Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 2

Last week, we started a discussion related to the challenges of mold and mildew growing on antique wooden vehicles.  This week, we’ll take a closer look at what is not only an important vehicle preservation issue but also a caution for potential health concerns. 

With that brief introduction, how do we both avoid and correct issues related to mildew and mold.  First, keep an eye on the humidity where your vehicle is stored.  Experts often say that a 35-50% level is a good target.  However, those lower volumes can sometimes be difficult to achieve.  The reality is that any storage atmosphere with humidity amounts consistently over 65-70% is an invitation for trouble.  So, at a minimum, it’s important to work at keeping the indoor humidity below that range.  Using dehumidifiers can be very helpful in these efforts.  You can typically find them in a number of stores like Wal-Mart, Lowes, Orscheln, Murdoch’s,, and others.  Some dehumidifiers are also paired with portable AC units.  It’s a good combination for the battle since warmer temperatures can also ratchet up the reproductive tendencies of mold and mildew.  While cooler temperatures don’t necessarily stop mold growth, cool air tends to hold less moisture than warm air.  As a result, cooler temps can help minimize the moisture content necessary for mold to grow.  Keeping indoor temps stable, without broad fluctuations, is also important. 

When it comes to the overall air quality, a general lack of airflow can actually encourage the growth of fungi.  By using indoor fans (not fans pulling in outdoor air) to help keep good air circulation in a building, the environment can be kept drier while mold spores have less of a chance to settle and form colonies.  It’s also advisable for air conditioning units to be of the proper size as oversized systems may help deliver excess moisture.  Likewise, it’s important to be mindful of surplus water from other sources.  In other words, if a building has a leak, a bucket may provide an immediate answer but, for many reasons, it’s a situation that needs to be promptly corrected.

Should you find mold and/or mildew on a vehicle, there are several points to consider.  First, let’s talk about a few of the ‘do–nots.’  Do not take a rag and merely wipe the spores from the affected areas.  It may look like the problem is gone but, essentially, all you’re doing is loosening and spreading the spores.  Not only will this help transfer the problem to even more areas on the vehicle but it’s going to send countless microscopic critters into the air and, possibly, directly into the respiratory system of you and others.  Similarly, do not attempt to clean any vehicle without the proper protective clothing, eye wear, gloves, and respiratory gear.  Do not engage in any cleaning process without ensuring that you’re containing and not spreading the spores.  Do not clean mold from a piece only to continually subject it to the same environment – or nutrients like linseed oil within that environment.  Those elements are only perpetuating the mold growth you’re fighting.  If you're intent on managing the circumstances yourself, make sure you do sufficient research and preparation on proper procedures prior to taking on the task.    

When it comes to removing mold and mildew as seen in the photos from last week’s blog, I’ve had good success using common household cleaners like a mixture of dish washing soap and water or vinegar and water – or both.  Allowing the piece to dry in the sun afterward can also help neutralize any possible leftover spores.  If you’re doing this outside in a yard, it’s worth mentioning that the vinegar will likely kill any grass it comes in contact with.  Consider yourself duly warned in case your spouse asks what caused that big dead spot!

Ultimately, this is a subject with more depth than can be focused on in a brief blog and, it’s worth your time to become more aware of the issue.  From excess humidity levels and insufficient air flow to warmer temps and available nutrient sources, there are a number of things that can quietly promote harmful mold growth.  So, before you take off in search of the next vehicle to join all of your other treasures, take a closer look inside your warehouse, shed, shop, barn, or garage.  Mold spores can be hiding where you least expect them and they’re definitely not on the list of what you want to be collecting.

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, August 17, 2016

Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 1

There are a lot of places in the world where the summer heat and humidity are hard to ignore.  It’s an oppressive combination that tends to put a lot of stress on anyone and anything it can surround.  To that point, most collectors of early transportation understand that leaving a wooden vehicle outside – in any season – can be harmful to the piece.  The negative effects are easy to see in countless rotted wagon and coach carcasses scattered across the pages of time.  The relentless hammering of the sun’s UV rays along with excessive and fluctuating temperatures have a way of overwhelming some of the most important parts of our nation’s history.  Similarly, accumulations of ice, snow, rain, bird droppings, insects, and other naturally-occurring phenomena can be equally challenging to an old set of wheels. 

Moving a vehicle inside may seem like the perfect solution to properly care for these irreplaceable treasures.  While it is a step in the right direction, it may also be premature to believe that just because it’s ‘inside’ everything will be okay.  Storing an antique vehicle indoors is just part of the process in protecting a survivor.  Properly guarding these rolling links to yesterday means staying abreast of things like temperature, humidity, and airflow as well. 

