Ohio Haflingers Fall Ride and Drive Over the Bridge of Dreams
by Arthur Bolduc of Howard, OH
With the first frosts of autumn, the bulk of summer work is done on the farm and it’s time to take a breather and enjoy the annual spectacle of fall foliage.
You can go for an automobile ride, but it’s not that enjoyable. The Ohio Haflinger Association had a better idea: a carriage ride and drive over the back roads and byways of Knox County at the leisurely pace of the horse.
Over a dozen and a half assorted wagons and carts and at least eight riders braving uncertain weather on the 8th of October showed up for the first, but not the last, Annual Fall Haflinger Drive/Ride and Hog Roast at Brinkhaven.
Brinkhaven (also known as Gann) is a quaint little village four miles east of Danville in Knox County on Route 62. A century ago Brinkhaven was a thriving village of over 500 people. It boasted a railroad yard, a water powered flour mill on the banks of the Mohican River and was surrounded by prosperous farms that shipped their products to market over the several rail lines that passed through the village.
The village had several churches, a fine school system and a beautiful sandstone school building. Children would come in from the surrounding farms in horse drawn buggies and a few would arrive by rail on an early train that ran through the Mohican Valley, stopped at the village, and returned later in the afternoon.
The village also boasted a restaurant and bar. And since Knox County was dry and the village bordered Wayne County, the restaurant building was built astride the county line. The bar was on the Wayne County side that still respected the drinking man’s right to tip a few.
There was also a bank, a couple of general stores and a hotel. Two doctors and at least one lawyer practiced in the town. And along with a blacksmith and wagon and harness shop, a saw mill, barber and other necessary tradesmen, the village was an independent, self sustaining community.
Without the necessity of an expensive police force, a paid full time fire department, and other modern luxuries, village expenses were few and taxes were modest.
Children, both on the farms and those who resided in the village, had their chores to do, if only to care for a backyard garden, a few hens and to keep the woodbox full. Otherwise they played unregimented, pickup games of baseball, football or whatever and hunted, fished and trapped and swam in the neighboring woods and streams and never had time to become bored or had to be entertained.
Thrift and industry were respected in the community where nobody got rich, nobody starved and all enjoyed a modest prosperity in spite of the economic booms and busts that made life in the cities very insecure.
The village sent their brightest and best over to Kenyon College or even as far off as OSU, and they made their mark in the world.
Independent and self sustaining, the small farm village felt safe and secure from the filth and pollution, and the crime and corruption of the cities. The village had weathered occasional droughts, floods and hard winters, and were sure they could handle anything mother nature could deal out until late in March of 1913 a pair of severe storms dealt the Ohio Valley a one, two punch like they had never absorbed before.
When it was over the Great Flood of 1913 took a toll of over 500 dead or missing, did $300 million in damages and left the state in a shambles.
At Brinkhaven a young couple and their child were lost when the river washed away their home. Railroad beds and bridges were washed out, never to be rebuilt. The homes along a street in a low section of the village were swept away.
Many simply pulled up stakes and moved further west, but the majority dug in and rebuilt.
With the loss of railroad service and jobs, and the ensuing WW I, Brinkhaven lost much of its population and those who stayed either farmed or sought work out of town.
The thirties brought hard times to all. The last High School class graduated in ‘34 and in ‘39 the grade school closed. Students of the village were shipped off to nearby Danville.
The thirties and forties saw many small family farms deserted and absorbed into larger farms or left to grow into hardwood forest. In ‘46 the flour mill burned. Yet Brinkhaven hung on where many small farm villages in the Midwest became ghost towns.
Today Brinkhaven has a population of about 170 people, mostly commuters who work elsewhere. The beautiful sandstone school has been torn down and stores are empty and dilapidated. It’s a four mile drive for gasoline or a loaf of bread, and the only business in the village is Dick Craven’s buggy and wicker shop.
Nestled in the beautiful Mohican Valley, long time residents Norma Craven and town historian, Betty Chapman, cannot imagine a better place to live. They and most of the residents in the village had roots there. They have ancestors buried in the church yard, they have raised families in the village and are now seeing their grandchildren growing up there.
