Vehicle Types and Acquisition

Heavy horse exhibitors who wish to show their charges in some form of Turnout class will, unless they have been fortunate enough to have inherited one, need to go in search of an appropriate vehicle. Even now, horse-drawn vehicles are being pulled out of ancient cart sheds where they have rested since the grey Dolly, Boxer the bay or Tommy the black gelding backed them carefully into place for the last time.

Inevitably, such treasures are becoming ever rarer although they are still to be found when a horse farmer retires, a museum closes down or a family leaves after three generations on the same holding.

When such gems can be tracked down, the good news is that our grandparents and great-grandparents built things to last. We benefit from their attitude through these delightful carts and waggons, fashioned a century or more ago, which are often rediscovered in little worse condition than when they were abandoned. Their day seemed to be done, but now there is great interest in them.

Types of Vehicle

At the shows the main types of horse-drawn vehicles are the farm waggon, the farm cart, the tradesman’s dray and the rulley. To these can be added the eye-catching hermaphrodite, a combination of cart and waggon. Increasingly, a number of traditional horse-drawn agricultural implements are also seen on display, and we will discuss these in due course. For the moment, however, let us consider the defining characteristics of the main types of vehicle.


The waggon is a four-wheeled vehicle designed for transporting bulky products around the farm and further afield. Waggons frequently took sacks of corn to the nearest railway station, perhaps picking up a load of coals for the return journey. With the regional variations in terrain, soil and crop production, it is no surprise that most waggon-building counties in Britain had their own style. For example, the lowland counties, and East Anglia in particular, tended to build huge waggons to cope with the heavy crops associated with fertile, level lowlands. As there was ample grain, the horses were fed accordingly and were big, well-framed animals. However, on arable upland there are often steep banks to contend with, while on the grassy dales the slopes were unavoidable, and a lighter type of vehicle and draught animal were kept. In such areas, the animals were probably not so well fed as their lowland brethren, reducing their power still further, a point that is often overlooked. Significantly, Scotland and much of Wales used the smaller carts, rather than waggons.

There are two main types of waggon, box and bow. The box waggon was built in Yorkshire, the Eastern Counties and the South East. In lowland Wales, English designs followed the coasts and main river valleys, and could be of either bow or box design. The box waggon generally has a deep body, contrasting with the lighter timbering and more elegant curves of the bow waggon. The latter design holds sway along the north banks of the Bristol Channel, across the south Midlands and roughly south to the Isle of Wight and into the southwest peninsula.

Of all designs, the Glamorgan waggon is possibly the most elegant. It is usually a bow waggon, painted blue and salmon, with incredibly intricate and decorative ironwork. C. Fox, in Antiquity (1931), described it as possessing ‘the seemingly inevitable beauty and fitness of the last days of the sailing ships and other specialized creations which have been perfected by generations of men content to work in one tradition’.

Panelled sides are a feature of the bow waggon, with bowed raves, or rails, over the rear wheels, and a spindled aperture over each end. Frontboards and tailboards lend themselves to painted lettering and chamfering, and anyone who finds a waggon with the original inscriptions still decipherable is lucky indeed. Chamfers are shaved indentations into the various square angles of the bodywork, and were supposedly to lighten overall weight, although some professionals believe they were pure decoration. At the time of writing, a Northamptonshire waggon is undergoing restoration. Although only the turntable and undercarriage of the original vehicle remained, this bodywork has five hundred chamfers in it.

The varying designs of waggons make a fruitful field of study for the heavy horse connoisseur, whether spectator, judge, exhibitor or commentator. The turnout branch of the showing world is blessed with some excellent commentators, whose knowledge enhances our enjoyment of the summer scene.


The cart is a two-wheeled vehicle, with a wide range of makes, styles and uses. However, despite its basic versatility in traditional uses, it is designed to be driven at a walk and its appearance in the show ring is generally confined to the Agricultural class. Although it is far better to drive a cart than nothing, its disadvantage as a general driving vehicle is that, at the trot, the shafts bounce up and down in an ungainly and noisy manner, which can also be uncomfortable for the horse. Thus, at this gait, neither horse nor vehicle can be displayed to full advantage. furthermore, the cart needs loading correctly to maintain balance, a factor that does not apply to four-wheeled vehicles.

