Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Harnesses: The Trojsters, c. 1994
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 26 in.
"The Troyster family made harnesses and saddles and did leather upholstery. Most of their work was before spring, when farmers were getting ready to plough. I used to watch them work outside in front of their house. They had little work in the winter, when they would have had to work indoors. I saw them upholster a kosetke, a chaise lounge. The filling was mostly horsehair. I don't remember if they used sea grass too. I never saw a spring mattress until I arrived in Canada. We used straw mattresses, just a few burlap bags were sewn together and filled with straw.
Every spring, the whole team went to Wlotsow, a large estate about six [check] kilometers away. The owner of the estate was a Polish nobleman by the name of Karski. Their job was to repair all the rigging made of leather, especially for the horses, and get them ready them for the spring ploughing and other work. They stayed at the estate during the week, slept in a barn, and cooked their own kosher food. They came home for the weekends. The estate was enormous, with acres of land. The estate included the sugar factory than manufactured sugar from sugar beets. Day and night for a week or two in the fall, after the harvest, wagons carrying sugar beets would pass through Apt on their way to Wlostow, Most of the sugar beets came from the west. There must have been a special district there where they raised the sugar beets. We used to chase after the wagons, sometimes stealing a couple of beets. Farmers drove their huge Holstein cattle behind the wagons. They were emaciated. Their enormous hoofs curved up in front like Arabian shoes. Their noses were gray and dry. They were just bags of bones. The farmers drove the cattle to Wlostow to eat the wytloki, the pulp left after the juice had been extracted from the sugar beets. Four to six weeks later, the cattle were driven back. They were unrecognizable--fat, beautiful shiny hides, noses black and moist, and the hooves trimmed. They were a pleasure to look at. This sugar factory used a kolejka, a narrow gauge railway, with little railroad car, to ferry freight back and forth.
The Troysters did everything that had to do with leather. For horses that pulled wagons, they made a harness, which consisted of a wood frame covered with leather. Under the harness was a protective collar padded with sea grass, or toe. The harness was called khamont in Polish. Traces attached to the sides of the harness ended in a loop, through which passed the wippletree. The wippletree was attached to the wagon with a chain. To prevent the harness from moving forward when the horse was backing up, a leather strap extended from the top of the harness, along the spine of the horse, to the tail, which passed through a thick loop at the end of this strap. Around the horse's waist was a buckled cinch. Attached to the cinch, along the flank of the horse, was a hollow sheath through which the traces passed, to avoid them chafing the horse's flank. A bridle on the horses' head supported the steel bit in its mouth. Extending back to the driver from the bridle, the reins passed through a ring on each side of the bit and then through a ring on each side of the harness. The reins were called leytsi in Polish. For steering the wagon and backing it up, the dishl, a long wooden stick, extended from the axle, to which it was attached, along the right side of the horse to beyond its head."