When Route 62 was rebuilt in the sixties it skirted the village over a new bridge and many thought that was the death knell for Brinkhaven. With its commercial buildings deserted and dilapidated, the dwellings in the village with its yellow brick sidewalks continued to be well kept.
Nestled along the river in the beautiful Mohican Valley, somewhat isolated, the village was still a safe and sane place in which to live.
Bypassed by speeding traffic on Route 62, only a few canoeists stopped at Brinkhaven to carry their canoes over the old mill dam and to admire the 370 foot abandoned railroad trestle that stretches high above the river on foundations that survived the flood of 1913.
I have heard it said that there were once over 30,000 miles of railroad tracks in Ohio, and there are now less than 6000 miles still in use. These tracks passed through and connected every farm community of any size, and they passed through the most beautiful, pristine woodlands and fertile farms in the state.
Abandoned and neglected, the railroad right-of-ways were soon reclaimed by the forests until a group called “Ohio Rails to Trails” found a use for them. Joggers, bicyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts in dire need of a safe place in which to pursue their sport safe from deadly highway traffic flocked to support “Ohio Rails to Trails.”
When a paved hiking and jogging trail was completed from Mt. Vernon to Danville here in Knox County, the next link was through Brinkhaven to Fredericksburg in Wayne County.
Opening a trail to Fredericksburg is an ambitious undertaking. The path has to be cleared of brush and debris, and erosion damage repaired.
The bridges present a different set of challenges. Probably no longer safe for modern locomotives, they still have a generous safety factor for horse and wagon traffic. The train rails are gone and usually a plank surface is laid to carry traffic.
The 370 foot bridge at Brinkhaven was the first to be dealt with. A solid plank road replaced the rails and ties, and a roof and half side walls covered the roadway to make the bridge the second longest covered bridge in the country.
To Melvin Troyer, the Amish contractor who built the wooden cover over the bridge, it was more than just another job that others were reluctant to tackle. The trail to Fredericksburg, a predominantly Amish community, is horse and wagon accessible. This trail will not only give local horsemen a safe place on which to drive and ride, but it will be a buggy trail to connect Amish farms between Knox and Wayne Counties. Amish on the east side of Danville already use it for a safe buggy trail into the village.
To promote community activities and give the villagers (especially the young) a place to socialize, Brinkhaven in conjunction with the Department of Conservation maintains a recreational park on the shores of the Mohican River. It has ample parking, pavilions for picnics and cookouts, baseball diamonds, horseshoe pits and even fishing in the river for the would be angler.
The village was gracious enough to be host to the Ohio Haflinger Association at the park for their drive/ride over the surrounding back roads that offer some of the finest foliage in North America (as a native New Englander, the most spectacular foliage I have ever seen was between Danville and Millersburg on Route 62). After their drive, a pork roast was scheduled at the new pavilions being erected at the park.
Park Committeeman Dick Craven and his wife, Norma, who have the buggy shop in the village, were on hand to personally welcome the Haflinger owners, all of whom are old or now new friends.
Beautiful blue skies and frost covered grass greeted the early arrivals at the park. All were well prepared with winter clothing, extra carriage blankets and thermos bottles filled with hot beverages.
After unloading, time for socializing and travel course orientation, the caravan of assorted wagons and buggies drawn by Haflinger draft ponies and escorted by Haflinger mounted out-riders (there was one renegade on a pinto pony) made its way across Route 62, under the Bridge of Dreams and down along the hardwood tree lined Mohican River into the back country south of Route 62.
I had the pleasure of riding with Lou Sutton (He won’t talk to me about Willie) who’s father runs a welding shop up near Cleveland. Engineers at heart, they experiment with all kinds of wagons, carts and assorted accessories that can be fabricated of metal. They have developed a couple of designs that have worked out quite well. Strong, not too heavy and uncluttered, (not over engineered) they made a few up for special orders, and more orders are coming in.
