Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Magnificent Seven & Whitewater Wagons

There’s no Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, or Steve McQueen as with the 1960 release… yet, the newest re-make of “The Magnificent Seven” still manages to deliver a rousing look at a series of challenges born on the American frontier.  Staged in the year 1879, this version stars Denzel Washington and a highly diverse cast.  I’ll admit, the previews had me intrigued.  Knowing that the film had received mixed reviews from critics, I still wanted to see it (and was glad I did).  As it turned out, I was far from the only one interested in the picture.  It enjoyed a strong opening this past weekend.  

Sprinkled with humor and loaded with action, the violence in this flick is fueled by our innate desire for good to triumph over evil.  Of course, I'm always studying the vehicles in these movies and there were some moments in this one that gave me pause for thought.  Overall, though, the production does reinforce the enduring value of western genre films.

Aside from the action-packed story line, another element from the movie’s backdrop was particularly interesting to me.  Set in the mining town of Rose Creek, the film is replete with period-designed buildings and a host of old advertising signage.  So detailed is the advertising that on the face of one of the buildings is what amounts to a massive billboard promoting Whitewater wagons.  It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a western movie pay tribute to a transportation brand that’s relatively unknown to modern audiences.  More often than not, those narratives tend to use generic references or point to a more well-known icon like Studebaker.

Don’t misunderstand my point, there’s nothing wrong with using widely-recognized monikers.  The challenge I see is in the overuse of that approach.  After all, there were a lot of different vehicle brands defining competition in the 1800’s.  Some of them are still recognized today while others are hardly known at all.  When mass media focuses only on the more general or recognized names, perceptions about the industry can be over-simplified, minimizing the complex nature of this part of the Old West. 

Clearly, the frontier was not a one or even two-dimensional stage dominated by a few haphazard builders slapping wooden wheels together for folks with an itch to travel.  America’s first transportation industry was a powerhouse of innovation, efficiency, and production standards.  It was equally acquainted with a healthy dose of legal, raw material, distribution, and promotional maneuverings.  Clearly, it was not a place for weak, indecisive, or ill-prepared entrepreneurs.  There was big money to be made – and lost – here.  With so much at stake, the industry was flush with well-heeled manufacturers going head to head, working to squash each other as well as local builders – every day.   So, by having a once-prominent-but-now-obscure name like ‘Whitewater’ highlighted in the movie, it may be getting easier to point out the complexity and brand diversification ruling this part of our past. 

As I pointed out in my December 10, 2014 blog post, Whitewater was one of the leading western wagon brands during the 1870’s and 1880’s.  The firm of Winchester and Partridge, in Whitewater, Wisconsin, began building these wagons during the late part of the Civil War and continued with their manufacture until 1888.  Tens of thousands of nineteenth century Whitewater wagons are believed to have been built.  Unfortunately, the brand and its legacy are among the least known today.  There are many reasons for that obscurity.  From time and inattention to minimal surviving promotional materials, the majority of this part of American history has either vanished or is all but lost.  

Some would say that the lack of surviving Whitewater wagons is also a reason for an absence of recognition in today’s society.  It’s a comment that bears some merit but, let me ask this… How many Whitewater wagons from the 1800's have survived?  The truth is that no one knows.  Perhaps there are more remnants than what we would think.  One of the biggest reasons we don’t know how many have survived is that most of us wouldn’t recognize one of those legendary sets of wheels if we were standing beside it.  No one knows because our culture, in general, has placed very little emphasis on the industry that literally drove America’s westward expansion.  It was an industry easily worth tens of billions (maybe hundreds of billions of dollars) in today’s economy.  As such, it deserves more attention – if for no other reason than to save what’s left before it’s gone.  I know that many of you reading this continue to play an important role in passing along this history to future generations and I encourage you to keep up the good work.

Likewise, my hat is off to the producers of this latest version of the “Magnificent Seven” story.  Some may argue the merits of the movie as compared to previous versions.  Others will decry the violence.  Many will never notice the Whitewater sign.  Without a doubt, though, it is a fleeting nod to our ancestors who did much more than sell transportation.  They hand-crafted the wheels that built America while laying the foundation for the entire U.S. auto industry.  

