SI Vault
 
HOW TO KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM
Catherine Drinker Bowen
October 17, 1960
A distinguished biographer and historian discovers a Pennsylvania family that raises blooded trotters, racing pigeons, dogs by the dozen and happy children. Meet Carolus Wade and his daughter Margie (opposite) and the rest of the zestful, congenial clan at Sheedermill
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 17, 1960

How To Keep 'em Down On The Farm

A distinguished biographer and historian discovers a Pennsylvania family that raises blooded trotters, racing pigeons, dogs by the dozen and happy children. Meet Carolus Wade and his daughter Margie (opposite) and the rest of the zestful, congenial clan at Sheedermill

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Margie Wade, aged 4, sat next to me in the grandstand that day. During the races she stood on the seat, jumping up and down with excitement, her blonde pony tail bobbing. "Come on, Number One!" she screamed, to the immense delight of spectators round about. "Come on, Number One!" Margie can count to 12, usually the highest number in a harness race, and Margie learned her numbers from race programs. When lifted on a horse in the race paddock or at home, Margie talks on as unconcernedly as if she were on the ground, and is led off, still talking. Margie plays with dolls like other little girls—except that her dolls are cowgirls who live in a toy ranch house, complete with fences, stables and a corral. One afternoon at Sheedermill I came upon Margie playing with a pack of cards on the porch steps. Closer inspection showed the cards to be tote tickets. Handing me one, Margie inquired what horse I was playing. I said Number Seven and reached down imaginary money, which Margie placed in an empty cigar box by her side.

Mr. Harriman was right, it's well to start them young. Margie's next oldest sister, Dorilee, at 10 is already a skillful rider. Dorilee is a member of the 4-H Club and avid for horse shows. I watched her take her mare around the pasture at a canter, doing figure eights. In the next field the yearling trotter, Darn Y'all, was cantering freely, without a rider. Mary Irma stood with me at the fence, observing these maneuvers. To me a colt at the canter is beautiful, but Mary Irma's eye is otherwise oriented. "Watch that yearling!" she said. "In a minute he'll break into a real, struttin' trot."

The family preoccupation extends, it would seem, to their every undertaking. When David was 7 his teacher told the class to bring newspapers to school; she wanted to show her second-graders how to read headlines and find out the news. David appeared, all innocence, with a racing form. Yet where betting is concerned the Wades have an easy, come-and-go attitude that would disarm the strictest evangelist. If they win, fine. If they lose, no tears are shed.

Carolus Wade, the father of all this progeny, master of the stables and indubitable master of his household, is a man of 45. Of medium height, he has the strong hands and arms of the farming man. Level eyes are very blue against the tan of his face; dark hair, peppered with gray, is stiff in its crew cut. He wears his racing silks with an air. Orange and black they are, with four orange stars across the shoulders. Carolus Wade's father, Truman D. Wade, chosecolors that would show on a mile track. "I want to see my horses out there," Truman Wade said.

It was Truman Wade who, some 60 years ago, began this family tradition of harness racing. Father and son became law partners in West Chester. In summer Truman trucked his horses to the raceways and drove them. In autumn and winter Carolus traveled with the family dogs—pointers and setters—on field trials from Buffalo to Alabama, serving also as trials judge. Carolus did well with his dogs, notably with Sheedermill Best Bet, who in 1948 won the Middle Atlantic States Amateur Championship. At Sheedermill the house is filled with trophies—blue and red ribbons, cups and plates engraved with the names of trotting horses, field trial dogs or homing pigeons. The first cup is marked 1910, the latest one 1960. When Carolus was 4 his grandfather gave him some barn pigeons in a box. A few days later the boy went to look for them, but the birds were gone; his grandfather had let them loose. "You didn't look after them," he told the child, briefly. Not long afterward, a neighbor gave Carolus two more pigeons. The boy lugged them home in their crate—a two-mile walk—and kept them.

Truman Wade raced his trotters for nearly half a century. He died eight years ago; in Chester County his name is legend. They say he died with his shoes on, still muddy from the track, the way he used to wear them into the courtroom in the mornings. Truman Wade was a trial lawyer of the old-fashioned, fighting type, who would urge anything in defense of his clients. He tried three-quarters of the criminal cases in the county. Around West Chester courthouse he was either loved or hated. He ran for Senator one year, and his defeat was mourned: "With Wade in Washington, we'd have had somebody to stand up for our county." Truman Wade could charm a jury out of its senses: "My client comes before you, wrapped in the cloak of innocence!" Hand on heart, Truman Wade added the American flag to the cloak of innocence; his red tie blazed, his voice shook with feeling. Afterward he would seek out the opposing attorney. "Paul," he would say, "I want to go to Brandywine tomorrow to race my horse. Think we can settle this case by noontime?"

Truman Wade bought his horses at auction from Lawrence Sheppard at Hanover Shoe Farms, including the well-known brood marc, Dolores Hanover, and Maid Hanover, mother of Victor Scamp. This was before the days of parimutuel; Truman raced purely for sport. The great driver, Billy Haughton, was one of Truman Wade's early drivers, picked up at Roosevelt Raceway one day about 20 years ago when Wade needed a catch driver. Powell Peacock, the trainer, saw young Haughton drive for Wade and remarked that this looked like a promising young fellow.

At Sheedermill Farm the men are fairly silent around the house and the stables; the women do the talking. Most silent of all is Ferdinand Williams, the groom, a handsome Negro of rich dark coloring, who sports a small mustache, knows his business thoroughly, maintains a wife and three daughters in a trailer near the stables and is always addressed by the full three syllables of his first name.

At the raceways, Ferdinand wears a bright red shirt. I came to look for it in the early mornings among the trainers jogging around the tracks. Rain or shine, fast track or slogging mud, Ferdinand would be out with Victor Scamp or the 2-year-old Victoranda. When in the stables with his friends, Ferdinand's vocabulary is extensive and, I am told, unrepeatable. But with the Wade women it consisted, in my hearing, of just two sentences, brief and weighted with prophecy: "The colt looks good today." Or—barely audible—"The colt don't look good today." Upon these two pronouncements the family perforce depended each race day morning, until Carolus Wade himself turned up at the paddock.

Not that the Wade ladies are unenlightened concerning their horses. On the contrary, they know the pedigree, wins, losses, faults and virtues of every trotter Carolus has owned or bred. Wife and daughters do not hesitate to advise, either before or after a race. "Daddy, you'll be in the second tier. Watch out for a hole behind Billy Haughton.... You pushed Randy, that first half mile. Why do you have to come out in front so quick? Let the colt alone until the stretch." Carolus, a knowledgeable driver, takes it good-naturedly. He is, actually, an easy-natured man, though he holds his stables to the ruthless discipline that is necessary when a man enters the big competition. Any Sheedermill colt that cannot qualify for the trials is sold, given away, got rid of, in despite of family sentiment. At Saratoga, Goshen, Brandywine, Ocean Downs—wherever we were, and whatever we were doing—the colt was on Carolus' mind. "I'm going back to the stables," he would say. "Got to watch the colt feed, see how he's eating. Got to take the colt to the blacksmith's, think he might do better without the toe weights."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4
Related Topics
  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
David Wade 1 0 0
Carolus Wade 1 0 0
Mary Irma 1 0 0
Billy Haughton 49 0 0
Saratoga 125 0 0