Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Roads of Opportunity

“There are no roads out there.”  That was a reminder I once heard regarding the challenges of space travel.  It struck me that the same thing once existed for explorers headed into the American West.  Ironically, a similar hurdle exists today as we travel back through time, looking for significant pieces of the early wheeled west.  There are no roads.  In other words, the lack of a guidebook, map, or solid tracks to clear destinations makes it tough to know when and where to search for missing artifacts and answers.  Finding sufficient numbers of those parts to the puzzle is essential though.  After all, bit by bit, the findings do add up, providing a clearer picture of reality while boosting confidence in the quest for the rarest survivors.

Increasingly, that pursuit of the lost has become my passion in this hobby-turned-obsession.  Where are the real 19th century legends?  How do we recognize them after the obvious markings are gone?  How do we truly know the difference between heavy vehicles from the 1800’s and those from the 1900’s?  Why is one piece more significant than another?  What resources are the most helpful?  Some of these questions have been answered in our blogs, articles, books, or even presentations given to organizations throughout the U.S.  Gradually, we’ve been successful with enough discoveries (information as well as artifacts) that this 19th century world of wagons and western wheels is becoming familiar to many more.  Just as importantly, the answers to each of these questions continually lead us to more discoveries. 
 This posting marks my 100th weekly blog.  Each of the writings mirrors a commitment to locate, share, preserve, and promote significant parts of America’s western vehicle past.   More than an idle pastime, it’s a privilege to play a small role in preserving such an enormous legacy.  After all, these are the roads - the direct connections if you will - to some of the most dramatic history that shaped our nation.  From the start, there were wheels; wheels of risk, wheels of reward, and most importantly, wheels of hope; big wheels with even bigger plans and the biggest of dreams.  Together, they conquered mountains, rivers, deserts, weather, and even time.  While our Wheels That Won The West® archives contain listings for tens of thousands of makers scattered throughout the U.S., we will likely never know all of the early vehicle builders.  That said, we do know the vast majority of the major players.  They are the brands that stood out on the frontier.  Often pushed to the brink, they were bastions of strength and icons of opportunity.   
This week, our archives will again be tested as we search for even more answers and lost history.  Once more, we’ll be in the field looking for remnants of Murphy, Espenschied, Caldwell, Jackson and others.  As prominent western vehicle brands, they’re given minimal attention by most folks today, but they were once highly prized on the American frontier.  After two decades of daily pursuit, we’ve learned a lot.  The most important lesson has been that every clue in this hunt for history is vital.  Each trace of evidence fills part of a massive puzzle, ultimately leading to more discoveries while building a stronger understanding of America’s first transportation industry.        
Whether it’s the recent finding of yet another very early Studebaker wagon paint pattern or the chance uncovering of previously unknown freight wagon, sheep camp wagon, and army wagon specifications, it’s clear that significant remnants are still waiting to be found.  Through it all, a persistent focus and constant resolve has continued to open roads of opportunity – just the way it was done centuries ago when a young nation was determined to head west.