Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Answers for the Test

Last week, we shared a number of true/false questions related to America’s early wagon industry.  Overall, it was a massive wood-wheeled dynasty that left us with some incredible, albeit largely forgotten stories from our nation’s history.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll gradually share the answers to the questions.  Even more importantly, we're looking forward to highlighting some intriguing parts of our transportation past.  With that as a lead-in, below are the answers to the first dozen questions we presented...

1)    The American Wagon Company only made wagon boxes – not running gears... 

This one is true.  The American Wagon Company factory was located in Dixon, Illinois (Ronald Reagan's boyhood hometown).  Their specialty was the manufacture of multi-purpose boxes/beds that could be folded into multiple shapes and accommodate numerous job needs; from moving chickens, hogs, and sheep to hauling hay, grain, and even people to a picnic.  I wrote a feature article on this firm that can be found in the May 2005 issue of Farm Collector magazineThese wagon boxes can be hard to locate but we do have an extra one in our collection that’s available for purchase.

'American' brand folding wagon boxes were protected by multiple patents.

2)    A sure way to identify a Winona wagon is through its exclusive use of iron clad hubs... 
The correct answer here is ‘False.’  While Winona used metal coverings (Iron Clad) for many of their wagon hubs, they did not use the design for all of the wagons produced in their factory.  Additionally, they were not the only users of this design.  As I reported in our book, Borrowed Time, the Weber Wagon Company also used this design.  Additionally, the Peter Schuttler brand even had a patent on it during the 1800’s.

3)      Peter Schuttler offered more than a dozen sub-brands of vehicles...
While many builders offered multiple brands within their umbrella of vehicle offerings – usually to fulfill a ‘good-better-best’ type of product sales strategy – the legendary “Chicago Wagons” tended to focus on one brand and one quality throughout.  Period directories indicate that this well-known firm primarily labeled their wagons with either the 'Schuttler' or 'Peter Schuttler' moniker.

4)    You can identify a wagon as a Studebaker anytime you see the Studebaker name cast into the skeins...
This is false.  When it comes to early vehicle identification, no single element should ever be used as the only point of identification.  Parts were often lost, broken, and substituted with little regard given to using an original as a replacement.  In this case, Studebaker also had its own foundry and sold thousands of Studebaker skeins separately from their own wagons.  These skeins were used as general replacement parts as well as parts for other wagon brands.

5)    The Ft. Smith Wagon Company was among an assortment of firms receiving contracts to build vehicles for Native Americans during the early twentieth century...
This is a true statement.  There were a number of wagons – especially 1 horse – built by the Fort Smith brand that were made to fulfill government contracts for Native American wagons.

6)    The giant western wagon referred to as the “Fortuna” featured 6-inch-wide tires, 8-foot-tall rear wheels and an overall height of 13.5 feet.  It was built by the legendary Stockton, California firm of M.P. Henderson in 1899 and sold to a man who purportedly used a fortune teller to guide him in his mining decisions...
This statement is also true.  In the early 1880's, Charles Lane (being encouraged by a medium) acquired the “Utica” mine in Angels Camp, California and threw himself into what he hoped would be his fortune.  Over the years, he spent everything he had, often with little left to feed his family.  Day after day, he dug.  Tunnels honeycombed the underground.  Still, there was little to show for it.  Many in the community and beyond counted him as a reckless nut.  The label seemed appropriate until the early 1890’s when the mine finally gave up its true fortune.  It turned out that the Utica held the richest vein of gold in all of California.  Ultimately, it yielded millions upon millions of dollars.  It’s an intriguing bit of news for our collection as well.  The stage wagon we were able to help preserve several years ago was operating throughout the Angels Camp community during this entire timeframe.  Due to his proclivity to find precious minerals, some began to refer to C.D. Lane as ‘Lucky Lane.’  Just prior to the 20th century, Mr. Lane was working another mine operation in Arizona called the “Fortuna.”  He commissioned M.P. Henderson to build the giant wagon for use at the mine.

This stage wagon was used throughout the Angels Camp, California area during the same time when the Utica Mine was producing millions of dollars in gold.

7)      Henry Mitchell first started building wagons in Chicago in 1850... 

Only part of this statement is true.  Many are familiar with the Mitchell Wagon Company during its days in Racine, Wisconsin.  Throughout Mitchell’s history, the firm built countless styles of wagons as well as small stage wagons and even early automobiles.  While Henry Mitchell did start out building wagons in Chicago, he was there considerably earlier than 1850.  His official start year was 1834.

8)    Horse-drawn wagons can be equipped with different tongue configurations.  In the nineteenth century, a ‘drop tongue’ was also referred to as a ‘falling’ or ‘shifting’ tongue...

This point is also true and is part of the reason that terminology for designs within the early wagon industry can be complicated.  Oftentimes, there are multiple names describing the exact same feature. 

9)    In 1848, a seasoned freighter made the roughly 800-mile trip from Santa Fe to Independence, MO in just under 6 days...

Incredibly, this is true.  Traveling from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri in September of 1848, Francois Xavier (F.X.) Aubry made the trip in 5 days and 16 hours – despite being challenged by rain and mud.  The record speed won him $5,000 and the title of ‘Skimmer of the Plains.’  A mere 24 years of age, this feat occurred during his third year of freighting on the Santa Fe Trail.  There's a great deal more to Mr. Aubry’s story.  Look him up sometime.

10)  Of the 200,000 wagons said to have been built by Joseph Murphy in St. Louis, only a  handful are known to have survived...

As well-known as Joseph Murphy is to many people, surprisingly, there are no known surviving examples of his wagons. 

11)  We have no way of knowing what the first chuck wagon did or didn’t look like...

This one is definitely false.  Even without supporting photos from the period, there are numerous research tools at our disposal that can be helpful.  We do know from several primary source writings that the first chuck wagon was drawn by oxen.  Beyond that, what do we know?  Well, sometimes, when we’re researching a subject, we have to begin by defining what it did not entail.  The process helps refine facts while eliminating non-pertinent details.  In this case, it’s generally accepted that Charles Goodnight built the first chuckwagon in 1866.  Even if we didn’t know anything about the wagon, we can look at the date and know what elements were most likely on a wagon from that era.  This is where it gets interesting as certain design/construction technologies did not come into play until specific time periods.  To date, I’ve only seen one or possibly two chuck wagons with designs that would qualify for a mid-1860’s look.  If you’d like to know more, I’ll be sharing additional details on specific technologies and their time frames of introduction during my presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association in September.  Hope to see you there.

12)  The U.S. Army used dozens of different types of wagons... 

Absolutely true.  While the Army Escort wagon and even the Ambulance receive a lot of attention today, there were numerous other designs employed on and off the battlefield.  Among them were the battery wagons, signal corps wagons, lance wagons, artillery wagons, chess wagons, pontoon wagons, Dougherty wagons, buckboards, farm wagons, sprinkling wagons, mountain wagons, tool wagons, and many more.

The U.S. Army utilized Tool wagons as early as the Civil War.  We were extremely fortunate years ago to discover a full set of blueprint drawings of this vehicle. 

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, April 12, 2017

Test Your Early Transportation Knowledge

What we know about America’s first transportation industry is just a fraction of what there is to learn.  It’s a virtually bottomless subject.  Why?  The reason, in part, is that the industry was massive and it survived a long time.  Wooden wheels dominated U.S. transportation for centuries. 
While it seems reasonable to believe that anything lasting that long would be a familiar topic today, time has proven that that idea is wishful thinking.  With tens of thousands of builders creating millions of vehicles in thousands of styles with countless patents and more individual histories than can possibly be tracked, there is clearly a lot we still don’t know. 
For over two decades, we’ve been sharing details on this industry from our extensive archives.  We’ve done it to help reduce speculations while also growing greater appreciation for the vehicles and the industry’s impact on the country.  Likewise, much of the same information we uncover is vital for early brand identification and authentication as well as overall evaluations.  

The process of ‘digging’ for history is sometimes a literal description.  We were privileged to be on the site of the old Luedinghaus - Espenschied wagon factory when archaeologists were excavating it years ago.

