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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
Collected and posted by RITA
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contributed by  RITA
Written from the childhood memories of Catherine Holl Philippi (1888-1965) - town of How, Oconto County, WI

."We'll Be There With Bells On!".

Years ago, once snow had a good covering on the ground, people used horse drawn sleds and sleighs. The rural roads were not plowed and the runners of these vehicles left ruts to be followed in the deep snow cover. Many folks walked to their destinations and used the ruts as "the path of least resistance" to follow. Since these pedestrians were bundled up from head to toe against the cold, it was impossible for them to hear a sleigh coming until it was on top of them. The snow cushioned the hoof beats and made the runners almost silent. Drivers and riders in these open vehicles got the full brunt of the wind and cold in their faces, making visibility dicey at best; nonexistant in the dark. Consequently, the foot traveler was at great risk of mortal injury. Bells, hand wrought by local blacksmiths,  were attached to the harnesses and leather trappings so the walkers hear them coming and could quickly "get out of their rut", before being run over.

Since each bell was slightly different in shape and size, it had it's own sound. Putting a set together meant that each person's horse harness had it's own distinctive sound and rhythm with the horses movements. People would know long before seeing them, who was coming down the lane. Inhabitants living in roadside homes could tell who was passing and in what direction they were going without looking. They also knew when there was a stranger in the vicinity or someone was using new harnesses. "Yah, I heard Jake going to town mid afternoon today, he was in no hurry". And if company was coming, they would say "We'll be there with bells on" so you knew, even in the dark,  when they were coming down the lane and could meet them at the door with a smile and hug.

Everyone in the sleigh was covered with blankets or fur hides to keep warm. Sleighs were not often very roomy so it was close quarters, but added to the warmth. Quarry stones that were cut into squares or rectangles were set against the wood stove several hours in advance of a planned trip. Once heated, these were used as footwarmers on the trip, tucked in front of the seat, just behind the part of the sleigh that curled up to block snow kicked off the horse's hooves. That is also where the smallest children were nestled; sitting up front, behind the sleigh front, on the adult's feet which were on the warmer stones, under the blankets and hides. Sometimes even under the seat itself. Snug and warm, you could get a load of them in there, along with a few little gifts and some "dishes" of food. Once at their destination, the blankets were pulled off and out would tumble the giggling cargo. Older children were to bring in the footstones to place by the stove until it was time to go home. If they forgot, everyone got home "stone cold and sober".