Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Few More Horse Drawn Vehicle Terms

A word of fair warning… this week’s blog is a little longer than most.  As sometimes happens, I went from writer’s block to a rough subject idea to “how in the devil do I rein myself in?”  If I’ve done nothing else, though, maybe I’ve helped reinforce the tremendous scope of subject matter when talking about early North American vehicles.  Enjoy…

America’s early vehicle industry was full of nomenclature that may sound strange today but was well known a century ago.  For contemporary audiences, a lack of familiarity with some terms can cause the subject to be even more complicated.  It’s one of the reasons for these weekly blogs as well as why we included a list of wagon part names in our limited edition, “Making Tracks” print.   

So, how polished are you in your early vehicle terminology?  Would you recognize a point band, buff-stick, or Booby-Hut if you saw one?  One of the things that can sometimes be helpful in understanding vehicle labels or part names is to examine the history related to a particular set of wheels.  Specifically, the origin of certain terms can be directly connected to a maker name, as it is with Sarven, Warner, or Archibald hubs, Sandage skeins, and Hurlbut brake ratchets.  Each of these parts received their name from an innovator providing a different design to the marketplace.

At other times, the part name or vehicle designation may be connected to its popularity within a geographic region of the country.  Examples include… Boston backers, Chicago shafts, St. Louis seat risers, Oregon brakes, Colorado brakes, California tire rivets, Ohio boot end bed, California rack bed, Nevada freighter, Arizona buckboard, Concord coach, Conestoga wagon, Pitt wagon, Virginia wagon, Kansas wagon, and more.  Of course, many of these names were never totally limited to specific regions but at least we know something about their prominence in those areas. 

The Archibald wheel patent was utilized on numerous wagon types within the military, industrial, and business trades.

Looking back a little more than a century ago, the April 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly” featured a glossary outlining a few vehicle types from the 19th and early 20th centuries in America.  While not all of the terms they shared will directly relate to western vehicles, in today’s world it’s not uncommon to find pieces scattered all over this country and beyond.  As a result, it’s often helpful to have a general, if not specific, familiarity with as many vehicle types as possible.  With that as a bit of background, below are several selections from the 1904 article…

Booby-Hut – Booby-Hut is a New England term applied to a chariot or coach body swung by thoroughbraces on a sleigh running part.  (As a side note, I happened to be at Doug Hansen’s shop in Letcher, South Dakota several years ago and he was restoring one of these.)  

California – The California wood-spring wagon is a variety of the coal-box buggy, hung on wooden springs and thoroughbraces and was introduced by the Kimball Mfg. Co., of San Francisco.

Jagger Wagon – The Jagger Wagon was for a while used in New York.  It was a square-boxed buggy or light business wagon, hung on bolsters without springs.

Go-Cart – The Go-Cart is a form of cabriolet, and was an old chariot submitted to numerous transformations.  It is used as a sort of two-wheeled cart and has a deep, cranked axle.

Rig – The Rig is an American slang term, and is evidently a contraction of the word, “rigging,” and is often applied to vehicles which are provided with special appurtenances or riggings.  It is also applied incorrectly to light or dilapidated vehicles.

Shebang – “Shebang” is a slang term formerly applied to a carriage and horse in certain parts of the West, in which the carriage did not represent very much skill or style and the horse did not show a very intimate acquaintance with oats and hay.

Whiskey – The Whiskey was an early form of the chaise, and was a light two-wheeled vehicle, hung on grasshopper springs, without hood or top, and similar to our modern sulky in general appearance.  It was so called because of its ability to whisk or turn around easily.

Prairie Yacht – …The Prairie Yacht was invented by Dr. Wheeler, Grand Forks, N.D. and was built to skim over the snow-covered plains by the aid of the wind.  It was modeled after the Ice Yacht. 

This historical dictionary of horse drawn vehicle terms is extensive and belongs in every enthusiast’s library.

This historical dictionary of horse drawn vehicle terms is extensive and belongs in every enthusiast’s library.

It would have been nice if the article mentioned above had included images for especially rare vehicles like the “Prairie Yacht” but, no such luck.  If you enjoy American sleigh history, though, you’ll be glad to know that, with a little more effort, I was able to uncover an obscure report that outlines this near-forgotten vehicle in surprising detail.  Take a look at the following description of a Prairie Yacht as I found it in the March 12, 1887 issue of the “London American Register.”

A PRAIRIE YACHT. This yacht is the invention of Dr. H. M. Wheeler, of Grand Forks, Dakota.  It is a novel craft that sails over the snow on the prairies at the rate of from thirteen to sixteen miles an hour, and even faster when there is a good hard crust on the snow.  The yacht is 32 feet in length, width abeam 14 feet, mast 20 feet, main boom 32 feet, gaff 12 feet, jibboom 11 feet.  The runners are strong toboggans nine feet long, the front ones being one foot, and the rear ones six inches wide.  The front runners have a central shoe two feet long, projecting one and a quarter inches to prevent “drifting.”  The body of the boat is raised above the runners one foot.  The framework is three feet across the stem, and the tiller is attached directly to the rear runner.  Dr. Wheeler says in his letter, “Our country is a vast table land, and with the exceptions of ravines and water courses, is apparently as level as the floor.  We have no fences, except small enclosures for stock, hence we have plenty of ‘sea room.’  My mast is as high as will go under telegraph wires, and even now sometimes encounters them, on which account I have rigged an iron fender shaped like an old-fashioned figure 4, with a line running from front angle to bowsprit. When the front face of this 4 strikes a telegraph wire, the wire bounds up and over it, and the yacht passes along.”

To catch up on more early vehicle jargon, locate the book, “Carriage Terminology,” by Don Berkebile.  It doesn’t include every vehicle term but, at nearly 500 pages, there is a lot to digest.  To me, it’s a must for any serious horse drawn vehicle library.

Clearly, from pole cap to rear axle, there’s a lot to cover on any wood-wheeled conveyance.  Only by continually broadening our understanding of the industry’s language can we fully appreciate the design, history, and purposes of a set of wheels. That said, if all else fails, the next time someone tells you to ‘Move your Shebang’, ‘Step into their Booby Hut’, or ‘Check out their Whiskey’, you may want to clarify exactly what they’re referring too!
Have a good week! 

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