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The cart. The hay wagon

Down through the years, the cart was the most correct vehicle used in the rural world in a very large area covering the whole of the Basque Country and even Spain.

Transport by cart pulled by a pair of oxen, and more generally of cows, was the traditional method for large loads of hay, manure, lime, wheat, firewood, stone or other materials before the work began mechanised with the introduction of tractors. In the southern districts of the Basque Country, carts were usually pulled by horses or mules, in which case the structure was different as the cart had two shafts between which the animal was hitched.

The rustic sled

Before the rustic sled or lera, as was reported in some locations, there was a more primitive means of transport consisting of dragging the object to be moved directly across the ground or to place it on a tree branch and branches woven into a type of bed to pull the object along on.

Thus, in Ataun (G), a very old method consisted in sliding the trunk along the bare earth. Lorra was the name given to the trunk transported in that way. The paths or sliders used for that transport were called lorbidea.

In Sara (L), treina was a branch of a very leafy tree on the floor which was used as a means of transport downhill in the upland areas in the 19th century. The fern, gorse or other items to be transported were loaded on its branches. A man would pull it along using a rope tied to the thickest part or the fork. It was also sometimes used loaded with stones and pulled by cows over arable land to flatten the ploughed land. It was then called arralda.

In Bernedo (A), a tree fork pulled by oxen was used as a sled.

In Amorebieta-Etxano (B), some farmsteads used a large tree branch with offshoots that formed a type of grid. Mown grass was placed on it to take it down the slope. They called it narra and it was dragged down.

In the Valle de Carranza (B), more primitive ways than the narra were used to transport the dried grass, consisting of piling the grass to be moved on branches. One person interviewed recalled having used oak branches for that purpose. Other trees such as the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), which was very suitable due to its many branches, were used where oak did not grow. Other smaller branches were added in the areas with holes. Branches had the advantage of not slipping as easily as the narra on the meadow’s surface and it had a better grip. The sled was not easy to use on steep slopes and the workers would act as brakes to stop it sliding against the back legs of the oxen.

Our surveys revealed the use in the past of means of transport without wheels due to the relief, as transporting loads on steep slopes using carts meant that they could turn over or knock down the animals pulling that type of transport.

The yoke

Yokes were made by a professional yoke-maker or a local craftsman to fit a certain pair of oxen. Therefore, the animals always had to be placed in the same position, as the last of each one is different and the force of the yoke is on the withers of the animals. If the oxen were changed, the yoke had to be adjusted (Elgoibar-G) so as not to injure the animals (Agurain-A) and if that did not work, a new one had to be made (Agurain-A, Beasain, Elgoibar-G). In Elgoibar, they explained that yokes would often split along the grain due to one of the animals pulling more than the other at a specific time. There would be a spare in case the usual yoke broke.

There were standard yokes for farm work and other more decorative ones to take the livestock to market, fairs and shows. That would also be the case with the other items used to decorate the livestock, such as the harness, tassels and bells, etc.

We have first included the detailed description of the ox yoke and its embellishments as Barandiaran found in Sara (L) in the 1940s:

Uztarria is the Basque name for the yoke, which in that area of Labourd, was a horn yoke, in other words was placed on the neck and attached to the horns. It was double (for two animals), with a low oxbox, burulekuak; hooks for the horns, adarroatzeak; yoke straps, kantxuak; grooves, fola, for the straps to run through; a tug pole, uztarrimuturra, and a trapezoidal central hole, urtedeziloa. It was a single piece, made out of walnut, considered the best material, of alder or ash. The yokes for oxen measured 1.3 m wide and those for cows, 1.1.m.

There were holes alongside the two inner hooks and an end of the yoke strap, called herea or hedea, was attached to each of them. The central hole was used to attach a large ring called urterea or urtedea, woven out of strips of leather, to the yoke. The tug pole of the cart of plough was attached to the ring. The front of the yoke was decorated with different engravings: crosses, flowers and, sometimes, stylised ox heads.