Jim Heinlein has a special attachment to the horse-drawn wagons and carriages that fill the garage of his South Side home.
His family has a long history with the cartage business, dating back to the early 1900s, when his great-grandfather, George Heinlein, built commercial wagons on Hanford Street in Merion Village. His grandfather followed suit, working for Columbus Buggy and driving a delivery wagon for Omar Bakery.
Later on, his father, Frank, established Heinlein Brass Foundry on Kingston Avenue on the South Side, which made brass and aluminum hardware for harnesses and wagons pulled by draft horses, or those weighing a ton or more.
“My biggest claim to fame was we made the harness hardware for Budweiser, for their eight-horse hitches,” Jim Heinlein said.
His father, who started collecting the carriages, also opened Heinlein & Son hardware store in Merion Village, which closed in the early 1970s. The factory was sold about five years ago.
These days, Heinlein and his wife, Harriet, continue the business of Heinlein Carriage Service, which rents out old-time carriages and wagons — totaling more than 20 — for weddings, parades, displays at grocery stores and other private functions.
“It’s a lot of work but I get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” Heinlein said. “I always did.”
Sidelined by a back injury years ago, Heinlein retired from the factory after 30 years. However, he’s carried on the carriage business, albeit at a much slower pace.
In the more robust years, the Heinleins worked with farmers across the state, who provided horses for the various events. Their wagons and carriages once stood as markers for stops on the German Village Haus und Garten Tour. The couple also offered carriage rides in downtown Columbus for a number of years, but the arrival of the Arena District brought in too much traffic, making it unsafe for the buggy drivers and passengers, the Heinleins said.
“The city has tried to bring us back,” Harriet Heinlein said.
Labor, cost and logistical issues — not to mention Jim’s bad back — forced the couple to scale way back on the rentals.
Heinlein’s sister, Kathy Heinlein, is a long-time Merion Village resident who fondly recalls traveling the fair circuit when she was a child.
“That was our joy as kids,” she said. “Other kids took vacations. We’d go to the fair with our horses and wagons. I was a city kid who had that country element.”
There’s no way the family will consider selling the wagons and carriages. Of the couple’s three children, only Jamie plans to continue the tradition. The 17-year-old has been riding horses since age 5 and enjoys the family’s pastime.
“I just couldn’t imagine living without the horses (and carriages) because it’s been part of my life since I was a kid,” she said.