Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Winona Wagon Company

In last week’s post, I mentioned the discovery of a rare Winona sheep wagon photo.  It reminded me that there are probably a number of folks that haven’t seen the story we published on the Winona Wagon Company back in 2009.  So, I thought I’d re-visit a portion of that article in this week’s blog.  Enjoy...

Nineteenth century America was a virtual field of dreams for many farm wagon makers. The discovery of gold and the opening of the West created opportunities and challenges beyond the imagination. So remarkable was the business that by the 1870s and 1880s, some wagon companies were regularly producing 30,000 to 50,000 vehicles per year. Working six days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day and finishing a vehicle as rapidly as every six minutes, fortunes were made – and lost.

In many ways, American vehicle makers in the 1800s were no different than those in the U.S., Germany, Japan, Italy, or about any other country today. They worked to consistently build quality products, keep good employees, strategically promote their advantages and maintain high customer loyalty.  It’s a tried-and-true business model.  But, even with those lofty goals, for any brand to be successful, it must create and sustain an identity for itself – something that consumers can remember and relate to.  Just as we may think of premium quality when Cadillac or Lexus brands are mentioned, strong vehicle names also conjured up the same feelings of desirability in the 1800’s.  Whether someone was considering a Studebaker, Schuttler, Milburn, Moline, Mitchell, Abbot-Downing or any of the thousands of others, there was no shortage of competition to be reckoned with.

So, if you’re a vehicle maker in the nineteenth century catering to farms, ranches, businesses and the American frontier, how do you separate yourself from so many viable competitors?  It’s a question with many answers and, the closer we look at a particular set of wheels, the easier it is to see how each company was strategically positioned. 

Quality Winona brand wagons remain in high demand today.  Many Winona wagons featured the eye-catching style of a yellow running gear.

Located on the upper Mississippi River, the Winona (Minn.) Wagon Company was ideally located for shipping and receiving materials as well as acquiring quality timber.  By the time it was established in 1879, Winona had plenty of firmly established competition.  Price wars, lawsuits, and leveraged buyouts were just some of the heavy-handed tactics used by well-heeled brands to squash newcomers vying for regional and national attention.  It was a demanding marketplace but Winona employed a variety of efforts to rise above the challenges of well-known, confident rivals.

While virtually all builders dealt with the worry of maintaining a strong, marketable identity, many – just like companies today – created a slogan that summarized their commitment to quality or some other beneficial feature.  The Winona Wagon Company was quite effective using the catchphrase “Good Timber and Bone Dry.”  The saying focused on the central and most important element of any early wagon – superior wood selection, preparation, and construction.  After all, quality hardwoods were the heart of a wagon and companies that presented themselves as thorough, trustworthy and value-conscious generally enjoyed the greatest success.  The use of higher-grade raw materials, though, wasn’t the only advantage Winona touted.  Like many successful firms, it promoted itself heavily while consistently stressing innovative features and design elements.

Joining the chorus of those parroting their brand to have the “lightest draft” and “wheels boiled in oil,” Winona also proclaimed the superiority of its “clipped” undercarriages as opposed to competitive wagon gears that were through-bolted and presumably weakened.  Their grain-tight boxes were designed to keep flax and seed from spilling out of the wagons and double-riveted felloes provided even more strength to the wheels. Ultimately, though, those qualities were remarkably similar to those of other competitors.  Fortunately, the company had other features that really did set it apart.  As it turns out, those characteristics were some of the most visually different and promotionally significant traits on any wagon and they centered on the foundational soundness of axles and wheels.

This image clearly shows an iron reinforcement block placed between the axle and rear bolster of a Winona wagon.  Even so, not all Winona wagons will include this feature or that of iron clad hubs.

Reinforcing the company’s commitment to quality construction, Winona built its heavier mountain wagons with a characteristic it called “outer bearing” axles.  The term sounds like it referred to a roller bearing or outer seal on the axles.  In fact, the feature was more simple, but equally ingenious.  On many Winona wagons, a custom-formed block of iron was placed immediately beneath the bolster stake and allowed to rest on the shoulder of the skein.

The effect was similar to the addition of structural supports to a suspension bridge.  The iron blocks helped take more of the load off the center portion of the axle and spread it across the entire wheel base.  The result was that the outer axle was tied to the upper bolster while also being reinforced by the skein (the metal thimble fitted over the wooden axle).  It meant that both the axle beam and the bolster or sand board above it would have to break before the wagon could be rendered helpless.  In an era when wagons were often used in remote, rugged regions, this was a dramatically important feature.

According to Winona, by shifting the load toward the wheels, the wagon could carry a greater load and was easier to pull.  The company explained this by pointing out that an ordinary wagon with a very heavy load experiences a strain that pushes down on the axle, slightly springing it and throwing the wheels outward at the bottom.  The net effect of the wheels being pushed out would cause them to bind against the nut on the outside and the axle on the inside, making the entire rig harder to maneuver and roll.  By contrast, Winona claimed that its outer bearing axles actually relieved the strain beneath the hounds, kept the axle rigid, the bearings straight, and the grease more evenly distributed.  It all had a very technical and logical sound to it, helping reinforce Winona’s image as a leader.

Truly, the whole structure was a novel idea and Winona took great advantage of promotional opportunities.  Beyond a simple verbal description touting the design’s strength, the company’s marketing folks made a practice of cutting out the entire center section of a Winona rear axle.  Then, they loaded the wagon and took photos to show the design strengths at work.  At the same time, they would take a competitor’s wagon, remove the same area of the rear axle, load it and clearly demonstrate the weakened and sagging gear.  These types of dramatic visual displays continually reinforced Winona as a major competitive force.

This century-plus-old image is housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  It clearly shows the significant strength of the outer bearing axle design.

Yet another distinctive design feature of Winona wagons was the “iron clad” hub. Once again, the carefully chosen name presented a vivid mental picture of strength, value, and confidence.  The design was a metal covering or shield tightly formed around the hub, protecting it from the destructive elements of work and weather.

According to the company’s early literature, this feature meant that “no matter how much the hubs were exposed to sun, snow, rain or dirt, they wouldn’t check or crack.”  Winona claimed that once a wagon hub begins to check, “the spokes work loose, the tires come off, and a breakdown occurs.”  While other builders could match many of the company’s quality construction traits, the patented features of an ironclad hub and outer bearing axle were clear advantages that set Winona apart.  The distinctions were so easy to see that, even today, they’re very helpful in the identification process.  (NOTE: Even though these features can help with the authentication process, there were other brands that used similar technology.  As a result, careful study is still needed to correctly identify the brand.)

During the teens of the 20th century, Winona adopted what would be one of its last identifiable icons.  Further securing itself to the historical namesake of its city and the romance of the Old West, the company attached its brand to the symbol of a Dakota American Indian maiden by the name of Wenonah.  It was a distinctive and easy-to-remember visual.  The Native American image was often included on the wagon, wagon seat, company letterhead, catalogs, ads and other promotional signage.

Even with a strong commitment to promotion, Winona ultimately fell victim to the same weakness that gripped virtually every wagon maker of the period.  Almost all of the old builders found it hard to accept the passing of the grand wagon era.  Changing times, needs, and expectations helped increase the influence of motorized transportation while the archaic look of a horse-and-wagon-dominated society fell increasingly out of favor.

By the 1930s, Winona (and the majority of U.S.-based wood-wheeled wagon makers) had ceased operations. Vintage directories list Mike’s Trading Store in Spokane, Wash., as the only place to obtain replacement parts during the Great Depression.  Fittingly, the company’s final legacy continues to be carried by many of those highly identifiable design and construction traits.  It seems “Good Timber and Bone Dry” was more than a slogan.  It was a deep-seated commitment to craftsmanship that can still be seen as the Winona brand regularly takes on all comers in 21st century chuck wagon and sheep wagon competitions as well as collector gatherings throughout the country.


Through much of the company’s history, Winona also made another brand of wagon called ‘Rushford.’  This was actually the company that Winona originated from in 1879.  In the early part of the 20th century, the firm ceased using the Rushford name and it was carried on by another organization.  It’s an important element of history as not all surviving Rushford wagons can be connected to the Winona Wagon Company. 

In a nod to the company’s roots, the Rushford brand was marketed by Winona throughout the late nineteenth century. 


Winona made a wide variety of wagon types including farm, freight, mountain, sheep camp, fruit, potato bed, and U.S. military wagons.  While ironclad hubs and outer bearing axles were primarily used on the company’s heavier vehicles, individual features of every wagon were designed to satisfy specific terrain, user purposes, and price ranges.

Throughout its construction, Winona utilized hickory timber for axles and white oak for spokes, hubs, and felloes. Box sides were generally constructed from poplar but cottonwood was also used.  Box floors were almost always built from pine.

Beyond wheel size and box bed variations, other distinctions between different styles of Winona wagons included choices between wooden or steel axles, stiff or drop tongues as well as multiple brake styles, track widths, and tire widths ranging from 1-1/2 to 4 inches. All wagon builders had geographical regions where they were most competitive.  Winona wagons were touted as being particularly well suited to the South and West and, as such, were sold predominantly west of the Mississippi River. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Building Collections – Never Stop Looking

Looking for remnants of America’s transportation past may be disheartening on occasion.  For those pursuing the most elusive wooden wheels, it can sometimes feel like all of the important pieces have disappeared.  In truth, there are a number of amazing collections as well as individual vehicles scattered all over this great country.  Some are highly publicized.  Some are lesser known.  Others – and elements related to those – are still waiting to be discovered.  One thing that’s become increasingly essential to 21st century collectors is the need for careful discernment and understanding of a particular set of wheels.  That ability to look at every detail of a vehicle and clearly understand what it has to say is of immense value. 

At the risk of sounding like I’m overstating the obvious, some of these pieces are more valuable than others.  Pushing that point a little farther down the road, if you’re buying a set of wheels and expecting it to grow in value at the same rate as extreme examples you’ve heard, seen, or read about, it’s important to understand what drives those better sale prices.  Otherwise, we run the risk of consistently ending up with buyer’s remorse.  Ultimately, not every good-looking set of wheels will have the best return on a given investment. (Oh, and for the record, proper appraisal values are not based on list prices seen on the internet – no two pieces are ever the same and what someone asks isn’t necessarily what something is worth).    

As the antique vehicle landscape becomes more picked over and attrition wreaks havoc with other wagons and western vehicles, it’s helpful to know what’s more desirable and why.  It’s also increasingly significant to realize what defines construction features from a particular timeframe of manufacture.  This is an area that sometimes makes me an unpopular fella.  In truth, I understand the disappointment.  If a person feels they have an 1880’s brand X and they find out it’s an amalgamation of several 1920’s W, X, Y, and Z brands, it’s not necessarily good news.  Nonetheless, we work hard to deliver objective and period supportable evaluations without speculation or hearsay.  Likewise, the all-important assessment of what’s original and what isn’t continues to create problems for some.  Why?  Well, with prices on the best pieces continuing to escalate, it’s easier than ever for buyers to be tempted with doctored or less-than-honest pieces.  The old Latin phrase, Caveat Emptor, is as pertinent as it’s ever been. 

But, even if a particular group of vehicles does contain quality and desirable pieces, is that enough of an investment plan?  In other words, how do we help ensure we’re investing in the long-term growth potential of vehicles without purchasing pieces that continually duplicate the collection?  One way is to diversify the types of vehicles in the group.  Like any investment portfolio, the right mix can help look after the value of the whole.  The added variety also has potential to reinforce the intrigue of an entire collection to a broader audience, especially if all the quality pieces are connected by a central theme or purpose. 

Small stage wagons built on Mountain wagon gears were a prominent feature throughout the Old West.  Regrettably, most have disappeared which is one of the reasons we felt this piece was an important addition to our collection.

As our own collecting continues to evolve, I find myself more and more interested in helping tell the whole western vehicle story.  After all, these wheels were tied to a massive industry and there are a host of supporting elements that help fill in some important storylines.  To that point, there’s a wide array of unique or patented parts as well as early signage, tools, advertising, accessories, and design distinctions that can add to the fascination and fullness of a collection.  It’s just one of the reasons we focus on the pieces related to a vehicle’s background as much as we do the vehicle itself. 

 We purchased this rare stage wagon (mail jerky) in 2015 and commissioned Doug Hansen and his team to help with some light conservation and restoration efforts.  It had served in the rugged country around Angels Camp, California.  Our desire was to retain as much of the original patina and hard-earned character as possible.  

Special thanks to the entire crew at Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota for the museum-grade work done on this 19th century stage wagon.  It's a special connection to the Old West.

Another reason to consider acquiring background elements relates to the need for authentication at every level of a vehicle.  For instance, just because the box, body, or running gear has a quality maker name attached to it is no guarantee that all of the other parts are of the same make and timeframe.  Correctly-tied period imagery, literature, and promotional materials can go a long way in answering questions while eliminating doubts about originality.  Reinforcing that point, in all my years of collecting, I’ve seen very few original brochures highlighting the full-line of Winona brand wagons.  Just as hard to locate are period images of the vehicles they built.  Why are these important?  Because they offer irrefutable evidence as to how these pieces were designed and used during a particular period of time.  Recently, I stumbled upon an original photo of a Winona Sheep Bed wagon.  It was one more needle-in-a-haystack find we were able to add to the rare history we’ve uncovered over the past two-plus decades.

In a nod to the significance of the sheep industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Winona was just one of a number of major brands offering these designs.  Most surviving Sheep wagon or Sheep Camp wagon photos don’t show enough detail or logos to conclusively identify a maker.  Finding this image not only corroborates the brochure promotions from the same timeframe but gives us a clear example of the vehicle in use.  That can be a valued point of historical reference for those wanting to authenticate a Winona Sheepherder wagon.

Likewise, within the past year, we came across another century-plus-old photo showing an ultra-rare, dual-labeled Moline John Deere chuck wagon.  With the help of some extensive research we did a few years ago, this wagon can be immediately pinpointed to the 1910 to early 1912-era.  It’s a seldom-seen look at the beginnings of John Deere-branded wagons. 