The process of finding this history is often challenging.  It reminds me of an old western television show I watched as a kid.  The Guns of Will Sonnet, starred Walter Brennan as Will Sonnet and Dack Rambo as Will’s grandson, Jeff.  In each episode, the two searched throughout the West for Jeff’s dad (Will’s son, Jim).  The premise of seeking out and trying to find lost roots allowed the program to feature a variety of western adventures with numerous near-sightings and ‘he-was-just-here’ kinds of misses.  Crisscrossing the 1870’s western landscape, this duo was determined to find and restore a valued relationship.  The overall story of the American West is full of parallels related to horse drawn vehicles. Ultimately, it’s tough – if not impossible – to correctly relate America’s movement west without highlighting the wheels used for virtually everything – coaching, mails, agriculture, business, military, freighting, mining, logging, ranching, etc.   Each helps tell a crucial part of our nation's growth.  Yet, the vehicles and industry are rarely profiled within mainstream media sources. 
Even so, these wheels didn’t come together by magic.  They were created by people and corporate organizations filled with rapt stories of their own.  Brands were born, fortunes were made, and dreams were dashed in a powerful industry often moving with a winner-take-all kind of aggression.  By 1850, the discovery of gold in California had lit a match to vehicle production in the U.S.  Transportation, especially that for moving resources and working in the West, had taken on a whole new level of prominence.  Likewise, the Civil War stoked even more need for wooden wagons.  By the end of the War-Between-The-States, America’s vehicle makers were armed and ready for a take-no-prisoners focus on market share and business.   
Massive quantities of these wheeled designs were largely manufactured through factories scattered across the country.  With aggressive competition, large-scale marketing efforts, strong brand loyalties, and wide-spread distribution, it’s easy to see the influences nineteenth century trade had on modern-day transportation.  Many of the same business requisites – from advertising to customer service, dealer networks to product exports – have become valued parts of modern-day auto manufacturing. 
In the opening scenes of each episode of The Guns of Will Sonnet, Walter Brennan recites a poem.  In it, the character of Will Sonnet is recounting his earlier life and how he now recognizes the importance of helping find his son.  It's a haunting, yet important message related to perspective and what we sometimes undervalue in our early lives – only to look for ways to rectify those choices as we grow and mature.  The introduction to the show always ended with the words, “...So we ride, Jim’s boy, and me.”
As all of us ‘ride’ through the 21st century, there will be near-misses; times when we come close to finding and saving pieces of history.  At other times, we may feel like there’s not enough reason to continue a search.  Yet, the purpose is still there and if we stay vigilant, there will be discoveries.  Better still, with each find, there are still untold numbers of stories to tell.  Stories of the West that have likely never been told.  Like hidden clues from an all-but-forgotten time, aging artifacts and previously unknown records are waiting to be uncovered.  The historic relevance is there...  IF we have the persistence to dog the cold trails before it’s too late. 

A decade ago, we were fortunate to be able to personally examine and document the 1856 Peter Schuttler running gear in the Steamboat Arabia Museum.  To our knowledge, it is the earliest surviving, factory-built wagon in America.

As a nod to the efforts of so many collectors, museums, organizations, and enthusiasts, we thought we’d share some early vehicle details a little differently this week.  Below is a list of three dozen statements – some true and some false.  Take a look, record your thoughts and we’ll provide the correct answers along with some additional history in an upcoming blog...

1)    The American Wagon Company only made wagon boxes – not running gears.  True or False?

2)    A sure way to identify a Winona wagon is through its exclusive use of iron clad hubs.  True or False?

3)    Peter Schuttler offered more than a dozen sub-brands of vehicles.  True or False?

4)    You can identify a wagon as a Studebaker anytime you see the Studebaker name cast into the skeins.  True or False?

5)    The Ft. Smith Wagon Company was among an assortment of firms receiving contracts to build vehicles for Native Americans during the early twentieth century.  True or False?

6)    The giant western wagon referred to as the “Fortuna” featured 6-inch-wide tires, 8-foot-tall rear wheels and an overall height of 13.5 feet.  It was built by M.P. Henderson in 1899 and sold to a man who purportedly used fortune tellers to guide him in his mining decisions.  True or False?

7)    Henry Mitchell first started building wagons in Chicago in 1850.   True or False?

