Wednesday, June 15, 2016

More Early Vehicle Discoveries

Last week, I shared a little about authenticity in early horse-drawn vehicles as well as the importance of tying those wheels to the correct time period.  Little did I know that I was about to come face-to-face with several exceptional examples of that message.  Each piece was another reminder of the importance to keep our eyes open as we travel.  With all that’s been found over the decades, I believe there’s still a lot to be uncovered – and, as you’ll see – among them are some great pieces to study.

This past month, I’ve been on the road a fair amount and, in that time, I’ve had an opportunity to stop by Doug Hansen’s shop in Letcher, South Dakota twice.  Even so, my average span between visits there is more along the lines of once every five or six years.  One of the most impressive parts of a trip like this is that there is always a host of history to take in.  You never know what you’ll run across in the shop or, for that matter, during any trip away from home. 

This Weber Damme wagon will date to the 1860’s and offers a truly rare look into farm style wagons from that era.

While I was in South Dakota, I had the privilege of seeing an extremely early Weber & Damme brand wagon.  Established in 1861, Weber & Damme (W/D) is one of a number of legendary St. Louis makers with lengthy histories.  In fact, the W/D shops were located just a short distance from both the Luedinghaus/Espenschied and Gestring wagon factories. 

The condition of the W/D wagon was far from exceptional but it was understandable since the vehicle will easily date to the very early 1870’s and more likely be from the 1860’s.  Yes, that is a very objective and supportable timeframe.  In fact, the iron and woodwork have so many clues pointing to this period that this could actually be one of the first wagons the company built.  I doubt there is an earlier survivor from this firm.  The through-bolted construction includes extra hound irons on a banded reach, 54 inch rear wheels with a 1 ½ inch tire width, extra wide floor and lower sideboards, wider point bands on the hubs as well as heavily worn fore sections to the circle irons.  The more I looked at this rolling artifact, the more it seemed the piece could have been built during or just after the Civil War.  While it was not originally equipped with bow staples (those on it had been added later), the overall wagon is largely reminiscent of many that would have traveled overland with pioneer families looking for a fresh start in the West.  Even though it wasn’t in the best of shape, it was still standing and functioning – a remarkable reminder of everyday transportation 150 years ago.

This NOS Stoughton sideboard shows the power of color and art in attracting early wagon buyers to the brand.

Pristine designs and vibrant colors dominate this hand painted, century-old piece of transportation history.

As amazing as it was to see such a rare, early piece, I was also intrigued to see elements from a wagon that was a half century newer than the Weber-Damme.  Many readers of this blog share a passion for collecting anything related to old wagons and will understand the term ‘New Old Stock’ (NOS).  Finding period pieces that were never used, whether it be a set of wheels, a doubletree, spring seat, or even sideboards is a rare treat for any collector.  Even before I had arrived at Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop, Doug told me in a phone call that he had a “little” find he wanted to share with me.  In my mind, I figured he had found a special buggy tag or maybe even an old sign.  I soon found out that my expectations were too small.  When I rolled onto the shop grounds, there were NOS sideboards for not one but, TWO different Stoughton wagons sitting just outside the office.  Wow!  They were beautiful.  Stoughton dated their beginnings to 1865 when the Stoughton, Wisconsin factory was actually home to the T.G. Mandt wagon.  When Mandt decided to take his patents and name elsewhere, the Stoughton shops began producing the “Stoughton” brand.  The sideboards were treasures that Doug had just acquired and they were quite a study in originality.  Yes, I’ll admit to shamelessly coveting the sideboards and ‘No’ they aren’t for sale – I already checked! 

As incredible as it may seem to find NOS sideboards for a two-horse Stoughton wagon, this set for a one-horse Stoughton is truly an all-but-impossible find.

Even though these sideboards are backlit by the sun in this photo, it’s still easy to see the impressive nature of such a connection to our past.

While in Letcher, I also had the opportunity to tour Dvonne Hansen’s leather works and antique saddle collection.  What a treat!  Both areas show extraordinary depth and creative ingenuity.  In fact, with a lifetime of leather-working experience, Dvonne is a true artisan.  Her schooled hands and keen sense of design are seen in countless pieces throughout the buildings on her grounds.  Not only is her work widely sought-after but, Doug (son), often calls on her expertise with special coach, carriage, and wagon projects.  We were privileged to have her help securing period leather for use within the conservation work done on our stage wagon earlier this year.  A special thanks to Dvonne for taking time out of her day to educate this Arkansan on so much history.

Dvonne Hansen stands in the doorway of an early school house on her property.  It houses dozens of period saddles and other western artifacts she’s meticulously curated.

On the trip home from South Dakota, I made a few more stops and ran across still another amazing find... a complete, new old stock Columbus brand wagon.  Columbus is an International Harvester (IHC) brand that many will recognize as the mid-priced alternative to a Weber wagon.  Like Weber, the Columbus brand also pre-dates IHC’s ownership of the company.  Staring at the crisp edges on the wood, the bright, unworn paint, and stenciling that looked like it had just been applied, I was taken aback.  From Doug Hansen’s shop to other stops along the road, it’s been quite a while since I took a trip and saw this much original history just waiting to share its secrets.

Unlike the painted New Stoughton logo, this NOS Columbus wagon uses a pre-printed transfer, called a decalcomine.

This image of the Columbus wagon gives a good idea of the paint condition.  I would estimate that the wagon still has 99.9% of its original paint.

With all that I’ve reported here, there were even more finds on the trip after I left South Dakota... including an 1880’s-era Studebaker Mountain Wagon and an early 1900’s Peter Schuttler logging wagon.  It was a lot to take in but, again, a powerful reminder that there are still a number of discoveries waiting to be made.  The study of each helps us better understand transportation history and pass along proper interpretation of each part. 

While I was traveling, I received several emails and hope to pass along even more wagon-related happenings in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, thanks again for your visits.  It’s always good to hear from you.    

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