Some of these remarks do not, however, apply so readily to the light carts that have long been popular in North America, and which are increasing in popularity in Britain. These vehicles are said to have evolved from the pioneering days, when a rancher’s Wife might wish to visit a ‘neighbour’ who was, in fact, some miles away. She, incidentally, would have had to use whatever horse was available, and this would usually be the stallion, since the other horses would be out on range duties.

Yoked to a light cart developed from this era, a horse can show its action much more readily than when yoked to a waggon or a traditional, heavy farm cart. This is one reason why such carts find favour with the Americans and Canadians, who generally put more emphasis on the horse and less on the vehicle than do their British counterparts. These vehicles come from a number of makers, in a wide range of styles, but lightness, and ease of access and egress are characteristic features.

One practical advantage that any form of cart has over a four-wheeled vehicle is that the cart is cheaper and easier to transport, and many a successful exhibitor has started out with some type of single horse cart. The two-wheel tipping cart may be tipped independently of the shafts, so the horse remains harnessed while the load is tipped. In some makes it can be locked in a semi-tipping position, enabling farmyard manure to be unloaded at desired points, using a long handled fork.

The various forms of carts have accessories, which may or not be present on individual vehicles. These include Sideboards, frontboards and backboards, which slot into metal rings to add to the capacity when carting roots or manure. Shelvings are wooden frameworks resting on the cart body, which greatly augment the carrying capacity for hay, straw and sheaves. Neatly painted, all these features enhance the cart’s appearance. A great many farm carts were converted from wooden, iron-tyred wheels to pneumatic tyres. While the traditional type is preferable in the show ring, don’t let the modern ones put you off. It is far better to show a cart with modern accessories than not show at all.

One of the most pleasing two-wheeled vehicles is the Scotch corn cart. This has racks or ladders extending fore and aft of a comparatively light body, greatly increasing the size of the load of hay or corn carried. British spectators of the 19805 and 19905 will remember Mervyn Ramage’s magnificent blue roan Clydesdale, Blueprint, to one of these vehicles.

Other carts have turnip choppers attached, which slice the roots as the horse moves forward. Such devices are put out of gear, or otherwise made safe during public appearances. A bullock cart, with high solid sides and a cranked axle allowing low loading, is a real treasure, and such unusual vehicles do occur at farm and country house sales. All such vehicles add to the perpetual fascination of the heavy horse world.


The hermaphrodite is a most unusual and eye catching vehicle. It is a combination of cart and waggon, the cart being converted into a waggon by adding a pair of fore-wheels and fore-carriages. Hermaphrodites were built in the corn-growing counties of England from north Essex to Nottinghamshire, production being centred in the Eastern Counties. For most of the year these vehicles served as carts, but demand for capacious waggons during corn harvest was so great that the conversion was designed. No vehicle is more likely to catch the spectator’s or judge’s eye than a well restored hermaphrodite.

Drays and Rulleys

Seen in the brilliant Trade Turnout classes, which so enliven the summer scene, the four-wheeled dray is principally a commercial vehicle, often associated with the delivery of beer. The rulley, also called lorry or lurry, is a similar type of vehicle with more agricultural connections, and takes its place in the Agricultural class at shows.

New drays are still being built. The modern craftsmen are every bit as dedicated and skilled as in former days, so the restricting factor in acquiring one is finance. The few built in the latter years of the twentieth century cost around £8,000, so £10,000 may be a conservative estimate today Old ones also change hands for large sums.

Examining Vehicles Prior to Purchase

The budding turnout driver may hear of an old vehicle, and go along to inspect it. The rule here is: ‘Don’t try to be clever on your own’. When buying a new car, most people approach one of the professional associations or take along their own mechanic, yet too many feel that wood is altogether simpler than the inside of an engine, and trust their own knowledge without realizing their limitations. There are, however, all sorts of potential pitfalls and it is far cheaper to engage the help of a reliable professional than to buy something unsuitable or with hidden faults. The points that follow are not offered in contradiction of the advice to enlist expert help, but as examples of the pitfalls that make such help invaluable.

Although the different types of vehicle have design features peculiar to themselves, they also have a number of general features in common. Therefore, while the general points mentioned under Waggons should be borne in mind as appropriate when inspecting other vehicles, specific aspects for checking in Carts, Drays, etc. are addressed separately.


