Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Palace Hotel – Staging in the West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, if you haven't signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above.  You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board.  Remember - IF YOU DON'T VERIFY - you won't receive the emailed blogs.  So, make sure you check the email confirmations and verify.  If you don't receive a request to verify your email address, you might check your spam filter as it may have flagged the correspondence.  Once you've verified, you'll receive a notification email every time we update the blog.  Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We appreciate your continued feedback and look forward to sharing even more throughout the year. 

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

George Yule & the Bain Wagon Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Surface Imperfections on Wagons

The longer you live on this planet, the more the effects of time, stress, extreme exercise, and even the sun and gravity have a way of working on the body.  It happens to everyone – and everything.  Case in point; I’ve never seen an original, period wagon that was perfect in every respect.  If not properly protected, gravity will suck an old wagon down into the ground, rotting away felloes and spokes.  Sun, wind, snow, and rain will erode even the hardest wood and heavily degrade iron and steel.  Ultimately, every old survivor is saddled with some type of issue - at the very least, a surface deformity.  Whether it’s warped, cracked, or chipped boards, missing and broken hardware, scratched paint, or some other less-than-perfect part, the age of a piece has a way of shining through. 

Clearly, the passing of time along with normal wear and tear have a way of leaving their mark on a piece.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle is of less value.  In fact, the presence of certain character traits can be an important part of a vehicle’s provenance, authenticity, and originality levels.  Time tells a story that’s unique to every set of wheels.

Years ago, I attended an estate auction where several antique wagons were sold.  One, in particular, had seen minimal use and, therefore, was in remarkable shape.  Even so, it was not without blemishes; the most notable of which was an obvious blistering of the varnish in many areas along the sideboards.  Not all old wagons have suffered this fate but many have.  In this case, the most likely culprit causing the imperfection was exposure to radiated heat (the vehicle had been parked near the side of a corrugated tin shed for thirty years).

Blistered varnish is a common sight on many old wagons that have retained notable levels of original paint.

As it turns out, the challenge of blistering varnish and paint was a common problem in the horse-drawn era.  Reinforcing that point, in the August 1913 issue of “The Carriage Monthly,” during the peak of that summer’s heat and humidity, the trade magazine published these details about surface issues in wooden vehicles…

Paint and Varnish Blisters

“At this season of the year the painter of vehicles, horse-drawn and horse-less, is usually assailed with complaints concerning the above surface disorders; and not infrequently he is held accountable for their development when, in fact, he may be, and usually is, as free from responsibility in the matter as the man in the moon.

When asked for a cause of a case of paint and varnish blisters it is not an easy thing for a painter to give off-hand, even upon an examination, a definite cause, unless he has at hand some detailed history of the case.  There are a variety of causes for the development of blisters in a newly finished surface.  For example, the hot sun of the spring and summer months, if allowed for a considerable length of time to concentrate upon a recently varnished surface, will raise blisters, and the more elastic the varnish the more certain the blisters.  A hard drying varnish, by reason of its smaller proportion of oil, gets out of the way of the sun’s heat quicker.

Because of the sensitiveness of the elastic varnish has arisen the admonition handed down through many generations of painters; ‘Wash the varnish early and often with clean, cold water,’ which is a good treatment, by the way.  Other causes of blisters are, briefly; Unseasoned, or sappy, or resinous, wood.  Grease or oil upon the surface.  In a word, this latter surface condition is about as certain as death in causing blisters.  Blisters come also from hurrying one coat of paint over another before preceding coat is dry.  Sometimes blisters are just simply the outcropping of a cantankerous coat of paint or color made so by the injection of an inferior grade of oil or japan into its composition.

The cure for blisters consists mainly in preventing them – in eradicating the sources through which they come.  Occasionally, they can be punctured and pressed down to a condition not easily noticeable.  Again, and perhaps more frequently, the cure consists of removing them, resurfacing and revarnishing.”

Not every surviving wagon will have areas of blistered varnish.  Why?  Because some of these vehicles never received a coat of varnish while others were better preserved and still more have totally lost their painted surfaces.

While some may wish a vehicle’s painted surface to be perfect, a truly original vehicle hasn’t lived its life in a vacuum.  As a result, there will always be some type of deformity to the original creation. Beyond provenance and authentication benefits, wagons with their original-use surfaces are also highly desirable because they're getting harder to find.  The result is that the natural principles of supply and demand have a way of kicking in and these pieces tend to stand out in a crowd, making them even more desirable.  Just as antique furniture experts will tell you and many car collectors are coming to realize, originality has great value since every part of an old set of wheels plays a role in telling that vehicle’s life story.  

