Buggy Man in Prattsville, Arkansas

J. W. Harrington of Prattsville, Relives History Restoring Buggies

By Jim Lancaster

A winding lane, a covered bridge, a rustic home and workshop, and a man at work restoring an antique buggy – does this sound like New 
England or maybe an Amish farm in Pennsylvania? No, it is near Prattsville, Arkansas in Grant County, and the man is J. W. Harrington.

Building and restoring buggies is just one of Harrington’s interests in history, but his buggy restoration and collection has allowed 
him a way to display his skill and expertise as well as exhibit his extensive study of early America.

His interest in buggies and their restoration started when he found a pile of junk on a Colorado farm and decided it was the remains 
of an old buggy. “I gathered up the parts and brought them back to Arkansas and decided to restore it,” Harrington said. “The owner of 
the farm there is 90 years old and he gave me the parts – but we like to have never figured out what it was, and then about a year 
later when I finished restoring it, I sent him a picture and he said it brought back a lot of memories. It was a ‘buckboard buggy’ that 
he said he and his family had used to run cows on their ranch when he was a child.”

“I went to an Amish Community at Seymour, Missouri, near Springfield, and got the new wheels and axles for it and I built the wooden 
parts,” he explained. “I was able to reuse some of the springs and other metal parts. The Amish still build buggies so they will sell 
me any parts that I need. There are 3 Amish men there at Seymour named Schwartz; one builds buggy wheels, one builds the whole buggy, 
and the other restores buggies.”

Most people are familiar with members of the Amish religious sect that dress simply and shun most technology. Rural Pennsylvania and 
Ohio are home to large Amish communities, where their horse-drawn black buggies are frequent sights on country roads. A few small Amish 
communities have existed in Arkansas and Missouri.

“I’ve done three and I have two more in process that are nearly finished,” Harrington answered as to the number of buggies he has 
restored. “I gave one to the Grant County Museum and I’ve got the rest of them here in my shop and barn.”

“I don’t want to sell any that I’ve done, but I might consider building and selling one someday – I don’t have any idea of what one 
would sell for,” he responded when asked if he would sell a buggy. “My work has nothing to do with money, the value to me is just 
working  on them and thinking about how folks used to live and travel by buggy.”

“I don’t have any horses, so I rig them to be pulled by my 4-wheeler (ATV),” he answered to a question about how a horse was attached 
to them. “But it is easy to change out these parts here and equip them so a horse can be harnessed to the buggy – I can change it in 
15 minutes.”

Asked about his business dealings with the Amish, he explained, “They are nice, I just write them a letter and tell them what I need, 
or sometimes I just take off and drive up there to Missouri. I learned that you can’t call them on the telephone because they don’t 
have phones.”

“They make the wheels just like the early Americans did – with wood spokes, but they will put either steel rims or rubber rims on them. 
I put steel rim wheels on some of my buggies and rubber rims on some, I suppose the rubber is quieter on the pavement,” he said.

I have a catalogue from another Amish company, Shrock Buggy Works, that makes and sells all kinds of buggy parts,” he explained as he 
displayed the catalogue. “This company is in Millersburg, Ohio.”

Around Prattsville, J. W. and his wife, Pauline, are not known for making buggies – they are known for making the “Whippet” a famous 
catfish restaurant many years ago. The name “Whippet” came from the Whippet racing dog, which was the mascot symbol of Prattsville 
School when it had winning basketball teams of the past, and before the school was consolidated. The Whippet restaurant is such a 
favorite place for catfish that Arkansans from over the state travel to Prattsville to get their special menu.

The Harringtons built the Whippet Restaurant and operated it for 17 years before selling it – but the reputation for the good catfish 
has remained and if someone mentions Prattsville right now, the response may be, “Yeah, that’s the place to go for good catfish!”

“Once I was in Fairbanks, Alaska and a man asked me where I was from – when I told him Prattsville, Arkansas, the man said that he had 
been to Prattsville to eat catfish at the Whippet!” answered Harrington about the reputation of the restaurant.

Harrington is 70 years old, has one child, one grandchild and is retired from Reynolds Metals Company where he worked a career at the 
Bauxite and Jones Mills plants. His interest in the outdoors and nature led him and his wife to build a cabin in Blue Mesa Area of 
Colorado, where they spend the summers of each year. “We don’t go there in the winter – it’s up in the mountains and the winters are 
too cold,” he said. “But we love it there in the summer months where we just climb mountains, look at the wildlife, enjoy the beautiful 
scenery and hope to see an occasional elk or moose. I’ve quit deer hunting except with a camera and sometimes there are as many as 30 
deer in our yard there eating the food we put out. I don’t like to think about the hunters killing our deer in the winter hunting season 
after we have fed and enjoyed them in the summer.”

Asked about his New England style covered bridge, he replied, “I built the covered bridge without plans – I just looked at pictures and 
sketched out a drawing on notebook paper and built it. I used a railroad car that I bought at a salvage yard for the base – the upper 
part of the car had to be cut off, so the bridge had no sides and some of our friends and family were afraid they would run off the edge. 
So when I built the sides, I just decided to build a covered bridge like I’d seen in pictures.”

“The funny part of my bridge is that right after I built it, the county tax assessor came by and said that because it was a structure, 
we had to pay tax on it,” he said while laughing. “Until they took it off the tax books, I used to say that I was the only person in 
Arkansas that paid taxes on a bridge.”

His barn and shop are actually more of a museum and library of American history than a barn or shop. He has meticulous exhibits of 
American Indian relics and Civil War artifacts. The Civil War relics are from the Jenkin’s Ferry Battleground which is not far from his 
home. “My friend, O. J. Ramick, and I dug in the ‘Burning Grounds’ to find most of this,” he said pointing to his exhibit. “The burning 
grounds area is where the Union Army burned wagons, supplies, ammunition and weapons while they were retreating from the Battle of 
Jenkin’s Ferry, so there were a lot of things left there. Among the things I’ve found are all kinds of nails and screws as well as some 
bigger things.”

Asked about his pleasure of digging for relics, he told a funny story, “One day O.J. and I were digging and finding little things like 
nails and screws when O.J started yelling as screaming. I ran to him and asked if he had found the canon we had dreamed of finding.” 
“No – it’s a COPPERHEAD SNAKE!” he answered.

The walls of his shop are covered with books, hundreds of them. He says they are nearly all history books because he likes to read about 
things of the past, especially books about American history and American Indians.

J. W. Harrington is a quiet, humble man who dislikes publicity and reluctantly agreed to have his information published and his buggies 
photographed. Only the urging of the writer and his wife, Pauline, convinced him that other people would enjoy knowing about him and his 
work in historical preservation.

Harrington’s buggy restoration displays the work of several master craftsmen. The complete job requires the skills of the wheelwright, 
the knack of the machinist, the adroitness of the blacksmith, the talents of the finish carpenter and the flair of an artist. Maybe more 
importantly, it requires the interest and enthusiasm of a historian that is dedicated to preserving some priceless history that defines 
who J. W. Harrington is as well as providing a glimpse at the lifestyle of his ancestors.

Photos: (not included here)

J. W. Harrington prepares to install a wheel on a buggy he is restoring.
J. W. Harrington and his wife, Pauline with one of the fully restored buggies.
An exhibit case of Civil War artifacts that J. W. Harrington dug up in the Jenkin’s Ferry Battleground that is only a few miles from his home.
An exhibit case of American Indian artifacts found by J. W. Harrington.
Buggy wheels in process of restoration at J. W. Harrington’s workshop.
J. W. Harrington and his covered bridge.