The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 30, 2000


New Life for an Old Hearse at Old Home Day

On a hot summer afternoon a small crowd gathered to undertake the ultimate act of optimism. They hoped to match the 1865 Carlisle town hearse to the Burnhams' horse team rigging. Would the springs spring? Would the wheels roll? Would all the bits and pieces be there?

Purchased from the town in the 1950s by Bill Clark, Jr. and refurbished, the hearse was resurrected again for last year's Old Home Day parade, after a thorough cleaning by Charlie Forsberg. Not sure of its roadworthiness, it made its parade journey on Grant Wilson's flatbed trailer.

This year the Carlisle Historical Society decided to go for broke, bringing in a horse team with the accompanying expertise of owners Jim and Nancy Burnham of Chelmsford. The Burnhams were affiliated with the Old North Bridge Pony Club for many years and lease the team for all manner of pulling events.

The team is matched Norwegian Fjord Horses, which are descendants of the ancent Perwalski line, notable for the tiger stripes and ridge of darker hair running the length of the back. Both geldings, Jory is 11 years old and Bjart is 12.

The parade will be this horse teams' second recent appearance in Carlisle. They pulled the hay rides at the Great Brook Farm State Park's 25th anniversary celebration. With the recent completion of reams of paperwork, they will be offering hay rides regularly at the park on weekend afternoons in the summer and autumn.

Jim Burnham inspected the rig and thought it to be roadworthy with all pieces present. This trial run, with horses, would be the true test. Jim Davis and the historical society team applied liberal doses of axle grease where the axles thread through the wheel hubs. Runners were slipped into their sockets. The Burnhams laid a web of about a thousand pieces of tack around the houses. Each horse's tack attached to an ingenious pivoting rig that allowed the hearse to move smoothly even if the horses moved independently.

Charlie Forsberg, Jim Davis and Lawrence Sorli entered into a debate over whose would be the privilege of being the first "up-top" passenger. Davis won, claiming he was oldest. The others gracefully bowed out. The honor of passenger was a dubious one. The brakeless hearse had not been pulled and the wheels had not rolled in a decade. The test track was the Sorlis' new-mown hayfield on the far-side of Route 225. It was reportedly free of woodchuck holes, but still was a field, au naturel. Would the hearse survive?

In a pre-test-run, Jim Burnham put the horses through their paces near the barn: back, right, left, whoa! Nothing fell apart. Up climbed Davis and the rig

headed for the road crossing. The assembled crowd stepped onto the road to stop traffic, joking, secure in the knowledge that a hearse was close at hand to take them to their final resting place if the traffic failed to stop.

Gently at first, then with increasing speed, the hearse circled the Sorli field. Nothing broke; nothing fell off. Then, pop! the hearse's back door swung open. Luckily, a junior attendee's request to ride in the back had fallen on deaf ears, so no passenger came rolling out of the business end of the hearse.

The test run was a success, as was the second street crossing, now attempted during rush hour. (Is it bad luck to have a horse-drawn hearse cross your path as you commute home from the office?)

You can see the horse-drawn hearse at the Old Home Day parade on July 4. The parade starts at 10 a.m. Observers are asked to remember basic horse safety. Although the Burnhams' team is gentle and experienced, they are still horses. They could be startled by fast movement or loud noises. Be gentle and wise and have a fun day.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito