My father used to talk about how his father, William Colbert, drove a coal wagon pulled by a team of big work horses. Grandpa worked for Burns Brothers Coal Company at their place on the Hudson River and 135th Street. When he finished his route he would stop by the house to pick up my father and my Uncle Joe who were pretty young at the time. They would go back to the stable and help him unhitch the horses and feed and groom them.
My great grandfather, John Colbert, was also a teamster. He worked for his brother in law, George Grossman. From what I can tell, they not only delivered coal, but supplied horses and drivers for a variety of heavy work. A few years after George died his wife closed the business and sold all the equipment. The advertisement gives an idea of the kind of equipment they had. I suspect that my grandfather worked for the George Grossman Company too until it closed.
My grandfather loved the horses and the way they could pull a heavy load of coal up the steep hills of upper Manhattan. He was not happy when his employer Burns Brothers Coal Company decided to convert to motorized trucks. The story is that he told them to call him when they came to their senses and brought the horses back. Needless to say, they never did.
Grandpa was not a very big man. When he registered for the draft in 1942 he gave his height as 5′ 7″. He would have been dwarfed by the work horses he drove.
Yesterday, I went to the Dutchess County Fair to see some draft horses for myself. No wonder Grandpa loved them. They are huge, beautiful, and powerful. It’s hard to tell from a picture just how big they are. Seeing them up close and watching them I realized why grandpa loved the horses and why he had such confidence that the team he drove could and would pull anything.
Unfortunately for Grandpa, Burns Brothers started to buy motorized trucks as early as 1913 and by the 1920s the horses were gone.