There is something about a wooden spoked wheel that always 
         draws me in.  Whenever I see them displayed in people's yards I 
         never accept them as the decorative symbols they are meant to be.  
         My eyes wander over them and invariably get tangled up in the 
         spokes--in the space between the spokes--and I visualize them 
         doing what they were built to do, rolling along some road, 
         individual spokes invisible in a to-and-fro blur of motion, 
         spinning rims orbiting planetary hubs, all held in place by some
         irrevocable Newtonian law.
              I first noticed this trompe d'oeil effect of the rotating 
         wheel as a boy. There was still some horsedrawn traffic around 
         then.  An old Polish man used to drive through our town in an 
         ancient spring wagon every couple of weeks.  He'd lift a battered 
         old tin horn to his lips and blow some notes that signalled the 
         local housewives to bring their hoarded newspaper, tin cans and 
         remnants of cloth, for which he'd pay them a few pennies.  We kids 
         often ran and biked beside him as he rattled along, shouting good-
         natured jests in our delight.  He would brandish his whip to keep 
         us away, afraid of running someone over.  
              Soon he'd disappear and the kids would forget about him until  
         next time--everyone but me, that is.  Those whirring spokes began 
         to haunt me in my dreams.  As well, I remembered how loud the 
         whole contraption was, much louder than a car--and, above all, how 
         it looked a lot more fun to drive.  

              As a schoolboy growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the 
         beauty of the countryside where I lived was never wasted on me.  
         Whatever the season, I always wanted to get a window seat on the 
         schoolbus and gaze at the scenery passing by, gently rolling hills 
         covered with hardwood trees, sugar maples and hickory, white oak 
         and ash, with pastures and croplands checkered in, bordered by 
         fieldstone walls and locust-rail fences.  All were interconnected 
         by a maze of narrow roads, a shrinking number of which were still 
         unpaved.  The Abingtons, as these hills were called, were like a 
         placid lagoon in the surrounding grey sea of towering Appalachian 
         swells that could seem grim and threatening even on good day.  
              The bus carried me past many farmhouses and barns on the way 
         to and from school, and I never tired of gazing at them.  Some of 
         them had been there for well over a century.  But newer houses had 
         begun to sprout like weeds in what had been the farther fields and 
         pastures.  These new homes were usually rectangular, modern, 
         soulless bungalows, irrationally called "ranch style," and 
         contrasted painfully with the older two story dwellings of earlier 
         times.  The people who lived in them seemed to have a penchant for 
         decorating their yards with artifacts from the past, mostly pieces 
         of old farm machinery.  
              Cream separators became petunia pots.  Plowshares glistened 
         with aluminum paint and supported mailboxes.  Wagon and buggy 
         wheels were yanked from their rusting axles and rendered pure 
         white, conscripted to serve as virginal icons of the pastoral 
         innocence that was disappearing from America like smoke.  
              From my seat on the schoolbus one late October day around 
         1960 I noticed one old farmstead in particular.  For just a few 
         moments as the bus rolled over the Tunkhannock Creek bridge, I 
         caught a glimpse of a lovely old house and barn just downstream.  
         They became more visible every day as the colorful autumn leaves 
         began to fall from the trees along the stream bank.  By the end of 
         the month the branches were nearly bare and I could make out the 
         most fascinating detail of all about the place: the barnyard was 
         chock full of wagons and buggies.   

              I resolved to personally investigate the situation as soon as 
         possible.  The next afternoon I stepped off the school bus at the 
         nearest stop and hurried back down the dirt road toward the 
         objects that were drawing my curiosity like lodestones.  
              It didn't take me long to meet the proprietor, Mr. Wayne 
         Thomas.  He was a tall, gaunt old character dressed in a tattered 
         tweed jacket and a sweater with burn marks on the front of it from 
         the hot coals that spilled out of his ever present pipe.  I 
         introduced myself and demanded to know if any of the buggies were 
         for sale, all in the same breath.  He said they might be, to the 
         right person and for the right price.  But he made it clear by his 
         somewhat stand-offish manner that there would be no quick deals.  
         The conversation then took a turn to the more esoteric aspects of 
         buggy fancying, and I began to learn the first of many arcane and 
timeworn details of the horse and buggy age that Mr.  
         Thomas kept alive in his memory as well his barnyard.  
              I soon discovered that the barnyard held only the overflow 
         and that the really good stuff was kept inside.  Through the open 
         door of the barn I could see spoked wheels in every corner.  Some 
         carriages even hung from the rafters.  I gaped in open-mouthed awe 
         but when I spotted the grille of an old MG-TC peeking out from 
         underneath a canvas tarp, the only automobile in sight, I couldn't 
         help blurting out, "Wow, what kind of a car is that?" 
              "Just forget you ever saw it," Mr Thomas said, and pushed the 
         door closed.  I was dying to see more but it was not to be.  He 
         would show me only the outside portion of his collection on this 
         first visit, a number of weather-worn buggies, trade carts and 
         milk wagons, most of which looked beyond the pale once I got a 
         closer look.  

