Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Different Wheel Hub

I receive a lot of emails and questions in the course of a year.  While I’m able to assist a number of folks, not all inquiries are easily answered.  Such was the case when Kathy Christensen of Midwest Buggy in Lockney, Texas sent me a challenging question; a real stumper and head scratcher.  In her travels, Kathy had come across a wagon gear with very distinctive cast metal hubs.  The hubs were large and heavy.  It was easy to see they weren’t of a Sarven, Warner, or Archibald design.  Just what they were, though, remained a mystery. 

This photo from Kathy Christensen marked the beginning of a long journey, taxing my memory and archive organization.

Like a lot of these forgotten parts of yesterday, it was a mystery that took some time to crack.  Nonetheless, while some people ‘never forget a face,’ I rarely forget a design.  It’s a personality trait that has helped me close the case on a number of questions over the years.  When it comes to early wagons and western vehicles, my mind seems to hold onto what it has seen and plays some type of subliminal game of comparison as new information is accumulated.  Don’t get me wrong, not everything works this way.  I’m regularly humbled on a lot of things – like when I can’t remember where I’ve put my glasses; only to find out they’re sitting on my head.  A genius I am definitely not.  But, for whatever reason, many of these historical transportation riddles seem to stick with me.

To that point, about a month ago, I was doing some research on a few wagon makers and came across an illustration of a specially crafted hub.  The piece looked familiar.  Where had I seen it before?  Was it somewhere in my travels, a book I’d read, or maybe an email?  Yes, that was it.  It was an email that had been sent to me.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, the synapses were clicking, passing signals from faint memory banks.  Something triggered me to look in my emails with Kathy Christensen.  I had a feeling this was going to match up nicely to the photo that she had sent to me.  It had been a while since I'd seen the photo but I couldn't remember just how long it had been.  I looked and didn’t see anything from her within files from the last couple years.

Hmmm... It was strange because I had an overwhelming confidence that she was the one who had sent the photo.  I took the next step and started digging deeper into my archive emails.  I went back three, four, and even up to five years.  Still, I found nothing.  I began to wonder if I might have inadvertently deleted the email or was misremembering where I had seen the image.  I was convinced this newly-found illustration showed the same innovative hub I had seen in that distantly recalled photo.  My mind wouldn’t turn loose so I looked a little farther back in time.  Combing through nearly 1,000 emails from my correspondence with Kathy over the last 15 years, I finally found it.  Turns out, I was recollecting the original photo from an email she’d sent to me back in October of 2008 – nearly 7 years ago!  If only my entire mind worked that sharply on every subject! 

This patent for a reinforced hub design was granted to Targe G. Mandt in 1901.

So, what was the design?  Turns out, the idea was conceived by the legendary wagon builder, T.G. Mandt of Stoughton, Wisconsin.  It earned a patent on Christmas Eve in 1901, just two months before Mr. Mandt’s death.  Overall, the concept was engineered to provide superior wheel strength, stability, and confident performance for wooden wheels in a variety of demanding conditions. 

From the beveled rectangular spoke sockets to the circular rounded notches between the spokes, the circular bead at the junction of the body and rim, and the opposing bevels from the spoke rim, the patent overlaid as a direct match with the photo.  Unfortunately, the photo I received did not show a sufficient amount of the rest of the running gear, so it’s tough to say if the entire gear was of a Mandt design or not.  Equally unknown at this time is whether Mandt ever used the design or merely sold or licensed it to others.  At any rate, it felt good to put a significant part of this mystery to rest and help pass on more of America’s lost transportation history to future generations. 

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