The sheer amount of early catalogs and literature in the Wheels That Won The West® collection gives us an advantage in researching these types of questions. In fact, during one of our recent presentations, we took 8 of the most dominant and well known wagon makers and profiled their standard freight wagon offerings during the 15 year timeframe between 1875 and 1889. Without exception, from Peter Schuttler, Mitchell, LaBelle, and Bain to the Studebaker, Jackson, Weber, and Fish Bros. brands, the hauling capacities were less affected by tire size and more related to the skein size and type as well as the axle design and geography of the region (sandy, rocky, etc.) In fact, one of the most common carrying capacities of period freight wagons (often referred to as 60 hundred pounds - 3 tons) was regularly listed within period catalogs with 2 inch tires. Four and five ton capacities were equally well known with tires measuring only 2 ½ inches in width.
I’ve often said that these wagons talk. Looking closely at the individual construction features of specific wagons can tell you a lot about the vehicle. It’s another reason that no two vehicles are exactly the same and learning to notice those variations can make all the difference in “hearing” what a set of wheels is saying. From the design of the box to the size of the tires and everything in between, nothing is insignificant when it comes to understanding the way life rolled in the early days of the American West.