When the old is stripped away and replaced, the original, painted surface will never be seen again.  History, provenance, and generations of character are forever lost.  So, even though a piece may not be perfect, it’s important to carefully consider the long-term value of a set of wheels before making modern updates to the painted surface.  That said, there are countless vehicles with little to no paint and replicating a worn simulation that mirrors what it likely looked like during its time in the horse-drawn era can be an effective investment for a number of pieces. 

As we look down the road of this new year, there are a lot of topics we’re looking forward to discussing.  Among those stories is the fact that 2017 is a year packed with anniversaries related to America’s first transportation industry.  With that in mind, next week, we’ll talk about the beginnings and history of one of the biggest wagon brands to ever grace the American frontier.  See ya 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, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

With 2016 coming to a close, we thought we’d highlight a few of our discoveries from the year.  As I’ve shared before, the search for lost and forgotten history can be full of long, dry spells punctuated by the surprise-filled excitement of truly rare finds.  As Forrest Gump might say, “It’s like a box of choc-lates!”  Ultimately, it’s virtually impossible to predict what will be uncovered or learned next.

Nonetheless, 2016 left us with a wealth of finds.  Among those was the discovery of two, previously unknown patents granted for Sheep Camp wagons – one from the nineteenth and the other from the twentieth century.  Hidden deep inside a number of issues of “The Hub,” “The Carriage Monthly,” and other old trade journals, we found even more answers to questions tied to America's horse-drawn history.  In one instance, we stumbled upon primary source evidence showing what finally happened to the Giant (double-sized) Moline wagon first shown at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  It was used for years in cross-country promotions but over the last century appeared to have simply vanished. After featuring the research in our September 21st blog, the search for this iconic promotional piece can finally be put to rest.  In other discoveries, we were equally fortunate to acquire an extremely rare Studebaker-branded wrench made specifically for both sets of nuts on Archibald wheels.  While visiting a friend in Mississippi, we also came across a set of 1917 NOS Studebaker Military Ambulance harness (still in the crate).  

On other fronts, our Wheels That Won The West® archives added a host of original vehicle maker photos to the files.  Along with those glimpses into yesterday, our roster of period catalogs, signs, correspondence, and even vehicles also grew considerably.  During the latter part of the year, we ran across several intriguing images of Concord-style coaches.  The stages in these photos include distinctive features that may ultimately confirm them to be rare views into the world of stagecoaches built in Troy, New York.  Perhaps most importantly, we were able to reunite a number of folks with the history of their vehicle through our brand authentication and identification services.  It’s always rewarding to help bring lost provenance back to a set of wheels. 

All in all, it’s been a full year of tracking down a wide assortment of history from America’s first transportation industry.  Again and again, these types of mysteries have a way of fueling our research and recovery efforts.  So, as we look forward to 2017, we thank you for your regular visits to our website and blog as well as the opportunity to share even more discoveries in the days ahead. 

Wishing you, your family, and friends a safe, memorable, and very Merry Christmas!

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, December 14, 2016

Hard to Find Vehicles

Last week, I passed along some details about a uniquely designed touring coach with four brake blocks.  It got me to thinking about other western vehicles that we almost never see.  Of course, I’ve talked before about popular brands that are hard to come across.  Names like Cooper, Star, Flint, Whitewater, Caldwell, Kansas, Jackson, LaBelle, Rushford, and others are profiled in early trade publications as significant and highly desired brands.  Even though I’ve shared details before on some of these particular companies, I don’t think I’ve ever approached the overall subject as it relates to scarce design styles.

So, this week, I thought I’d focus on a few early American wagon designs that are tough to find.  Before we dive in, though, it’s important to recognize that almost all of the wheels we talk about from week to week can be classified as “rare.”  After all, this part of our history has long since passed.  So, when we talk about quality horse-drawn vehicles with a build date harkening back at least 90 years or more, we’re talking about an elite group of hard-to-find survivors.  Museum grade pieces from these eras have outlived harsh use, unforgiving environments, and the aging process in general.  Likewise, they’ve escaped countless recycling and repurposing projects along with a host of parting-out and demolition ventures as later generations focused on “cleaning out the old barn.”  With so many risks lying in wait for almost every old set of wheels, there are several types of wooden vehicles that stand out as being even more challenging to find. 

