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."
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
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
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?"
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.
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."