Elsewhere, we’ve been fortunate to uncover more original factory images – including one showing employees of the Stoughton Wagon Works with recently finished products.  Others we’ve come across include the employees and early wagons built by Carver, Ft. Smith, Moline, Piqua, Kentucky, and more.  Our series of original chuck wagon photos have also continued to grow with several hundred now in the archives.  We’re also still in the process of tracking down the maker of a Concord-style coach that may be from a different builder than either Abbot or Downing.  At this point, we know the coach was publicly shown in the West just after WW1 but, like a lot of pieces, it's left very few clues as to its whereabouts today. 

These are just a few of the vehicle-related acquisitions and research projects that make up our regular searches.  It’s our hope that what we uncover not only helps us in our efforts but also adds value to the finds of countless collectors all over the U.S.  After all, it’s the stories behind these pieces that will often boost interest while preserving some of America’s most misunderstood history.  Ultimately, no matter the vehicle brands or area of focus, one of the greatest secrets to building a quality collection is to never stop looking.  Good luck in your pursuits!

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Early Vehicle Provenance – The Reach Plate Connection

Researching ancestral histories and investing in DNA testing to determine an individual’s genetic composition are popular pursuits these days.  It seems that more and more people want to know about the personal history that’s part of their makeup.  Similarly, it’s rewarding to know as much as possible about the history (provenance) of an antique horse-drawn vehicle. 

If you ever want to learn how much is not known (and objectively substantiated) about a piece, start visually dissecting the vehicle and ask what can be confirmed about each part of the whole.  Where did a specific part come from? – Did the builder make the part or buy it?  Was the design ever patented?  Why was that particular part used?  How is it different from other forms of construction?  Is it original to the time of manufacture?  Has a particular part ever been replaced? – If so, when and why?  What, if any, features on the vehicle help define a particular region or purpose for which it was built?  Clearly, asking specific questions about a set of wheels can highlight just how much more there is to know.  Likewise, every piece of an early vehicle has a story to tell. 

Further highlighting the search for information on these functional works of art, let’s look at one of America’s most popular, mass-produced vehicles.  Spanning the 1800’s and early 1900’s timeframes, millions of farm wagons were produced.  Yet, most have largely disappeared and only a small percentage of the brands that were created in the U.S. have survived.  Looking at those that are still here, there are literally hundreds of individual components to review on any given vehicle.  Even if two wagons are of the same make, they will not carry the same provenance since they had different users, use patterns, environmental exposures, and so forth.  As a result, it’s doubtful that most of us will ever know everything there is to know about the history of a particular set of wheels.

This snapshot shows a variety of reach plate designs dating from the 1860’s through the early 1900’s.

One area within farm wagon construction that can be interesting to examine is the reach plate.  For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a reach plate is the metal piece surrounding the mid-portion of the reach or coupling pole.  Looking under the wagon, the center section of the running gear (undercarriage) often includes a reach plate with a drop-in pin that connects the front and rear portions of the running gear.  Of course, not all early wagons were constructed with reach plates.  However, many were and it can be a good place to find clues related to the history of an old wagon; assuming that it hasn’t been replaced and is still original to the wagon gear/box. 

Over the years, we’ve gathered up a number of unique plates, including some of the first ones ever made by a particular brand.  The efforts have been part of our efforts to preserve the countless stories and unique history within America’s first transportation industry.  Oftentimes, original reach plate housings can hold information helpful in determining a vehicle’s timeframe of manufacture, general carrying capacities, design standards, maker name, factory location, and, in some instances, patent records.

To that point, I thought I'd share a few details that can be quickly gleaned from a half-dozen pieces in our collection...

Funck & Hertzler – Burlington, Iowa

Funck & Hertzler (F&H) was the predecessor to the Orchard City Wagon Company.  Both firms built the Orchard City brand wagon.  The company’s factory was originally established in 1856 by John Funck.  Like many early wagon makers, the firm built and repaired other farm implements as well.  Within the first few decades of its existence, F & H was making as many as 1600 wagons per year, almost as many plows, and about 800 cultivators.  By 1882, they employed 90 folks producing 4,000 wagons per year as well as 3,000 plows, and another 4,000 cultivators and harrows.

The company was reorganized in 1893 and, at that point, the firm name was changed to “Orchard City Wagon Company.”  This particular builder closed its doors around 1912.  While these details are brief, they can be combined with addition information on the city’s growth as well as obituaries, genealogical histories, and other points of interest from local libraries and historical societies.  Every element can add intrigue to the provenance of a surviving Orchard City wagon.

This rare Funck & Hertzler plate will likely date to the 1870’s or 1880’s.  

Ed Bain - Kenosha, Wisconsin

I shared a fair number of details related to the background of the Bain Wagon Company in my January 11th blog post a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, it seemed appropriate to include a mention of the same, very early “E. Bain” reach plate here.  As I’d stated earlier, knowing the history of a particular company can help us recognize rare survivors while gleaning important provenance and passing on the details to future generations. Ultimately, if we don’t do it now, this incredible part of our past will likely be lost.