With that as a backdrop, we’ll skip past discussions covering elusive brands or manufacturing dates and briefly focus on a handful of vehicle types.  These configurations will be among the most difficult to catch a glimpse of – let alone be lucky enough to acquire.  After all, how many original, period examples of the following western vehicle types have you seen in a private collection…  Low Wheel Mountain wagon, Dougherty wagon, Dearborn wagon, Six Mule Army wagon, or Engineer’s Tool wagon?  While photos and/or period illustrations exist for most of these, it’s hard to find even a half dozen actual examples for any one of the vehicles.  It’s a point that makes individual study and field recognition of old parts even more crucial.

Low wheel Mountain wagon – Perhaps one of the more rarely-seen western designs, I stumbled across this variation purely by accident.  A number of years ago, I was doing research on an old Studebaker wagon gear that had been purchased in Colorado.  From the bolster stake irons to the reach pattern, tire rivets, 10-inch steel skeins, heavy-duty ironing, and numerous other features, the piece bore all the markings of a Studebaker Mountain Wagon.  Yet, the wheels were short – not the typical configuration most commonly associated with these heavy-duty work horses.  Instead of being at least 52 inches in height, the rear wheels were 46 inches tall and the front measured 38.  The overall design stood on a 56-inch track width.  As part of my study, I combed through some of our earlier Studebaker materials and quickly came across several promotional illustrations and specifications for… you guessed it – a ‘low wheel’ Mountain wagon.  Turns out that, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Studebaker built and marketed both a ‘high wheel’ and ‘low wheel’ Mountain wagon.  The variation I uncovered from Colorado was highlighted feature-for-feature and spec-for-spec in multiple, century-plus-old catalogs.  Just as the high wheel Mountain wagons were ruggedly purposed, this ‘vertically-challenged’ gear was engineered for hard use and heavy loads in mountainous regions.  The shorter wheels provided a lower center of gravity and optimum stability over the most demanding and uneven terrain.  

Despite their lengthy service within the military, very few original Dougherty wagons have survived.

Dougherty wagon – Purportedly originating in St. Louis, Dougherty wagons were used throughout the early days of the American frontier and into the 20th century.  There were slight changes in the ultra-nimble design over the years, including a raised driver’s seat and cut-under body for tighter turning.  Most nineteenth century Dougherty wagons were equipped with a set of elliptical springs balancing all four corners of the body.  They featured doors on both sides, canvas curtains that could be raised and lowered, and a luggage rack in the rear.  The design was also referred to as an ambulance and was often used to transport officers and their families as well as paymasters and other special needs related to military business.  A good example of one built by the Kansas Manufacturing Company is located in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  An even earlier Dougherty can be seen in the collection at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Montana and still one more is shown at Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park in Nebraska.

In 1911, L. Mervin Maus, a Colonel in the U.S. Army reminisced about his past experiences with the wagon…

“Anyone who has failed to travel in a Dougherty wagon has never enjoyed one of the real pleasures of life and one of the genuine refinements of wheel transportation.  He has missed something which has left a hiatus in his life and a blank that can never be filled until he finds himself at last safely seated in one of these classical army chariots, behind four snappy, faithful, and patriotic government mules, such as for generations have been the friend of the army at frontier posts and his ally in conducting campaigns…”

Dearborn wagon – Easily one of the most elusive sets of early frontier wheels, Dearborn wagons were regularly discussed in early diaries and journals of those headed through the American West.  In his book, “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary,” Don Berkebile includes a good – and somewhat lengthy – description of the vehicle along with an illustration from an 1879 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.”  With its name attributed to General Henry Dearborn, the vehicles were used throughout the 19th century for hauling both freight and passengers.  There were multiple variations over time and a variety of names such as Jersey wagon and Carryall were sometimes used to describe a Dearborn. 

Tom Lindmier’s book, “The Great Blue Army Wagon,” includes a host of details on America’s early military vehicles and harness.

Six Mule Army wagon – Most surviving military wagons seem to be of the lighter Escort or four mule designs.  Even so, there was a larger and more robust version developed prior to the Civil War.  Referred to as the Six Mule Army wagon, these configurations were important for hauling baggage, supplies, rations, and other large loads.  The reinforced patterns were popular within military circles due to the tremendous durability and versatility of the design.  According to Thomas Lindmier in his book, “The Great Blue Army Wagon,” these vehicles were also occasionally used as an ambulance.  Advantages over Four Horse/Mule wagons included heavier wheels, larger axles, and the ability (since there were two more mules) to travel greater distances with less pressure on the draft animals.  Developed in the mid-1850’s, the designs were used by the military into the 1930’s.  One of the few surviving Six Mule wagons is located in Douglas Wyoming at the Pioneer Memorial Museum.  It was built by a maker almost unheard of by collectors and historians today.  His name was Louis Palm and his shops were located on South Jefferson street in Chicago.  For more details on this type of transport, check out Mr. Lindmier’s book.  It’s a great volume of research that should be in every enthusiast’s library. 