              "This stick-seat surrey is a Studebaker," he said, walking 
         over to the least delapidated of the vehicles.  

             "How do you know?" I asked.  

              He snorted impatiently and pointed with his toe to a tiny 
         brass plate on the rear.  "Always look there for the maker's 
         plate," he said, "if someone hasn't stolen it." 
              When the conversation again turned to business, I hoped that 
         he would recognize me as a true kindred spirit and not just some  
         dilletante.  I was thrilled when he offered me the surrey, a 
         carriage that would suit my needs and taste, he said, for thirty-
         five dollars--an astronomical sum, but we shook on it and I 
         excused myself to go and consult with my banker.  

              My banker, who doubled as my father, was skeptical of my 
         latest obsession, as well as of our old horse Prince's suitability 
         for the task.  "That horse has never been driven, for all you 
         know," he reminded me.  
              Prince, a slender bay of indeterminate breeding, had arrived 
         at the local livestock auction in a truckload of horses sold off 
         by the Army Remount Service long before I was born.  He was picked 
         up by Doc Stone, a local vet who wanted some company for an even 
         older horse he kept around his place named "Dolly."  When Dolly 
         finally died, Doc Stone sold Prince to my parents as a companion 
         for me.  "He's old, but he's sound and gentle as a lamb," I 
         remembered him saying.  "You can do anything with him."  
              "That should include pulling a little buggy," I argued with 
         my dad, harping on and on.  
              Finally I managed to drag Dad to the Thomas farm to see the 
         wooden vehicle that was depriving me of my sleep.  Unfortunately, 
         it didn't do much for him.  Then, to make matters worse, Joe Troy, 
         who still ran a blacksmith shop in our town catering mostly to 
         the local gentry and their expensive show jumpers and hunters, 
         warned my dad off giving approval, much less financial backing to 
         my bold scheme.  
              I used to hang out at Joe's shop whenever I noticed by the 
         thick smoke pouring out of the chimney and the ringing of his 
         anvil that it was open.  It was located close to the center of 
         town.  Inside it always seemed a little short on light, possibly 
         due to the dirty windows.  The floor was wood planks except for 
         the area around the forge which was built of red brick on a 
         flagstone hearth.  Next to the forge was a coal bin heaped with 
         chunks of shiny black anthracite--the best in the world, Joe said-
         -mined nearby in deep underground excavations like the one they 
         called the China vein, a quarter of a mile wide and God kows how 
         long.  There were some tie stalls along one side and a cross-tie 
         in the center for the horse that was currently being shod.  Dozens 
         of tools and hundreds of unfinished horseshoes festooned various 
              Joe, a wiry old man in a leather apron and a soiled cloth 
         cap, always seemed to have a half-smoked cigarette between his 
         lips.  He could make up a set of shoes with anvil, forge and 
         hammer in what seemed like only a few minutes.  Then he would fit 
         them hot to the horse's trimmed hooves.  This procedure made 
         clouds of smoke that smelled like a burning mattress, but it 
         didn't seem to bother the horses too much.  Then he quenched the 
         shoes and nailed them on quickly and quietly, holding the nails in 
         his mouth as he went from foot to foot.  
              "A dangerous thing, a horse and buggy," he said to my dad one 
         day. "They tip, the horse runs away, and you're left in a pile of 
         splinters.  I've seen it happen many times.  And just spend some 
         time harnessing up in the pouring rain if you want to realize what 
         a wonderful thing the automobile is."  
              That man is a traitor to his trade, I thought.  

              My obesession only became worse in the face of these 
         setbacks, but my salvation came from an unexpected quarter.  Mr 
         Cramer, my long suffering piano teacher, noticed that I was even 
         more distracted from my lesson than usual and with some impatience 
         asked me just what in heaven's name was the matter now.  I sighed 
         and told him that I simply needed a buggy in the worst way, and to 
         my utter astonishment he told me that he had one in the barn out 
         back, and that we could go look at it as soon as I finished my 
         Hanon.  My enthusiasm (if not my technique) suddenly improved 
         noticeably and in a very few minutes I was gazing at what was to 
         be my first buggy, a gift from a desperate professor of music.  

              The thing was in far worse shape than even the rattletraps in 
         Mr Thomas's barnyard.  The leatherette top was badly ripped, the 
         shaft tips were broken, and the bottom seat cushion was gone 
         entirely.  Worst of all, pigeons had made a nest in the rafters 
         above and the entire thing was whitewashed with enough guano to 
         fertilize a small cornfield.  Still, it rolled, and it was mine.  
         When Dad refused to help me retrieve it in his pickup truck, I 
         recruited a couple of friends to provide the locomotive power to 
         drag it the mile or so from Mr Cramer's place back to our own.  