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 21, 2016

More on the Giant Moline Wagon

It’s been over two and a half years since I’ve reported any new findings on the huge, double-sized wagon unveiled by the Moline Wagon Company in 1904.  As many know, the head-turning piece was designed as an unforgettable display for the St. Louis World’s Fair that year.  Back in 2013 and 14, it was encouraging to discover more previously unknown details about this huge promotional piece.  Those particulars can be seen in two different blog posts from January 2014 and February 2014.  For decades, collectors and history seekers have scoured the country in search of this famous set of wheels.  I’ve certainly spent my share of time looking for clues as to where this iconic piece of transportation and agricultural history ended up.  The trek has taken up countless hours of research and plenty of conversation.  Still, it’s managed to hang onto a certain amount of intrigue while remaining an elusive beast of burden.

This 1906 photo from the Lincoln, Nebraska Fair is one of only two surviving images known to have captured the giant Moline wagon at that event.

Again and again, folks familiar with the story of this giant ask the same question… “What happened to it?”  From our own research and archives, I’ve repeatedly been fortunate to find significant and largely unknown information.  One of the more interesting revelations has been that the wagon was used within multi-state promotional tours by the Moline company and its dealers years after the first showings at the World’s Fair.  Still, the trail has been cold for some time.  The last glimpse we were able to get of the wagon was at a fair in Nebraska during 1906.  Since then, nothing.  No trade reports.  No newspaper clippings.  No photos.  No other details have come to light.  It’s as if the wagon just disappeared.  But, as I mentioned in my February 12, 2014 blog, details on mysteries like this can sometimes come right out of the blue. 

That’s just what happened last week when I was canvassing an April 1909 issue of “The Hub.”  Positioned just below a short story about the Abbot-Downing Company falling into receivership was an equally brief write-up sharing the whereabouts of the colossal Moline wagon.  Finally, after more than 100 years in hiding, the secret of what happened to this magnificent piece of history was being revealed!

As the story points out, five years after first being shown at the St. Louis World’s Fair, the wagon was being given a permanent home.  The article reiterated that the show-stopping attraction had been publicized extensively in state and national fairs during the previous years.  As of the 1909 writing, though, the big wagon was in the process of being placed on top of four, concrete pillars at the east end of Moline Wagon Company’s lumber yard.  The pillars were nine feet in height, meaning that the entire structure with the wagon would stand at least twenty-five feet tall!  It was intended to be the final tribute to the legendary set of wheels (and brand), standing where it would be a continuous topic of conversation to all passers-by. 

The enormous concrete platform was a fitting display, visibly reinforcing the power, reputation, and legacy of the historic brand.  Nonetheless, after reading this report, it’s not hard to imagine what ultimately happened to the huge wagon.  After a few years atop the concrete pedestal, the effects of a continual barrage of sun, snow, ice, and raw elements would have surely taken their toll; leaving the wooden titan in a deteriorated condition.  Also, knowing that just a year later, John Deere would buy the firm and two years after that change the name from Moline to John Deere; it’s easy to understand that the hulking wagon would have ultimately been dismantled and disposed of.  It had served a strong purpose for many years but, as the Moline brand disappeared from daily life so was the fate of the equally colossal wagon.  Both appear to have vanished at the same time and, even with their once prominent fame, are merely a pale curiosity today.  

This graphic from an 1870 company letter is easily among the oldest survivors from the legendary Moline Wagon Company.  It’s just one of numerous rare artifacts housed in the Wheels That Won The West®Archives.

It would be interesting to know if any photos may yet be found of the old promotional icon mounted on its concrete-column throne.  Even if none were taken or have survived, I can now finally put this legend to rest.  No longer do I expect to come across an actual piece of this three-dimensional superstar.  Like so many other notable wheels pointing to another time, this five-ton monster was likely allowed to wither into oblivion. 

Used throughout the West as farm, freight, military, emigrant, and chuck wagons, Moline was among the most competitive and revered brands inside America’s first transportation industry.  By the time John Deere purchased the firm, Moline was building 30,000 wagons per year.  It’s a rate that translated into 600 completed wagons per week (10 per hour – 100 per day).  Even with so many produced, original Moline wagons with respectable amounts of factory paint are still among the rarer finds today.

On another note, it’s been a while since I included a sign-up reminder but if you'd like to have these weekly writings sent to you - saving the time it takes to look it up on our website - 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 confirmation 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 be among the first to receive these weekly insights into America's first transportation industry.  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, September 14, 2016

Tom Watt Tour

While my introduction to horse-drawn vehicles can be traced to a runaway experience in my early teens, my dad and grandad grew up using wagons and horse-drawn equipment – on a daily basis.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that, even though America enjoys a host of modern conveniences today, it wasn’t that long ago that motorized wheels were an unaffordable luxury. 

