Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Logging Wheels

During the eighteen and early nineteen hundreds, removing large quantities of timber from remote forests carried a lot of challenges.  Nevertheless, heavy vehicle makers from those days built numerous designs just for that purpose.  Eight wheel logging wagons, heavy-duty logging gears, carts, and even sleds were utilized within this specialized industry. 

An early logging wagon with solid wood wheels on display at
Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

Years ago, I wrote an article for our Wheels That Won The West® website outlining the origins of a giant two-wheeled design referred to in a number of ways.  The vehicle name often varied depending on the region of the country but some of the titles it held included “Logging Wheels,” “High Wheels,” and “Big Wheels.”  

These massive logging carts were engineered to transport large logs over demanding and difficult terrain.  With wheel heights ranging from six to twelve feet, these lumbering giants worked the woods throughout the U.S.  Over the last few years, our archives have acquired a number of 19th century materials highlighting these rare pieces.  One of the makers in this group of promotional resources is the Gestring (pronounced ‘Guess –string’) Wagon Company of St. Louis, Missouri.  I wrote a fairly lengthy set of articles for Farm Collector magazine on this company back in 2010.  A few of the other makers in this trove of ephemera are the Wilson-Childs Wagon Works of Philadelpha, Pennsylvania… Studebaker Bros. of South Bend, Indiana… Electric Wheel Company of Quincy, Illinois… Manning, Maxwell and Moore of New York… and perhaps the most legendary of all – Silas Overpak of Manistee, Michigan.

With most of the images and ephemera dating to well over a century ago, these original promotional pieces highlight differences between a variety of offerings.  Features like Georgia rigging, ratchet lifts, and screw rigging with dogs (hooks) for holding the logs to be lifted were among the variety of designs shown.  Tire widths could be as wide as eight inches, tongue configurations changed depending on whether the vehicle was used by horses or oxen, and wholesale prices could range from $110 to over $200 in the late 1890’s.  As time progressed, some of these Big Wheels were also drawn by steam traction engines.

Weight of a single 7 foot tall wheel with 5 inch tire is listed by one builder as being around 600 pounds.  Total weight of the entire design could easily register a ton or more.  Other specifications from this literature include the notation that many High Wheel designs were engineered to carry from 100 to 4,000 feet of logs in a single load.  The timber could range in length from 12-100 feet.  As shown in the photo above, in a trip to Death Valley last year, we were able to get a firsthand look at an original set of High Wheels.  Like America, itself, the massive size of these wheels is a reminder of the challenges, opportunities, and potential rewards for those willing to roll up their sleeves and join the free enterprise system.

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