Ball Bros. - Bushnell, Illinois  

One of the earliest wagon and carriage builders in Bushnell, Illinois and the immediate predecessor to Ball Bros. was Ball & Sons.  The company was launched near the close of the Civil War and remained in business for almost a half century.  It closed down in 1914. Perhaps as a sign of the times, after selling its assets, the building that the business had occupied became a dealership for the Packard automobile.  The reach plate in our collection will likely date to around 1910.   

This rare reach plate for a regional maker in Bushnell, Illinois once belonged to a Ball Bros. wagon likely built around 1910.

Studebaker - South Bend, Indiana

Some of the more interesting reach plates from Studebaker are those dating to the nineteenth century.  Many of these have five-digit numerals cast into them and I’ve yet to run across two plates with the same numbers.  As of this writing, I don’t have any concrete evidence but have wondered if these might correspond to serial numbers attached to the earlier wagons?  I do know that the serial numbers attached to the wagons tended to be five digits.  If any reader has details on this supposition, I’d be interested in hearing from you. 

Phillip Miller & Sons – Edina, MO

The Miller Wagon Company in Edina, Missouri is profiled on our Wheels That Won The West® limited edition print.  It was established by German emigrant, Philip Miller in 1867.  While the firm may be best known for its farm wagons, they also made buggies and spring wagons.  The P M & Sons reach plate (seen in the group photo above) was a rare, earlier find for our collection.

In the 1877 patent submission for this reach plate, Targe Mandt referred to it as a reach brake-plate since it also served as a mount for the brake beam.

T.G. Mandt - Stoughton, Wisconsin

One of the most proficient and prolific inventors within the world of early wagons was Targe (T.G.) Mandt.  His innovations covered everything from wheels, tongues, and brakes to running gears, standards, box tighteners, axles, end gates, spring seats, and more.  He started his company in Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1865.  There’s a fair amount written on the company and original T.G. Mandt wagons in good condition remain popular with collectors.

Targe Mandt passed away in 1902.  While the factory remained in Stoughton, Wisconsin, by 1906, the brand and its innovations were acquired by the Moline Plow Company in Moline, Illinois.  Digging a little deeper, Mandt’s history gets even more interesting as it eventually became a sister brand to the Stevens automobile as well as Willys-Overland. 

One last observation related to the Mandt brand wagon.  Today, some confuse the Moline-Mandt brand with the Moline brand.  The two are as different as the sun and moon.  The Moline-Mandt is directly related to the original Mandt wagons (due to rights purchased after T.G. Mandt’s death in 1902).  The other Moline is a legendary company with roots pre-dating the Civil War.  It is a completely separate firm, eventually purchased by John Deere in 1910.     

There you have it... a brief look at just one part of many early wagons that can hold valuable information and clues to even more history of a piece.  Again and again, information cast into the stamped and cast metal reach plates of wagons can be extremely helpful.  Not only did these innovative pieces serve their initial purpose by connecting the front and rear running gear sections but, today, they can re-connect us to the vehicle’s past as well as showcase what technologies were available when.  It’s one more reminder that we can learn something from every part of an old wagon.  Sometimes, it requires time and patience to glean the information but, if we listen close, these wooden warriors always have something to say.  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

E. D. Clapp – Wagons, Staging, & Drop Forging

Researching America’s first transportation industry isn’t always an easy task.  The whole process can be extremely time-consuming and exasperating; cold trails running this way and that... hearsay, rumors, misinformation, dead ends and mysteries running rampant.  Truth is, so much of what once was common knowledge has passed into a hard-to-track category so vague, unfamiliar, and fruitless, we often label it as a four-letter word... Lost.  It’s a box canyon we’re continually fighting our way through and, along the way, celebrating when another piece of the puzzle is found. 

One of the portals offering insights and clues into days-gone-by is that of obituaries.  While it might seem a bit on the morbid side at first, these period documents can contain life overviews that are otherwise difficult to find.  Inside those information particulars, it’s not unusual to come across nuggets that help define, date, and even authenticate vehicles.  With tens of thousands of carriage and wagon makers dotting the American landscape, we’ll never get to the bottom of the history of each one but, our ultimate goal is to help introduce enough folks to these stories that we save as much of our past as possible. 

This factory illustration shows the E.D. Clapp factory in the late 1880’s

To that point, E.D. Clapp (Emerous Donaldson Clapp) may not be very well-known to many of today’s early vehicle enthusiasts.  Nonetheless, he and his businesses were an important part of America’s horse-drawn vehicle world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  From wagon-making to manufacturing carriage and saddlery hardware, hauling coal, and running stage lines, Mr. Clapp was an instrumental force in our first transportation industry. 

