While many wagons and western vehicles can look very similar, the truth is that no two are exactly alike. For me, some of the most interesting surviving wagons and coaches are those with a solid provenance. The intriguing stories attached to many of these vehicles reinforce their individuality while often reaffirming their worth and significance to modern audiences.
Such is the case with what is likely the earliest surviving, factory-built western wagon in America. Several years ago I wrote a feature-length article on this vehicle for The Carriage Journal magazine and will share even more about it in our upcoming Volume 2 edition of the “Borrowed Time” book series.
The short version of the story involves the discovery and recovery of a westward bound steamboat that sank on the Missouri River in 1856. On board were 200 tons of supplies for the American frontier. Part of that amazing payload was a substantially intact high wheel wagon gear. As a western vehicle historian, that’s where the story, for me, went from extremely interesting to absolutely captivating.
After multiple trips to the museum and making arrangements to extensively photograph and document the vehicle, we were the first to confirm the maker to be Peter Schuttler. Not only is the gear surprisingly solid after being buried for over 130 years but, it also holds the distinction of being the oldest surviving set of wheels from this legendary builder. As such, it deserves a place on the ‘must see’ list for any wagon and western vehicle enthusiast. To learn more about the Arabia Steamboat Museum or schedule a trip to visit them in Kansas City, Missouri, check out their website at www.1856.com - And for an extensive and close-up look at this recovered Schuttler gear, don’t miss your chance to obtain a Limited Edition copy of “Borrowed Time, Volume 2”. It’s scheduled to be available in late 2013.