Like a lot of folks across the globe, my grandad’s wagon-related stories were highlighted by runaways and wrecks.  Of course, my dad would want me to add that grandpa often fueled the problem by purchasing green (unbroken) mules to work the fields and wagons.  For obvious reasons, they were cheaper.  Dad laments that just about the time they would get a single mule or team working well, grandpa would sell them.  No doubt, for a good profit.  During the process of breaking them, though, there were times when explosive excitement and quick action ruled the day! 

After hearing the old stories and having my own ‘incident’ behind the traces, it took a while for me to come back to wooden wheels.  Still yet, I couldn’t shake the history of these pieces and in the mid-1990’s, I began a more serious focus on researching and collecting unique vehicles.  Since the internet was relatively unknown at that time, it wasn’t always easy to find details on antique horse drawn vehicles.  My earliest ‘guide’ was a used book store in Springfield, Missouri.   Visiting it a half dozen times a year, I was blessed to some across a number of important primers.  “Conestoga Wagon 1750-1850” and “The Prairie Traveler” were among the pieces found there and they continue to be valuable assets in our Wheels That Won The West® library. 

As the years progressed, I became acquainted with more folks of a similar bent.  Turns out, my intrigue with discovering and preserving this segment of American history is not so unusual.  Over and over, I’ve met collectors and enthusiasts from all walks of life and all parts of the U.S. as well as several foreign countries.

Positioned at the entrance to Tom Watt’s collection, this Newton brand chuck wagon is fully equipped and set up as an authentic display.

A number of years ago, I was introduced to Tom Watt.  Tom is a long, tall Arizona Coloradan – meaning he spends about equal time between properties in each state.  Not only is he one of the friendliest fellas I’ve run across but he’s also an astute businessman and early vehicle collector.  The pieces he’s helped preserve include several dozen historic wagons, carriages, and stages.  In fact, one of the small thorough-brace vehicles he owns is purported to have carried President Theodore Roosevelt during the 1904 World’s Fair at St. Louis.

Years ago, I wrote a brief history for Tom outlining the background of another equally rare, hand built vehicle he has on display – a Rhoads brand wagon from Anderson, Indiana.  Some of that particular brand’s heritage can be found in our “Borrowed Time” book which also covered other hard-to-find details from national wagon brands like Birdsell, John Deere, Peter Schuttler, Weber, Newton, Studebaker, and more.

Not long ago, Tom hosted a large group from the Larkspur and Cherry Creek Valley Historical Societies.  Walking them through his collection is akin to stepping back in time to a day when horseflesh ruled the road and the big ‘three’ in transportation was more like the big 50 or 100.  All total, there were tens of thousands of horse drawn vehicle makers in the U.S.  While most were small makers, a number of them became strong regional, national, and even international forces.  Tom’s compilation includes an impressive lineup of notable brands and wide variety of vehicle types including those built as a farm wagon, chuck wagon, sheep wagon, hearse, sleigh, mail wagon, buckboard, buggy, carriage, mountain stage, mud wagon, Concord coach, stock rack, and military ambulance.  Seldom do we have a chance to see so many different vehicles in one setting. 

Business wagons, such as this one promoting early Watkins products, were once a common sight as peddlers hawked their wares to rural sections of the U.S.

Making the most of every opportunity to pass on knowledge, appreciation, and insights from America’s first transportation industry is just one of the unspoken duties many collectors gladly embrace.  After 50 years of collecting, Tom Watt and his wife, Betty, have put together some of the country’s most impressive vehicle survivors and, in the process, have preserved a tremendous amount of history.  From rare brands to unique designs, we are all the richer for it.

Beginning in the late 1890’s, light wagons such as this one carried the mail via Rural Free Delivery (RFD) to farm families living distances from town.

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 7, 2016

Lost Abbot Downing Stagecoach?

There’s something about a mystery that’s spellbinding.  Questions, uncertainties, and lost national treasures have a way of nagging their way into the forefront of our minds.  Tracking down details of the unknown can be equally addictive and, for those following the trails of our past, there are plenty of discoveries still waiting to be uncovered.  Each comes with its own set of challenges while focused curiosity and sheer determination often deliver amazing results. 

