charmack gooseneck and we can fit 2 carriages and 2 horses in it. The trailer interior measures 30ft from the manger wall to the back, and is 7.5ft tall.

The trailer we use for a single run or the hearse is 19.5ft long from the manger wall and 7.10ft tall (we need a taller one to fit the hearse).

Both of the stock trailers are aluminum. And yes, cart or carriage in first, and use a very heavy duty ratcheting tie down strap. We shove the shafts under the vehicle. Then in goes the horse.

The photos don't show that Tony actually had enough room to move around, even if he does have an enormous ass.

UrbanAmish said...

The saddest one I worked was an infant that had passed away. The casket honestly looked like a small white styrofoam cooler in the hearse. I was helping the owner of the company and we all decided we did not want to know the particulars. I even found out if the baby was a boy or girl, age, or how they died. The entire procession walked miles behind the rig to one of the oldest black cemetaries in the county. It was very dignified and very sad. Not my idea of a good day at work, but it gave the family some comfort to have the service done this way.

Once Upon an Equine said...

Thanks Slave Driver! And tell Ro thanks for measuring! Great idea to hide the ladies tool kit. I saw a Charmack trailer at a parade this weekend. Had never heard of that make before. It was for a stagecoach team.