Wednesday, October 18, 2017

One Last Look – 2017 SFTA Symposium

There are a number of ways to learn more about America’s first transportation industry.  Some of the more popular methods include seminars, books, authoritative websites, museums, question-and-answer-sessions, and personal networking.  It just so happens that the recent symposium presented by the Santa Fe Trail Association and National Stagecoach & Freight Wagon Association included all of the above.   

This is the third and final week of our coverage of the 2017 symposium.  As such, we’ll focus on a couple more of the event's activities, including our trip to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City.  The ‘night-at-the-museum’ included a video, tour, meal, and one-on-one narratives with museum docents.  The museum, in two words, is “beyond amazing.”  This was my third trip and every time I’m amazed at what was found and preserved.  There was so much on board this boat that I’m always seeing new things.  In fact, the Arabia was packed with over 200 tons of goods when it sank in 1856.  As of 2017, the museum is estimating that it still has at least 10 more years of conservation and preservation work to do before all of the recovered items are available for presentation.

The Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City shares an incredible story that combines mid-1800’s history, the lure of treasure hunting, and the power of the American Dream.

With numerous scheduled stops on the Missouri River, the Arabia and other nineteenth century steamboats helped provide vital materials to those living on the American frontier.

This portion of the Arabia’s stern and rudder were salvaged and preserved, helping showcase the vital role America’s western steamboats played during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Doug Hansen (Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop) and Jim Patrick take a closer look at an extremely rare, wheeled relic.  This 1856 Peter Schuttler brand running gear is likely the oldest surviving, factory-built wagon in America.

If you’re not familiar with the story of the Steamboat Arabia, I wrote a feature article years ago that highlighted the vessel's sinking and recovery while also focusing on the high wheel wagon gear found onboard.  The piece was published by The Carriage Journal back in January of 2008.  If you missed it, another writing of the account can still be found on our website.  The story is entitled, Arabia’s Buried Treasure.  The sinking of the Arabia in 1856 left us with a time capsule of life on the frontier in those days.  Almost anything one can imagine was on that boat – including a pre-fabricated house!

This massive display of hand tools is just a fraction of the countless goods recovered from the Arabia.

It’s hard to imagine such beautiful and fragile china heading west on a steamboat in 1856.  It’s even more amazing to know these pieces survived wagon freighting, a shipwreck, flooding, and being buried beneath nearly fifty feet of Kansas cornfield.

Getting a firsthand look at the vibrant colors, patterns, and styles of clothing being sent into the mid-1800’s American West gives us an even greater understanding of how things really appeared in that time period.

New-old-stock keys, hinges, and other hardware from 1856 are unheard-of finds in today’s world.

The steamboat Arabia included a wealth of materials for the frontier, including this printer’s type bound for Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The last place we visited on our trip to the symposium was the Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  This facility is loaded with early military transportation, wheeled weaponry, and other items used in the exploration of the American West.  Articles such as a circa-1800 surveyor’s compass, photographic equipment, pack saddles, signal corp gear, recovered picket pins, early bayonets, and countless other items are also housed in this museum.  If you’re ever in the area, it’s a stop well worth your time.  Plus, just a few blocks from the museum, deep swales from mid-nineteenth century wagon traffic still tell the story of heavy freighting and emigrants leaving the Missouri River, headed west.

The Frontier Army Museum, located at Fort Leavenworth, includes a wealth of transportation history related to the early U.S. Army.  A special permit is required to enter the military base.

This ox yoke was built in 1860 by Mr. Lackbee.  It was made for the legendary freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell.

There’s a lot to see and study at the Frontier Army Museum.

The Model 1909 Army Ambulance was the last horse-drawn ambulance design used by the U.S. Army.  

This is a rare, ‘Improved Dougherty’ wagon.  The design was in use before and during World War 1.