Again and again, researching yesterday’s transportation has a way of bridging the past, helping us actually connect with and ‘hear’ what an old set of wheels has to say.  Reinforcing that point, some time back, I purchased several 19th century issues of “The Carriage Monthly.”  This early trade publication was a prominent voice inside America’s first transportation industry.  As such, the magazines are a treasure trove of insights and information.  Thumbing through the pages, I made note of pertinent articles; anything from patents and construction techniques to factory transitions, industry successes, and timber shortages.  Then, alongside a story dating to 1899, I noticed a poorly reproduced photo of an early Concord Coach.  The vehicle was said to be sitting in a rundown shed in Kentucky and the image looked similar to Abbot Downing’s western-style stagecoach.  Equipped with lights (small windows near the passenger doors), leather boots, a thorough-brace suspension, and baggage rack irons, the historic look of the piece is pure Americana.  Even so, at first glance, the stage didn’t seem overly distinct from other Concords.  As with any vehicle evaluation, though, it’s the details that make the difference. 

According to well-known Concord coach historian, Ken Wheeling, this old Abbot Downing stagecoach may date to as early as the 1840’s.

Looking closer, the body style lines of the old coach didn’t exactly match the contours of virtually all Concords that I’ve seen.  For instance, the twin body rails extending forward of the doors do not come together in a pointed fashion as is often the case with Abbot Downing designs.  It’s an interesting observation.  After all, even small details can share insights into a vehicle’s provenance, originality, timeframe of manufacture, and so forth.  In this case, the construction variances could be a reflection of several possibilities such as a particular buyer requirement, a repair to a damaged coach, or they could simply be indicators of an older Abbot Downing work.  Based on the 1899 article that I’ve transcribed below, the historic coach does seem to be among the earlier pieces built by Lewis Downing and J. Stephens Abbot in Concord, NH.  Those considerations may be sufficient to explain the differences between this particular piece and most of today’s surviving western Concords.  Yet, there is a lingering question… “Where is this coach today?”

With a little more research, I discovered that the account I stumbled across in “The Carriage Monthly” had actually ran – at least in part – in as many as three other local newspapers in 1898 – a full year earlier.  Even so, the timing was still long after the heydays of western coaching.  So, has this particular Concord survived?  I reached out to well-known stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, for answers.  Ken is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge related to Abbot Downing history and extant Concord coaches.  Coincidentally, as I pointed out in my July 13, 2016 blog, Ken has just written a new article about the oldest-known surviving Concord.  The story is scheduled to be in the October 2016 issue of the “Carriage Journal.”  (FYI… if you’re not already a subscriber to this magazine, the upcoming story is a good reason to make the call.) 

Okay, back to the Kentucky Concord story.  According to Ken, the old coach in the photo is a nine-passenger bag boot design.  Not being able to see the complete running gear, he couldn’t confirm whether the vehicle was built as a ‘western’ stage.  He noted that the coach does not appear to have a passenger seat on the roof immediately above the driver and agreed that the forward body rails/style lines being widely spaced were unusual in their position.  Close examination seems to confirm that the rear rails are also widely spaced.  Equally curious are the small windows – referred to as ‘lights’ – near the passenger doors.  Almost all western coaches will have a matching set of lights balancing each side of the center door.  The right side of this coach body is partially obscured but it almost appears as if there may not be a ‘light’ forward of the door.  It’s possible that the framed signage or photo is actually hiding the forward light but, as Ken pointed out, if the light is missing, it may have been an early construction variance or order distinction by a customer.  Whatever the case, we’ll continue working on the mysteries within the photo as well as what may have happened to the coach.  Regrettably, it was not a match with any surviving Concords known to Ken.  

As is the nature of so much of our research and Archive holdings, the bulk of this original information can be difficult to locate.  So, in an effort to share some of our findings, the following text is from “The Carriage Monthly” article as it last appeared almost 120 years ago…

“Under a weather-beaten shed in Bloomfield, KY., is an old dismantled stage coach which has a notable history.  If it were put on exhibition, it would be an object of curiosity and wonder to the people, not only of Kentucky, but of the United States.  This old stage has had many ups and downs during its time.  It was at first the property of Ham Jones, a noted stage driver away back in the thirties.  After the pike was built from Bloomfield to High Grove, (which, by the way, is the oldest highway in the State,) by the late Henry McKenna, a man who had a wide reputation as the originator of a famous brand of whisky, this stage was then run between Louisville and Bloomfield.

