Wagon master carried to the cemetery in farm wagon pulled by his horses

By Rozella Hardin
STAR Staff
rhardin@starhq.com

   Ninety-one-year-old Brice Robinson was laid to rest Friday afternoon in the Caldwell Springs Cemetery. The cemetery is located on a small knoll overlooking the church where Robinson, at the time of his death, was its oldest active member.
   Robinson was tragically killed Monday at his Stoney Creek farm when his tractor overturned while he was mowing a hayfield.
   Hillie, as he was known to his many friends and neighbors, had enjoyed a life-long love affair with horses. On Friday afternoon, Robinson's coffin was placed on a farm wagon hitched to his young team of Belgian geldings. Mack and Zack pulled the old wagon from the church up the hill to the cemetery where their master was laid to rest. "It was the best team he ever had. Those horses loved him," said Robinson's son, Dean.
   Robinson, who would have been 92 on July 18, was a farmer and retired school bus driver for the Carter County School System. But his first love aside from God, his church, and family were his horses and the wagon train, in which he served as head master. "He loved the wagon train, and during the summer the train averaged a trip every couple of weeks. They would go places like Boone and Blowing Rock, N.C., Shady Valley and Mountain City," said his daughter, Anna Ruth Pierce.
   In an article by Michael Joslin which appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of the "The Draft Horse Journal," Joslin wrote: "While others turned to the new ways whole-heartedly, Brice retained his love of horses and the culture they represented."
   "My father and granddaddy worked horses all their lives. I started 80 years ago when I was 10 years old on a farm in the mountains. I hauled lumber out of the mountains and logged with horses. I extracted stuff you young fellers don't know nothing about," Robinson told Joslin.
   Robinson's father gave him his first horse when he was nine or 10 years old. He used ropes and patience to break his horse before it was old enough to wear a harness. He nailed his first shoe on a horse when he was 11 years old.
   Joslin wrote: "To Brice, horses represent both his heritage and his happiness. He is never as cheerful as when he has his team of Belgians hitched and the driving lines in his still strong hands. He works them in his garden, in his tobacco and on his steep pastures. He plays with them in wagon trains and wagon jaunts through the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. He has never tired of the partnership between man and beast."
   Randy McKinney, a friend, was quoted in the article as saying, "Brice has taught about half the people in this county to fool with horses. Just about everybody in this county that has horses has asked his advice about them at some time."
   Robinson also enjoyed trips to Amish country in Ohio and Indiana with his friends, where they attended horse shows and horse sales.
   Time began to catch up with Robinson. He told Joslin, "I used to work horses 10 to 12 hours a day, but the last 10 years I ain't done that. A horse can work all day long, I can't."
   Monday when he was mowing hay and coming down a steep incline with his tractor, the lower wheels apparently hit a rock causing the tractor to overturn on him. Robinson had often said the fields were so steep he needed a seat belt to stay on his mowing machine.
   His son said he was "independent and rightly so." Robinson, who had lived alone since his wife died several years ago, made his own breakfast and usually his other meals. "On Sunday morning, his friend Mike McKinney would pick up breakfast for the two of them," said Anna Ruth.
   "He always attended church. He couldn't hear very well, but he didn't have to hear to worship," she added.
   "He died doing what he wanted to do and what he enjoyed doing, and he died without having to be cared for. That, indeed is a great comfort," said his son.
   "Those horses really loved him. They were what kept him young. When he called, they came right to him," Dean shared.
   In the conclusion to his article, Joslin wrote about Zack and Mack and their master: "Zack and Mack give his (Robinson) life meaning in a world that has changed too much in too short a time. Brice with his team on the land maintains tradition and encourages younger horse masters to follow in his footsteps."
   Thus, a tradition died on Monday when Brice Robinson died. The honor of carrying their master to the cemetery Friday was the task of Zack and Mack, his horses. And, fittingly so.