August 2006
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Collecting, Building Wagons a Pleasure for Randall Cox

 
  In their carriage complete with lights powered by a 12-volt battery, three generations of Cox’s family can continue riding even after the sunsets. Along for the ride with the Coxes and their grandchildren are daughters Jennifer and Lyndsay.
by Kellie Henderson

Retired poultry farmer Randall Ray (Razor) Cox of Crenshaw County jokes that he’s been thinking lately about re-joining the work force.

"With gas prices so high, me and Rex and Randy may have to start a taxi service," Razor says, and as long as no one is in too much of a hurry, that might make for a pleasant trip.

Randy and Rex are two Standardbred geldings that belong to Razor Cox, and they can be seen along the south Alabama landscape pulling Razor and some of his family on a leisurely carriage ride.

"Some people have motorboats or motorcycles, and I don’t knock what anybody else does for fun, but I enjoy horses. It’s a way to forget everything and feel peaceful, like any other hobby people take up to relax," he says.

Reared by his grandparents and an aunt and uncle who were sharecroppers, Cox and his family plowed with mules and oxen.

"We didn’t have a tractor on the farm, so we had the livestock for work. I can’t remember a time I didn’t have horses and mules," he says.

Cox says his family also had a buggy when he was a youngster, but it was nothing like the pieces in his collection today. "My worst one now would have been the best we had when I was a child," he says.

 
Razor and Carol Cox of Crenshaw County are proud to offer twin grandchildren John Randall and Josie Knighten the simple pleasure of a horse and carriage ride.  
From the stories he tells, it sounds like his stock might have improved over the years as well. "The first mule I ever had I bought on halves with my brother. We picked peas and worked all summer for the $25, $12.50 a piece, that mule cost us. On our way home, I told my brother we should stop and buy a sack of feed. He told me the front half of the mule was mine, so I was responsible for feeding him. We bought a new bridle and clipped his hair, and about three days after we had worked enough to have him paid for, the thing died. My brother never did give me any money for his feed," he joked.

Today, Cox’s stable includes two Standardbred buggy horses, two Quarter Horses for horseback riding, and one Belgian. His collection of livestock-powered transportation runs the gamut including a two-wheeled road cart, a carriage, a buckboard, three buggies, four two-horse wagons and a chuck wagon fully outfitted for cooking.

 
  Cox says his fully-equipped chuck wagon is stocked with everything he needs for campfire cooking.
"I haven’t pulled it off anywhere to cook on it yet, but I intend to. The chuck wagon’s ready when I am," he says.

Cox says there are more buggy and wagon collectors out there than people might think. "I’m a member of the National Buggy Association, and there are enough sales for this type of equipment I could drive to one just about every day if I had the money. It’s a lot like antique tractor collecting. There are a lot of collectors out there; and if I wanted to, I could probably sell my collection quickly. However, finding someone who understands their value is a little harder. People like them and can see they’re pretty, but don’t know much about their history," he says.

And he says that even though there are companies out there still making wagons and the parts for those who want to build their own, he’s found a simpler alternative.

"Anything these big companies make, I can order it more reasonably from the Amish. From something as small as a replacement part, to a $15,000 stagecoach, they still make some of the most beautiful and practical things you’ll ever see," he says.

Cox has traded extensively with the Amish over the years, even furnishing his home with many pieces handcrafted by these artisans.

"I worked construction for a while and was in Tennessee on a job. I talked a buddy of mine into going to a horse sale with me around my daughter’s twelfth birthday to see if I could find a horse for her. At the sale I saw these men who looked like Abraham Lincoln and dressed like Johnny Cash. I had never seen anything like them before," says Cox.

Since that time he has learned quite a bit about their lives and culture, traveling numerous times to their communities in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio - home to the largest Amish community in the world.

"The first time I went to Holmes County, an Amish man I met at a horse sale offered to let me stay with him and his family," Cox said. He declined at first, but exhaustion from the drive and a blinding snowstorm changed his mind.

"I knocked on the door which was half-covered in snow, and asked if he would let me sleep on the floor next to the wood-burning stove. He told me his wife had already made a bed for me and left me a plate of food warming in case I was hungry. I couldn’t believe how generous they were," he says.

Cox remained with the man and his family four days and nights, selling his pecans to the Amish in Holmes and the neighboring counties, with his host acting as his guide. "I’ll never forget that experience. I was Amish for four days and nights," Cox said.

Cox’s buggy horses were purchased from the Amish, as were many of the parts for his wagons, buggies, and carts. However, Cox has built much of his collection himself.

"I’ve built some two-horse wagons, and I’ve sold some things I built. I built my buckboard on the running gears of an old doctor’s buggy. The man in Chapman who sold it to me said Hank Williams used to ride in it. I told him I didn’t like Hank enough to pay more for it. I made a miniature wagon once, too, for miniature horses, goats or dogs to pull. I had a dog who would pull it for a while, too," he says.

Cox says he primarily rides in his carriage, which he calls the "Cadillac" of his collection, along an eight-mile loop around their community.

"We can ride for a couple of hours or all day long. Sometimes we go to Geneva State Forest and ride too. We’ve met people riding there from as far away as Texas, and it’s so big you can ride forever," says Cox.

Razor and his wife Carrol brought up their two daughters, Jennifer and Lindsey, around horses, and they now have two grandchildren they can take for a ride.

"Building and maintaining wagons and buggies is hard work, but it’s beautiful when you do the job right," says Cox. "If I had all the money I’ve spent for what’s in my tack room, I could probably buy a brand new truck. I don’t know what I could buy if I had all the money I’ve spent on horses and buggies," he says.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.