Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Transporting Antique Wagons

Not long ago, one of our neighbors stopped by the shop.  He’d never seen our vehicle collection and the first question he asked was, “Where do you find these pieces?”  The answer is simple – They can be anywhere.  I never stop looking and researching brands – and – I take a fair number of road trips.  Eventually, the right original pieces have a way of popping up.  Even after making arrangements to purchase a piece, though, the most critical step is still to come – getting the wagon safely home. 

Moving anything of value from one part of the country to another can be stressful.  If you’re doing it yourself, there’s no substitute for a well-thought-out plan.  Of course, it’s tough to predict every situation on the road but proper preparation can help avoid many unnecessary challenges.  It’s timeless counsel that numerous travelers in the 1800’s American West likely wished they’d heeded.  Throughout the Old West landscape, many rutted trails were strewn with priceless possessions as pioneers discovered the results of poor timing and planning.  Today, it’s a legacy of loss that no one wants to repeat.  As a result, many antique wagon collectors have developed meticulous ways for moving their wheeled treasures.  I thought I’d pass along a few related tips in this week’s blog.

The Trailer...

From driveway to highway and back, there are a number of things that can help reduce tensions while traveling with antique wooden vehicles.  When hauling these rolling works of art, I generally prefer to use an enclosed trailer.  There are several reasons for this.  First... security is always a factor.  Original, century-plus-old pieces are not replaceable and advertising that vulnerability by carrying them on an open trailer has the potential of inviting the attention of thieves and vandals, or even unintentional damage from curious onlookers.  Second... an enclosed trailer helps prevent the loss of smaller parts that might be rattled loose from the wagon over long distances.  Third... directly subjecting an antique wooden vehicle to highway speeds accompanied by excessive wind, weather, bugs, birds, road debris, and other elements can cause irreversible damage to a piece.  Pulling a wagon on an open trailer with a tarp or plastic wrap is also not a good idea in my opinion.  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the cover from wearing away paint or leaving permanent scuff marks on the vehicle.  Fourth... tie-down straps and ropes can, and sometimes do, break.  If the antique vehicle is inside of a trailer instead of riding atop an open trailer, the enclosed box gives you a safety net.  So, even if a crucial tie-down does happen to break, having the vehicle within a fully enclosed space can help keep it from rolling out onto the road and into Splinterville.

The Padding...

Before traveling with an antique wagon, take the extra time and attention to make sure everything is secure.  Loose and easily removable items such as the spring seat, bows, doubletree, tongue, and so forth should be taken off, padded, and fastened down separate from the wagon.  You'll also want to make sure there are no loose, weakened, or broken pieces that may dislodge during the trip.  Using old bed comforters, towels, or even inexpensive moving blankets can save a lot of fretting and regrets.  It’s always a good idea to test the cloth wraps first to make sure they don’t bleed color onto your wagon should any moisture happen to get on them.  Another area that deserves extra attention is the surface condition of the vehicle.  Most of my readers know I’m not a huge fan of linseed oil on these old pieces.  There are a number of reasons for this and we don’t have room in this week’s blog to cover them all.  Even so, if you happen to purchase a wagon with linseed oil on it – and the oil is still tacky in places – be advised that your cloth padding may stick to the wood and metal parts, leaving innumerable hairy fibers behind when the protective wrap is removed.  It’s no fun trying to clean up that type of mess. 

The Tie-Down...

Beyond the steps above, you'll need to secure the wagon firmly to the trailer.  I typically use heavy duty, 2 to 3 inch wide ratchet straps (with appropriate load limits) on both the front and rear wagon axles.  Be careful not to overtighten or position the straps in a way that subjects weaker parts of the wagon to unnecessary stress.  Securing the wheeled history so it will not move can help prevent a world of distress later on.
I typically pad the straps where they may come in contact with the wagon.  This helps guard against damage to the vehicle as well as shielding the straps from chafing.  You may even want to place a couple straps over the box and tie it down – especially if you’re hauling on an open trailer.  In all cases, you’ll want to select safe places to stop regularly and check the condition of your tie-down straps and the wagon.  Invariably, things have a way of settling, working loose, weakening, and even breaking during travel.  It's always better to find problems before they occur. 

The Preparation...

I'm a planner and like to have multiple back-ups/contingency plans for a variety of encounters on the road.  In many cases, it can be helpful to visualize and actually anticipate potential problems so you can be better prepared beforehand.  To that point, I’d recommend that you develop a checklist of things to carry along.  Among the items on the list, make sure you have a low profile jack that will fit beneath your trailer, even if it is lower to the ground as the result of uneven terrain or a tire losing pressure.  If the ground is wet or muddy, a few short 2 x 6's can be especially handy should you need something solid to sit the jack on.  Do you have chocks for the wheels?  How about all the right tools to change a flat?  Do you have a good spare tire?  How about emergency road reflectors?  Have you checked the wheel bearings and lights on the trailer?  How about a stash of extra fuses for blinkers, brake lights, and the like? 

You probably already keep the proof of insurance handy for your tow vehicle.  Do you have it for the trailer as well?  How about the wagon?  Is it insured while traveling?  Other helpful items to take along include a GPS, cell phone and chargers, quality flashlights with fresh batteries, a tire patching and inflating kit, basic hand tools, and maybe even an old-fashioned printed atlas in case the GPS acts up or the cell service is weak.  Occasionally, I’ve been in situations where it was important to out-maneuver an approaching storm.  By keeping abreast of weather forecasts, road construction delays, and alternate paths, some of these headaches can easily be avoided.  Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to carry appropriate foul weather gear and a dry change of clothes.  Yep, I was once soaked to the bone while loading a John Deere wagon in a deluge.  Thankfully, I had remembered the extra clothes!

Having someone to go along with you is also a plus.  A spouse, partner, or buddy not only can help reduce the fatigue of a trip by helping with driving, loading, and other chores but can be good company.  After all, memories are always more fun when they're shared.  Finally, before leaving on an extended trip, make sure your tow vehicle and trailer are properly serviced, all tires are in good condition, and you have contact info for emergency services.  It's also good to make sure your tow vehicle mirrors are wide enough to see around the trailer.  All of this may sound like a lot to take in but good, advance preparation is well worth your time.  Likewise, the support gear I mentioned may seem like too much to carry.  For me, most of it fits in an inexpensive, plastic locker I keep inside my trailer.  It takes up minimal space and I have the confidence of knowing I'm well stocked and ready to roll.  Ultimately, every traveler should assess each trip and prepare accordingly.

The Experience…

At the end of the day, this blog was not written as a one-size-fits-all approach to cross-country hauling but rather as a basic primer to help jump-start an evaluation for a towing trip.  Certainly, nothing takes the place of proper preparation, common sense, and careful attention to detail.  Making safety and good judgement a priority can go a long way in helping ensure you get there and back with no regrets and plenty of smiles.  Have a great week!

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