As evidenced by this buckboard, the U.S. army used literally dozens of different types of horse-drawn vehicles during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Coming soon... we’ll take a look at two well-known, early vehicle brands that are often confused as being one-and-the-same.  As it happens, brand history and the associated identification challenges are common issues for many enthusiasts and collectors of wheeled history.  We’ll talk more soon.  In the meantime, have a great week!  

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, October 11, 2017

The 2017 SFTA Symposium – More Moments

Last week, I shared a few of the activities and behind-the-scenes events from the recent Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium held in Olathe, Kansas.  This week, I’m continuing coverage of the gathering with a focus on the happenings at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm.  On October 18th, I’ll finish up the highlights with a look at our trip to the Steamboat Arabia Museum and the Fort Leavenworth Frontier Museum.  Each of these settings provided an amazing backdrop for studying America’s early trail and transportation history. 

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Mahaffie home served passengers traveling with the ‘Barlow, Sanderson and Company’ stagecoach line during the nineteenth century.

As we arrived at the Mahaffie farm, the mud wagon was just leaving the barn.

Stagecoach rides are a popular part of the activities at the Mahaffie farm.  

While commonplace on the Santa Fe and other trails, the process of yoking and driving oxen is a rare sight today.  

Don Werner of Werner Wagon Works demonstrated the art and science involved in hot-setting wagon tires.

The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Historic Farm is located just across the street from where the formal presentations took place in the Olathe Community Center.  Friday, September 29th, a host of activities were on tap for the symposium attendees.  Don Werner of Werner’s Wagon Works shared a wealth of information related to the design and construction of wagon wheels.  Tim Talbott, Mahaffie Site Director, discussed the process of yoking oxen and Rawhide Johnson gave a particularly interesting firsthand account of stage coaching.  Turns out that his dad had purchased a stage coach line (complete with coaches) in the early part of the twentieth century.  What an amazing opportunity!  Doug Hansen followed up with more details on various accoutrements of staging and wagon driving while Greg VanCoevern shared aspects of his army ambulance and Jeff McManus and Cameron Bean conducted blacksmithing seminars.  It was a full day of demonstrations which also included tours of the historic Mahaffie farm and period home.  The Mahaffie farm was a stage stop for passing travelers as early as the Civil War.  Today, the home stands as one of the few, surviving stage coach stops on the Santa Fe Trail.  The preservation of the facilities allows visitors from all over the world to learn more about U.S. frontier travel as well as life on an 1860’s-era farm.

An emigrant camp with Dutch oven cooking was also part of the event.

Traditional blacksmithing techniques and tools were highlighted by Jeff McManus and Cameron Bean from the National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  

Part of Doug Hansen’s on-site presentations included highlights on braking methods used on early western vehicles.

Rawhide Johnson’s insights into stagecoaching were both humorous & educational.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S. Army employed a number of different styles of horse-drawn vehicles.  Greg VanCoevern shared some of those details as they related to his army ambulance.  

Next week, I’ll wrap up our coverage of the 2017 Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium with a look at our visit to the Steamboat Arabia Museum and Fort Leavenworth Frontier Museum.  Both locales provided a great deal of insight into early freighting, travel on American trails, and the vehicles used throughout the frontier. 

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, October 4, 2017

2017 Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium

This past week, I was privileged to attend a special, historical trail symposium presented by the Santa Fe Trail Association and the National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  From start to finish, it was one of the best organized and information-packed excursions I’ve ever been a part of.  If you missed it, you missed a lot.  That said, word on the street is that these folks will have an equally significant retreat in St. Louis in 2019.  Consider yourself duly informed.  If you’re interested in early trails, western vehicles, and the particulars surrounding those studies, you’ll want to make sure you have the next event marked on your ‘to do’ list.  With that said, I thought I’d take the next few weeks and give a brief overview of some highlights of this year’s event. 

The Olathe Community Center was an exceptional facility for the formal presentations shared during the 2017 Santa Fe Trail Association symposium.

Larry Short introduced each of the half dozen speakers to a crowd of just over 150 folks from all over the country.