A military “Tool” wagon was essentially a huge, wooden tool box positioned on an Escort wagon gear.

Engineer’s Tool wagon – One of the rarest horse-drawn military wagons, these specialty vehicles were in use as early as America’s Civil War and throughout the early 20th century.  These vehicles were typically composed of an Escort wagon gear carrying a large wooden box.  Larger, but similar to a drummer’s (salesman’s) wagon, the box was enclosed and compartmentalized.  Each section inside the box was designed to hold a variety of tools, equipment, and materials needed to build roads, bridges, and other military necessities.  Examples of items included could be axes, picks, levels, sledges, shovels, lanterns, hatchets, crow bars, wrenches, carpenter’s and saddler’s tools, blacksmith materials, paint brushes, wire, and numerous other essentials.  In spite of their presence within the military over such a broad timeframe, Tool wagons are about as common today as leprechauns and unicorns.  I’ve searched high and low, managing to come up with a few old photos, illustrations, specifications, and period writings.  Even so, I’ve yet to set my eyes on an actual survivor. 

While some of the designs discussed here can be found in a very limited number of museums, as a general rule, they remain among the most difficult to come across anywhere.  Should you know of additional examples beyond those mentioned above, I’d enjoy hearing more about those survivors as well.  In addition to the wheels above, there are a number of other heavier transports that are next to impossible to locate.  Among those are the Davis Iron Wagon gear, first introduced around 1880 and tested for use by the U.S. military.  Other obscure pieces include Herdic Coaches and the McMaster Camping Car.  Truth is, there are a slew of early vehicle types that are still among the missing.  So, if you’re partial to a good mystery and enjoy treasure hunts, there are plenty of pieces from America’s first transportation industry that are waiting to be found.  So, the next time you see an old horse drawn vehicle that looks a little different, do some investigating.  It just might be one of a number of pieces that we thought were lost to time! 

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, December 7, 2016

Stagecoach Differences

“If I’d only known then what I know now.”  It’s a thought that many of us have probably uttered before.  In my case, if I’d had any idea of how diverse, complicated, and extensive the workings of America’s first transportation industry actually were, I’m not sure I would have jumped into the study so whole-heartedly in the first place.  Then again, it’s tough to not be captivated by something with so many mysteries yet to be solved.  As it is, the subject is faithful to regularly give up secrets, albeit slowly.  So, I find myself constantly immersed in this hunt for history; waiting in anticipation for what’s uncovered next.  Through all of the research, one of the things I continue to notice is the huge number of accurate but overly-generic references to so many of our country’s early rides. 

Case in point… Terms like road wagon, mountain wagon, freight wagon, spring wagon, and even the phrase ‘covered wagon’ are all common identifiers of American horse-drawn vehicles.  While the names seem to offer sufficient descriptions, there’s often much more information needed to paint an accurate image of each design.  In fact, one of the greatest challenges to understanding these (and other) basic classifications is that each of the names can refer to various types of transports.    

As confusing as the above examples might be, the term “stagecoach” can also be applied to a multiplicity of designs.  As a result, without a photo, it’s not always easy to correctly imagine what the title of ‘coach’ or ‘stage’ is referring to.  There were a host of four-wheeled creations that were used and labeled as a stage. 

In the absence of information, it’s often assumed that a reference to a coach must mean that we’re talking about a heavy Abbot-Downing-style Concord.  While these particular designs are iconic, it’s this type of mass generalization that can make it difficult to get an accurate perception of transportation in the Old West.  Yes, Abbot-Downing Concords played a very prominent role in a large part of the American frontier.  Likewise, so did many other commercial vehicles carrying both passengers and packages.  Some builders of these stages even borrowed the “Concord” designation to describe a coach that was considerably different than the legendary Abbot-Downing patterns originating the name.  Legendary builder, M.P. Henderson of Stockton, California, is just one of the vehicle makers that capitalized on the popularity of the Concord moniker by attaching it to their own mud coach designs. 

Labeled as being built by Lewis Downing in 1851, this Hotel-style Concord coach is just one of the variations that were produced in Concord, New Hampshire.

Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were numerous types of vehicles serving as stages in the eastern portions of the U.S.  At the same time, the collective hauling of mail, passengers, express packages, money, and gold was handled by an equally diverse group of transports in the West.  From coast to coast, these old wheels took on a variety of titles.  They may have been referred to as a Mud wagon, Stage wagon, Overland wagon, Celerity wagon, Passenger wagon, Passenger hack, Mail hack, Mail coach, Mail jerky, Western coach, Concord coach, Mountain wagon, or any number of other names that could (and usually did) vary in style and construction.  Making things even more convoluted, this overview of stage nomenclature doesn’t include all of the coach vehicles used for cities, hotels, and touring.  In still more instances, even covered farm wagons are known to have been occasionally used as a stage.  Due to trail/road conditions, vehicle availability, acquisition costs, serviceability, individual manufacturer styles, loads to be hauled, passenger requirements, or a multitude of other reasons, it was common to see a fair amount of diversity in commercial stage designs. 

While most stagecoaches in the American West were mounted on a suspension of springs or thoroughbraces, that observation could easily be where many construction similarities stopped.  When comparing side-by-side photos of these old vehicles, a particular set of wheels may – or may not – have a triple reach, single reach, lamps, full-length side springs, thoroughbraces, open top, enclosed body, raised driver’s seat, fixed rear boot, folding rear rack, foot brake, hand brake, roof rack, side curtains, round top, flat top, wood hubs, Sarven hubs, dodged spokes, drop tongue/pole, stiff tongue, bunters, 6 horse hitch, mule hitch… Whew!  Well, you get the picture.  It’s impossible to corral and strictly define a single group of features that encompassed every early stagecoach. 

This period image from the American plains shows 2 different styles of mud coaches as well as a smaller stage wagon.  One of the mud wagons is drawn by mules.

Working to get a better understanding of the variety of designs and regional distinctions, we’ve spent decades searching for and acquiring original, period imagery.  Looking through the collection of tintypes, daguerreotypes, CDV’s, cabinet cards, glass plates, stereo views, and even real photo postcards in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives, it’s easy to see the wide range of vehicles used as coaches throughout the U.S.    

To that point, I recently came across an old photo showing a pair of touring coaches in California.  While one is a typical open-sided design resting on a thoroughbrace suspension, the other is equipped with side elliptical springs similar to those positioned front and rear on a Dougherty wagon.  Also unique, the spring-mounted coach utilized a dual-block braking system on the rear wheels.  Specifically, I’m referring to the use of four brake blocks – one in front of and one behind each of the rear wheels.  I’ve seen this twin “brake-clamping” of the rear wheel before but, typically, it’s been associated with wagons doing heavy freighting in rugged, mountainous terrain.  Finding this configuration on a coach is akin to discovering yet another needle in a haystack.  Again and again, we’ve been fortunate to uncover a world of forgotten and lost details related to America’s first transportation industry.  Ultimately, these types of encounters not only help us avoid false assumptions but also provide a more complete picture of what was truly happening in the West. 


This small stage has been traced to service in the Angels Camp, California region.  While the maker of this piece is unknown, similar vehicles were made by a variety of builders – including M.P. Henderson and Abbot-Downing.  

When it comes to carrying passengers, stagecoaches weren’t the only means of commercial transportation.  Inside cities and larger communities, conveyances like omnibuses, Herdic coaches, accommodations, wagonettes, depot wagons, station wagons, and livery vehicles were a common sight at train stations and along community streets.    

So, ultimately, what’s the definition of a stagecoach?  Clearly, the look of these wheels can be incredibly diverse and different regions were known for using different designs.  Recognizing the need to first identify the type of coach, (touring, western, hotel, city, mud wagon, stage wagon, etc.) perhaps the most encompassing definition would include points like… a four-wheeled, commercial vehicle typically drawn by 2 to 6 equine (sometimes even oxen) and dedicated to hauling passengers, packages, and luggage with many also carrying money, mail, and gold.  For a longer definition of the design (reflecting more of its complexity), you can find details in Don Berkebile’s book, “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary.”   

Still more information can be gleaned from the articles and presentations of well-known stagecoach authority, Ken Wheeling.  He’s researched and written extensively on the subject for decades.  You’ll find a few of his coach articles in the following issues of “The Carriage Journal” – Summer 1993, Fall 1993, Winter 1993, August 2001, October 2005, October 2008, March 2009, and October 2016.  These are far from being Mr. Wheeling’s only writings but they do give a good overview of stagecoaches and the challenges associated with their study.

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