A woman wearing a Civil War era dress and a fancy hat to keep her cool in the afternoon sun sat at the reins in a white, horse-drawn carriage in what could have been a step back in time or a movie scene. But it was last Friday afternoon in downtown Paducah.
Char Diesel co-owns John's Pass Carriage Service with her husband, J.D. Diesel, and offers tours of downtown and Lower Town on Fridays and Saturdays from about noon to 9 p.m. On the tours, which begin at the corner of Second Street and Broadway, she provides passengers with historical information about sites along the way.
The Diesels bought the business - previously Annie's Carriage Service - last year and named it after a favorite vacation spot: John's Pass in Clearwater, Florida. Char said the couple sold everything they had to buy the business. The purchase included a carriage barn on Sixth Street, where the horses stay while working in Paducah, and a farm with 20 acres in Brookport, Illinois, where they live and the horses spend the week on green pastures.
"We feel like God had a plan," Char said, "because everything came together so easily. I never came looking for it. It found me."
The Diesels brought their own horses to the Paducah business. When they previously lived in Fults, Illinois, they gave historical house tours and Christmas rides and rode in parades. The horses include a Belgian, two spotted draft horses, a Gypsy Drum Horse, four Haflingers and six miniature horses.
Paducah native Barbara Petway and grandson Dylan Petway took a carriage ride last Friday, as they had on a previous trip downtown. Dylan said he likes taking rides because he's interested in horses, and Barbara Petway said she enjoys the opportunity to reminisce about her hometown.
"You get to sit back and relax while it goes through the streets, and you get to see things I've seen as a child," she said.
Memphis, Tennessee, residents Jolly Ballard and Carolyn Ballard were in Paducah last week and took a carriage ride to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Char said her husband was working more than 90 hours a week on a business he owned, and she was working 60 hours a week managing a dental group four years ago when they took over raising their grandson. That responsibility eventually made the couple take a step back from their busy schedules.
"My grandson changed my world," Char said. "I decided there was more to life than things ... and I wanted to sit back and enjoy raising my grandson. I worked the whole time I raised my son. Missed out on a lot."
Their grandson, 8-year-old Jakob Vartanian, does a number of chores at the carriage barn in Paducah and at the farm. For his hard work, Char said, he gets to go to the Ice Cream Factory on Broadway. Jakob said the ice cream shop is his favorite thing in downtown Paducah.
J.D. - who was out in a top hat, long-sleeved shirt and vest later Friday offering rides in a Cinderella carriage - said that, in addition to allowing him and his wife to spend more time with their grandson, the new business has been a welcome change after 27 years running his truck-driving business that had six trucks on the road at any given time.
"My business was killing me in a slow way ... so we ended up buying this business and all the carriages and the barn. We're going to try to make a go of this," he said.
On a typical Saturday, Char said, they give rides to 20 to 30 people.
The new venture hasn't been without its challenges. Char still works a part time job to help pay bills, and J.D. said he knows the business will never make them rich. But they aren't complaining.
"As long as we put food on the table and feed the horses well, we're happy," J.D. said.
John's Pass Carriage Service tours in downtown Paducah during regular Friday and Saturday hours are $10 per adult, $5 per child, and free for kids age 3 and under. The business also gives tours outside regular hours by reservation. It has a variety of antique carriages and provides carriage rides for private events including birthday parties, weddings and marriage proposals.
The business also provides a free shuttle service on Saturdays from the farmers' market to Market House Square from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Its regular carriage tours will begin at the usual time on Saturdays with a separate carriage. To make a reservation, call 270-243-4365.