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Source: October 1968 Volume 15 Number 2, Pages 20–22

Ivins C. Walker - Horse Trader

Winona C. Erickson

Page 20

An intriguing title:

There will be many Walkers as the years go by, but it is not likely that there will be another horse trader in this sophisticated area. In the Norristown newspaper at the time of his death, Ivins was called the last of the horse traders, and in the Philadelphia Record, the dean of the horse hawkers. So, it behooves the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club to re­cord the life of this man who was born in our township.

Ivins C. Walker was born January lst,1864 at Many Springs Farm the home built by his great great grandparents, Joseph and Sarah Walker in 1752. The present Walker Road was named for his family, as theirs was the only house along there for many years. Anthony Wayne was quartered there during the winter of 1777 - 1778 when George Washington was encamped at Valley Forge. Anthony Wayne was Sarah Walker's cousin. The farm was bought or inherited by each succeeding generation until 1910 when it was sold outside the family.

Ivins' parents were Thomas Ivins and Isabella Henry Walker. The father, Thomas was born and reared in the house which is now the Valley Forge Golf Clubhouse. The mother was born and reared on what was later known as the Todd farm, an estate of 250 acres, on a part of which now stands the Valley Forge Memorial Chapel.

Isabella was a member of the Port Kennedy Presbyterian Church, so that is where she took her family. However she did send her son, Ivins to the Friends' School which was opened in the Valley in 1876. In 1879 he went to Lach's School on Sandy Hill Road in Norristown, where he stayed until 1881 when he was 16 years of age. After he left school he took charge of his mother's farm and he remained a farmer until he was 28 years old. By this time he had married Mary Thomas, daughter of Ellwood and Annie Thomas of County Line Road. They subsequently had five children; Harry T., William I., Elwood T., Ivins C.Jr. and Ellen (Mrs. Bayard Amelia).

Ivins Walker learned the horse trading business at the Old Bulls Head Bazaar, 38th and Market Street in Philadelphia. (I do not know how long the Bazaar remained there, but I remember it very well.

Page 21

As a little girl I would watch for it everytime I rode past on a Market Street trolley car. Even then it was a novelty to a city child.)

He established his Horse and Cattle Bazaar on his 235 acre farm in West Norriton where he carried on his business for over half a century. Each year he traveled over 100,000 miles to buy horses and cattle for the bazaar and he never missed holding a Wednesday sale there. His advertising method was unique. The weekly newspaper advertisements were running narratives which covered comments on anything from child birth to smallpox. A single line would be devoted to the fact that there would be three carloads of horses for sale.

The bazaars were miniture circuses and country fairs rolled into one. During sale hours Mr. Walker stamped around the tanbark, berating the audience and praising the horses. Coatless but spotlessly dressed, he wore a slouch hat pulled well down over his eyes, from under which he glared at the customers. He was never seen without a crooked handle cane.

Imagine that a horse is sold: Walker would approach the buyer, with the air of a man who has just been cheated by his own brother, "Only $175.00 for that horse," he moans. "Why, I paid $185.00 for him myself in the far west. I can't afford to sell horses at these prices. I've lost money on everyone this afternoon!" He drifts off into a string of amazing profanity. (His son, Ivins Jr., tells me that despite his father's penchant for colorful language, it was all left behind the minute he crossed the threshold of his own home.)

To continue with his actions at the sales - when one of these remarkable horses was in the ring, an old man darted out to take a hasty glance at its teeth, Walker whacks him with his stick, "Get away from there, you fool," he roared, "You have no business here. You belong in an old man's home, same as me."

The crowd loved it.

Mr. Walker was in constant demand as an after dinner speaker, and many a rare tale was spun before Lions, Rotarians, Kiwanian and Sportsmen's Clubs. As he neither smoked nor drank, he was always willing to write or talk in favor of prohibition.

Page 22

A few examples of his earthy humor ran something like this; The other night in Butte, Montana I heard a girl say to her mother, "I can't marry Bill - he is an atheist and don't believe there is a hell." The mother said, "Marry him and between us we will convice him he is wrong." Or,I stopped the other morning to see Bill Winters at Leaky Canyon, Colorada. I said Bill, how did your boys turn out?" "Well he said "One is in politics, and the other is not much good either."

Right now this same Bill has a nudist swimming pool and he thought it would be a good idea to have a merry-go-round with it, so they could dry off without using towels.

In one of his advertising flyers Mr. Walker wrote about being commissioned by a Mrs. Beary of Haverford to buy a milking bear. Her children were losing flesh, and her physician advised bear's milk by all means so they might get their strength back.

(When I read that, I believed it and thought how interesting! On reading it over I realized it was another of his yarns.) He had a vivid imagination, I am certain he wrote his own jokes.

He spoke of chatting with Herbert Hoover, Will Rogers, and many other celebrities who boarded the same trains when he was traveling over the Country side.

After suffering from diabetes for thirty-five years, Ivins Walker died in 1939 at the age of 76. Funeral services were held at his home on DeKalb Street in Norristown, and he was buried in the Valley Friends Burial Ground.


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