In an effort to share a bit more about this seldom-profiled manufacturer, I thought we’d take a look at the legacy of the man through the words published after his death in the July 1889 issue of The Hub. The story was originally written for The Bulletin in Auburn, New York in that same month...

“The deceased was born at Ira, this country, November 12, 1829, and was consequently 60 years of age.  He was educated at the district school and at Falley Seminary, at Fulton.  In 1851 he moved to Ira and built a small shop and began the manufacture of farm wagons and other vehicles.  He continued doing business in Ira for four years, employing six men and turning out about twenty-five wagons per year, besides a number of light carriages.  In 1855 he leased his wagon shop and began running a stage line between Oswego and Auburn, carrying a daily mail from that year up to 1880.  He was uncommonly successful in bidding for mail carrying contracts, and until 1865 gave the greater share of his attention to carrying out and sub letting the same.

In 1856, when Auburn contained only 7,000 inhabitants, he removed here, and has since been one of the most active and successful businessmen in the community.  He carried on a livery business on Garden and State streets, for several years until 1867, when he sold out and concentrated all his energies in the manufacturing business.  In 1864, he leased a small shop on Mechanic street, and having a patent on a thill coupling for vehicles he began manufacturing the same.  This was the first institution which manufactured carriage hardware in Auburn, and, as time progressed it grew to be one of the largest factories of the kind in the United States.  The business grew to such proportions that in 1867 it was removed to a new factory on Water street, the firm name being Clapp, Fitch & Co.  In 1873, Mr. Fitch retired, and the business was continued by Mr. Clapp and F. Van Patten, under the firm name of E.D. Clapp & Co.  In 1873 the site on the corner of Genesee and Division streets, now occupied by the large shops of the company, was presented to the firm, and sufficient money was subscribed to build the foundation of the present factory.  In 1876 the business was incorporated under the name of E. D. Clapp Mfg. Co., with a paid up capital of $150,000.  In 1880 Mr. Clapp organized the Auburn Wrought-Iron Bit and Iron Co., with a capital of $60,000, and in the same year the E.D. Clapp Wagon Co. Limited, turning out the first wagon in April 1881.  The company have also done an extensive business in coal, handling from 15,000 to 20,000 tons a year.  The various shops under the management of Mr. Clapp at the time of his death gave employment to about 600 hands...” 

The E.D. Clapp Wagon Company Limited built its first wagon in 1881.  This rare, surviving card was created to promote the brand’s offerings of iron axle and thimble skein wagons.


Filled with dates and other business details, Mr. Clapp’s obituary provides an abundance of leads, helping fill in the gaps of this part of history.  We know from other sources that, in 1876, Mr. Clapp and his business partner, Frederick Van Patten, were awarded another patent for a quiet, non-rattling thill coupling.  We also know that the company produced a variety of vehicles, including farm, freight, coal, lumber, and ice wagons as well as bob sleighs.  They ceased building wagons around 1890, focusing on the expertise they had gained in the drop forging industry. Even so, the same “Auburn” brand and logo was carried on by the Auburn Wagon Company first in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and then moving to Martinsburg, West Virginia, with its charter there issued in March of 1897.

E.D. Clapp’s firm was sold in 1958, marking the first time in more than a century that it was not owned by a member of the Clapp family.  Over the decades, the company had provided hundreds of thousands of hardware parts for buggies built by a host of legendary builders.  Included among those parts were fifth wheels, axle clips, king bolts, clevises, shaft couplings, doubletree clevises and staples, spring clips, shaft and pole eyes, and more.

During the Civil War, they provided forgings for guns as well as for wagons.  They supplied additional hardware for wagons in the Spanish-American War.  Likewise, during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War they provided forgings for trucks, tanks, planes, warships, torpedoes, and countless other military needs.

Today, too many folks walk by the old wheels of yesterday, passing off the silent survivors and never asking what real history they’re connected to or hold.  Each is filled with information and the stories they tell help us reassemble the road map to our past.  Most of the time, we only scratch the surface when we examine a vehicle’s provenance.  Digging a little deeper, though, can add greatly to our appreciation of the past while enriching the present and passing along an important heritage to future generations.  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Palace Hotel – Staging in the West

In today’s world, it’s not unusual to see early western vehicles on display in major hotels, banks, restaurants, theme parks, museums, and other public gathering places.  After all, the legacy and lore of the American West continues to be popular with audiences around the world.  What often goes unseen, though, is how these same vehicles were also used as promotional icons throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century.  Truth is, the allure of the West and its vehicles was well-known to nineteenth century marketers.  In fact, some were already visually tying these rolling works of art to the frontier as early as the 1860’s and ‘70’s.  Reinforcing that point, our Wheels That Won The West® Archives include a few examples of period paintings and engravings originally commissioned by the likes of Peter Schuttler, Milburn, and Studebaker Wagon Companies. 

