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WINTER FUN: there with bells on

A horse-drawn sleigh ride is one of the simplest, yet most endearing of wintertime treats. Historically, sleighs were used to transport logs

and other goods, as well as a means of winter travel. Sleighs come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different materials.

Today most passenger sleigh operators use a bobsleigh, a cutter or a vis-a-vis. Bobsleighs are wooden and metal sleighs, designed for hauling heavy loads. Originally bobsleighs were used for hauling logs from

lumber camps. Modern bobsleighs can carry larger groups, while vis-a-vis and cutter sleighs are designed for two to four passengers. Bobsleighs are driven by a team of horses; smaller sleighs may be driven by either a

single horse or a team.

All horses can be trained to drive, though draft horses are most frequently used to pull sleighs. Two of the most common breeds for pulling sleighs are the Percheron and the Belgian. Draft horses are gentle giants and often weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The large size of draft horses allows them to pull heavy loads with ease, as a bobsleigh can weigh hundreds of pounds without passengers. Sleighs do not have brakes; instead the strength of the horses and the design of the harness allows the horses to hold back the load, even when going down hill.

Sleigh bells have an interesting history of their own. While the full moon helped drivers navigate through the dark forests at night, sleigh bells were used to signal to other travelers that a sleigh was coming.

Wealthy families had sleigh bells specially designed with a distinctive ring as a symbol of status, and Duluthians of old surely knew when the Congdons, Whitesides or Hartleys where out driving. Logging companies,

too, had their own rings.

In the event of a mishap on the road, it was customary that the sleigh bells would be given to the good Samaritan who provided assistance. The phrase, "I'll be there with bells on," came to mean that one had arrived

at his destination without any problems.

The sleigh season runs from mid-December to late March. When is the most romantic time to ride in a horse drawn sleigh? Evening rides by moonlight are popular for marriage proposals. The jingle of sleigh bells and starry sky above make a perfect backdrop, and riders can drop to one knee in the sleigh or venture out on a frozen lake to pop the question.

Of course, Valentine's Day, a birthday, anniversary or even a first date are more memorable when snuggled close together on velvet seats with blankets to keep out the winter chill.