In 1891, acting on a tip, an unnamed Tacoma Daily News reporter began an in-depth expose of the cost to maintain horses used for the upkeep of Tacomaâ€™s streets.Â The first person he visited was Jay Haskins, Tacomaâ€™s Superintendent of Streets.Â Mr. Haskins said that between January and early May, the city purchased feed from three different places:Â $300 worth from the Tacoma Trading Company, $322.21 from the Yakima and Tacoma Trading Company, and $45.56 from Birmingham and Tullis.Â Then the reporter asked Mr. Haskin how many horses the city had.Â And Mr. Haskin said he didnâ€™t know.Â He thought seven but went on to say that a city council man named Clinton just bought a team.Â For an exact number, he referred the reporter to Mr. Clinton.
The reporter went to Mr. Clintonâ€™s office several times but never succeeded in finding him there.Â In desperation he revisited Mr. Haskin and asked if there was a record of the cityâ€™s ownership of horses.
â€œOnly at the time theyâ€™re purchased,â€ Mr. Haskin said. â€œThat information is available at the city clerkâ€™s office.â€
At the city clerkâ€™s office, the reporter was told that the records only showed when teams were bought.Â And on April 26 the Board of Public Works purchased a team for $365.Â The clerk thought the city owned three teams.Â He suggested the reporter check with the Board of Public Works.
The reporter made an official request for the records from the Board.Â The person who responded, a man named Hodgins said he thought the city owned nine horses.
â€œI want to be sure,â€ the reporter said.
â€œWell,â€ Mr. Hodgins said, â€œinventory is only taken once a year, but I think the city owns nine horses: four teams and a cart horse.”
So the reporter went back to the Superintendent of Streets.Â â€œAre you sure the city has seven horses?â€ he asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Mr. Haskins repeated.Â â€œSometimes horses are taken out of the fire department and police department and used on the streets, but Iâ€™m pretty sure there are seven.â€
The reporter then decided to visit the city stables.Â â€œWhere are they?â€Â he asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Mr. Haskins said.
By this time, the reporter was in disbelief.Â â€œYou donâ€™t know?â€ he said.
â€œNo,â€ Mr. Haskins replied, â€œbut Mr. Clinton does.â€
The reporter found the location and on his way there ran into Harry Lillis, Tacomaâ€™s fire chief
â€œSay chief,â€ he said, â€œDo you ever let any of your horses work for the city street department?â€
â€œUnder no circumstances.â€
â€œUnder no circumstances?â€
â€œPositively, under no circumstances.”
The cityâ€™s stable was in an old barn at 512 Seventeenth Street staffed by a stable boss and at least one helper.Â The second floor was full of election paraphernalia.Â The first floor had three road carts, two buggies and several road scrapers.Â The horse stalls were in the basement and had two teams.
â€œHowâ€™s the feed?Â Got plenty?â€Â the reporter asked.Â One of the feed bins had only a measure or two of oats.
â€œEnough for a couple of days.â€
Then the reporter asked about the hay.Â â€œI see you have only four bales of about 150 pounds each.â€
â€œHow many city teams are at work, today?â€
â€œOnly one.Â They work nights.â€
â€œHow many teams are kept in this stable?â€
â€œWhere are the others?â€
â€œThatâ€™s all there is except the cart horse.â€
â€œThen the city only has five horses?â€
The reporter gestured toward a team in one of the stalls.Â â€œWell, whose team is that with the blankets on?â€
â€œThatâ€™s Mr. Clintonâ€™sâ€
â€œAnd whose is the other one?â€
â€œWell, some say itâ€™s Mr. Jamesâ€™ and some say itâ€™s the cityâ€™s, but I think itâ€™s Mr. Jamesâ€™â€
â€œDo they do city work?â€
The reporter checked a second feed bin and it was full of fresh oats. â€œThereâ€™s fresh oats here, why do you need to order more?â€
â€œThat belongs to Mr. Clinton and Mr. James.â€
â€œThen you feed their horses from this bin?â€
â€œAnd the bales of hay are theirs, also?â€
â€œSo the city is only feeding five horses?â€
â€œThatâ€™s all.Â Sometimes fire department horses are sent here to do a little work and then theyâ€™re fed, too.â€
The reporter returned to the newspaper office and called the three companies that had been selling the feed to the city.Â None of them had sold hay or grain to either Mr. James or Mr. Clinton.
He summarized his findings as follows:Â the city stable boss says the cityâ€™s street department owns five horses, the Superintendent of Streets says it owns seven horses and the Board of Public Works says it owns nine.Â From Jan. 1 until April 26, the monthly feeding charge was $548.11 or $137.02 a month.
He also worked out the charges depending on how many horses the city actually owned:Â three horses, $45.67 a month, five horses, $27.40 a month, and seven horses, $19.57 a month.Â Then he posed the question:Â can a horse be fed for $19.57 a month?
Livery stables weighed in and said that feed, bedding, water, currying, and boarding a horse ran from $22.50 to $25 a month.Â Draymen and teamsters said their monthly charges were from $13 to $18 but $15 was a good average.
Figuring in the stable bossâ€™s wages at $60 a month added $8.55 to the cost and care of each horse. That didnâ€™t include water, bedding, renting the barn and additional stable hands.Â The reporter said it would be profitable for the city to board its horses at a livery barn for $25 a month.
Of course, how much would be saved by doing this depended on how many horses were involved.Â Even if it owned nine horses, taxpayers had to pay more than a livery stable would charge.
The reporter turned all the figures over to a third City Councilman who promised to investigate.