8)    Horse-drawn wagons can be equipped with different tongue configurations.  In the nineteenth century, a hinged, ‘drop tongue’ was also referred to as a ‘falling’ or ‘shifting’ tongue.  True or False?

9)    In 1848, a seasoned freighter made the roughly 800-mile trip from Santa Fe to Independence, MO in just under 6 days.  True or False?

10) Of the 200,000 wagons said to have been built by Joseph Murphy in St. Louis, only a handful are known to have survived.  True or False?

11) We have no way of knowing what the first chuck wagon did or didn’t look like.  True or False?

12)  The U.S. Army used dozens of different types of wagons.  True or False?

13)  Nineteenth century military forces were sometimes accompanied by ‘Balloon wagons.’  True or False?

14) The Springfield wagon company only used one style of seat - a lazy back.  True or False?

15) To keep a skein from having too much longitudinal wear, there should never be any slack when the wheel is rocked side to side.  True or False?

16) Tongue supports or springs (for wagons) were in use as early as the 1850’s.  True or False?

17) While a wagon is being drawn forward, the pressure on the reach pin makes it impossible for it to work itself out of the reach plate and coupling pole.  True or False?

18) The running gears of Bain brand wagons were always painted orange.  True or False?

19) Wagons with Bois d’arc (Osage Orange) wheels were not desirable on the plains.  True or False? 

20) Not all period chuck boxes utilized a folding leg(s) to support the hinged table.  True or False?

21)  Round edge tires were common on wagons used during the Civil War.  True or False?

22)  Not all king bolts were made of a single, solid piece.  Some were designed to bend.  True or False?

23) George Milburn (Milburn Wagon Company) was related to the Studebaker Brothers through marriage.  True or False?

24)  The California Gold Rush was started by a wagon maker.  True or False?

25) Wagons built in the U.S. between 1865 and 1895 changed very little in design.  True or False?

26) Stencils for painting brand names on wagons were in use as early as the 1870’s.  True or False?

27) The famous showman, P.T. Barnum, helped promote the Jackson Wagon Company.  True or False?

28) The Luedinghaus Wagon Company used a peacock as a brand icon.  True or False?

29) No wagon companies in America were building large freight wagons after 1900.  True or False?

30) Many of the first Chevrolet and Buick vehicles built in the U.S. were manufactured in the buildings where Flint brand wagons had previously been made.  True or False?

31) The term ‘dead-axle’ wagon refers to a vehicle with a weakened axle.  True or False?

32) International Harvester revolutionized the wagon industry with the first swiveling reach patent applied for in 1919.  True or False?

33) The Lindsey Wagon Company in Laurel, Mississippi was the only U.S. builder of eight-wheel logging wagons.  True or False?

34) Harrington Manufacturing Company of Peoria, Illinois was a significant manufacturer of Rural Mail wagons.  True or False?

35) Using prison labor to manufacture wagons was seldom done in the 1800’s.  True or False?

36) Fires, while feared, were seldom experienced by wagon makers in the 1800’s.  True or False? 

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, April 5, 2017

Abbot-Downing Concord Coach #259

I thought about titling this week’s blog simply as – Wow!  That word seemed to fit best when considering how I might share the experience of finding something that’s been lost for over a century.  While I spend a fair amount of time researching America’s first transportation industry, the path to discovery is often non-eventful and even boring.  The opportunity, though, to help restore lost history to a legendary part of our past... Well, that’s something I can get excited about! 

As much as I enjoy collecting – and it’s definitely an important part of our research – the real work takes place in the travels and countless hours of study inside old sales literature, period books, manuscripts, trade publications, maker ledgers, photographs, government documents, and the like.  It’s a passion that has drawn me like a moth to the flame for over two decades.  Even though I prize the process of learning, what really keeps me coming back are the discoveries; those first-time encounters that help all of us better understand the way things really were when our nation’s travel depended on wooden wheels.

Abbot-Downing was one of the few U.S. vehicle makers located in the east that successfully competed for business in the American West.