The old coach was built at Concord, N.H.  During the war it was captured many times by the Confederates and recaptured by the Federals.  It was also captured many times by the guerilla bands, led by Munday, Magruder, Quantrell, One-armed Berry and Captain Terrill, who robbed the passengers, plundered their baggage and destroyed the mails and freight.  Thousands of dollars in money were hidden in the cushions and trimmings of this old stage and carried to Louisville during the war.

Among the distinguished men who rode in it were Governor Charles A. Wickliffe, James Guthrie, Governor John L. Helm, Generals Buell, Phil. Sheridan, and Rousseau, and it is said that General John H. Morgan, on one of his raids through Nelson County, took passage on this stage to Louisville, where he remained for several days.

Many of the most noted stage drivers of ante bellum days have sat on the box of the old vehicle.  The following are the names of some of them who are still remembered by many of the older people along the route between Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn.:  Ham Jones, Charles Simpson, Lee Withrow, John Goodnight, John Martin, John Brown, Billie Hall, and Tim King.

John Showalter, of Mount Washington, who died about a year ago, and who claimed to be the oldest stage driver in the Southwest, also frequently engineered the old stage on its perilous trips during the war.  Mr. Showalter, at the time of his death, was ninety years old, and could relate many interesting stories of the old stage-coaching days.  He began driving on the line between Bardstown and Nashville, Tenn., in the twenties, and during that time carried more prominent men than any other man in the country.  Among the celebrities he had driven at various times were Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Generals Lafayette and Taylor. 

This old stage is the last of its kind in the southern country, and it is a relic of more than ordinary interest.  It has been resting beneath the old shed for more than twenty years, and its trappings and woodwork are fast falling to decay.  The picture herewith shown is a faithful representation of the antiquated vehicle.”

With so much time passing since this coach was featured in the “Taylorsville Courier” (KY) and subsequent articles in “The Weekly Argus News” (IN), “The Recorder-Tribune” (KS), and “The Carriage Monthly,” we may never know what happened to this particular part of our past.  Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing story since so much provenance is revealed in the old news reports.  Like so many other vehicle mysteries I’ve shared, this one is holding tight to its secrets.  Perhaps some of our Kentucky readers can help shed some additional light on the whereabouts and well-being of the coach? 

As Ken Wheeling has pointed out in a number of his presentations, less than 10% of all Concord stagecoaches produced by Abbot Downing (individual or collective company) have survived.  With the discovery of this photo, it appears this may be another lost coach.  As such, the image is likely the only fragment remaining of such a valuable part of American history.

This authentic, western-style Concord coach, built by Doug Hansen and his team in South Dakota, is an extraordinary symbol of the American West. 

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 31, 2016

Anchor Buggy Company – A Real Giant

Doctor’s buggies, piano-box buggies, coal-box buggies, top buggies... Whatever you call them, millions of these ubiquitous vehicles were made by thousands of companies across the U.S.  Don Berkebile, in his book “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary,” defines a buggy as being a light, 4-wheel vehicle with accommodations for one or two people but, in some instances, may also have room for 3 or 4.  The small carriage is typically hung on springs and is known for being nimble and easy to pull.  By the way, if you don’t have Mr. Berkebile’s book in your personal library, I’d recommend getting a copy.  You may be able to find it through the Carriage Association of America, Ebay,, or other outlets like Wild Horse Books

While this particular type of light carriage isn’t often thought of as being a ‘western vehicle,’ it was a familiar sight in the West.  Ranchers, farmers, businessmen, liveries, and even the military utilized them.  Their agile, easy operation and relatively low cost made them an extremely popular set of wheels.  Catalog Order Houses like Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, and others capitalized on their widespread desirability, offering price ranges as low as $25–$40 for a new buggy.  So affordable were the rates that buggies became even more prevalent and, today, they’re still a common sight.

With so many builders creating buggies of every style imaginable, it was hard for some manufacturers to compete.  Like anything that becomes pervasive, there was only so much business to go around.  As a result, the selling price could easily become the main focus for consumers shopping for these wheels.  Some sellers perpetuated the issue – effectively undercutting their own profitability – by engaging in price wars.  It’s a tactic that never works for long.  After all, it’s virtually impossible to always have the lowest price and best quality while still selling enough products to pay for employees, supplies, tools, raw materials, and other expenses – not to mention the need to grow the business through some semblance of profit.