The presentations for the 2017 Santa Fe Trail symposium were held at the Olathe Community Center and the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Historic Farm.  Other segments of the gathering included a series of bus tours focused on different aspects of the Santa Fe Trail.  Organizers also included a ‘night-at-the-museum’ dinner and tour of the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City.  That facility - and the discoveries it holds - is beyond amazing.  Some attendees even made the brief trip to Ft. Leavenworth to take in even more history housed in the Frontier Museum. 

While informal talks were conducted throughout the multitude of activities, the opening presentations for the event were held at the Olathe Community Center.  Unfortunately, that simple-sounding name doesn’t do much to convey what an outstanding asset this facility is to the local area.  Surrounded by an ultra-modern, yet relaxed and inviting atmosphere, the resource is filled with art, education, exercise, and sports activities for the young and young at heart.  While we were there, families were celebrating birthdays, holding volleyball games, swimming, participating in study groups, checking out a huge consignment sale, exploring a farmer’s market, and relaxing in the picturesque setting and picnic/playground areas.  It’s an incredibly welcoming jewel for the folks in Olathe. 

Steve Schmidt’s presentation on the Sibley Survey provided an exceptionally detailed look at the history, beginnings, and development of the Santa Fe Trail.  

Mike Dickey outlined a wealth of information related to Native American tribes located along the Santa Fe Trail.

Truth is, if you came to this event expecting to learn more than you could carry away, you weren’t disappointed.  There was so much information passed along throughout the multi-day event that it would be tough to get it all into one blog post.  As a result, this week, I’ll limit my focus to the formal presentations and share more details on the rest of the symposium in the weeks to come.

My presentation focused on the historical development of freight wagons on the Santa Fe Trail.  It included a considerable amount of primary source details and imagery never shown before.  

Leo Oliva expounded on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ within his talk related to Soldiers on the Santa Fe Trail.

Doug Hansen of Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop provided a wealth of information related to the Art of the Wheelwright.  His talk was generously filled with technical and practical information.

Craig Crease not only delivered an excellent formal presentation on the Santa Fe Trail but also hosted an extensive bus tour highlighting the trail’s original routes.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share even more images and insights from this Santa Fe Trail Association event.  To the person, the meeting was filled with friendly, engaging folks.  I’m glad I was there.  Not only does that kind of atmosphere make for an ideal learning experience, it left everyone with a lot of great memories.  Special thanks to Greg and Joanne VanCoevern for reaching out to me over two years ago as they helped to plan this impressive gathering.

Rawhide Johnson, Cameron Bean, and Jeff McManus provided additional presentations at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop.

Next week, we’ll focus on a lot more of the event activities, including a hands-on look at wheelwrighting presented by Don Werner of Werner Wagon Works.

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, September 27, 2017

Emily Ann O’Neill Bott and her GGF, Joseph Murphy

I learned a new word the other day – gobsmacked.  Feel free to look it up but, rest assured, it’s exactly how I sometimes feel while researching America’s first transportation industry.  Reinforcing that point, I woke up on September 15th to find an email in my inbox from Emily Ann O’Neil Bott.  It was quite a surprise.  For those familiar with early U.S. transportation history, you know that name.  Emily researched and wrote about one of the (if not the) most legendary American wagon maker, Joseph Murphy.  He was her great grandfather or, as she put it, her ggf.  Over the years, her research has garnered a tremendous amount of attention – particularly in reference to the wagons Murphy purportedly built to overcome excessive taxes placed on freighters doing business in Mexico.

Sixty-five years ago, this year, Emily’s Master’s thesis on Joseph Murphy, his wagon business, and Santa Fe Trail wagons was published by the “Missouri Historical Review.”  With my presentation on Santa Fe Trail wagons looming, I’m more than a little awed by the irony of being contacted by this wonderful lady.  I tried to respectfully refer to her as Ms. Bott and she quickly told me she was ‘Emily.’  So, you’ll understand that I’m not being disrespectful or presumptuous when I reference her by first name.  It has been a tremendous honor to correspond with her.

