Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wagons & Stagecoaches in the West

Over the years, I’ve been privileged and fortunate to uncover some of the rarest history on wheels.  The thrill of the chase is real while the research involved is crucial to recognizing and saving these dramatic and story-rich reminders of America’s youth.  It’s part of the reason we’ve dedicated so many resources to this discovery process.  Without fail, the constant seeking is rewarded with amazing finds.  So it was that earlier this month I sat out on another journey; one that would again take me west to learn, discover, identify, and help preserve some of the most legendary vehicles our nation ever produced.

The original Wells Fargo lettering on this 1860’s-era 

Concord Coach is still visible today. 

These trips are never long enough to satisfy all my curiosities but this one started out with an air of expectation.  I had a good feeling that this excursion would reveal significant western wheels.  In fact, I had written notes prior to the event with the prompt to ‘expect the unexpected.’  It was a reminder that came roaring to life even on the plane trip.  As we boarded our early morning flight, it became clear that the aircraft would be chock full of passengers.  The significance of this fact was painfully punctuated by my inability to reserve an aisle seat.  So, camera on my shoulder, I sat down in what had to be the smallest seat on the plane.  To my left was a businessman evaluating profit/loss statements on his laptop.  At the window seat on my right was a middle-aged woman absorbed in an electronic book.  I resolved to make the most of the confined quarters but about an hour into the flight my legs began to cramp and my body grew impatient.  If I could just get an armrest – maybe that would help me feel more relaxed.  Nothing doing.  That territory was heavily guarded by my neighbors.  Making matters worse, the woman on my right was fast asleep to the point of producing a fairly constant snore.  I didn’t want to wake her with my arm jockeying.  What could I do to improve things a bit?  Running through options in my mind, it finally hit me.  In that moment of soul-searching revelation, I realized I had never reclined my seat.  Surely that would help.  Looking at the armrests, it was hard to know which one controlled my seatback.  Eeny meeny miny moe!  I picked the right button and will never forget what happened next.

Apparently, the reclining seat mechanisms had been recently polished and heavily greased with liquid butter.  To my utter horror, my seat did not recline as I depressed the button.  Instead, the sleeping woman’s chair fell backward as if it had been dropped from 30,000 feet.  It hit the end of its range with a thud so hard I thought the hinge had broken.  Worse yet, the look of terror on the woman’s face lacked only a scream to complete the nightmare.  Clearly, she thought we were crashing.  My first reaction was to feign innocence blended with curiosity as to what may have just occurred.  Of course, it didn’t work.  She read me better than the Kindle notebook on the tray in front of her.  I quickly apologized and wished I could disappear.  As she began to get her bearings, though, she started to laugh.  Thankfully, she could see the regret and humor from both sides of the story.  It turns out that the experience was a sign of things to come. 

Images of mud wagons, stage wagons, and Concord Coaches are still highly popular symbols of the American West.

Full of twists, turns, questions, and many more surprises, the trip proved to be one of our most productive early vehicle pursuits to date. From stage wagons and concord coaches to western freighters, giant logging wagons, and California Rack Beds, the expedition was packed with new discoveries.  It’s a busy summer here but stay tuned!  I’ll be sharing more highlights in the coming weeks.