Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rescuing History

As many will recall, we acquired an early Peter Schuttler wagon several months ago.  The wagon’s design is true old school Schuttler.  It was made in 1900 and is one of the few surviving examples of the way these vehicles were built during the last 2 decades of the 1800’s.  From the through-bolted gear and curved circle iron to features on the box itself, the construction of this wagon sets itself apart from the vast majority of “Chicago Wagons” still intact today.  Further distinguishing this high wheel wagon is its wide 60” track, hand forged hardware, and 10’ 9” box length.  In many ways, it’s exactly the kind of ultra-rare history we search so hard for.

Unfortunately, when we came across this set of wheels, it had one major drawback.  It had been coated with a thick and extremely heavy, creosote-like substance.  On top of the hardened deposits, another dense, sticky layer of linseed oil had been added.  Not only was it impossible to determine the condition of the wood beneath the unsightly mass, but I had serious reservations as to whether any of this unnatural and invasive shroud could be reversed.  Nevertheless, we took a chance, hoping against hope that we might discover a way to rescue this piece from its tomb of tar.

While we’ve had some positive results when removing secondary paint coatings, concentrated linseed oil, and other ill-advised applications on other vehicles, this Schuttler provided the ultimate test.  The good news is that we’ve been incredibly successful in uncovering the original, surviving paint of this wagon.  The photos above show some of the progress on the rear hounds and brake hanger.  As the dark and dirty gunk began coming off, we quickly discovered a fair amount of century-plus-old paint along with some blue and white striping, skein size information, and numbers stamped into the reach, axles, hounds, and bolsters.  I’ve seen similar four-character numbers on other Schuttler vehicles and have briefly entertained them as part numbers.  Since all of the numerals on this gear are an exact match and also located on almost every section of the gear, it’s possible that they may be an order number.  Ultimately, it’s one more question we’re working on answers to with this legendary manufacturer.
So, after roughly 25-30 hours of meticulous work, the business of liberating this Schuttler from its shell is almost finished.  Immediately above and below are the near-finished results.  We’ve been fortunate to find so much original paint and all of the wood has turned out to be solid.  For the moment, I’ve kept the left front wheel in the same state as the entire gear was found.  It’s a visible reminder of how easy these connections to our past can be lost.  Equally noteworthy, the finished piece is an enduring symbol of the rewards of rescuing history.  For more information on this rare wagon, drop us a line at