The Jerk Line


The Jerk Line

Reading a book this weekend about moving freight in the old west. For this post, the old west would be after people started to build new towns and cities but the highways and railroads were not yet there. General stores had supplies available to these new settlers. Televisions shows, Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prarie, come to mind featured general stores. But before roads and trains how did all those supplies get there? Jerk Lines.
Army Sutler's Stores relied on Teamsters to bring in Freight 
Jerk Line is an old time term used by freighters who hauled supplies in huge wagons pulled by impressive teams of horses or mules. These freight wagons were pulled by teams of six or eight and on some occasions up to twenty animals. I would guess that Hollywood’s portrayal of only two and four horse teams is because no one can any longer handle a Jerk Line.

The wagon driver had his hands full of lines or reigns and beside him was a long wooden brake. The brake had a rope tied to it and when he jerked the rope he was able to slow and eventually stop the wagon. Thus the term Jerk Line. When he jerked the line, the wagon stopped.
There is an old time photo of a wagon being pulled by a twenty horse team. The wagon, reportedly, was loaded with eighty, 500-pound bags of wool, an impressive, 20 ton.  


At times, the term Jerk Line referred to a single rope that ran from the front of the hitch to the driver. The front or jerk horse, usually on the right, controlled the rig, going right or left according to one or two jerks on the line. In days of old when the great teamster, jerk lines came to town, often traveling in groups of a dozen or more, townspeople would go outside to watch, it must have been quite a spectacle.


In today’s vernacular, being jerked around by someone is a reminder of these old wagon freighters. 
A nice walk takes care most everything
Post a Comment