Years ago, I was visiting a large historical collection in another state.  The atmosphere of the building was reasonably comfortable since it included central heat and air.  As I walked through the dimly lit rooms, I noticed something on the back of a wagon on display.  Backed up to a wall, the rear end gates of the wagon box were covered in mold spores.  I was surprised to see it.  Truth is, though, no location or region is completely immune from these types of challenges.  There are a number of culprits that could have created this particular problem.  The air conditioning might have been funneling excessive moisture into the room.  Even more likely, since a concrete wall was just inches from the back of the wagon, I suspect it was transferring moisture to the rear end gates.  Combined with a lack of light and minimal airflow in the isolated area, this spot was a haven for mold spores to collect. 

Mold spores are a natural part of our world.  So, the fact that they’re in the air is not a surprise.  Allowing them to settle, collect, and feed as an indoor colony, though, can create real issues.  One of the most important preventative measures is vigilance.  I’m talking about a level of proactive watchfulness that goes beyond noticing problems.  For instance, how susceptible to mold is your vehicle collection in the first place?  Awareness of the makeup of wood as well as managing atmospheric conditions can go a long way in protecting a set of wheels and your health.

Someone coated this old spring seat in linseed oil.  Left to incubate in a humid and dark room, it became a feeding host for mold spores (see whiter areas).

Poor maintenance of temperatures, humidity, and wood moisture content as well as overly dark environments and other considerations can all collaborate to set the stage for the growth of mold and mildew.  Even more to the point – do you know how much moisture (humidity) is in the air around your early wooden vehicle(s)?  What temperatures are the vehicles regularly subjected to?  Are the wood fibers in a particular piece continually saturated with moisture/oil?  Answers to these (and other) questions have a way of highlighting levels of risk.  For instance, even if temperature levels are reasonably maintained, some oils – even those from your hand or soap residue – can actually provide nourishment for mold spores.  Vegetable oils – including linseed oil – can also supply a good nutrient base for the growth of fungi.  (This is just one reason I don’t recommend the use of linseed oil on an antique wooden vehicle) 

Looking beyond the poor visual appeal, what’s the harm in allowing mold and mildew to grow on an antique vehicle?  First of all, left in an unchecked condition, it will continue to grow.  Second, the fungi may destroy wood fibers or at least leave stains on and in the wood.  Third, and most critical, are the serious health concerns connected to colonies of spores.  Even though these spores are a part of nature, allowing them to grow unhindered while on and around antique vehicles is a situation that collectors want to avoid.  After all, it’s typically better to prevent problems than deal with them afterward.

Next week, I’ll cover some specific things we can all do to better protect antique vehicles and parts from the ill-effects of mold and mildew.  Talk to you then!

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, August 10, 2016

The World of Wagons, 100 Years Ago

Understanding the ins-and-outs of America’s first transportation industry requires a great deal of research.  It’s one of the reasons I spend a fair amount of time perusing the early trade papers.  Period magazines like The Spokesman, The Implement Age, The Carriage Monthly, Blacksmith and Wheelwright, and The Hub are packed with valuable details on who did what, when, where, and why.  Those publications – and others – provide a true window into yesterday, helping minimize modern-day speculation and best guesses while giving us a better appreciation of the times.  In many instances, “the good ol’ days” from the horse drawn era were just as competitive, aggressive, and stressful as corporate maneuverings today. 

Regular challenges from fires, floods, corporate takeovers, economic depressions, bank failures, raw material shortages, and other issues meant that the most successful wagon and carriage makers had to be true businessmen (and women).  They had to be intensely focused on present and future circumstances as competition in this industry demanded acumen at every level.  Even so, at the turn of the 20th century, another issue began to plague America’s horse-drawn vehicle builders.

The growing popularity of the automobile was a new kind of challenge.  It was a direct attack on the entire industry and one that was difficult for many to understand.  Initially, the industry ignored the noisy and expensive upstarts.  Progress, though, couldn’t be stopped by turning a blind eye to the facts.  Eventually, a good number of wagon and carriage makers did unite in their efforts to deal with this johnny-come-lately competitor.  In other ways, though, the added pressure to pay the bills actually reinforced hard-line competition and backbiting rumors within the ranks.  Ultimately, every dollar was vital to those struggling to keep their doors open and many did whatever they felt necessary to secure business. 

