Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gestring wagon in Santa Ynez collection

I have a weakness for early St. Louis-built vehicles and have written about that on several occasions.  Some may recall that Farm Collector magazine has published several of my articles about one of the St. Louis firms… the Gestring Wagon Company.  Over time, I’ve been surprised at how this brand in particular seems to keep cropping up.  From calls and emails from individuals who own a Gestring to archaeologists with the Missouri Department of Transportation to museums looking for more information on a particular vehicle, founder Caspar Gestring’s legacy is alive and well in the 21st century.  It’s been especially interesting to me since I enjoy studying these 19th century makers from the “Gateway to the West.”   

With that in mind, over a year ago, the good folks at the Santa Ynez Historical Museum had asked me to be a speaker at their ‘Spirit of the West’ symposium this past April.  I was pleased to oblige and equally enthused that they held an original Gestring wagon in their collection.  I’ve learned over the years that every vehicle has a story to tell and I was anxious to see what more I might learn from this wagon.

Arriving a half day early, I took some time to go over the Gestring and see what I could find out.  A few quick measurements showed the wagon to have the same general box size as every other Gestring I’ve seen… 43” wide and 9’ 10” long (outside dimensions).  Retaining a fair amount of original paint with hand-lettering and striping on the box, the wagon was sold by Belleville Implement & Motor Company of Belleville, Illinois.  In our research, we discovered that this company was apparently a dealer for Studebaker automobiles as well as International Harvester agricultural products at some point.  More importantly, dealer details like this can be helpful in narrowing down a vehicle’s age. 

Beginning with periodicals from the early 20th century, we found Belleville Implement & Motor Company listed on page 881 of the December 16, 1908 issue of The Horseless Age as one of almost four dozen “New Agencies.”  Other available information leads us to believe the company was officially licensed for business as early as March of 1907.  Based on this information as well as a first-hand examination of the wagon along with previous research within our files, we believe this set of wheels to have a circa 1910-12 date of manufacture. 

Like most century-old vehicles, the gear has lost the majority of its original paint.  However, careful inspection shows that some of the initial orange coloring still exists on the axles and other parts of the gear.  While the tire widths measure 1 ½  inches, the broad wheel track stretches 62 inches and wheel heights are 44/54 inches.  One of the most interesting things about this vehicle, though, is the third sideboard on the box.  Not only is it diagonally cut to perfectly match a set of original Gestring-made St. Louis seat risers but, the uppermost sideboards are also trimmed to slope downward from 6 5inches in height at the front to only 2 ¾ inches at the back of the wagon.  It’s a unique and seldom seen design that was clearly built this way at the Gestring factory.  Other notable elements include additional contouring to the outer ends of the seat bottom, a fingerlink clip to the center spreader chain, and a box brake system with a Geisler-style brake ratchet.

We’re pleased to be able to continually share rare imagery and information on relevant early vehicle makers.  Individually and collectively the details help us all to continually learn and appreciate more of America’s earliest vehicle industry.  In keeping with those opportunities, we’re working on another article for Farm Collector that should appear later this year and, if you’re partial to St. Louis vehicles like Joseph Murphy, Weber & Damme, Linstroth, Espenschied, and Luedinghaus, you won’t want to miss it.