Beware of new paint. Why has the vehicle been painted? Does it cover some fault? Plastic wood is marvellous stuff, until it dries and jolts out!

Wooden wheels are subject to a host of shortcomings. They are usually in need of repair, a job beyond the scope of most amateurs, however capable they may be regarding the bodywork. Even the best of timbers will have shrunk or partially rotted with the passing years, for half a century or more has passed since most were in regular use. So be prepared for the expense of having the wheels restored.

Inspection of wheels should start with the bonds, or iron tyres. These may well be loose, which may indicate decayed timber immediately beneath them. The felloes (pronounced ‘fellies’), which are the curved wooden sections forming the outside of the wheel, usually made of beech, elm or ash, may also be loose. Each felloe takes two spokes, which are generally made of oak, and heartwood at that. Decayed timber or woodworm may occur where the spokes meet the felloes. Cracks in the paintwork between the felloes are a sign of shrinkage, as are similar signs where the spokes join the hubs or stocks. Movement caused by shrinkage where spokes meet the hub may be detected by rocking the wheel.

Hubs are normally of elm, a tough timber that does not Splinter, However, splits in the hub running from front to back may indicate a structurally unsound vehicle; such splits are termed ‘shakes’, and occur when timber dries out. Although the hub bonds prevent the hub from splitting right through, large splits can retain water and cause rotting later.

In the type of wheel known as the Warner (after its American inventor), all the spokes are in line where they are fitted into the hub. They pass through a metal bond called a cage, which becomes loose if the hub shrinks. If the paint around the edge of the cage is cracking, that is a sign of a shrunken hub. Soaking loose hubs with water does not cure them. It will expand them for a few days (and may therefore be practised by some unscrupulous character when attempting a sale), but after a few days they will be as loose as ever.

If the spokes of a wheel move in the stock, but there is no sign of movement in the joints of the felloes, this means one of two things. Either the hub was not properly seasoned, and has shrunk, or there was not enough joint between the felloes when the bond was fitted. If a new hub is needed, the whole wheel will have to be dismantled in order to fit it.

The box is the metal tube that runs through the hub and slides over the axle, acting as a bearing. It is thus an important part of the hub. Wooden wedges both inside and out hold the box in place and it is important to ensure that these are not loose.

Loose tyres or bonds can be cured, but it is a specialist job. The Wheelwright or blacksmith who has the necessary knowledge and also a bonding plate will cut out a section of the bond, re-weld and refit. Experience is also needed to determine how much metal to take out of the tyre, as this determines the amount of dish (angle of Spokes from the perpendicular) on the wheel. The smaller the bond, the greater the dish.

The shafts should be examined thoroughly -the principal reason in Waggons being to check for woodworm. Waggons are often found with pole or shafts actually missing, and the reason for their demise is that they were often slung over the rafters for safekeeping and to prevent them from being driven over by a tractor. Unfortunately these same rafters are often of softwood, which becomes attacked by woodworm. Once woodworm has entered the shafts themselves, it is usually too late for treatment; the shafts will sooner or later snap under pressure, with potentially damaging if not tragic results. However, while a severe attack makes any timber worthless, a very light infestation, caught early, may be treated with a proprietary killer. Any deposits of fine sawdust usually indicate woodworm; they occur when the grub has bored its way out, particularly in May and June.

If shafts are in place, and not wormy, it is still important to check they are the correct ones for the waggon, or at least suitable replace~ ments. Sometimes a pair from another implement has been used to replace the missing ones. If too light, they are dangerous. The actual material used is also important. English ash is a favourite for shafts, for the good reason that it does not splinter if broken and splintered shafts are a danger to both horse and man. The old carpenters and wheelwrights knew a thing or two, and to use a substitute such as larch is to invite trouble.

A metal rod running through eyelets is the most common means of joining shafts and body. These eyelets are fitted to the front of the turntable, and take a lot of strain, so much so that the rod running through them may well have become worn at the points where it runs through the eyelets. A new iron rod will be needed, one of the simpler aspects of restoration.

A less common type of fitting allows the shaft side-members to run past the outside of the turntable. The members have holes bored though them to coincide with holes bored through the outside of the turntable. A shaft connecting bar is then threaded through both. This is a very vulnerable point, and besides examining the rod, care should be taken to look out for rot or splits in the timber and enlargement of the holes.

