Piece of family’s history makes comeback from back of barn

Sisters Janet Siela (left) and Rhonda Brewer recreate a photo taken of them back in the ’60s in the pony cart they had as children. The “now” photo was taken Sept. 7, on the property of their father, George Wissinger, located in rural Huntington. The cart had been deteriorating inside a barn and was restored by family friend John Meyer.
Sisters Janet Siela (left) and Rhonda Brewer recreate a photo taken of them back in the ’60s in the pony cart they had as children. The “now” photo was taken Sept. 7, on the property of their father, George Wissinger, located in rural Huntington. The cart had been deteriorating inside a barn and was restored by family friend John Meyer. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2017.

Back in 1961, George Wissinger happened upon a junkyard in Ohio that had a broken-down, decrepit pony cart. Wissinger just happened to have a pony (and two young daughters), and he was good with his hands.

“I paid $63 for it, and they threw in a set of harness,” he says.

Wissinger fixed up the little cart and hitched the family’s pony, Babe, to it. With his daughters, Rhonda and Janet, on board, they had a lot of fun with the “new” cart. They even discovered some neighbors who also drove pony carts along the roads of rural Ohio.

“He would load his two daughters – me, who was 3 and Janet, who was about 18 months,” recalls George’s daughter, Rhonda Wissinger Brewer. “He would load us up in the buggy, and he would drive us to our grandma’s house. We’d spend the day there, then we’d all come back.”

“We rode all over the country,” George adds.

The refurbished, freshly-painted cart was Wissinger’s pride and joy, making for some grand times with Rhonda, Janet and later their younger sister, Lisa. His $63 bargain turned into a great investment.

“I’ve had people offer me money that you wouldn’t believe, over the years,” George remembers. “In ’67 I got transferred to Allentown, PA, and a used car dealer offered me a real nice ’64 Pontiac – which I needed – they offered to trade me for the cart … I didn’t trade him.”

As a supervisor on the Buckeye Pipeline, work took George and his family to Ohio, Pennsylvania and then to Indiana. The cart came with them, but they didn’t always get to use it.

“When we moved to Pennsylvania we lived in a subdivision, so it lived in our basement,” Rhonda explains. “We had no pony to hook up to it, but it was in the basement. So we brought it here (Huntington).”

In subsequent years, as the girls grew older and turned their attention to other interests, the little cart was left behind, forgotten and slowly debilitating inside a Huntington County barn. There it stayed, for more years than the family can recall, buried among various and sundry junk items also relegated to storage.

Years came and went, and life separated the Wissinger family. The daughters went on to have families of their own. Rhonda, the oldest, now lives in Phoenix, AZ; Janet Wissinger Siela lives in Warsaw, and youngest sibling Lisa Wissinger and her family live next door to the girls’ parents on CR 500N.

About six weeks ago, Rhonda came up to Indiana to help take care of her dad, now advanced in years, who had undergone surgery. While he was recovering, he decided he wanted his barn cleaned out and straightened up. She organized a workday, rounding up her sisters and their husbands to tackle the big barn.

“We went out there, and we discovered this buggy, sitting back, all full of cobwebs and bird poop and just a mess,” she says. “Talking to him about it, he just expressed that one of his dreams was to get this buggy restored and drive his great-grandchildren around in it.”

Rhonda says she decided to try and fulfill his request, not knowing what she was getting into.

“I hauled it out of the barn, and I sprayed it off with a hose, and realized this was way beyond my expertise,” she says. “I had absolutely no idea how to restore this buggy.”

Rhonda called a longtime friend of her dad’s, John Meyer, who had worked for him at Buckeye. She talked to him about the cart, and relayed her dad’s desire to see it working again.

“John was thrilled to do the restoration on this buggy,” she says.

She sent Meyer pictures taken back in the early ’60s of the pony cart in its “original” state, after her father restored it the first time.

“Actually, it was not in too bad of shape,” Meyer says. “The tires, of course, were shot. So we got new tires. And we pulled and repacked the bearings, the grease, power washed it and cleaned it thoroughly. I did have to make a seat, and I duplicated the seat that was on there … I tried to make it like the pictures were.”

Meyer then painted it in the colors it had been before: a shiny black body, red undercarriage and bright yellow wheels.

He finished the job and delivered the restored buggy to George’s house. Next door, Lisa’s daughter, Emma Wissinger, 9, just happened to have a pony.

Rhonda used some saddle soap and oil to clean up the original leather harness, amazingly still supple after years of neglect inside the barn.

Finally, the big day came to unveil the cart and take the first “official” trip up and down 500 North. Lisa hooked up the harness and hitched Danny, the Shetland pony, up to it. He was remarkably calm over the whole fuss, as if he instinctively knew what his purpose was.

Six of the great-grandkids – Justin Hladik, 14, Emma Wissinger, 9, Harper Brubaker, 7, Lincoln Brubaker, 4 Journey Brubaker, 2 and Boston Brubaker – climbed on board.

Four generations of the Wissinger family converged on George’s house to witness the event. Meyer was also present to see his handiwork in action.

“I have to say, that today, it’s rewarding to see the kids, and that’s fairly neat,” he says. “It’s really cool. It makes me feel really good to be able to do that.”

Emma Wissinger has had Danny since her fourth birthday. She is learning how to drive him and the cart. Danny, in kind, patiently responds despite a load of boisterous youngsters on board.

“I think it’s more safer,” Emma says. “The most fun is doing this (she jangles the reins in a ‘giddy-up’ gesture).”

Now that the cart has been restored and the Wissinger family has grandkids and great-grandkids to ride in it, it’s been like reliving old times for Rhonda, Janet and Lisa. And in the new times, the cart may be seen in some upcoming local parades, or even as a 4-H project for Emma.

“It’s just irreplaceable,” says her great-grandpa, George. “I’m glad I didn’t get rid of it.”