Emily’s Bott’s 1952 article is entitled, “Joseph Murphy’s Contribution to the Development of the West.”  After 65 years, it remains as one of the most intriguing studies of Mr. Murphy’s St. Louis-built wagons.

Emily is now 95 years young, sharp as a tack, and an absolute pleasure to talk to.  The ‘ggf’ (great grandfather) moniker she uses for Joseph Murphy was how her grandmother, Mrs. L.J. Moore (1856-1948), Joseph Murphy’s daughter, had referred to Emily’s connection to Joseph.  Emily shared that many of the details she obtained for the thesis came from conversations with her grandmother.  Opportunities to interview a person responsible for helping preserve such a vital part of our nation’s early transportation industry don’t come around very often – if at all.  So, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to learn as much as I could from Mr. Murphy’s ‘ggd.’

I asked Emily a number of questions related to how the Murphy article came about.  She related that, while in graduate school, she was pondering the pursuit of a teaching or writing vocation.  With so much of her family history tied to the development of the U.S., she decided to take the stories she’d heard from those who had lived alongside Mr. Murphy, reconnect them to a wealth of additional research, and share the results in her master’s thesis.  The finished product has been of great help to many doing their own studies of the topic. 

As we discussed Joseph Muphy, Emily passed along a few tidbits related to his character.  His demeanor, she said, could often be defined as a “steel will.”  It was a stubborn trait of commanding authority that was difficult for the immediate family to escape.  That very attribute, though, is likely a large reason his wagons were so well received.  He was a stickler for quality.  Even the original Murphy letters in our collection confirm his serious dedication to excellence.  It’s a point not missed in period accounts either.  Multiple early articles showcase Murphy vehicles as a favorite to both freighters and emigrants headed west.

A special thank you to Sarah Bott, Emily’s daughter, for providing this nineteenth century photo of Joseph Murphy.

There are additional reports that Joseph Murphy was so committed to the expert craftsmen in his employ that he provided rooming accommodations at the wagon works.  The move wasn’t entirely benevolent on Murphy’s part.  Apparently, he wanted to keep his workers close so it would be harder for competitors to lure them away.  It’s a premise that comes as no surprise to me.  America’s early wagon industry could be extremely aggressive.  It not only took a great deal of personal drive but an equal amount of forward-thinking to stay abreast of competitive challenges. 

As for his own introduction to building vehicles... Murphy became an apprentice wagon maker in 1819 when he was fourteen.  In 1825, he started his own firm.  Fourteen years later, in 1839, freighters on the Santa Fe Trail took a significant financial hit when the Mexican government added a $500 tax to each wagonload of merchandise coming into the country.  An important part of the Murphy legend surrounds the large wagons he’s believed to have built to overcome this financial setback.  (I’ll share more details on these legendary wagons during my presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association on September 28th.)

Murphy retired from the factory in 1888.  That would have put him in his early 80s.  Well over a decade later, he still considered himself spry enough to take on about any chore around the house.  Emily passed along a final insight into the confidence, drive, and determination so characteristic of Joseph Murphy.  Even though that passion for perfection had served him well for decades, overconfidence can carry a dark side.  So it was, in 1901, that Murphy was determined to climb up and over yet another obstacle.  Here’s how Emily put it...  “A thorough craftsman, at the age of 96, Murphy went up on his roof to repair some chimney flashing. A fall, a broken leg, pneumonia, and it was over.”  It was a tragic end to a remarkable life.

Born in 1805, Murphy had emigrated to the U.S. when he was twelve.  He saw virtually every part of America’s westward expansion in the nineteenth century.  From the discovery of gold and military campaigns in the West to the exploits of outlaws, the building of the transcontinental railroad, development of stagecoach routes, and the unfolding of countless tragedies on the frontier, Murphy’s products and reputation were thoroughly immersed in the events of the West. 