When it comes to our own research breakthroughs, there are special moments that tend to stand out, such as our exclusive uncovering of multiple patents on sheep camp wagons... the finding of one of only two known photos of a McMaster Camping Car... the incredible, forgotten-attic rescue of thirteen lost letters from renowned wagon maker, Joseph Murphy in St. Louis – four of which were written by Murphy, himself... acquiring and documenting primary source records for legendary vehicle builders like Hiram Young and Lewis Jones as well as freighters F.X. Aubry and Alexander Majors... or even the surprise of coming across the earliest surviving production-built Studebaker wagon.  Those and so many more significant finds have been continual, real-world-reminders of the rewards of perseverance.  None of the discoveries were possible, though, without first believing that there is still more history waiting to be rescued. 

In the midst of so much time spent chasing down leads, we’ve recently been fortunate to help restore even more background to one of the most legendary parts of America’s stage-coaching past.  Before we dive into the story, though, I want to give significant credit to well-known Concord Coach historian, Ken Wheeling, for his invaluable contributions.  Perhaps no other modern-day source has devoted so much time to researching Abbot-Downing and their Concord Coaches as Mr. Wheeling.

According to stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, the running gear (undercarriage) of this stagecoach is one of the survivors of a trainload of thirty stagecoaches shipped in 1868.  The coach is located in the Otero Museum in La Junta, Colorado.

A few weeks ago, I’d written an update of sorts to a mystery stagecoach photo I had come across.  The photo started us down a road with a number of diverging trails that had to be studied.  Like so many other obscure stories we’ve chased, the journey to connect the dots and track down pertinent elements has been an extraordinary venture.  This particular mission started roughly a year ago.  At the time, I had been working on content for a blog.  In the course of those events, I picked up a large, antique book in our archives and began thumbing through it.  The tome was a huge, four-inch-thick, 18-plus-pound, hardbound volume of The Carriage Monthly.  It held countless issues of the trade publication dating to the late 1890’s.  As I slowly worked my way through the aged content, I came to page 120 of the July 1899 issue.  That’s where I stopped.  There, near the top left-hand column was the image of an old stagecoach.  The photo was poorly reproduced but my intrigue was piqued.  Centering the body of the coach were style lines that seemed different from what I was accustomed to.  The photo was accompanied by a caption and brief write-up.  I didn’t realize it at first but, the article was a slight diversion. While the text credited the coach to Abbot-Downing, the provenance of the vehicle didn't line up with any of the supportable leads we were able to uncover.  It was a bit confusing in the beginning but, as I looked closer, I realized that the last sentence in the account noted the photo to be a "representation" of the coach described in the story.  Clearly, the editor had an article to publish and needed a photo of an old stagecoach to accompany it.  Apparently, this one was close at hand as a literal connection didn't exist between the story and the photo.  Yet, the image stuck with me.
As I shared earlier, what really caught my attention were the uniquely-spaced body rails on the coach.  As it turns out, it’s a feature that’s been helpful in tracking the history of this piece.  After the initial discovery of the image in The Carriage Monthly, we set out to see if we could find any other coaches with these wider body rails.  Piece by piece, over the next few months, we came across another handful of photos showing what appeared to be the same coach.  Every one of these early photos were taken in the Montana region of Yellowstone Park.  We reached out to a few folks but, we just didn’t have enough clues to put things together in a way that made historical sense.

Then, as Forrest Gump might say, the answers came right out of the “blue clear sky.”  The acceleration of events took place while I was looking for additional coach imagery.  Clicking through a tedious collection of web pages, I found myself looking at an on-line auction highlighting a photo from Abbot-Downing.  It showcased an old coach.  It looked familiar.  Was it?  No, it couldn’t... Wait, that’s the... that looks like the... is that the same coach?  My heart raced as I headed back to the old book of The Carriage Monthly publications.  Looking again at the photo, there was no doubt about it; the two images weren’t just showing the same vehicle.  The original cabinet card in the auction was the exact same photo in the magazine!  The only difference was that the magazine had cut the coach out of the photo background.  Almost one hundred twenty years after being published in the old trade paper, the image had resurfaced.  It was in California.  

