Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Yellow Peter Schuttler Wagon?

Not long ago I received a question from a friend asking if there were ever design variations or different construction styles of a Peter Schuttler brand wagon hub.  It’s a great question and one that some enthusiasts may not be aware of.  Beyond the obvious variations in different hub sizes, there indeed were subtle, but notable differences in certain aspects of Schuttler designs over the decades.  Believe it or not, there were even major color shifts in some Schuttler running gears.

A while back, during one of my research trips out of state, I happened across a Peter Schuttler brand wagon with a ‘yellow’ gear.  It had been sloppily overpainted orange but the original color, striping, and stenciling could still be seen in several areas.  The initial color of the gear had clearly been yellow with black striping and stenciling.  While there were a number of early builders that were known for producing yellow running gears, Schuttler is not one that usually comes to mind – even to knowledgeable collectors.  Orange was the gear color seen on virtually every Peter Schuttler wagon from the company’s beginnings in 1843. It’s a statement reinforced through period literature as well as an extremely rare survivor located at the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.  Kept in a climate-controlled enclosure, this set of wheels represents the earliest surviving Schuttler and one we were the first to extensively study, photograph, and identify back in May of 2007.

We were given exclusive access and the opportunity to thoroughly document this 1856 Peter Schuttler running gear in 2007.

I wrote a follow-up article on the discovery later that year and it was published by The Carriage Journal in January 2008.  We also posted a variation of the story on our website at the time.   Along with several tons of miscellaneous supplies and goods, the spanking-new wagon gear was originally loaded on board the Steamboat Arabia.  The journey was short-lived as the entire ship sank on the Missouri River not long after leaving Westport (Kansas City) in 1856.  Today, at well over 150 years in age, it is likely to be the oldest surviving factory-built wagon in America.  We were graciously provided extraordinary access to the vehicle at the time; allowing us to document various technologies present as well as dimensions, colors, construction features, and surviving markings.  In the process of the review, we found a number of remnants of orange paint pigment on the wagon.  Our Archives also hold 1870’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s-era color advertising from the company.  Combined with the gear found on the Steamboat Arabia, the surviving evidence seems to confirm the regular and consistent use of orange paint on Peter Schuttler running gears throughout the 19th century.

For a company to be so aligned with a particular hue, the use of a different color like yellow can be indicative of some type of change within the firm.  Sometimes, these changes are identifiers of different types of vehicles or even a preference indicated by an end user or retailer.  In this case, the gear had other variations as well, leading us to feel reasonably confident that the yellow coloring is likely tied to the transition of the company’s assets from Chicago to Springfield, Missouri during the mid-1920’s.  Close examination of the wagon revealed a number of additional design elements consistent with transitional vehicles built during early ownership by the Springfield Wagon Company.    

Why is this information important?  For the very reasons our Wheels That Won The West® Archives exist as a historical resource, this knowledge helps us to better identify, authenticate, date, and provide supportable provenance to vintage pieces.  Without these background details, a wagon is just a wagon with no personality to separate it from a sea of non-descript designs.  Ultimately, every stick of timber, every contour, every bit of iron, and every part of the paint hold clues… Clues that bring us closer to fully understanding America’s early wagons and western vehicle builders.

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