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"Riding on the Plank," a Poem

What do you remember about your long rides in an automobile? Were the roads smooth or bumpy or under construction? Were they busy? Did you have to sit for long hours in the car? Did the other riders agree with you about how to pass the time and where to stop?

In 1880 Asa Stoddard—Michigan's "Farmer Poet"—published a poem about riding on a plank road. Can you find experiences in this poem that are similar to yours when you go for a ride in a car today? What experiences are different from yours?

Do you wish you could ride in a wagon on a plank road? You can sample what it might have felt like in the Settlement Gallery at the Michigan Historical Museum.


Did you ever, friend or stranger.
Let me ask you free and frank,
Brave the peril, dare the danger,
Of a journey on the Plank?

Ever see the wild commotion,
Hear the clatter, din and clank,
Feel the quick electric motion,
Caused by riding on the Plank?

Horses balking, drivers lashing,
Wishing all plank roads in—blank—
And their owners with them flashing
So it goes upon the Plank.

Wagons creaking, groaning, crashing,
Wrecks bestrewing either bank
Jarring, jolting, jambing, dashing,
This is riding on the Plank.

Crocks and baskets rolling, smashing,
Helpless owners looking blank,
Eggs and butter mixing, mashing,
Cannot help it on the Plank.

Hats and bonnets strangely rocking,
Leave no space between them blank;
Kisses stolen, oh! what shocking
Things do happen, on the Plank.

Fathers swearing, children squalling,
Angry mothers try to spank;
Seats upset and they go sprawling
In the wagon on the Plank.

Tipping over, mercy on us!
Broken ribs, or shattered shank,
These afflictions come upon us,
Come from riding on the Plank.

Here, if you can save the pieces,
Lucky stars you well may thank,
Though your doctor bill increases,
'Tis for riding on the Plank.

Ye, with torpid livers sickened,
Cold and languid, lean and lank,
Needing life-blood warmed and quickened,
Try a journey on the Plank.

Ye, half dead with indigestion,
Stomachs cold as Greenland's bank,
This will cure without a question,
Take one ride upon the Plank.

SOURCE: Asa Stoddard. The Farmer Poet. Miscellaneous Poems. Kalamazoo MI: Author (C.G. Townsend, Printer), 1880, p.8.


Find and read these poems for fun and to learn about different ways of thinking about traveling. The poems can be found in many popular books of poems.

"City Streets and Country Roads" by Eleanor Farjeon
"Farewell to the Farm" by Robert Louis Stevenson
"Indian Children" by Annette Wynne
"Maps" by Dorothy Brown Thompson
"The Pioneer" by Arthur Guiterman
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
"Roads" by Rachel Field
"Roads Go Ever Ever On" by J. R. R. Tolkien
"Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost
"Wonder Where This Horseshoe Went" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 09/10/2010

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