While reviewing some of what took place a century ago, I examined several issues of The Hub magazine from that time frame.  As you might imagine, topics pertaining to the continued growth of the auto industry dominated the pages.  Nonetheless, countless other articles related to stock dividends, company expansions, business failures, deaths, adjustments to sales and distribution networks, the importance of good roads, needs for vehicle standardization, values of horses and mules, proper painting methods, elimination of waste – especially with wood, and a host of other news was covered.   

The subject matter is so vast that I couldn’t begin to list everything in my weekly blog.  However, I did pick out a few tidbits that may be of particular interest to today’s western vehicle enthusiasts.  With that said, below are a few takeaways from the 1915 and 1916 issues of “The Hub.”

  • The Kentucky Wagon Company announced it would begin assembling Dixie Motor Cars and manufacture some of the parts.  Just a few years earlier, the firm had shared that they had built over 1 million wagons since 1879.
  • William T. Lewis died on December 30, 1915.  His obituary states that he was born in Utica, New York but moved to Racine, Wisconsin when he was in his mid-teens.  In 1864, he married the daughter of legendary wagon maker, Henry Mitchell.  Lewis then joined the wagon firm and, within a couple of years, the company was renamed as Mitchell, Lewis & Co.
  • Studebaker announced they would reduce weekly working hours from 55 to 50.
  •  As the Stoughton Wagon Company wrapped up its 50th anniversary, they shared some details related to the firm’s roots with legendary wagon builder, T.G. Mandt.  According to the report, Mandt’s first wagons sold for $85 each and many of his first laborers came from Norway.  Mandt is said to have paid for their passage to America but required repayment by reducing wages.  It was an agreeable arrangement for all parties.
  • A.A. Cooper (Cooper Wagons) celebrated his 86th birthday on November 9, 1915. 
  • The Florence Wagon Works (Florence, Alabama) resumed operation in June of 1915 after being closed for a few months due to slow business. 
  • The Fort Smith Wagon Company reported that its staff of 250 workers were enduring 12 hour days to fulfill a large military ambulance contract.  The vehicles were being used by the Red Cross on European battlefields.
  • While the auto industry was growing rapidly, 1914 still saw the completion and sale of 1 million horse drawn carriages.
  • For modern-day collectors looking for the earliest timeframe of a Turnbull brand (Defiance, Ohio) bob sled, the May 1915 issue of “The Hub” announced these new additions to the company’s product line.
  •  Despite rumors to the contrary, Tiffin Wagon Company (Tiffin, Ohio) vigorously denied claims that it was ceasing construction of wagons.  They shared that they had “not the remotest intention of discontinuing” production.

It’s interesting to read history first-hand.  When I was going through these pages of The Hub, it became obvious that some companies clearly understood the promotional power of the press while others only occasionally shared news about their organization.  It’s an observation that can still be made today.  In fact, the more I looked at these old stories, the more convinced I became that some things never change – even to the point of gasoline discussions.  Believe it or not, a century ago, some were calling for the government to investigate petroleum producers due to the high prices of gasoline.  One hundred years later, the price of gas (high or low) continues to be a regular topic and – albeit to a smaller number of buyers – horse drawn vehicles are still being sold.

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, August 3, 2016

Parson’s Low-Down Wagons

With thousands of different types, sizes, and brands of early horse-drawn wagons used in America, studying this part of our past can sometimes be overwhelming.  There are so many facets to the subject that we will likely never know every part of our transportation history.  That said, there is a great deal that we do know and much of that still has a way of going largely unnoticed. 

Patented designs, for instance, are not often highlighted – even though the information is important to the understanding of a vehicle’s design, value, rarity, and overall provenance.  One example of what, today, might be looked upon as a common design is a series of business wagons built by J.R. Parsons of Earlville, New York.  The custom form was patented in 1890 and almost immediately referred to as a ‘Low-Down’ wagon.  To our 21st century way of thinking, the term may sound derogatory, as though it was referring to a worthless or less-than-savory wagon experience.  In this case, though, the name points to the low-slung, physical nature of the design.  In fact, the phrase was so defining it was trademarked by Parsons.

This logo was trademarked by the early 1890’s and used to heavily promote the namesake designs as being exceptionally comfortable, efficient, and profitable. 

There were a host of benefits to the Low-Down design and many of the advantages were (and still are) easy to see.  From an overall perspective, the main body was engineered to hang below the axles.  It’s a configuration that makes the vehicle easier to load and unload; no doubt, a big plus when you’re carrying heavy articles to and from the wagon.  In addition, the dropped body helps place more weight in a lower position, where it’s easier to draw by a single horse or team. 