I was determined to purchase this historic piece and felt like a kid at Christmas waiting for it to arrive in Arkansas.  Once here, we had more clues to follow and the stories this artifact unfolded were extraordinary.  As I’d mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the stagecoach in the photo had a large framed print hanging from it that will be familiar to stagecoach enthusiasts.  It’s the well-known image of a very famous trainload of coaches shipped in 1868.  Hmmm, this cabinet card also says this coach was built in 1868 – in Concord, NH.  In total, the provenance attached to the front and back of the card is full of intrigue and plenty of frontier drama. 

While I was able to track the whereabouts of the coach up through the 1920’s, Ken Wheeling and his files picked up the story from there.  Ultimately, Mr. Wheeling’s files helped point us to a specific coach number.  From there, the 20th and 21st century trail became considerably clearer.  Again, thanks to Ken, we now have a more defined view of this coach.  Even so, the provenance may still be a little fuzzy.  We’ll get to more of that later. 

We’ve come to believe that the photo we uncovered is the earliest surviving image of Concord Coach #259 - the only exception being the panoramic image taken at the time of shipping.  The cabinet card is authoritatively dated to 1897 with the subsequent printing in The Carriage Monthly in 1899.  Even so, it’s quite likely that the photo, itself, dates to 1893 – the year of the Columbian Exposition or World's Fair in Chicago.  As we’ve mentioned before, the old photo appears to have been taken in an exhibit setting and the provenance provided by Abbot-Downing indicates the coach was shown at the Exposition. 

According to additional records supplied by Ken Wheeling, the coach had multiple owners during its western career.  One group of owners, George Wakefield & Charles Hoffman (W&H), operated a mail line and passenger service in Yellowstone from 1883-1891.  Later images show the coach on display in Yellowstone during the 1920’s.  Faded W & H lettering can still be seen on the doors in those photos.  Initially, though, #259 was one of a number of stages ordered by Wells Fargo for frontier service.  In fact, there were a total of forty of these coaches purchased from Abbot & Downing and shipped to Wells Fargo destinations between 1867 and 1868.  Thirty of them went out in one shipment in 1868.  In that load, #259 was joined by twenty-nine others – all placed onto one long line of flatcars – and hauled to Omaha, Nebraska.    

Mr. Wheeling shared that the original order from Wells Fargo in 1867 was for only ten coaches.  However, over a period of several months, the order was updated, with various elements within the purchase being adjusted.  The end result was that not only did Wells Fargo receive those first ten but the group of thirty as well.  As it turns out, those two and a half dozen coaches shipped in April of 1868 were the largest, single shipment of Concords ever made by Abbot-Downing.  Regrettably, very few of these are still in existence.  More to the point, #259 is one of only three that have survived from the thirty shipped. 

This old photo will likely date to the 1920’s.  It shows a long-since-retired Western Concord that still retains some of the original mural work on the door as well as gold leaf scrollwork on the lower body panel.

Looking past the coach number for just a bit, we’ve been told that some feel only part of the surviving coach is actually the true #259 related to Abbot Downing.  For any researcher, it’s a suggestion that requires deliberate and careful study.  The challenge, it seems, comes back to a few variances in the body – including those exterior style lines I’d mentioned.  As I’d shared, they are a bit different than most surviving western Concords built by A-D and it, naturally, leaves us to question why.  According to Ken Wheeling, additional questions have dogged this coach.  An early restoration team noting some extra mounting holes, wondered whether the jump seat with the #259 reference actually belonged to this coach from the beginning.  These questions have caused some to speculate that this stage might have been built by another firm such as Gilbert & Eaton of Troy, New York with the jump seat replaced by one from Abbot-Downing.  While it’s an interesting theory, unfortunately, no direct records have ever been found that would support the thought. 

In stark contrast to the speculations above, the original Abbot-Downing cabinet card we came across is quite blunt in its proclamations.  Clearly, during the 1890’s, the coachmakers at Abbot-Downing had no problem in not only identifying this exact coach as one of their own but went multiple steps further by photographing and promoting the coach (even using a well-known photography studio from Concord, NH).  After photographing the vehicle, they produced and distributed the cabinet card.  Along the way, they also engaged in the procurement and printing of historical research that highlights the western history of the coach.  Some of the provenance describes harrowing experiences the stage was involved in, where and what routes it ran, dignitaries that rode in it, and numerous other details.  In truth, that’s a lot of work for a reputable firm to go through if they weren’t 100% sure of the coach’s identity.  Plus, the old firm apparently hung a photo from the coach that showcased the famous trainload of Concords.  As an additional side note, Ken Wheeling’s files show that Edwin Burgum, the son of John Burgum, well-known painter/illustrator at A-D, saw the coach at Mammoth Hot Spring in Yellowstone during the 1930’s and also identified it as A-D’s #259. 

