Saturday, June 10, 2017

My Fireplace Decoration Efforts

Having designed (if we can call it that) several arrangements of my father's antique horse bit collection and a few other items, I took a few pictures and put the designs on a facebook poll.  I asked, you may have answered, and I ignored the entire business.

Here's my fireplace, after a couple hours frustrating labor.

Decorated Fireplace
My father's collection consisted of 60 - 70 bits, about half of which started life as everyday working bits.  Dad would have some problem with a horse, and try a different bit on her.  When that didn't work, or stopped working, he'd change up to something else.  These are the eight he selected as the best of the lot.  All are antiques dating back to the civil war era; most are civil war cavalry bits.

I intended to mount these bits using horseshoe nails, which is what Dad used at home (although I'm sure he didn't do the work - probably Jim Howald did it).  My masonry drill is one-eighth, and it should be one-sixteenth or so.  This means that the hole for the first bit is in the right place, but is too large - the horseshoe nail just falls out.  Putting two nails together back to back works quite nicely, so that's what I did.  It took me 30 to 45 minutes to come up with that solution, and that's without a shot or two of good old thought provoker.

The rifle is a .50 caliber Sharps.  It's a breech loader, and uses a paper cartridge and a separate primer cap.  You opened the action and slid a cartridge in.  The tail end of the cartridge stuck out, and was neatly trimmed off as you closed the breach, thus filling the pan with powder.  You inserted a paper cap, cocked the hammer and let fly.  If everything worked right, there would be one helluva bang and kick, followed by the noise of a dying buffalo - or Indian, or Mexican bandit, or bandit, or coyote, or something.  I've never fired it, although it certainly would shoot and I wouldn't hesitate to shoot it with black powder and light loads.

So up the bits went, and I think they look pretty good.

Mailbox Sign
The sign you see in the middle is the old wooden sign that hung right above our mailbox on Flanders Road.  My folks got it at a horse show, and it's been up there for about thirty years or more.  Probably more.  Probably a lot more, given that I'm old, cranky, and busted up, and I'm the only person living that can remember the mailbox without the sign.

Civil War Souvenir

The two decorative iron pitchers originally belonged to someone that lived somewhere along General Sherman's scenic route through the South.  You see, my father was born in Loveland, Ohio (a small town North of Cincinnati).  In this town, where everyone knew everyone else, including their personal business and proclivities, there lived an elderly man who had served as an officer with General Sherman.  If memory serves, this is the same man who shot at my (then) juvenile father and his friends for pulling some sort of Halloween prank involving pyrotechnics and fertilizer, but perhaps not.  Anyway, when Sherman marched through the South, there were certain curios and antiquities that, ah, were not too closely watched.  Blatantly, the man looted several homes.  This fellow is no relation of mine, by the way.  The relatives on my father's side were busy out West, guiding settlers' wagon trains, killing Indians, and staying out of that crazy war.  When this officer finally died, his estate was auctioned off and my grandmother bought a few items.  These decorative iron pitchers are the items I inherited.  Kind of nice, huh?  I'll probably move them elsewhere when I hang the rifle.

US Civil War Calvary Ring Bit
This is one of the more interesting bits, and one of the rarer ones.  For the uninitiated, most bits have a leather chin strap.  The purpose of the chin strap is to exert pressure on the horse's chin to make him more responsive to the signals from the rider.  The chin strap works as a class C lever, which translates into a lot of force from very little energy.  A step up from the chin strap was a length of chain, which is a good deal harsher than a leather strap.  Working in combination with the chin strap is the port, which in this case is the piece in the middle that sticks up.  The higher the port, the more force that can be exerted on the horse's mouth with less effort.  I should mention here that some horses have mouths made of iron, and unless you use a high port and a chain under the chin, they won't feel a thing when you pull on the reins.  That brings us to this rig: the ring bit.  This is, by modern standards, animal abuse.  Back in the civil war era there wasn't any such thing, the ASPCA wasn't around, and PETA wasn't even a gleam in someone's eye.  What would happen is that the iron ring took the place of the chin strap, and with the high port ensured that the slightest pressure on the reins would exert a very large amount of discomfort on the horse.  The fact is, you could easily break an animals jaw with a ring bit, so you were supposed to be careful.  This ring bit is large enough for use on a horse, which is rare.  Most are smaller, and used on mules.  That doesn't make them any less humane; it's just how they were used.

I think if anyone were caught using a ring bit today, they'd probably just be shot out of hand and the world would be a better place for it.

This next bit is an officer's bit from the US Calvary.  You can tell by the 'U.S.' engraved on the bit, complete with fancy scroll work.

Officer's Bit

US Calvary Officer's Bit
If you have to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, the way to go is to be an officer - and that's one fact that will never change.  I find this officer's bit very interesting.  Some man, during the civil war, got up in the morning, scrounged up some breakfast, made sure his pistols and rifle were loaded, then got on with the day's business of killing the enemy and praying that he didn't catch a ball in the process.  He was held in higher esteem than the mere enlisted men, and his equipment was better quality - such as this bit for his horse.

And there you have it.  My fire place, now decorated.  As I say, I'll move the pitchers somewhere else when I hang the rifle.  The rifle needs better hangers than horseshoe nails.


  1. Very cool - especially that carbine. Love the kerosene lamps too.

    Our nags always used snaffle bits - some of those things must have been used on horses with seriously hard mouths...

    1. They were. We had double bridles, and used the curb to set the horse's head. We also used curb bits without a port, or with a very small port and a loose chin strap. I can't imagine using that right bit on any horse.