Those with milk deliveries were among the biggest users of the unique designs.  Some of these operators even claimed that the layout allowed them to deliver a third more milk in a given timeframe.  Period sales literature touted the rewards of the design and claimed users could benefit from time savings, convenience, comfort, and profitability.  Many of the wagons were also equipped with a patented, ball-bearing fifth wheel that required no oil or grease - so it was always clean.  The cut-under pattern was said to turn as easily when loaded as empty, so the user had no more worries with broken shafts and unnecessary strain on the horse.

Beneath the body, the forward portion of the gear was initially constructed with a reinforced A-frame support and diagonal, elliptic springs on the front axle (later designs did not necessarily have the A-frame configuration).  The upshot to the plan was that it allowed the wagon to turn tighter without sacrificing interior space, comfort, stability, and ease of access.  The rear half of the gear utilized a regular platform hung from irons that extended under the body.  In essence, the wagon enjoyed great stability with a series of smooth-riding, elliptic springs.

The bodies were fabricated from ash and oak while the wheels were said to be hickory with Sarven hubs and riveted felloes.  Collinge collar steel axles protected the spindles and hubs from dust and grime while capacities on these light-running wagons could range from 600 to 2500 pounds.  Prices in the mid to late 1890’s were compatible with medium and heavy capacity farm wagons, ranging from $130 to just over $200.

The Parsons’ “Low-Down” wagon was used for a multitude of business purposes.

While popular with the milkman, the Parsons’ wagon was also readily adapted by those in the bakery, butcher, laundry, florist, department store, ice cream, and retail grocery businesses.  Even so, if a person still wanted a more traditional body mounted atop the axles, Mr. Parsons did offer a taller, straight sill wagon.  Since those models had a higher center of gravity and a much smaller turning radius, though, most folks gravitated away from the old style and readily adapted the new, ‘Low-Down’ designs.  Some will note that the company actually had another, even earlier, wagon patent dating to 1888.  This design innovation, though, utilized a tapered body which affected interior space.  This issue was overcome with the updated 1890 patent.  So, top to bottom, that’s the low-down on the ‘Low-Downs.’  

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, July 27, 2016

Brand Builder Answers

Last week, I posted a few of the numerous wagon brands marketed by early vehicle builders and asked for thoughts on who made what.  While there were quite a few visitors to that blog, no one ventured any guesses.  I won’t give away all of the answers this week but, here are a few details on some of the relatively unknown brands...   

  • Overland – This was a lower-priced, sister brand to a Newton wagon.
  •  Chief – ‘Chief’ was a farm truck brand made by the Fort Smith Wagon Company.
  • Superior – Built by the Abingdon Wagon Company in Abingdon, Illinois. 
  • Gate City – Made by the Winona Wagon Company in Winona, Minnesota.
  • L. R. V. – One of several vehicle brands made by the Auburn Wagon Company in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
  • Red Hickory – This was a farm wagon brand built by the Florence Wagon Company in Florence, Alabama.
  • Fairfield – Built and marketed by J. Turney & Company in Fairfield, Iowa, this was a value-priced option to the firm’s flagship ‘Charter Oak’ brand.           

From trademark construction features to differences in brands over time, the information shown above is just a small sampling of the wealth of data found inside our Archives.  Spanning almost 200 years of America’s horse drawn history, this one-of-a-kind collection continues to grow and remains focused on preserving our wood-wheeled past.  Almost weekly, we're fortunate to uncover even more all-but-lost details.  Ultimately, the process is helping countless individuals and organizations understand more about specific vehicles and the true provenance of a set of wheels. 

Coming soon... We’ll cover a different, ‘lower form’ of wagon.  In the meantime, if you’ve run across a brand you don’t recognize, send us some good photos.  We’d be glad to take a look.

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, July 20, 2016

Wagon Maker Brands

For the next few weeks, my blog will be shorter than normal.  My computer is in the shop and single-finger typing on this iPad is a bit of a challenge.  So, in an effort to keep the length reined in, we'll cover a subject I'm often quizzed about by using a quiz itself.

Over the past few decades, I've shared many of the difficulties involved in the study of America's early wagon and western vehicle makers.  One of the complications is the sheer size of the country's first transportation industry.  While the tens of thousands of manufacturers are impressive in scope, trying to get a handle on such a large crowd can turn almost any research into an intimidating process.  Even more challenging are the massive numbers of additional brands marketed by these companies.  Knowing who built what and where is more than interesting background in the provenance of a set of wheels - it can be crucial to understanding the value, age, originality levels, and desirability of each survivor.

