By Chelsea Royer
Well over a century ago, a newspaper foreman named J. E. Calder travelled from Tacoma to the budding town of Montesano. With only 75 cents in his pocket, Calder refused to spend a third of his money on a 25-cent shave at the local barber shop. As a result, he vowed never to shave again and was, for the rest of his life, trademarked by his long beard. By the 1930s, Calder had achieved the founding of the Vidette newspaper office and become the mayor of Montesano.
Calder’s life was marked by the developing newspaper and by the welcoming of President Franklin Roosevelt in front of the Montesano Post Office. After Calder’s eventful life, it is no surprise that the Vidette newspaper continues on today. But less expected is to know that Calder’s “trap” – a small, open carriage – is preserved for viewing at the Running Anvil Carriage Museum.
The Calder trap is a glimpse into the life of a very influential man who helped shape the town of Montesano. It helps you visualize what life must have been like for him during a period of quickly changing history. But the Calder trap is only one of many peeks into yesteryear within the Running Anvil Museum.
The Running Anvil has an astonishing variety of carriages, traps, historical matchbooks and paraphernalia. Most of the carriages come from Grays Harbor County such as the “Donovan Carriage” from the owner of Donovan Logging in Aberdeen, farm wagons from more remote parts of the Harbor, and enclosed carriages from doctors and vetrinarians. Each piece has a story and sometimes accompanying accessories. Resting on a wagon seat lies a gift from the renowned Indian Chief, “Sitting Bull” – a Buffalo robe seven feet square. A weathered note and photo document the robe and add yet another dimension to the history of former Grays Harbor residents.
Janet and Doug Rice, owners of the Running Anvil, have been horse people since their youths. Competing in dressage, cross country, and racing, they have also bred horses and travelled across the states. Horses are their passion and now in retirement, they’ve channelled that passion into the refurbishing of historical carriages. Some pieces they’ve discovered have needed only a little time and effort, others, they’ve received in pieces.
The Brittain Farm Wagon, for example, came out of Humptulips as a pile of old wood, metal, and a couple of wheels. Using a photo from 1970 when the wagon was in better shape, Rice was able to recreate the piece using the original metal and new lumber. Two of the wheels were also salvageable. Some of their carriages are on loan from friends, and some of them are garnished with beautiful paintings from local artists, giving new interest to an already beautiful piece.
The Rice’s began collecting carriages by fluke. Some they’ve hunted down, some have been given to them, and some have been purchased. Now after decades of collecting, the Rice’s are running out of space. One carriage house was expanded, a chicken coop was converted, and two outer buildings with plexi-glass house the carriages they couldn’t fit in the main building.
If you were to truly admire each piece and hear about the lives behind them, the tour would easily take two hours or more of your time. And the Rice’s are happy to take that space out of their day to educate people about the history and beauty of Grays Harbor County. To top off the experience, the Rice’s don’t charge a dime. By inkling or by appointment, the Rice’s cheerfully guide visitors through their outbuildings and delightfully narrate as you go along.
Exciting as the history is, there is something especially charming about the fact that many of the carriages under the Rice’s care have received a second life. Some have been used in local weddings, carting the bride and groom away behind the smooth trot of the Rice’s trained carriage horse. Others have been photographed for magazines or used in parades.
The Rice’s possess a pride and willingness to share the local history they’ve collected. Refusing to keep the antique treasures to themselves, the couple has done a beautiful job of preserving history for many generations to come. As with the story of Calder, the Rice’s provide a tangible way of relating to the lives of those gone before.
The Running Anvil Museum can be found at 445 Black Creek Road in Montesano and is open seven days a week. You can call for more information at (360) 249-3645.