This year marks the 130th Anniversary of the construction of the first sheep wagon built by James Candlish. Many have attributed the invention of the vehicle to Mr. Candlish while others believe William McIntosh, Jacob Jacobsen, or George Ferris should receive credit. There will likely always be discussion as to the who, when, and where’s of the first sheep wagon but, the recognition of Wyoming’s leading role in its creation is undisputed. Locations such as Douglas, Casper, Cheyenne, Buffalo, and Cody have a long and legendary connection with the vehicle. Today, the state continues to celebrate its rich western heritage with the 102nd Wyoming State Fair taking place from August 9-16. Activities included in the week-long event include a Dutch oven cooking contest, rodeo, ranch horse event, and sheep wagon competition.
A rare early image showing a pair of Florence Hardware Sheep wagons. The original photo has crisp details and is part of the Wheels That Won West® Archives.
Sheep wagon competitors are judged on the quality of the running gear, roof construction, doors/windows, accessories, stove, history, and other pertinent traits. The gathering at this year’s fair will include a wide variety of wagons and plenty of ranching history from our nation’s past. While regional builders/sellers of these wheels – such as Florence Hardware, A. & A.C. Rice, J.C. Jacobsen, and F.L. Belcher – often gain a fair amount of attention, there were several prominent national manufacturers of Sheep Camp wagons as well. Among the host of makers were the Studebaker, Stoughton, Winona, and Kentucky wagon companies. Each capitalized on the growing sheep industry during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and each offered customized variances on a standard design. Today, these special vehicles are still popular with ranches, collectors, lodges, businesses, and others.
This Sheep Camp wagon has a Peter Schuttler supply wagon in tow as it crosses a low, narrow portion of the Powder River.
For those in the area of Douglas, Wyoming on August 9th, this year’s sheep wagon competition at the Wyoming State Fair will present a great opportunity to see some impressive examples of America’s western history on wheels.