While the whole subject continues to be intriguing to Emily and her family, she confessed that she was surprised her work was still of interest to others.  Her modesty belies her own accomplishments and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.  Over the years, she’s authored a book, written regular newspaper columns, had a career in insurance, volunteered with the Make-A-Wish foundation and her local hospital, as well as raised seven children.  By her own admission, her children and their families are her greatest pride and joy.

When I think back over the early transportation experiences I’ve encountered over the last quarter century, I’m beside myself.  From archaeological digs to rare vehicle finds and relics rescued from the brink of destruction, the events continue to open my eyes to the rich history of our nation as well as the incredible people that still make it the best place on earth.  As of this year, the trail of old paper and worn wheels has led me to resources in all fifty of the United States.  Thank you, Emily Ann O’Neill Bott, for reaching out and sharing even more from our past.  Like your ggf, you’ve made your own mark in American history and we are all the better for it.

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, September 20, 2017

Early Vehicle Maintenance, Mysteries, & Musings

September has been an interesting month.  We’ve both sold and purchased some early vehicles and have made headway into a number of research projects.  Here in the Ozarks, leaves are beginning to fall, tree colors are slowly turning and, as I’m told, the persimmons have ‘spoons’ in them.  For the uninitiated, that formation within the inner realms of persimmon tree fruit is purported to forecast a heavy dose of snow this winter; never mind the fact that the same thing occurred last year with minimal accumulations and extremely mild temperatures.  We shall see, I guess.

In the meantime, as the seasons once again go through a change, it made me think of all the changes antique wooden vehicles go through.  As custodians of these pieces from yesterday, it’s up to each of us to help maintain and preserve them for future generations.  With that in mind, I thought I’d run over a few tricks-of-the-trade, so-to-speak, and highlight some areas of maintenance that may prove helpful to others. 

Removing Dirt Dauber Nests...

If you’ve ever come across an old set of wheels that’s been stored away in a drafty barn, shed, or outbuilding, you know that dust isn’t the only thing that can accumulate on these rolling icons.  Animal droppings, rats’ nests, and mud dabber homes can overwhelm a piece if left unattended in the wrong environment.  While the first two issues can be addressed with a careful sweeping and light cleaning, the last point needs a little more attention.  After all, knocking off the earthen incubator of mud daubers might seem simple enough but, if done carelessly, there can be problems – chiefly, the loss of paint.  Oftentimes, these hollow huts can be so firmly affixed to the wood of a wagon that the simple act of taking them off can also destroy valuable paint and stenciling.  Once original paint is gone, there’s no such thing as a ‘do-over.’  So, it’s important to exercise caution.  One method I’ve found helpful is to take a spray bottle of water and lightly soak the entire mud dabber nest.  I allow time for the nest to become saturated yet still maintaining its original shape.  This softening of the dirt allows a thin putty knife to be gently slid between the paint and the dabber nest.  The nest can then be pried off without creating a mess of mud or losing valuable original paint.

Knocking dry and hardened mud dauber nests off of antique vehicles (as was done here) can contribute to the permanent loss of original paint and stenciling.

Powder Post Beetles...

Period wagon makers faced a slew of challenges beyond the basic need to pay the bills and meet payroll.  One of the greatest threats to the trade was a tiny critter known as a powder post beetle.  If you’ve looked at very many wagons over the years, you’ve likely seen evidence of just how much havoc these tiny insects can wreak.  Drawn to virtually every part of a wagon’s wooden structure, these wood-boring critters are not only known for riddling wood stock with countless circular holes but they can also reduce the infected wood to a fine powder.  Many times, when we see these peppered perforations, the bugs have long since departed.  However, at other times, the wood is being continually re-infested and destroyed.  You definitely don’t want to allow this problem to continue unabated.  While the insects are very small – typically 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch in length – you’ll instantly know you have a problem with live insects if you start noticing a fine layer of dust under a wagon or running gear.  The easiest way I’ve found to deal with this challenge is to spray on a coat of household bug spray.  Then keep a watchful eye out to make sure the powder-making has stopped.  The chemicals in the spray seem to do an effective job without damaging the vehicle further.  You may want to try it on a small area before tackling large sections.    

