Bernard Singleton makes his last wagon train
By By Connie Nowlin
The unmistakable rumble of diesel engines broke the morning quiet outside Atmore Memorial Chapel Tuesday slightly before 10.
Around back, people gathered under the shade trees, men uncomfortable in go-to-town clothes, women clicking around in high heels.
But because there were more people behind the chapel than in it, and because of the presence of a pair of horses, the personality of the man these folks were gathered to see off began to emerge.
Mr. James Bernard Singleton had lived in or near Atmore his whole life.
He was a fixture at wagon trains and trail rides all around the area, his friends said.
The horses, Haflingers, were his, trained to the wagon by him, and they told an awful lot about the man.
As Bernard's sons and friends harnessed the animals, it was plain to see the job he had done with them.
They were as bright and shiny as a newly-minted penny. Their tails were long and silky and without a single tangle. Their manes were roached neatly, so as not to cause discomfort under the leather collars they wore. This was not a clean-up job gone right. This was the result of a lot of time spent on the little chestnut hides, time spent all the time.
The chains that hitch horse to wagon were pristine, without a trace of rust or wear. The harness itself, and the long reins, too, was of leather. This was not a man who would use synthetics, although it is infinitely cheaper than leather, both to buy and to repair. Synthetic harness is a lot easier to keep clean, too.
Bernard Singleton was a farmer and raised cattle, both black Angus and Santa Gertrudis. He farmed his whole life, his wife of six years, Alma, said.
But plenty could be told about him by two of his sons, Chris and Garrie, the way they dressed, the way they said 'Ma'am' a lot, and the quiet, confident, gentle way they moved around their daddy's horses.
He had taught them to handle the lines, and in a little while would take their father on his last wagon train, down to Robinsonville Methodist Cemetery. Considering the job ahead of them, they were both handling themselves well.
His friends, although greatly saddened at their loss, were talking of and remembering the good times they had shared with the man who they called 'Barnyard' from time to time.
"I knew him more when he retired," said Wilson Johnson. "I got to knowing him through the saddle club."
He said he and Bernard Singleton had made the Heart of Dixie wagon train and trail ride all the way to Montgomery several times, and laughed out loud over the times they had.
I did not know Bernard Singleton. Seems that a lot of Atmore, a lot of Escambia County and most of Baldwin County did know him, though.
Seems that he was a friend to almost everyone.
Perhaps there is more to his life than his love for horses and the camaraderie of the saddle club, more to know about him than he went to the cemetery in the same horse-drawn hearse that did service for President William McKinley.
But when his son backed the Haflinger team of horses in full circle, out there behind the funeral home, when he did not know he had an audience, when they moved without a missed step, it spoke volumes about the man.
Here was someone who put in enough time with his children and animals that they could handle anything and do the right thing under the worst of circumstances.
Would that we all were able to say that when we pass from this earth. Bernard Singleton must have been quite a man.
Connie Nowlin is managing editor of the Atmore Advance and may be reached by calling 368-2123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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