What is harder to find are actual photos showing these vehicles directly involved with event marketing efforts (beyond trade shows, fairs, and Wild West shows) during these timeframes.  I know the challenge firsthand because we’ve been actively collecting early vehicle imagery for over two decades.  In that time, we’ve uncovered some amazing moments in time.  Things like tall-sided western freighters being righted after a mountain-side wreck, photos of legendary vehicle brands that are all-but-extinct today, early chuck wagon designs and descriptions, rare Exposition wagons from the United States’ first century as a nation, and even one-of-a-kind wagon factory images are just a few of the finds we’ve been fortunate to uncover. 

In the middle of it all, I can get lost in the history, nostalgia, and details of these old photos.  There’s so much going on.  From the people, clothing, scenery, and signage to vehicle designs, period tools, weather, and terrain, every original image is chock full of primary source information.  Even so, uncovering photographs of these vehicles being used as promotional tools can be a tall order. 

With great fanfare, the Palace Hotel opened in San Francisco in 1875.  The grand design and extensive accoutrements made it an instant landmark of the West.

Not long ago, I came across a photo from the mid-1870’s.  It’s a shot showing the interior courtyard in the Old Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  I say ‘old’ because the hotel still exists in the same location on Montgomery street but, it was rebuilt after its destruction in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Like other structures, it managed to largely survive the enormous ground-shaking but it couldn’t hold up to the relentless fires.  Almost immediately after the quake, the old hotel was razed and work began on a smaller, temporary Palace hotel.  By December of 1909, a new Palace hotel was completed on the original site.  Today, the facility continues to receive high marks as an exceptional and luxurious guest experience.    

This rare view of the Old Palace Hotel in San Francisco shows a period touring coach as part of a promotional display.

Upon completion, the original structure stood 120 feet tall and was said to have been the largest hotel in the West.  Similarly, it was San Francisco’s tallest building for a number of years.  The magnificent facility was designed so that the whole creation surrounded a huge interior courtyard.  White columned balconies fronted seven stories and a massive skylight.  With more than 750 rooms, there were accommodations for 1200 people.  Hydraulic elevators (referred to as ‘rising rooms’) were lined with redwood paneling.  Individual rooms included 15 and 16 foot ceilings as well as private baths and electric call buttons for attendants.  The exquisite lodgings also featured a barber shop, multiple dining rooms, billiard rooms, ballroom, reception rooms, and even fireplaces in the guest rooms.  Visitors were treated as regal nobility, wanting for nothing.  The central court was surrounded by marble-tiled promenades and a tropical garden filled with exotic plants, statues and fountains.  Just as notable, the courtyard was anchored by a paved, circular drive and huge doors allowing horse-drawn carriages and coaches to enter and exit the interior of the hotel.  Guests departing for depots, ferry landings, and the like were able to check their bags before leaving the hotel and avoid the logistics of keeping up with their luggage when departing. 

As I studied the old photo, my eyes ran over the beautiful columns, globed light fixtures, and flourishing plants.  Then, focusing on the far end of the courtyard, I noticed a seating area.  Centering that section, a twelve-passenger (including driver) Yosemite stagecoach was on display.  The wheels of the coach were secured inside a grooved rail and signage was positioned near the front of the coach.  When considering the clientele of the hotel, it’s not hard to deduce how this piece was being used.  There were countless excursion sites near the city as well as those taking in the scenic California coast and historic interior.  Capitalizing on those opportunities, these open-sided touring coaches were among the most popular ways to view America’s western wonders.  From Yellowstone to Yosemite and numerous other locales, these carefully crafted designs were used in all types of recreational outings.  Thousands upon thousands experienced the majestic beauty of America while surrounded by the style and splendor of a thoroughbrace-cradled ride.  

With its circular drive, the interior courtyard of the Old Palace Hotel offered extraordinary comfort and convenience to hotel guests.

Looking closely at the vehicle in the photo, it’s easy to see the high-gloss varnish, paint, and lettering as well as the unmarked leather and bright, clean canvas on the rear boot and top.  The coach appears to be new and in pristine condition.  Later, pre-quake photos, show different courtyard displays that do not include the coach, leaving us to wonder where the vehicle might be today or if it has survived?  To that point, there are a number of these century-plus-old touring vehicles that do still exist.  From private collections and historical organizations to museums across the country, many of these legendary stages continue to be part of promotions showcasing the wealth of stories and rich, national heritage of the Great American West.  Again and again, these old wheels are proven to be more than just leftover parts of a forgotten world.  They’re connections to and reminders of the blessings of freedom, inspiration of dreams, and rewards of hard work.  

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Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

George Yule & the Bain Wagon Company

I’ve spent close to three and a half decades in the world of advertising, marketing, and branding.  For many, that would be a long time.  For some, though, that kind of background is just a beginning.  Reinforcing that point, I recently ran across a story of an employee working for a company for almost three-quarters of a century!