The floor of any cart or waggon is very vulnerable to wear and damage. Floorboards may run either from front to back, or crosswise. More usually they run the length of the vehicle, so that when shovelling out the contents there are no square-on boards to snag the shovel. The boards may be of cheaper softwood, easier to replace, but really should be of hardwood, preferably elm. When laid lengthways, boards are set down between the floor runners. They rest on timbers mortised through runners along the body, called ‘keys’. These keys allow the tops of the boards to be level with the tops of the runners. If the keys are rotten or woodwormy at the ends, it is a major task to repair them, entailing virtual dismantling of the whole waggon.

Secondary flooring is often set on top of the runners for longer life. However, water may become trapped between the floors, causing rot in the outside body members. Buyers should beware of body filler used here, as it may indicate structural damage which can be very expensive. Thus, while a second floor fitted above the original and resting on it need not be too detrimental, you should be aware of it and carry out thorough checks.

Replacing side timbers can also be a costly job. This is made more difficult by the fact that, in order to remove the body members, the outside rave or side rail has to be removed, and these components are riveted together. The top member is also riveted to the bottom body member.

The tug, ridger and breeching hooks, points by which the vehicle is connected to the horse in harness, should be examined carefully, both the hooks themselves and their points of attachment requiring careful inspection.

The amount of lock needs some consideration. By this is meant the amount by which the front wheels can swivel before making contact with the body. A waggon may be ‘quarter’, ‘half’, ‘three-quarters’ or ‘full lock’. Thus a quarter-lock requires a greater turning circle than a half-lock, while the full-lock can turn tightest of all. It can turn almost in its own length, while the quarter-lock is at a disadvantage in cramped conditions. However, few of the latter are found today


When inspecting two-wheeled carts, generally look for the same points on the body as described for waggons. Although cart shafts are an integral part of the conveyance, and are not attached separately as in the case of waggons, they still require careful inspection. They must be checked carefully for signs of decay, and they may also have had pieces spliced onto them, another potential danger point.

Another highly significant point is that, when tractors took over, many a cart had its shafts sawn off and a tractor hitch fitted. Some such are now being converted back again. The first thing to remember here is that the tractor pulled them at a speed for which they were never intended, and the subsequent shaking may have affected their overall life. Also, if shafts have been refitted, they may have been bolted on top of the two stub ends of the original shafts, which not only creates a point of weakness but also alters the point of balance.

The tug, ridger and breeching hooks should be examined even more carefully on a cart than on a waggon. Whereas waggons are usually reserved for specialist jobs such as ‘leading’ (carting) hay and corn, and load deliveries, carts may be in daily use, so these hooks may be seriously worn to the point of danger.

Drays, Rulleys and Delivery Vans

For general soundness of these vehicles, the checking procedure outlined for carts and waggons should be followed. The seat is a vital part, and its soundness is paramount, otherwise it becomes an obvious hazard. However, no driver is likely to have allowed his seat to deteriorate to that degree.

Since these vehicles are used mainly for roadwork, they are usually sprung. Here is an added complication for the restorer; the condition of the springs often leaves much to be desired. Flakes of rust accumulate between the spring leaves, and bolts through the spring eyelets and spring hangers often become badly rusted and need replacing. Modern high-tensile steel bolts are the answer.

Restoring Paintwork

While major structural restoration is the province of skilled specialists, many amateurs may be inspired to undertake the restoration of paintwork. Here, preparation is at least half the battle when aiming at a professional finish. In today’s highly competitive turnout world, nothing less will do, but hours of work are needed.

As we have seen, many of the traditional horse-drawn vehicles have strong regional characteristics, and those engaged in restoration will doubtless wish to keep faith with these. In many cases, paintwork is one such characteristic: although not applicable to all regions, many have a strong tradition of painting waggons and other farm implements in certain colours. Although not exhaustive, the following examples highlight the diversity that appears throughout the English counties. Ochre red dominates in Rutland, with yellow in Shropshire, the Cotswolds and mid-Wales. Although most Dorset waggons are yellow, blue and blue-black is also featured within the county. Overall, blue is the most popular colour. Lincolnshire waggons tend to be dark greenish blue, with those Of Devon a lighter shade. Wiltshire, Herefordshire and Suffolk also favour blue, while dark brown is found in Hertfordshire, Surrey, the north-east of Hampshire, and Yorkshire. Craftsmen in Cambridgeshire, east Leicestershire and Huntingdonshire used a lighter shade of orange brown. Whilst yellow, blue and brown are the main colours in Kent and Norfolk, some vehicles from these counties are painted buff, or a stone colour.

