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Big Hitch Horsepower
 By Winniefield Park   •   27th Jan 2017   •   1,148 views   •   0 comments


From chainsaws and lawn mowers, to transport trucks and train engines, the measure of strength and speed is horsepower. Horsepower is probably the best known measurement of power. The term horsepower was coined in the late 1700s by a Scottish engineer named James Watt. Horsepower was used to compare the power of steam engines to the power of a draft horse, which were the primary mode of power and transport. Back then, horsepower was calculated as the effort required to lift 75 kilograms, 1 meter high in one second (or 165 lbs, the weight of an average human back then, 39.3701 inches in one second). This calculation could be translated into ‘watts’ which are named for that same engineer. Since then, there have developed many versions of how horsepower is measured.

While you can engineer a larger machine to provide you with more mechanical horsepower, the only way you can add to a real horse’s horsepower is to add another horse. Often one or two horses were sufficient for pulling the family to church or their produce to market. But, there were times when a lot more horsepower was required. Four or more horse hitches were fairly common, and eight horse hitches were often used for tilling fields. But, for bigger jobs, bigger hitches were used.

One of the most famous teams are the Budweiser Clydesdales. The Budweiser team is famous around the world for its eight horse hitch like those that would have been used to move the large beer wagons and ingredients for the brew. These bigger teams didn’t necessarily get the job done faster, especially in the fields. A report from the corn belt in 1933 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that it took about the same amount of time to till an acre of land no matter the size of the team.

“Big hitches” however have almost become the stuff of legend. Big hitches of 20 or more horses were used to pull large loads like grain wagons, or field tilling implements. Where streets were windy and narrow, or fields very hilly and difficult to navigate, big hitches wouldn’t have been effective. But, in the open fields and on the quiet rural roads of North America’s midwest, big hitches were more common.

Perhaps one of the more well known big hitches is the 20 mule team that’s pictured on those green borax boxes hiding in many laundry rooms. Before a railroad line was built into the Death Valley California mine to transport borax out, teams like the one depicted on the box were used to transport the mineral to the nearest railway.

In 1925, a teamster named Slim Moorhouse drove a team of thirty-six horses pulling ten wagon loads of grain. That would be (according to my math) 42 ton, plus the weight of the vehicles themselves. Moorhouse was motivated by the fact that trucks were not yet reliable and he’d be able to cash in on getting grain from farmer to railway faster. Moorhouse handled the driving lines himself, but alongside were a brakeman, and an extra driver. Outriders also rode with the team to help with control. His first big hitches started with twenty mules. By the time he drove the thirty-six horse hitch, he was doing it for publicity. Shortly after, Moorhouse quit the freight hauling business.

Since those days of the big hitch, there have been teamsters trying to exceed records. Today, the official record, according to Guiness Book, is held by Willard McWilliams for a fifty horse hitch. As part of his hometown’s 50th Fall Fair celebration, the team was driven two miles through the town of Navan, Ontario. To commemorate the event, the town of Navan erected statues of the two lead horses and the wagon used in the original fifty-horse hitch is still used, albeit with a much smaller team, for special occasions.

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