Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Old Springfield Wagon

The morning light was sifted by fog as it poured through the cracks in the wooden walls.  Spider webs and loose hay were scattered everywhere, but I was focused on one thing.  Making my way to the back of the barn, I found myself staring at an old Springfield wagon.  It was void of the bulk of its original paint yet every part was covered in character.  The aged wood carried a visual charisma clearly marked by a life of hard work, long hours, and a shortage of TLC.  The box was a bit out of square, faintly askew from its traditional rectangular form.  It made me wonder about a potential mishap that could have shifted the original shape. Was the distortion caused by something pulling against a corner of the box or perhaps it was the remnants of a runaway?  Either way, the piece had seen its share of action before finally being retired.  By contrast, when this set of wheels first left the factory, its gleaming green box with yellow striping and a bright orange gear would have been the epitome of craftsmanship and precision. 

Time never rests, though, and sometime back in the 1940’s, this tired workhorse was pulled into the barn for the last time.  Sitting silent and alone through another sixty or seventy years of freezing winters and hot, humid summers, the wagon had been a favorite target of mud daubers, mice, dust, and birds.  Not to be outdone, the earth had slowly and deliberately devoured the lowermost felloes.   The aged tires were worn incredibly thin, rolled over the edges of the wheel rims like fresh dough in a pan.  The constant pressure of hard ground and heavy loads had pushed the steel tires to the brink while an even thinner pocketbook had kept them from being replaced. 
Peering over the upper sideboard, the bed still held the dirty, brittle, and sweat-stained harness - last worn by a pair of mules long since gone and forgotten.  Incredibly, the wagon had escaped being adapted for service behind a tractor.  The near century-old tongue was solid, uncut, and still accompanied by the original Springfield-built doubletree and singletrees.  The seat sat atop the box just as it was left.  Through the years, it had been repeatedly attacked by water from a leaky roof.  The end gates had also been ambushed by rain creeping in through another hole.  Topping the rare, serial-numbered find, it was equally surprising that two original bows had remained intact and with the wagon for almost a century.    
For many, this vehicle is a piece of the past whose time has come and gone.  But, even with its working days done, it still has a lot to give.  After all, totally original and complete pieces are increasingly hard to come by.  Beyond the historical value gained by studying its makeup, this Springfield carries a rich, untouched patina applied over multiple generations.  It’s a look and feel unmatched by new or restored pieces.  By encompassing the years from 1872 through 1952, the Springfield Wagon Company managed to outlast many of its toughest competitors, including legendary wagon firms like Studebaker, Cooper, Bain, Fish Bros., LaBelle, Mitchell, and many more.  Ultimately, discoveries like this one not only reinforce Springfield’s legacy, but help preserve the literal roots of America.  How many more can we save?