              Mr Thomas continued to be helpful although I had yet to buy 
         one of his buggies.  After one long afternoon trying 
         unsuccessfully to remove a wheel with a buggy wrench, I finally 
         made a pilgrimage to the master to seek enlightenment.  I received 
         it, and on that day learned of the existence and purpose of the 
         left hand thread on a near side axle splind.  "If it wasn't made 
         like that," said my mentor gruffly, "the damn wheel would fall off 
         before you made it out of the yard."   

              When it came time to put Prince to his new task, the dire 
         predictions of Joe Troy were far from my mind.  Had he been there 
         to witness the event, he would surely have thought his worst fears 
         were about to be realized, as my pal Dean and I blithely proceeded 
         to wrap traces around shafts and tie the loose ends of some rotten 
         old harness to the buggy wherever they fell with generous 
         applications of binder twine.  Old Prince, however, was apparently 
         as knowledgable about these things as Wayne Thomas and Joe Troy 
         put together, for when we clambered up into the rickety old 
         carriage and clucked to him, he walked quietly off and made my 
         dreams come true.  
              In a few weeks, apparently impressed with my success, my 
         formerly philistine father relented and kicked in fifteen bucks 
         for a good used harness.  He even started helping me fix up the 
         buggy in his spare time.  

              "You know, Dad," I said one day, after I noticed him letting 
         his pleasure with the task show a bit too much, "If we bought that 
         two-seater Studebaker from Mr Thomas, we could all go for a ride." 

              "Could we really?" he replied.  His tone seemed non-committal 
         but, knowing him as I did, I took a lot of encouragement from it.  
         Within a week the surrey was parked in our barn and Wayne Thomas 
         was thirty-five dollars richer.  Dad never could resist a 

              So, that American era of pastoral innocence was preserved a 
         little longer, at least in my neck of the woods.  We restored and 
         painted both carriages, old Prince supplied all the necessary 
         draught power, and spinning spokes became a common sight on the roads 
         around our place.  But eventually time caught up with me--with 
         Prince especially, I'm sorry to say--and my halcyon horse & buggy 
         days faded away.  
              Things began to unfold much faster after that, and in a 
         few years it seemed impossible that those earlier times could have 
         ever existed outside my imagination.  I drove a car like everybody 
         else, dressed according to the latest collegiate trends, and saw 
         myself taking my appointed spot in middle class America, a place 
         of privilege guaranteed by my education and background.  
              Unfortunately there was the not-so-small matter of a debt to 
         Uncle Sam that had to be paid (in return for all that fun I'd had, 
         I guess), and the interest was rather high.  When my Notice 
         to Report for Physical Examination came in the mail from the Draft 
         Board, my dad was not too encouraging.  "They only want you to 
         stop a bullet, son," he said with a seriousness I had never seen 
         in him before.  "Just hope you've got flat feet." 

              I don't remember being checked for flat feet but they looked 
         for just about everything else.  In a large group of fellows 
         around my age we were herded around the examination center and 
         prodded like so much cattle.  There was a lot of laughing and 
         joking but it did not conceal the shock and worry on our young 
         faces.  The ultimate humiliation was when we were ordered to form 
         a rank, drop our trousers, and bend over.  A ferocious top 
         sergeant barked out the detailed instructions.  "Place one hand on 
         each cheek," he said, "and spread 'em.  When the doctor taps you 
         on the back, bear down hard like you was gonna take a crap.  When 
         he taps you again, stand up straight and put yourself back 
         together.  You all got that?" 
              "All this just to stop a bullet?" I muttered.  
              "What's that?  Somebody got a question?" thundered the 
              Apparently a bad case of piles was enough to get you sent 
         home right then and there.  Unfortunately I didn't have any so I 
         started thinking about Canada instead.  Later I broached the 
         subject with my parents.  My mother was the patriotic type and she 
         took it hard.  "We'll never be able to hold our heads up around 
         here again," she lamented to my Dad.
              My dad's attitude was much different.  He was cynical about 
         all wars and the current one in particular.  He had preached this 
         idea to me since I was a boy, even taking me through a Veteran's 
         Hospital one time where he pointed out patients whose maimed and tortured bodies had been there 
         since Warld War One.  "There's the glory of war," he said.
              Now, as I was about to be called up, his worst fears were 
         to be realized.  It hurt him that my mother wouldn't see it, but 
         he stood his ground alone.  "These are bad times," he said, "and 
         they're going to get worse.  I don't like the idea, but I'd rather 
         see you a live exile than a dead war hero, anytime.  Go, and God 
         help you." 