So far as the actual restoration process goes, it is well to remember that, in the old days when these vehicles were painted, lead paint was used, and it is highly toxic. When rubbing down the old paintwork, do so outside, unless the building is really well equipped with extractor fans and the like. In all situations, always wear a mask. Remember, also, that lead paint is poisonous to cattle, which nevertheless are attracted to it, so the spoils must be disposed of safely where no animals can reach it.

Various sandpapers are needed, starting with the rough grades, and finishing with fine. Once sanding is completed, the first coat applied should be a very thin one of primer. This will seal absorbent areas and expose parts needing filler. Ask your paint supplier for a suitable filler, as it must complement the paint being used. The filler is usually dry Within 12 hours, after which a fairly coarse wet and dry paper is used. This may show up further defects, in which case more filler must be applied. A brush filler (a paint consistency material) should then be given. It is important to achieve a smooth mirror finish with the filler coats before attempting to apply an undercoat. Once the undercoat has been applied, use a very fine wet and dry paper to rub it down lightly. When satisfied with the finish (and not until then), the time has come to apply the top gloss paint. Two undercoats and one gloss coat should Suffice. Modern proprietary coach paints do not require a varnish coat to achieve that desired high-gloss finish.

The finishing touch is achieved by lining, to highlight certain features of the vehicle. Lining wheels and lining tapes can be obtained for the purpose if you are determined to do the whole job yourself. However, paint lining is a very specialized trade, with professional results seldom matched by the gifted amateur. If you attempt the task, the main thing is to avoid over-lining. Lining should be used only to highlight the chamfers and the edges of the panels, for too much spoils an otherwise excellent finish.

So far as cleaning paintwork is concerned, spray polish should never be used, as it will leave smears. Clean water and a Chamois leather suffice.

Horse-drawn Implements

In addition to the extensive range of vehicles available, a selection of horse-drawn implements with agricultural links is becoming increasingly popular in the show ring. This selection includes implements which prepared the soil for sowing, drilled it, worked in the growing crop and finally harvested it. Painstakingly restored, their display in Agricultural classes offers scope for those chiefly concerned with having fun on show day, rather than being involved in serious competition or depending on a sponsor who will be disappointed if prize tickets are not forthcoming.

The implement that will spring most readily to many minds is the plough, and its use also comes first in the seasonal cycle that follows harvest. Ploughing is universal in the preparation of arable soil, and horse-drawn ploughs were made in every British county Each had its own style according to the topography and nature of the soil. Devon, in particular, sported a huge number of ploughs designed to cope with steep banks, and any blacksmith-made ones are a prize indeed. A discerning judge in the Horse-drawn Farm Implements class will spot such a model immediately, and it will be of great interest to the many spectators who, in former days, had ties with the soil.

Historically, the advent of the railways and the spread of the banking system caused factory-made ploughs to take over from those produced locally but there was still a very wide range of styles. Ransomes are one of the best-known manufacturers, especially of match ploughs, but in the show ring the implement is not actually called upon to plough; it simply runs round on its wheels behind a pair of heavy horses with brasses gleaming and manes and tails plaited.

Ploughs suitable for the show ring are not too difficult to come by Unless you wish to take part in ploughing matches there is no need to try to seek out a match plough with its ultra-long, shining mouldboard; the ordinary wheeled plough being quite capable of show status. If possible, try to obtain one with coulters attached. The standard coulter is a bayonet-like perpendicular fitting that makes the vertical cut, while the skim coulter is a miniature plough that takes out a groove from the stubble, thereby helping to bury the straw and make a neater job.

Other types of plough are the semi-digger and the digger. These have shorter mouldboards, creating much less friction with the soil. They are used on lighter soils, and the semi-digger in particular is fairly readily found. These various forms, except the match plough, are sometimes found with a wooden frame, and since these are now quite rare, they are excellent for demonstrations and shows. At implement sales it is also worthwhile looking out for specialized designs such as ridging ploughs with their double breasts, deep diggers, and ‘one way’ balance or reversible ploughs. There are also potato-lifting ploughs with tines replacing the plough breasts, and sub-soiling ploughs. All of these may be painted up for the show ring, and the more unusual the better.

