Horse-drawn wagons once ruled the roads of Tacoma

William Blackwell began running the Tacoma Hotel in 1886, but long before that he apprenticed as a wagon builder. When the hotel needed a conveyance of some sort to meet potential guests coming by rail, Mr. Blackwell knew where to go for a good quality wagon. He ordered a hickory-wood stagecoach, painted high-gloss yellow and vermillion, from a company in Indiana at the shockingly-high cost of $1,200, and hired a man wearing full livery to drive it.

At that time, when a train pulled in to the station, wagon drivers from every hotel in town were there to meet it and quick to grab what luggage they could. Before the passengers knew what hit them, their bags had been loaded on top of a hotel’s conveyance and they were being helped inside.

The last train of the day arrived at 6:30. After passengers were delivered to the Tacoma Hotel, the city’s shining star, the driver took the coach to a wash rack where workers cleaned it and any repaired any scratches. The hotel used its horse-drawn coach for about 15 years. When automobiles came along, hotel management sold the wagon to the Tacoma Junk Company. The company stored it at its Pacific Avenue site, hoping to sell it to another hotel. Unfortunately, the other big hotels were also buying cars, and the wagon was too big for the small hotels. It sat in the junk yard until the paint faded, the wood shrunk, and the wheels nearly fell apart. In 1921, two draft horses pulled it to Wright Park to act as a Cinderella’s carriage, and then Tacoma Junk put the wagon up for sale. They asked $50. Mr. T.B. Walker of Puyallup counter-offered $15. The junk company agreed.

Mr. Walker was a woodcutter and, at the time, he was clearing land in north Puyallup. However, his home and work site were far apart, and he lost a lot of working time, particularly when it was too wet to log, going back and forth. With typical pioneer ingenuity, Mr. Walker hauled the old coach to where he was cutting wood and took out a window in the front. He made a small stove out of a milk can and hooked it up to a stovepipe that protruded through the window hole. His jerry-rigged apparatus heated the wagon, and if it rained, Mr. Walker sat inside and read.

    Back in the day, wagons, or drays as they were often called, regardless of their size and the numbers of horses required to pull them, were every bit as important as delivery trucks are now. In 1891, the Cream Laundry at 2124 A St. employed 36 men and women and had a healthy monthly payroll of $1,800. The proprietor, Mr. H.A. Durr, used a fleet of horse-drawn wagons to deliver the cleaned clothes to owners all around town. Likewise, Messrs. Grinnell and Walker used horse-drawn wagons to transport groceries, hay, grain, and feed from their two-story, framed building on Sixth and Pine.

     Down in Old Tacoma, between Carr and North 30th streets, the McKenzie Transfer Company advertised they were capable of moving heavy items such as lime, plaster, cement, brick, coal, sand, and furniture in their wagons. Milton Hock, owner of the Ideal Tea Company at 927-29 Tacoma Avenue, about where the County-City Building is, and the management of the Eggers Fish Co., located at the City Dock near the foot of South 15th Street, also made deliveries but in smaller conveyances. 

    Until Prohibition, the Pacific Brewing and Malting Company located between Jefferson and C (Broadway) Streets on South 25th was one of Washington’s largest breweries. Like other breweries, it transported beer in cases loaded on horse-drawn wagons. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, and to celebrate, the Budweiser Company created its famous team of Clydesdale horses. A year later, the team delivered cases to the Tacoma Hotel.

     In 1903, German emigrant Thomas C. Carstens established Carstens Bros. Packing Company on three and three-quarters acres at 1623 East J St. Two years later, the company bought land from the Northern Pacific Railroad and expanded to 15 acres. This provided room for the thousands of beef cattle, hogs, and sheep shipped in for processing. Within five years, Carstens was slaughtering 150 cattle, 400 sheep and 300 hogs daily. With true waste-not-want-not, the company built a glue factory, tannery facility and fertilizer plant to make use of its animal by-products. In 1947, when a delegation of businessmen came to town from Hawaii, they were shown the sights from the horse-drawn Carstens Meat Wagon.

     However, not every Tacoma resident was enamored with these horse-drawn vehicles. According to a Dec. 14, 1912 Tacoma Times article, Mr. Nicholas Decker was suing the Tacoma Rail and Power Company for $10,000 in damages because while riding in one of their wagons, it tipped over and threw him out and onto the brick road. Five days later, Mr. Decker was awarded $3,000 in damages, but the paper no longer cared much. It awarded the story about an inch and a half space. Two Tacoma women were bitten by rabid dogs, and that was the new headline.