Reinforcing the hurdles mentioned above, I've set up a brief list of brand names from different builders. Take a look below and see how many of the brands you recognize.  Next week, I'll share any correct answers I receive.  There were countless others, all contributing to the complexity of this subject.  (Oh, be advised - some brands were built by multiple makers)

- Jack Rabbit

- Overland

- Ajax

- Chief

- California

- Superior

- The Dutch

- Western Special

- Gate City

- Hickory (not Old Hickory)

- L. R. V.

- Red Hickory

- Rockford

- Fairfield

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, July 13, 2016

Senter House Stagecoach

Some of America’s most attention-getting horse drawn vehicles are stagecoaches.  So much so, that individuals, museums, and especially businesses, like Wells Fargo, use these pieces as significant elements in advertising and promotions.  Of course, from East to West, there was an amazing variety of staging vehicles.  When it comes to the more recognized Concord-style coaches, though, there are generally three basic types – Hotel, City, and Western.  Each featured a triple reach design as well as a thoroughbrace suspension.  The heavy Concords were also built in a range of sizes including 6, 9, and 12 passenger configurations.  While thousands of stages were built across the U.S., according to well-known stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, less than 10% of the legendary Abbot–Downing Concords are known to have survived.  A number of them are showcased in Wells Fargo’s Historical Museums as well as other public and private collections.  (As a side note, I just received an email from Ken letting us known that he'll be profiling the oldest known surviving coach - no. XXXI - in the October 2016 issue of the "Carriage Journal."  As with all of his research, this is bound to be an interesting read.)

This rare Concord coach was ordered in 1850 by Curtis Coe for use at the Senter House in Center Harbor, NH.

Another survivor, a city coach built well over a century and a half ago, is cared for today by the Sandwich Historical Society in Sandwich, New Hampshire.  In 2017, the Society will celebrate its 100th Anniversary and, with that milestone in mind, it seemed like a good time to share a little more about this particular coach.  Inside our Archives is a piece originally published in the April 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.”  On page 162 of that trade publication is a photograph showing this same nine-passenger stagecoach.  At the time, the Senter House Coach was already more than a half-century in age.  The image included the follow caption...      

“The accompanying cut represents a coach built by the Abbot-Downing Co., Concord, N.H., for a hotel at Center Harbor, N.H., known then as the Senter House.  The order was placed on April 20, 1850, and the completed vehicle was shipped June 15th of the same year.  The coach has been in continuous service since that time and the original linings and trimmings are in good condition : the same wheels are under it.  The most of the work was done by Major Downing himself who, in recent years has enjoyed many a ride in it.”

While the image caption above seems to indicate the coach was built by the joint Abbot-Downing firm, the vehicle was actually constructed while J. Stephens Abbot and Lewis Downing had gone separate ways.  The firm of L. Downing & Sons built the coach.  It is said that Major Lewis Downing, Jr. visited the coach in 1900 and claimed that, “with a few general repairs it will stand the racket for many years to come.”    

Like many other early resort communities, the Senter House was a large hotel using coaches for transporting guests and providing tours of the surrounding area.   The photo and details from the century-plus-old story is like so many other parts of our past.  It helps build and strengthen the provenance of the surviving coach while giving us a more complete picture of the era.  Likewise, it’s another example of why we devote so much time and energy to digging through and helping preserve early records.

Coach #84 was ordered in 1865 for the Butterfield Overland Despatch.

Looking at a slightly different-styled Concord; several years ago, I profiled a western mail stage in the Articles section of our website. The coach has an equally storied history and is currently housed in the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.  Built in 1865, this Abbot-Downing survivor is number 84.  It was historically conserved in 2003 and offers a rare opportunity to see the wheeled West as it was.    

With several hundred period stagecoach photos already in our Archives, we continue to add rare, original images of these pieces to our collection on a regular basis.  Among the more recent acquisitions is a cabinet photo documenting the retirement of the ‘Good Intent’ stage line after completion of the Chartiers railroad in Pennsylvania.  This glimpse into yesterday will likely date to the early 1870’s and prominently features a Concord with 4 horse hitch, coach lamps, and leather boots, front and rear. 

More details on American stagecoaches can be found in a number of early books including “Stagecoach and Tavern Days” by Alice Morse Earle, “Six Horses” by Capt. William Banning and George Hugh Banning, and “Old Waybills” by Alvin F. Harlow.  Wells Fargo even has a more recent book entitled, “Time Well Kept” that includes several high quality images of Concord coaches in their history museums.  All of these and many others have a great deal to share about this part of our early transportation history.  Enjoy the reads!

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