                                      -   -   -
              When I returned with my wife and children from Canada to my 
         native Pennsylvania for a visit many years later, it seemed like I 
         had been away for more than a lifetime.  Mr Thomas was the last 
         person I expected to see after more than twenty years, but when I 
         drove down his road half expecting to find a plantation of new 
         condominiums occupying the site, there he was as if nothing had 
         changed.  And nothing had, except that his carriage collection had 
         grown considerably.  I was delighted to discover that I found it 
         more fascinating than ever.  
              We disposed of the re-introductions and pleasantries as 
         quickly as possible and got right down to what was still our 
         favorite topic of conversation.  He took us on that long-postponed 
         tour of his collection which now included a Park Drag, a C-spring 
         Victoria that had belonged to the Scranton family, a Barouche with 
         rose-colored upholstery fit for a duchess, an Irish jaunting car, 
         and various other buggies, surreys, and carts, too numerous to 
         mention.  I also learned on this occasion that Mr Thomas's old 
         farmhouse had been built by some of my ancestors who are buried on 
         the hill above the nearby village of La Plume.  
              He had a pair of horses there too, matched for their 
         easygoing temperment if not for their color.  He said he would be 
         happy to hitch them up and take us for a ride, but for the fact 
         that their feet were much in need of a farrier's attention, Joe 
         Troy having long since passed away.  I was happy to inform him 
         that the basic techniques of farrier science were some of the few 
         truly practical things I had managed to learn in the years since 
         we had seen each other, since I had become an exile in rural 
         British Columbia.  He produced the necessary tools from his vast 
         collection of artifacts, I did the job, and it remained only to 
         select which of the many carriages we would ride in.  
              We were soon careening around his farm in a convertible buggy 
         that was either a Jenny Lind or a four-passenger surrey, depending 
         on whether or not the rear seat was folded up.  Wayne's enthusiasm 
         as a carriage driver exceeded even that of the collector I knew, 
         and my white knuckles were the proof of a truly thrilling ride.  
         We promised to stay in touch and said so long.  It was a memorable 
         day for all of us.  

              On the way home I stopped by the cemetery that Wayne had 
         mentioned.  I remembered going there with my grandfather once or 
         twice many years earlier but it took me a while to find the old 
         family plot.  I did, finally, and tried to recall what Grandpa 
         might have told me about my ancestors who were buried there.  One 
         inscribed white stone with the tarnished bronze crest of the Grand 
         Army of the Republic caught my eye: Our Beloved Rexford, killed at 
         Gettysburg, July 4, 1863.   
              I returned to Pennsylvania again in 1985 to find Wayne Thomas 
         recently bereaved by the the loss of his wife who had died while 
         they were visiting England a few months before.  It was November 
         and bitterly cold.  I helped him split some firewood while we 
         discussed the ravages of time.  
              As we chatted, I realized that I finally felt like an adult 
         in his presence and not like the pesky kid I must have been that 
         first October afternoon so long ago.  I remembered the mysterious 
         old MG he didn't want to discuss or let me see, and now I couldn't 
         resist asking him outright if he still had it.  
              He stopped stacking firewood and gazed off into the distance 
         for a moment.  "Yes, it's still here," he said.  After a short 
         silence he continued.  "It belonged to my only son.  I gave it to 
         him when he graduated from Harvard in 1960.  That spring he and 
         some friends set sail out of Boston in a twelve metre yacht headed 
         for the Panama Canal.  They disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.  
         Never found so much as a splinter." 
              By the third of November, 1989, Wayne Thomas was still as 
         active as ever even though as old as the century.  Married for the 
         third time, he and his new wife were on one of his many trips to 
         the Holy Ground of all buggy nuts, Lancaster County, Pa., where 
         the un-adorned and hard-working Amish people preserve horsedrawn 
         technology with a practical philosphy bereft of any sentiments of 
         smarmy nostalgia.  There, in a tragic accident at a poorly marked 
         intersection, the ubiquitous automobile put an end to Wayne Thomas 
         with even greater finality than it had done to those horse and 
         buggy days of which he was so fond.  

              Wayne Thomas's horsedrawn vehicles were sold at auction.  
         Collectors came from all over the country to bid on everything and 
         anything in his vast collection, from the stagecoach that brought 
         forty thousand dollars to the buggy wrench that brought five.  The 
         buyers filled the local hostelries and flooded the restaurants.  I 
         read about it in a clipping my dad sent me.  "I never seen so many 
         folks just chasin' after a pile of useless junk," one neighbor, 
         was quoted as saying.  

              "By the way," my dad wrote.  "Do you want to sell the old 
         Studey?  A fellow from New York has offered us three thousand 
         dollars for it." 
              "Give me some time to think about that," I wrote back, "OK?" 

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