Bain wagons often included maker logos on the front and rear axles.

The example I’m referring to is that of George Yule.  Prior to reading this blog, you may not have heard of Mr. Yule.  However, if you’re a fan of the legendary ‘Bain’ wagon brand, you have that same love-for-the-brand in common with him.  In the August 1913 issue of “The Carriage Monthly,” Mr. Yule was commended for an incredible seventy-one years with the firm!  That brief story (shown below) also includes some interesting history of both the Bain and Mitchell wagon companies.  As such, and in light of the fact that 2017 marks the 165th Anniversary of the launch of the Bain Wagon Company, I thought I’d pass along this part of our past...

“George Yule, president of the Bain Wagon Co., Kenosha, Wis., has what is probably the most unique record of any man in a responsible position with any big manufacturing concern in the United States. Recently Mr. Yule celebrated the seventy-first anniversary of his connection with the Bain Wagon Co.

For seventy-one years he had just the one employer, and most of the time that he has been connected with the company his position has been one of great influence.  Mr. Yule was at his office on his seventy-first anniversary just as early as any of the other employees of the company and, the fact that he was ready to start on a seventy-second year of work seemed to have no effect on him whatever.

Seventy-one years ago on July 1st Mr. Yule went to Kenosha from his father’s farm in the town of Somers.  At that time the Mitchell and Quarles Co. had only a few employees, but Mr. Mitchell decided to put young Yule to work.  In a short time he had worked himself up to a place where he was considered one of the best wagonmakers in the employ of the company, and when the late Edward Bain purchased the Mitchell & Quarles interest in 1852 he made Mr. Yule superintendent of the plant. 

For thirty years he served in this capacity, and in 1882, when the company was incorporated under the name of the Bain Wagon Co., Mr. Yule was elected vice-president.  In 1890, there were other changes, and with a record of fifty years of continued success, Mr. Yule was elected as president of the company.  Later on the heirs of the late Edward Bain retired from the management of the big plant and Mr. Yule become not only the president of the company, but the principal owner of the stock of the concern. 

When he went to work for the company, away back before the Civil War, all portions of the wagons were built by hand and the output was only a few wagons a year.  The plant now turns out thousands of wagons yearly, and is one of the largest wagonmaking concerns in the country.”

This extremely rare reach plate will date as early as the 1860’s or ‘70’s.  It’s housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives and is one of the oldest surviving pieces from Ed Bain’s wagon factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Historical records in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives point out that Mr. Yule came to America from Scotland when he was sixteen.  Two years later, in 1842, he was hired by Mitchell & Quarles to help build wagons in Kenosha (then known as Southport).  At the time, the Mitchell & Quarles shops were only building about 10-15 wagons each year.  They also did repair work on plows and implements for area farmers.  

Based on period details from above article as well as our archives, Mr. Yule was not only an influential force in the earliest days of Bain and Mitchell wagons but, he was there when the U.S. purchased California from Mexico, when gold was discovered in California, when western territories became states, when legendary outlaws were making headlines, when the transcontinental railroad was built, and when so many other major events in the history of the West took place.  He even lived to see the automobile and the new challenges of transportation competition in the 20th century.  Very few individuals will ever have a front-row-seat to the rise and fall of international commerce the size of America’s first transportation industry.  Nonetheless, Mr. Yule not only saw these things but was instrumental in guiding one of the biggest brands to shape the American West. 

From its beginnings, Bain was never a small endeavor.  The brand leapt from its newborn page of possibilities to near-instant national recognition as it capitalized on the factory and distribution network left wholly in place by Henry Mitchell (Mitchell & Quarles).  By the late 1860’s, the firm was producing several thousand wagons per year and within another decade, annual production numbers were near ten thousand.  In 1911, the company was purchased by George Yule and other family members for an estimated $1.5 million.  Growth continued into the mid-teens as the company touted 450 employees and a capacity of 18,000 wagons.  

After transferring his interest in the Kenosha factory to Edward Bain in 1852, Henry Mitchell moved on to Racine, Wisconsin, eventually restarting his empire and building the Mitchell wagon brand into a powerhouse that would be purchased by John Deere in 1917.  

Today, the Mitchell and Bain brands continue to be extremely popular with collectors and enthusiasts; and for good reason.  The quality, history, reputation, and wide range of designs created by both firms left a legacy that most makers had a tough time competing with.  When looking at Bain, a big part of that reputation came from time-honored employees like George Yule who not only was an exceptional wagon maker but possessed a steadfast loyalty that both grew and protected the brand for generations.  Corporate America could still learn from these early business giants. 

This early promotional flyer for Bain wagons dates to the late 1860’s.  

Dating to the 1870’s, this Bain wagon catalog may be the earliest surviving piece promoting the brand’s entire product line.

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC