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Harness Racing Vehicles by Michael P. D'Amato & Susan Green

At one time harness racing was the favorite pass time of Americans, being organized into two distinct groups the professionals of the harness track and the non professional but very passionate and dedicated persons in love with a good trotting horse or horses.

This is the first book ever to have its main focus on the vehicles for trotting. Michael is a former harness horse owner and Susan has been the project director on numerous publications for horse drawn vehicles. There really doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information available on early sulkies for harness racing, but everything that could be found has been put together in this book to make a wealth of information for researchers, historians and collectors. The four main sources of information used were the old trade journals published for carriage builders, patent records, old manufacturers catalogs, and the illustrated newspapers of the times. The first part of the book is a chronology of two-wheeled vehicles or sulkies used for harness racing. Starting with a high wheeled wooden sulky with springs in 1849 and ending with the pneumatic tired low wheeled sulkies of the 20th century, a person might wonder how such early wooden structures made it around the track at top speed. In reading through some of the early descriptions one can see that there was a lot of thought and engineering going into such vehicles, and the builders didn't always agree. As an added bonus a history along with factory illustrations is given of some of the major builders such as the Jerald Sulky Co., which is the only early company still remaining in business. Two companies in Marion, Ohio that have gone out of business are the McMurray Sulky Co. and Houghton Sulky Co.; W. S. Frazier Co., Aurora, Illinois; and others.

Following the two-wheel sulky section is a brief summary of racing with two wheeled sulkies with illustrations from the leading illustrated newspapers of the 19th century-Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and a list of the tracks in 1906.

Next is a section for four wheeled racing sulkies. Probably a forgotten fact of many now days is that harness racing used to be also conducted with four wheel racing sulkies, every bit as light as two wheeled vehicles. They never seemed to become as popular as two wheeled vehicles, but never the less they were part of harness racing history.

The last part of the book is devoted to"Road Riders" and "Speeding Wagons" as they were called in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Robert Bonner a wealthy New Yorker is the person given the most credit for starting this movement in 1862, with other prominent men such as William H. Vanderbilt and Frank Work putting this pastime in the spot light. This was not a small endeavor as large cities built special speed ways, clubs were organized, and lithographers made poster to immortalize the people and the horses. This was equivalent to our modern day sports memorabilia of cards and posters.

The book is packed full of little treasures such as a fold out of a plan for building an 1885 sulky, Currier & Ives color plates, current list of harness tracks, and an index.


What a treasure trove of useful information on the sport! This scholarly work on harness racing vehicles is very much needed. It supplies clear direction for the restorer, provides sound identification tools for almost every historic cart, wagon and sulky known. It's also a darn good read for the researcher, historian and lover of the great American sport of harness racing. This book is a winner! Gail Cunard, director, The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY.

Anyone interested in history of Harness Racing will find this a thoroughly researched treatise on the horses and racing vehicles of yesteryear compelling. A mark of 2:17 in a four-wheeled vehicle makes one wonder what those early stars would have done in our modern sulkies over our improved surfaces.

An amazing fact, new to me, was that Thoroughbred racing was thought to be the sport of unsavory characters in the early 1800's and was outlawed in New York and New England while harness racing, considered the sport of honest country people thrived.

This is a must read for those of us interested in the evolution of our sport. Robert King Milkey, DVM

Mr. D'Amato has added an entirely new chapter to the literature of harness racing. No study of the vehicles of the sport has ever come close to matching his copiously illustrated research, and this book fills a century-long void. It also will serve as a fascinating history of the evolution of the vehicles used by the light harness horse. Stanley F. Bergstein, Executive Vice President, Harness Tracks of America.

Code No. 013602, 202 pages, ISBN 9780979701306, $74.00

This item is listed under the following subjects:

Draft Animals  
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