A Horse in Every House
by George Chevalier

During the construction automobiles were nearly non existent in the Canal Zone and horses and mules did the hauling of cargo and butts. The average worker did a hell of a lot of walking and used an excellent train service to get between towns and job sites. The top brass used gas powered small RR scooters to troop the line and inspect and these were kept in a special house by the Balboa RR Station. In later years the Oller family lived on the 2nd floor.[They had the barber shop and kiosk at the Balboa RR Station].

The old corral was located up near Chagres St. in Ancon where the horses and mules were kept and people and school children were transported around town in mule or horse draw Brakes as these conveyances were called. Local cargo and dynamite was transported by these vehicles. Horses and mules were expensive to own and maintain and Zone health regulations frowned on livestock not keep in a central place.

As roads improved and the Govt. began to use gas powered vehicles corrals slowly became motorpools and in Ancon it moved down to it's location by the Ancon RR Station. The CZ Police were the last holdouts in the use of horses and spaced around each townsite were concrete troughs that were kept filled with water for the horses.

Speed limits during construction were 8 mph in town and 15 mph outside of town and in my childhood they had gone to the dashing speeds of 15 and 25 mph and it was a big thrill when the Gamboa Road was made the one exception and I think went to 40 mph. Car ownership was not universal as most people walked or rode govt. transportation to work. Wooden houses were only a few feet off the ground and the concrete four families utilized the basement for hanging laundry to dry in rainy weather.

In the 1920's and 1930's as car ownership rose wooden cottages were raised to provide a garage underneath and separate wooden garage stalls were built to accommodate those in concrete quarters. In later years concrete houses had entrances cut through for parking under the house and most of the old wooden garage stalls were torn down.

As a small boy the Sunday excursion out to Pedro Miguel at those speeds was considered a good outing and would be the major event of the week for us kids. My last remembrance of horses in use was of Lt.Tom Foley ,a large man , making his rounds in Balboa on a beautiful police horse.

In later years when riding stables and private horse ownership sprang up it was under controlled conditions and not in the town proper. CZ roads were narrow and barely two lane and very high crowned to facilitate rain runoff so as you drove along you perpetually leaned to one side. To drive into the interior over those roads was a wild and slow but thrilling treat for us kids.

Following the completion of the Canal and up through the mid 1920's most young bachelors drove motorcycles as they were easier to get around on with the existing roads. To really impress the young ladies it was best to have a sidecar attached to your cycle and my Dad said the Indian was the best machine. They would take them to the states or buy new ones to bring back and tour the eastern US on their cycles since super highways did not appear until many years later and one could sleep out in an empty field under the stars.

George C.