Abbot Downing was still building Concord Coaches in the 1890’s as evidenced by this amazing example from 1895.  This is coach #599.  It’s located in the Wells Fargo History Museum in Los Angeles, CA.  Interestingly, the body rails on this coach also do not come completely together at the outermost points.

Today, the coach is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, otherwise known as the Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis.  Unfortunately, as of this writing, the historic transport is in storage as there’s a fair amount of renovation going on in the museum. Officials in St. Louis told me they hope to have the facility re-opened and the Concord back on display sometime in 2018.  As it happens, that will be the 150th Anniversary of #259’s creation and shipment into the West for Wells Fargo.  In recognition of the upcoming anniversary and the exclusive nature of this image, we haven’t published a photo of the card in this blog.  It seems more appropriate to determine if the Gateway Arch Museum may want to include it within their re-opening plans.

It’s been an interesting historical chase and, for now, I’m satisfied with the information we’ve gathered.  I will offer one teaser... there is additional provenance on this card that has led us to more history and, even more published reporting, on this coach.  As is often the case, every lead has the potential to help add to the story of a particular set of wheels.  For the moment, though, there are other irons in the fire as well.  So, we’ll turn our focus back to other projects and see what else we can dig up.  

Speaking of our research, someone once asked me, “How do you find all these pieces?”  It’s an understandable question and the answer is a lot easier than the actual process of discovery.  Here’s the secret... I look and look and look and look and look and look.  In other words, the searches we engage are not casual affairs of curiosity.  Nor are they limited to one or two areas of infrequent exploration.  Our efforts are constant.  There’s a vigilance and tenacity attached to the pursuits.  Even so, the majority of our investigations do not produce quick or necessarily even newsworthy results.  Most searches do, though, tend to move us closer to our subjects.  More often than not, the biggest findings come under the guise of a vague clue, a clearer understanding of something, half of an answer to one of our own questions, or simply another fractional-step toward a previously unknown lead.  Ultimately, every particle of information we come across is another building block that future research can benefit from. 

Through it all, we’ve been blessed to play a role in a number of incredible finds.  While this latest search resulted in the acquisition of amazing provenance to an ultra-rare coach once owned by Wells Fargo, it’s far from being the final piece of history we hope to help rescue.    

By the way, if you’d like more details on the story of Abbot-Downing’s shipment of the thirty coaches in 1868, see the article by Ken Wheeling in the October 2002 issue of The Carriage Journal.

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, March 29, 2017

Antique Wagon Values – Taking Another Look

Throughout the nineteenth and early half of the twentieth centuries, millions of horse-drawn wagons were built by tens of thousands of makers in the United States.  With some firms producing as many as fifty thousand to one hundred thousand vehicles per year, it’s surprising to discover just how little is left of America’s first transportation industry.  Clearly, the bulk of America’s wagons and western vehicles disappeared long ago, whether buried, burned, rotted, or forgotten.  Others are vanishing regularly as they succumb to the rigors of weather and lack of care.  Nonetheless, even though the survivor percentages are small, there are still a number of century-plus-old, horse-drawn wagons remaining in the U.S.  Which of these are the more desirable and what are the reasons some will be more significant than others?  Both are great questions and both have fairly involved answers.  

