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DRIVING VEHICLES

Our horses were bred to pull the Gypsy’s vardos and flat carts throughout the British Isles, so it is only fitting that we have been able to obtain proper Gypsy vehicles for them!  We are pleased that we have been able to preserve another part of the Irish culture in the form of traditional Gypsy driving vehicles.  In addition, we have acquired other vehicles - both antique and modern - to showcase the driving skills of our horses.

The Bowtop Wagon

 

In early 2006, we imported a restored antique Irish Gypsy vardo or living wagon from Ireland for our horses to pull in parades and shows.  This wagon is an example of the "open lot" style of canvas bowtop wagon, which dates back to the 1930's.  (If our wagon had a solid front door instead of canvas drapes, it would have been called a "windows and doors" wagon.)  Our wagon was lovingly restored by a “settled” Irish Gypsy (or Traveler as they prefer to be called).  He had been born in a similar wagon, and wanted to go back on the road again after he had retired.  He purchased and rebuilt the "unders", remade the bows and the interior cabinets and installed the fabric headliners inside the stretched canvas top.  He also installed an original cast iron "Queenie" stove.  These little stoves could burn a lump of turf (peat), coal or charcoal, and provided just enough heat to take the chill off the wagon or to boil water for tea.  (The Gypsies generally cooked their meals over open campfires.) 

After restoration, our wagon was then painted by the renowned English Gypsy painter Thomas Stephenson - it was probably one of the last wagons that he painted.  The wagon was shipped back to Ireland for the finishing touches, but the owner suddenly died before he was able to go back on the road again in his restored vardo.  While it is unfortunate that the retired Traveler was unable to relive his youth in the wagon, it is fortunate for the rest of us that he had not actually lived in his wagon.  Gypsy custom requires that any wagon which is being lived in at the time of its owner's death be burned at his funeral (it is considered to be extremely bad luck to live in such a wagon - better that it be burned!).  We purchased our wagon from Myles Cash, whose family has been horse breeders and dealers in the midlands region of Ireland for seven generations, and has extensive contacts with the Travelers in both England and Ireland.  It is our privilege and our responsibility to care for and preserve this import bit of Irish history! 

We have driven this bowtop in St. Patrick’s Day parades and it has been displayed throughout the US at Equine Affaires and Celtic festivals.

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Bowtop Wagon.


The Gypsy Flat Cart

   

In 2007 we purchased a Gypsy flat cart from England.  Unlike the Irish Gypsy vardos  or living wagons, these carts are primarily work vehicles, originally used by the Gypsies to take their merchandise for sale into the villages.  In more recent times, they were used as the Gypsy equivalent of a pick-up truck!  The typical cart was about 5 feet wide by 8 feet long, mounted on a single axle with iron-rimmed wooden wheels, and was pulled by a single horse.  Our cart, built in the early 1960’s, was probably used to haul scrap metal to the dealer’s scrap yard.  Following restoration work, the cart was shipped to us in the Summer of 2008.  Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged during shipping, and has taken a great deal of time and expense to repair it.  We recently took delivery of the cart after new shafts and axle case were installed, and are waiting for repairs to the wheels.  Our friend Brian Oliver at Paxton Signs did a magnificent job repairing the damaged scroll work and painting a new Gypsy horse portrait for the rein board.  Calvin Gingerich at Wana Wheels recently finished rebuilding the wheels, and Charlie installed them on the flat cart and hitched Nuala to it for the first time just before Christmas, 2009! We are very pleased that Charlie was able to drive Leannan and the flat cart at the 2010 Continental Divide Horse Show where they took the blue ribbon in the Traditional Vehicles Class!

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Gypsy Flat Cart.
 

The 1914 Burton Wagon

  

Our most recent acquisition is a Burton or Showman style of Gypsy wagon, built in England in 1914.  To our knowledge, it is one of only two wagons of its type in the U.S.  This wagon, which stands over 11 feet tall and weighs about 2,500 pounds, has been “restored” several times during its rich history - most recently by Frankland & Son of Thatcham, England in 1981. It was purchased by an American who saw it at an English Gypsy fair (perhaps Appleby Fair?) and brought it back to the States in the mid-1980’s.  After a brief period of use, it has languished in storage while passing through the hands of several owners.  Regrettably, it has suffered extensive damage to the exterior paint, as well as some structural damage.  We found it at an antique dealer in Oregon (yes - you can find anything on E-bay!) and brought it home to the Irish Rose.

We have started doing our research so that we can restore this fine old wagon to its original condition, a process that may take 3-4 years to do properly.  We have been working with John Barker and Peter Ingram of Buckinghamshire, England, collectors and noted authorities on restoration of Romany Gypsy vehicles, to try to identify the builder of this vardo.  They have tentatively identified F. J. Thomas of Chertsey, England as the builder - making this a very rare vardo indeed! The wheels have been rebuilt by a master wheelwright (Calvin Gingerich of Wana Wheels), and are awaiting repainting and decoration.   After making the necessary repairs to the woodwork and rebuilding missing pieces of the interior cabinetry and furnishings, we will repair or replace the roof to make it weather-tight again.  Next, we will completely strip the exterior surfaces down to bare wood before applying a special primer.  We will repaint the exterior and interior using the correct period colors and design motifs, including the extensive use of gold leaf.  (From the primer to the top coat of varnish, there are 8 layers in the finish, before the decorations is applied!) 

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Burton wagon.
 

The Irish Jaunting Car

 

We recently acquired an authentic Irish jaunting car to show off the flashy movement of these horses - 'tis a grand sight to see all the hair flying when they trot!  This type of vehicle dates back to the mid 1800's and was a common means of transportation, especially in the big cities such as Dublin, Cork and Shannon.  Each side of the cart dropped down, and could seat two passengers, who faced outward (away from the wheels).  These carts are still common in Ireland today, particularly in tourist areas, such as the Ring of Kerry, where you can experience a "jaunt" behind a handsome Gypsy horse.   We believe our cart was originally imported by an Irish fraternal organization, and was used extensively in parades - after a bit of restoration and a new paint job, we plan to do the same!!

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Jaunting Car.
 

The 1908 Brewster Governess Cart

  

We bought a vintage 1908 Brewster governess cart (also called a tub trap) in 2008 for use in non-Gypsy driving events and turn-out classes. These carts were common in Europe, the U.S and the British Isles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Brewster was one of the top makers of fine carriages in the US, and except for the carriage lamps, this vehicle remains in original condition!  This type of cart was typically used by the governess to take her charges for drives around the estate or into the village, being light enough for a lady to handle, and yet safe enough to transport the master’s children without tipping over!  The horses were generally driven in breast-strap style harness rather than collar and hames type harness used for the heavier Gypsy wagons. We plan to use some of our lovely smaller mares such as Roisin and Lisdoonvarnna to pull this cart.

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Governess Cart.
 

The  Spindle-back Gig

For those occasions where we can’t use one of our restored antique vehicles, such as in horse shows and driving events, we have acquired a lovely spindle-back gig made by Martin’s Buggy Shop in Nappanee, IN.  It is styled after the English Standhope gig, and makes a fine presentation vehicle for use in the open driving classes. Please visit the Photo Gallery to see pictures of Nuala training on the Gig and pulling it in the 2010 Fort Collins St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Please Click Here to go to the Photo Gallery to see more pictures of the Spindle-Back Gig


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