The Anchor Buggy Company had a lot to be proud of.  Helping celebrate its first decade of business, this piece of promotional art showcased several of the different carriages they offered.

So, beyond price, how did manufacturers set themselves apart?  For some, the answer to success was a blend of craftsmanship, innovation, effective marketing, and… location.  Real estate and business moguls have long heralded the importance of “location, location, location.”  For some of the earliest vehicle makers, the phrase highlighted the advantages of setting up shop next to a power source (water), shipping company (railroad or waterway), substantial community, or area with plenty of natural resources.  To that point, modern day transportation historians are well aware of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania.  Known as “Buggy Town,” the community is said to have produced more horse-drawn vehicles per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.  Even so, other American cities held equally strong reputations for turning out quality horse-drawn vehicles.  One of those areas was Cincinnati, Ohio.  Home to at least sixty carriage and accessory factories, the city produced as many as 250,000 vehicles annually.  So significant was the metropolis that, by 1904, Cincinnati is said to have been the largest carriage center in the world.

This extraordinary print ad demonstrates the very unique and durable qualities of an Anchor brand buggy.

Helping lead the charge in Cincinnati was a firm by the name of ‘Anchor Buggy Company.’  Founded between 1886 and 1887 (there are conflicting period reports) and incorporated in 1910, the business was a progressive endeavor with multiple patents to its credit.  One of its well-known innovations was a patented fifth wheel and king bolt.  According to an 1895 reprint of “Modern Mechanism,” the main distinctions centered on a full-circle top and bottom (5th) wheel, with the “king bolt forming a part of five different attachments bolted together in rear of the axle by a double-head bolt, so that all wear can be taken up.”  Should a part break, the gear would not necessarily drop the body.  Rather, it was claimed that at least four breakages had to occur before the body would fall.  Combined with an ultra-flexible reach that Anchor patented in 1907, these buggies were incredibly resilient. 

Before the end of its first decade in business, the Anchor Buggy Company was crafting 18,000 vehicles per year.  By 1911, the annual production capacity had more than doubled to 45,000 light pleasure vehicles.  At the same time, Anchor was home to 350 employees.

This giant piano box buggy was shown throughout the very early 1900’s as part of a huge promotional tour driven by the Anchor Buggy Company. 

Like a number of other builders, the leaders at Anchor Buggy knew the power of promotion.  While many folks have seen the company’s ads showing the dramatic flexibility of the Anchor reach system and strength of their patented fifth wheel, most have never seen the giant buggy the company built and toured all over the U.S.  Some time back, we were extremely fortunate to discover a period photo showcasing this special piece.  It now resides with a world of rare imagery from yesterday in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Reminiscent of the huge, double-sized Moline wagon built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the mammoth Anchor Buggy was making the rounds throughout the country several years before the colossal Moline wagon became a hit on the exposition circuit.  

In 1903, the May 30th issue of “Farm Implements” magazine printed another image of this over-sized Anchor vehicle, referring to it as the “Jumbo Buggy.”  Signage attached to the carriage called it the “Largest Buggy in the World.”    It is said to have been a full fifteen feet in height with rear wheels in excess of seven feet tall.  The rolling mammoth was used in promotions from Maine to California and Ohio to Florida, stirring the imagination and talk of folks everywhere as it became the centerpiece of fairs, parades, and individual dealer events.   

As the automobile business continued to take root, the Anchor Buggy Company became interested in transitioning to this mechanized industry.  Unfortunately, the company’s prominent co-founder and President, Anthony G. Brunsman, died in 1911.  With his passing, others in the firm were less than eager to take on such a monumental effort.  In the end, the brand left a bit of a toe in the water – building auto bodies for more established brands.  Even so, it was too little, too late.  By the time the early 1920’s rolled around, the Anchor Buggy Company had joined the fate of thousands of other horse-drawn vehicle makers and was no longer listed as an active business in period directories.  The brand had grown and matured for a little over three decades.  Then, in a moment of critical transition, it succumbed to the changes of time and competition.  

When we consider all of the vehicle brands and support industries making up America’s first transportation industry, it’s hard to imagine just how much history has disappeared.  Like the giant Moline wagon shown at the 1904 World’s Fair, our century-plus-old Anchor buggy photo and the accompanying newspaper image may be all that’s left of this massive show-stopper.  That said, if anyone knows more about this piece, we’d love to hear from you. 

  “The Carriage Monthly,”  December 1904

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 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