One of Albert Hershberger’s boys rode along to keep us out of trouble. Albert has about five boys and I can’t tell who is which. This little Al is about ten, and like his brothers and sisters, has a great personality, and a beautiful smile to go with it. Lou and I told him all kinds of lies about our daring deeds, and he was very polite, amused, and laughed at all of our sad jokes, but I know he didn’t believe a word of it.
Lou is also good company, and being solidly built, I let him do all the driving – my arms are long enough. He and his dad have about a half dozen Halfingers. The pair he drove were well conditioned and I believe could have galloped the whole sixteen miles. As it was, he was in a tug-of-war keeping them down to a fast walk and trot.
Lou likes to talk with the animals. He can bark or howl like a hound, bellow and snort like a bull and even moo like a love sick cow. His sheep imitations aren’t bad either. On one occasion he had a huge red bull charge up to the fence line from a thicket ready to do battle only to find out it was just Lou. He did a little harmonizing with a pair of coon hounds, but I didn’t recognize the tune. The cows and the sheep all talk to him, they are all his friends.
There were points on the sixteen mile course where a soft horse or team could return to the park if they tired, but all finished the near four hour drive with heads up and still on the bit. There were some tired arms, but for these versatile draft ponies, many of which earn their keep pulling manure spreaders and at other farm work, the course was no challenge.
While the ponies enjoyed the workout, the passengers in the caravan were treated to ever changing autumn scenery as they traveled through hardwood groves, sandstone cliff lined roads and out into open farm land, past remote farms where pastured horses ran along the fences neighing and plainly wanting to join the parade. The farm occupants, farmers and horse lovers, came out to view and wave to the caravan.
We met less than a half dozen motor vehicles on the course and some of those pulled over to view the sudden spectacle.
Rest stops were well planned and offered panoramic views of the surrounding autumn countryside.
The drive culminated on the “Bridge of Dreams,” the 370 foot long trestle on the old Pennsylvania Rail Road right of way that is now part of the Mohican Nature Trail from Danville to Fredericksburg. This trail from Danville is gravel and horse and wagon accessible. Although not opened all the way to Fredericksburg yet, the trail is open past Brinkhaven and over the second longest covered bridge in the country, the “Bridge of Dreams” that was dedicated in April of 1999.
The Mohican Nature Trail, one of over 65 Ohio Rails to Trails projects in the state, is the work of many people, but Bill Crawford, president of the Mohican Valley Trail Board and his staff: V.P. Bob Neiderhouser, treasurer Cindy Rhodes, secretary Mary Ridgeway, with Wanda and George Dible, Duane Mickley, Lynda Mazza and Jeremy Ridgeway, are the moving force behind the realization of the Bridge of Dreams and this trail.
With a small budget, a lot of volunteers and the desire, the impossible dream of a horse and pedestrian accessible trail from Danville to Fredericksburg is becoming a reality. It has inspired Brinkhaven and other communities along and near the trails to join in to help preserve and improve our outdoor heritage.
A few volunteers gave up the ride to stay at the Park to roast the hog and prepare the feast. It’s reassuring to know there are still women who can cook and bake from scratch and create a wonderful meal. After being out in the brisk, autumn air all morning, everybody had a good appetite and the cooks became the heroes of the day.
It was a wonderful autumn day out in the fresh air with good friends, (families), the versatile Haflinger horses, enjoying the beautiful, unspoiled Ohio countryside in full autumn color.
This whole area is a wonderful place in which to ride/drive or even hike and bike ride. The traffic is limited, and since there are a lot of Amish farms in the area, drivers are aware of horse drawn vehicle traffic. And thanks to the Mohican Valley Trail Board, the M.V.T. is a reality. But there is a lot of work to be done before the full potential of this trail will be available to the public. It all costs money, lots of it, but it’s a good investment for a large segment of our population. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to: Mohican Valley Trail Board, PO Box 90, Danville, Ohio 43014.
The 110 family member Ohio Haflinger Association (many of which have worked on the trail) are looking forward to the day when they can drive and ride all the way to Fredericksburg on the beautiful Mohican Valley – Holmes County Trail.