Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stone Wagons

Several folks have asked us, “What’s that vehicle shown on the introductory page in Volume One of your “Borrowed Time” book?  Great question.  It’s a set of wheels more particularly known to those in the northeastern part of the U.S - Specifically, the legendary granite quarries on the islands of Vinalhaven, Maine.  The vehicle is called a Galamander (pronunciation rhymes with ‘salamander’).  While the name is certainly memorable, its origins aren’t quite as clear.  Nevertheless, the design of the giant machine made it possible for 19th century artisans and contractors to create some of the most stylish and impressive buildings, bridges, dams, lighthouses, monuments - even paving blocks - in major metropolitan areas like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, St. Louis, Portland, and countless other leading cities.  As an example, the Washington Monument in the U.S. Capitol includes stones originally carried by these Galamanders.

Similar to the “Big Wheels” (read more about these on our website) that were used to carry large timber out of forests, the oversized nature of these stone-hauling behemoths is a reflection of the duties they were engineered to tackle.  Rear wheels on these innovative wagons could measure as much as 12 feet in diameter.  (As big as the Giant Moline wagon we discussed in last week’s blog was, many of these Galamanders would have dwarfed the purely promotional intentions of the Moline!)  Just to move the granite stones often required an eight horse hitch.  Outfitted with a rope tackle and large levered derrick, the granite could be hoisted up below the vehicle and between the rear wheels.  Horse teams were then able to transfer otherwise immovable tons of solid granite blocks to the cutting yards and polishing mills. 

Well over a century ago, these Galamanders were a common sight in Vinalhaven.  Crawling throughout the quarries, shipping port, and parts in between, their beefy skeletal frames can seem like something straight out of science fiction.  Unfortunately, time, weather, and inattention have destroyed almost all of these legendary leviathans.  Today, the Vinalhaven Historical Society has only one survivor on display.  With a granite mining history dating to the mid-1820’s, both Vinalhaven and the Galamander stand as a testimony to a time when the legacy of America was driven by dreams and carved in stone. 
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