Cultivators offer almost as wide a range of designs as ploughs. One model, Martin’s general purpose, has a seat, and may be converted into a three-drill grubber or a three-furrow ridger. It is fitted with two depth-regulating levers and a tipping lever.

Horse hoes are also found in virtually infinite form. The steerage horse hoe has shafts, but most models are single row designs of expandable width, with a wheel in front only. Thus they need either a narrow sledge or extra wheels to enable them to travel on grass.

Harrows, too, occur in a wide range of types. Chain harrows are designed for grassland, and thus are suitable for display in most arenas, but other types of tined harrow need mounting on sledges if they are to appear in the show ring.

The most common rollers are of iron construction, in the form of cylinders mounted on a long axle. They are divided into sections to allow easier turning at the headlands. The Cambridge roller has a series of narrow, heavily ribbed rings, while Crosskill rollers have toothed sections. All types are good for outdoor displays.

There is also a whole range of drills to show how our forebears sowed their crops. These make suitable demonstration implements, as they may be jacked up in the transporting position to travel clear of the ground. Corn drills come in varying widths, while root drills for turnips, mangels and sugar beet are usually two-row, sometimes with small rollers to fit the ridges. Northumberland was one region where seed drills were in use by the end of the eighteenth century and, although the twenty-first century exhibitor is unlikely to come across such early models, there are a number around from the period between 1850 and 1950. Anyone painstakingly restoring and painting such models is benefiting future generations as well as present grandstand crowds.

Machines for distributing artificial fertilizers are available in great variety. Some have a centrifugal system, with rapidly revolving horizontal discs, others a cup feed like a corn drill, while there are endless chains carrying scrapers which remove the material from the hopper onto the ground. Liquid manure Spreaders comprise tanks mounted on cart frames, with perforated trays or grooved Spreaders across the back of the machine. These various fertilizer Spreaders do, however, have one grave disadvantage for the collector. The materials they hold are corrosive in the extreme, and it is highly unlikely that many will be found with working parts intact. The farmyard manure spreader is an exception, as modern designs are still being built, and these are yet another addition to this fascinating range.

After ploughing and sowing come reaping and mowing. The self-binder in its side-on transport position is heavy and cumbersome, and seldom seen on the showground, although there are no specific rules against it. The grass reaper is much more common in the ring. This consists of a framework mounted on two wheels, with suitable gearing to transmit the power from the wheels to the cutting apparatus, and a cutter bar containing a reciprocating knife. It is shown with the cutter bar in the vertical position with its guard in place, and when the driver occupies the seat the machine is well balanced.

Although single-horse mowers with shafts are made, the usual arrangement is for a pole with a horse either side. Thus harnessed, the horses can pull forwards and step sideways, but do remember that they cannot back readily as there is no breechings attachment, so try to avoid driving into a corner!

After cutting, the hay crop has to be dried. Numerous designs facilitate this, offering useful scope for the exhibitor. The hayrake with its seat, two large wheels and curved tines is a prime example, and very suitable for the implements class. Before the self-binder evolved, there was a whole range of reapers which cut the crop but then delivered it onto a platform without tying it up. A few still exist, though mostly in museums, but a self-delivery or tip reaper would be a focal point of interest.

When displaying reaping and mowing implements, or any implements with tines, safety is paramount. The cutter bar, for example, must be disconnected from the drive, and the vertical bar covered with its protective wooden shield. Imagine the worst possible scenario of a runaway and a packed crowd. Images of scythe-wheeled chariots spring to mind, and nothing of the sort must infiltrate the modern showground.



Preparing your heavy horse for showing.

Show Ring

Showing your heavy horse in the show ring.

Other Classes

Other heavy horse show classes & events.

Vehicle Types

Showing vehicle types & acquisition.

Obstacle Driving

Heavy horse obstacle driving events.

Shire Horse

Shire horse information and breed guide.


Clydesdale information and breed guide.


Suffolk information and breed guide.


Percheron information and breed guide.


Ardennes information and breed guide.


Native and working crosses information and breed guide.