Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Freight wagon tires

Last week we shared some details related to the legendary 20 Mule Team freight wagons.  These freighters are as big as the terrain they traveled and, because of their legendary status, may often be perceived as typical of large western freighters.  I say ‘perceived’ because freight wagons differed in many respects.

For instance, the Borax wagons have tire widths of 8 inches.  That’s huge and far from typical.  The reasons for the size go beyond the weight being hauled and also take into account the softer desert terrain.  Several years ago, I wrote an article about the wheel sizes of early chuck wagons and the factors that help determine the tire widths on these and other wagons. Click here for more details.  

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.