I recently wrote an article published in the May issue of “Wagon Tracks,” the quarterly voice of the Santa Fe Trail Association. If you don't have quick access to their great publication, you can also find the story in the “Articles” section on our website. The heart of the piece focuses on the difficulties of locating some of America’s most legendary 19th century wagon brands. While most of the tens of thousands of horse-drawn vehicle makers in the U.S. were relatively small operations, there were several dozen brands that made powerful names for themselves as the country moved westward. Companies like Peter Schuttler, Mitchell, Bain, Rushford, Weber, Studebaker, Moline, Milburn and so many more were bastions in the West and are still well-known today.
In addition to those well-known names, there were others that were just as popular. Brands like Jackson, Kansas, Caldwell, LaBelle, Coquillard, Murphy, Espenschied and Fish Bros were favorites with ranchers and freighters as well as emigrants moving west.
But, where are the survivors of these brands today? Too often, they're few and far between. Even as we search for these icons of yesterday, many have already succumbed to the attrition of time and outdoor exposure. With such vulnerable wooden foundations, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that so many vehicles seem to have vanished. Maybe the real surprise is just how many great sets of wheels are fortunately still here for us to study, enjoy and pass on to the next generation. It's certainly a noteworthy responsibility. Along that line of thinking, you'll want to check in on us again next week as we cover a few more rare pieces. In the meantime, if you have a particular brand or specific western vehicle you'd like to share some images of, feel free to drop us a line. We'd love to hear from you.