Drag shoes, rough locks, wheel lock chains and even trees… these are just a few of the early types of brakes used on wagons both prior to and during the eras of box & gear brakes. Drag shoes and rough locks were used in conjunction with chain locks to help slow the descent of heavy vehicles by holding one or both rear wheels in a fixed position, thereby increasing the drag and friction of downhill movement.
There are numerous primary source accounts where larger trees were also attached with chains or ropes to help arrest downhill travel to a safer pace. We use the term, “safer” because there was often little ‘safe’ about the raw, rugged and torturous terrain facing many westward Argonauts.
Box and gear braking systems tended to be a later addition – although variations in terrain could also be a determining factor as to whether a vehicle was designed with a brake or not. That said, even mounted brakes such as these were often supplemented with drag shoes, rough locks, chains and other devices as well.
While some have questioned the authenticity of box brakes on nineteenth century western vehicles, our examination of primary source materials of the era supports the conclusion that box brakes were a common feature on many Civil War era and later western wagons.