Back in November of 2015, I wrote a piece that highlighted a number of elements affecting antique wagon values.  At the time, my goal was to help others see the power of individuality in different pieces.  I also wanted to help folks recognize the benefits of spending more time getting to know a particular set of wheels.  Every vehicle has a specific story to tell.  Even so, I still receive presumptive questions about the financial worth of an old wagon.  I say ‘presumptive’ because, often, there is an assumption that a wagon should carry a certain value just because another one has been seen listed with that price.  Too many still consider the severely limited comparisons of on-line value assessments to be the first resource in price determinations.  Truth is, the overall evaluation process can be very involved, requiring extensive knowledge of the individual vehicle, brand, condition, originality levels, the industry, historical relevance, current market trends, and more.  It’s also important to know something about the anticipated purchaser.  For instance, buyers of collector-grade wagons often have higher standards and more strict requirements than first-time shoppers.  It’s a reality that can leave some wagons labeled as less desirable due to commonness, poor condition, construction features, or originality issues.

Early vehicles crafted by small makers are not necessarily limited in value just because the builder was out-sized by others.  Design quality, vehicle condition, time-frame of manufacture, and other provenance elements can affect values of all makes.

Ultimately, determining authoritative values for these antiquities is not as simple as checking out an asking price on an internet auction service or the list price for another website that 'appears' similar.  I’ve shared many times that no two wagons are ever exactly the same.  That means we must know more than the asking price of a different vehicle to determine the actual value of a separate set of wheels.  Understanding the variances that distinguish one wagon from another can make all the difference in getting an accurate assessment. 

To that point, there are countless elements that can affect the value of an old set of wheels.  One category that influenced price back-in-the-day was the inclusion or absence of certain ‘Accessories.’  That same consideration can still hold true today.  From the running gear (undercarriage) to the box and a host of completely separate items, there were a lot of options that an end-user could include with the purchase of a wood-wheeled wagon.  Even so, this is an often-overlooked area when it comes to evaluating price differences between similar-looking but still very different vehicles. 

Folding end gates were not necessarily a standard item on an antique wagon.  As a result, a number of surviving farm wagons do not have this feature.

Accessory-related differences can come in a number of forms.  Some distinctions might be as small (not necessarily in importance) as a set of tire rivets on each wheel or as obvious as a third set of sideboards (often referred to as a tip-top box).  Other items that might be listed as add-ons include brakes (multiple types and configurations), a footrest, rein tie, seat risers, spring seat, tool or provision box, feed box, bows, bow staples, cover, bolster iron extensions, folding end gate, scoop board, anti-spreader chain, steel skeins, bois d’arc wood, grain cleats, tongue spring, bolster springs, lock chain hardware, and a multitude of different wear irons spaced around the running gear and box.  Certain wheel and tire sizes were also considered to be an extra-cost item.  Of course, the double tree, singletrees, neck yoke, stay chains, and tongue style could also be options – especially since different configurations were needed if a person used oxen instead of equine. 

As many items as I’ve mentioned here, there are still more features that can affect (both positively and negatively) antique wagon values.  It takes diligence and understanding to wade through the myriad of considerations.  Reinforcing that point, let’s assume we’re looking at a pair of vehicles for sale.  Both may be in similar condition but there are likely to be several differences in construction characteristics.  Let’s say one has taller, 52-inch rear wheels, a matching spring seat, foot board, brake, and western tire rivets.  The other wagon carries a little later (newer) time frame of manufacture and does not have a seat, foot board, brake, or tire rivets.  In this particular example, it’s reasonable to expect more interest to be expressed in the vehicle with the brake, rivets, etc. as it is likely to better exemplify wagons used on the western frontier.  Oftentimes, there is a greater pool of folks looking for that type of wagon.  That said, even these vehicle differences don’t necessarily mean it’s always a slam-dunk that the higher wheeled, better-featured wagon will command a higher price. 

Since other factors like condition, originality, completeness, and documented historical provenance can also impact values, it’s important for both buyers and sellers to take stock of every element that can affect price.    

Not only were rein ties usually listed as an accessory, when purchased, they could be mounted on the front end gate, on seat risers, and even on the foot board. 

Ultimately, every vehicle is an individual and, as such, every evaluation should be done on a case-by-case basis.  Generically lumping values of all ‘similar-looking’ wagons together can bring about frustration and remorse.  Likewise, attempting to focus too much attention on one element without taking stock of the entire vehicle, can also create misunderstandings and disappointment.  At the end of the day, the most accurate evaluations will consider a host of factors without ever focusing on what someone is “asking” for another wagon.  

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