As shown in these photos of an old wagon axle, insects can be merciless to antique wooden vehicles.  Proper treatment of the vehicle and environment can help to minimize damage.

Careful application of insecticide can help eliminate issues with powder post beetles.

Loosening Rusty Bolts...

Anyone that’s ever needed to repair or replace part of an early horse-drawn vehicle knows the challenge posed by frozen, rusty nuts and bolts.  Heat, oil, a hammer, a cheater bar, and sometimes fits of rage are among the most commonly-employed ways we try to loosen what decades of neglect have sealed.  Several years ago, a good friend of mine, Gerald Creely, introduced me to a product called, “Aerokroil.”  The company’s tagline says this is the “oil that creeps.”  I’ll have to say that when coupled with a little patience, this fluid is absolutely amazing.  (Thanks Gerald!)  I’ve seen it loosen bolts that no other lubricant would touch.  Needless to say, I try to keep several cans of this stuff around the shop at all times.

Loosening age-old nuts and bolts can be simplified by allowing Aerokroil to soak into the frozen parts.

Mold & Mildew...

My blogs for August 17 and August 24 of 2016 focused on ways to both remove and prevent the blight of mold on antique, horse-drawn vehicles.  I’m not going to re-write that two-part series here but, I thought it might be helpful to include the links.

As for the ‘mysteries’ mentioned in today’s blog title, there are countless unknowns in any study of America’s first transportation industry.  I’ll be talking about some of these (and some recent discoveries) in my presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association next week.  Hope to see you there.  Oh, and one other thing.  I recently had the rare opportunity to conduct a bit more research into the legacy and legend of St. Louis wagon maker, Joseph Murphy.  What a privilege!  I hope to be sharing more on that in the near future.

Have a great week!

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, September 13, 2017

Finding Unique Antique Wagons

Most folks have likely heard the phrase, “You have to kiss a few frogs to find a prince.”  For collectors of early transportation, we can often apply the same principle to the process of finding truly unique western vehicles.  It’s easy to locate the common stuff.  Those rolling works of art that consistently stand out in a crowd, though, are not only in high demand but, by definition, are in short supply. 

Over the years, we’ve managed to assemble a few dozen wagons and western vehicles in our collection.  As with any significant gathering of history, it takes a lot less time to view it than it usually involves to bring it all together.  Like so many other collectors out there, we’ve committed a fair amount of resources to research as well as shelling out healthy doses of patience and persistence.  Along the way, we’ve seen a number of good, bad, and ugly pieces.  Even so, every vehicle I’ve been privileged to see has been a valuable encounter.  Why?  Because, each one has taught me something.  One of the main things I’ve learned is the value of unceasingly searching for the best pieces.  It sounds simple enough but, I know a number of collectors and enthusiasts that limit their efforts, rarely expanding their searches beyond a fifty or sixty-mile range.  The old adage about people getting ‘luckier’ the harder they work for something is true in this case as well.  Focused commitments may strike out a lot but they’re also in a great position to make it home with the best pieces.

This heavy-duty Moline Mandt gear with original bolster extensions is a relatively new addition to our collection.  It was built with a 56-inch track and 3-ton capacity.

I’ve been chasing these wheels for more than two decades and, from time to time, I’ve heard folks express frustration over an inability to find the right piece at the right price.  First off, IF a person has truly found the right set of wheels, the price may need to take a back seat to personal satisfaction.  In fact, for collectors, personal satisfaction may be the most important consideration when looking at a set of wheels.  I remember a particular gentleman at an auction years ago that purchased a piece, then began to really look at it and was immediately disappointed in it.  At that point, it really didn’t matter how cheap the old vehicle was.  Truth is, I’ve never come across anyone with buyer’s remorse that had done the appropriate research and knew exactly what they were buying. 

