Bennett buggies a Prairie hallmark in the ’30s
Although the Bennett buggy is one of the most identifiable symbols of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the concept actually originated in the 1920s. A Bennett buggy is simply a horse-drawn car.
T he name came from Richard Bedford Bennett, who served as Canada’s prime minister from 1930 to 1935, when the country was going through the worst part of the Depression. Although Bennett buggies were found right across Canada, they were most common on the Prairies.
After the prosperity of the 1920s, people who couldn’t afford gas for their vehicles hitched horses or oxen to their cars and called them Bennett buggies to mock the prime minister who had been elected on a promise of bringing an end to the Depression. Bennett was often perceived as unaware and unresponsive to the economic problems facing Canadians.
There were also Anderson carts — derisively named after Saskatchewan premier J.T.M. Anderson, who served from 1929 to 1934. An Anderson cart is essentially a compact Bennett buggy, with just two wheels, created by cutting a Bennett buggy in half. And in the U.S., horse-drawn cars were called Hoover wagons after president Herbert Hoover.
When people could not afford gasoline, they would hitch a horse or two to their front of the car. Often the motor was removed to make a Bennett buggy lighter.
Bennett buggies were not used only as replacements for the family car. Variations could be found in the form of trucks to haul such things as milk or lumber. There was even a Bennett buggy used as a fire truck.
It’s the only vehicle named after a prime minister. After all, there was never a Martinmobile or a Harper hauler.
Although associated with the Dirty Thirties, the first horse-drawn cars were actually built in 1924, right here in Saskatchewan. Even back in the Roaring Twenties, some farmers were interested in converting their worn-out automobile into a horse-drawn buggy.
As the Leader-Post reported on Aug. 13, 1936: “Many in Saskatchewan believe the ‘Bennett Buggy’ came into existence during the Depression about 1931, but at that time that common means of transportation Saskatchewan had been in vogue for seven years. The originator of the ‘Bennett Buggy’ is Andy Goodhope, well-known farmer and mechanic living about 22 miles south of Piatpot on the main line of the C.P.R. west, and the first model came out in 1924.
"Since that time Mr. Goodhope has built 124 of the buggies and is always ready to turn the chassis of any outworn car into something useful when given a contract so to do. Mr. Goodhope was forced, through circumstances and climatic condition around the Cypress Hills, to seek means of making money for his family, other than wheat raising and livestock producing. He rigged up a machine shop on his farmstead, and started making buggies. Soon his neighbours were buying them, others imitating him, but he kept right on making the buggies, and the vehicles became popular.”
The article goes on to say that the innovative Goodhope built, for himself, a Bennett buggy with a single bed fitted in the rear — sort of a Bennett buggy RV.
Behind his Bennett buggy sleeper, the creative Goodhope also hauled a trailer that included a sawmill, powered by an engine from a 1914 automobile and connected to a pulley, shaft and circular saw. Although gasoline was used to power the motor used for this travelling sawmill, Goodhope’s Bennett buggy and trailer were pulled by oxen. He would go from town to town and cut wood in order to earn money.
The Leader-Post also said: “Mr. Goodhope is one of those men who have consistently refused public assistance, though he could easily have obtained it. He says he can produce his own living as well as that of his family, and does not believe in the ‘doling out’ system. He avers it makes people lazy, thriftless and makes them lose the initiative to build themselves a home in a country where even crop failures need not put everybody on relief.”
So the next time you hear someone talking about the Bennett buggies of the 1930s, you can mention that the concept actually started in 1924, thanks to Andy Goodhope of the Piapot region.