So, how many special pieces are still out there waiting to be appreciated for the uniqueness they possess?  Who knows?  One thing I’ve become convinced of is that there is still A LOT of America’s transportation past waiting to be discovered.  Since my pocketbook won’t allow me to buy every good piece I come across, I’ve learned to enjoy the thrill of the chase and opportunity to learn.  After all, the chance to see so many different pieces as well as a wide variety of construction styles employed over the years is an important part of recognizing what was done when, where, and by whom.  Reinforcing that point, this week, I thought I’d share a few of the latest pieces I’ve come across. Best of all?  Each of the examples below are available for purchase as of this writing...

This exceptional Bain wagon gear retains almost all of its original paint.  It’s a rare treat to find pieces of this quality.  For more photos, visit


When it comes to locating some of America’s best western vehicles, Doug Hansen, in South Dakota, has a knack for gathering exceptional early pieces from all over the country.  As of this writing, the “In Stock” section of his website includes one of the finest high wheel running gears that I’ve ever come across.  I’ve seen it in person and, honestly, I’m not sure the photos do it justice.  He even has a brand-matching, lazy back spring seat that would be ideal for this piece.  The gear is a Bain brand wagon – which also happens to be one of the most legendary western vehicle names on the planet.  For collectors, competitors, and serious enthusiasts, this is a piece that instantly commands attention.  After all, true quality is a feature that almost everyone can recognize.  Plus, it’s a truth that often bears significant fruit when it comes to resale values. 


Some of the historical features I’ll be covering in my upcoming presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association involve how to spot generational differences in dead axle wagons – especially those used in farm, freight, trail, and ranch applications.  Generally speaking, we rarely see as many wagons that were made in the 19th century as we do those from the 20th century.  In fact, even with an extensive travel schedule over the last two-plus decades, I can probably count on one hand the number of 1800’s-era Peter Schuttler brand wagons I’ve come across.  Nonetheless, that challenge doesn’t stop me from continuing to search for these elusive survivors. 

Not long ago, I was traveling through Oklahoma and stopped in to see Jim Doyle with Doyle’s Antiques in Lawton.  As is usually the case, his grounds were covered with antique farming equipment, old windmills, early horse-drawn graders, and period wagons.  Jim knows I’m a fan of Peter Schuttler pieces so he tempted me with a few wagons and a spring seat, then told me he’d just gotten another Schuttler gear in that he hadn’t cleaned up yet. 

As we walked into a side bay of one of the enclosed buildings, I instantly noticed several features that got my attention; taller standards, through-bolted construction, three-quarter circle irons, and more.  I’m always looking for older pieces.  Yet, as I’ve mentioned, they are few and far between.  Leaning over to check the date stamp on this one, the year “1894” was clearly visible on the front axle.  For me, it was exciting to see this ultra-rare, original condition, true 1800’s, high wheel Schuttler.  After taking a few photos for our Archives, I thought I would share the find with our readers.  I suspect someone out there is looking for a nineteenth-century piece from a major western wagon maker like Schuttler.  For anyone interested, Jim’s phone number is 580-574-9570.

This rare, high wheel Peter Schuttler is almost 125 years old.  It dates to the same year that four members of the Dalton Gang were killed in Coffeeville, Kansas and actually pre-dates the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.   


Another person that seems to have an uncanny ability to uncover barn-fresh wagons is Tom Elliot.  A few weeks ago, I stopped by Tom’s place and he shared one of his finds.  It’s a wagon with an amazingly well-preserved Buerkens box.  For anyone that might not have heard of the company, it was located in Pella, Iowa and may have been the longest continuously operated business in Pella.  Mr. Buerkens began building wagons in the town during the mid-1860’s.  The company survived well into the twentieth century.  In fact, industry directories still list the firm among active makers as late as the early 1930’s.  If you’d like more information on this vehicle, feel free to drop Tom a note by visiting his website at 

It’s tough to find this much original paint on surviving wagon boxes.  

Even the end gates of this Buerkens box retain a significant amount of original paint.

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