Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Popular Western Vehicle Blogs

Exactly 4 weeks from today, we’ll mark 5 years of consistently writing and posting at least 1 blog per week.  It will total just over 270 times that I’ve sat down and wondered what part of America’s first transportation industry to share next.  Some weeks, the subject came easy.  On other occasions, I struggled – struggled to squeeze in the time and struggled to keep the diversity of topics fresh and pertinent.  Ultimately, there were days when I wondered if we could reach the 5-year milestone.  Even though we still have a few weeks to go, it’s good to see the goal so close.  So, as a bit of a reflection and nod to what continues to be an amazing research and writing experience, I thought we might look back at a few of the most popular posts to date.

Most of America's early wagon makers were small shops serving limited areas.

Some might feel that the older posts on our site would have inherently accumulated more traffic.  There’s a certain amount of logic to that line of thinking.  However, as I’ve reviewed the list of topics, it’s clear that some pieces have just naturally attracted more interest – regardless of the age of the post.  Case in point, several of my articles from this year have already risen to the top 10% in total views.      

As a general rule, there always seems to be a fair amount of interest anytime we’re focused on a particular vehicle type.  While many folks have their own idea of the perfect set of wheels, when it comes to our overall readership, it doesn’t seem to matter which type we focus on – farm, freight, ranch, coach, military, or business.  As long as the details are documented and the information is there, the traffic finds a way to the stories.  Our all-time, most popular posting was one I wrote back in 2012.  This particular piece wasn’t overly lengthy but it pointed out a number of ways that farm wagons are different.  It’s a message that we’ve shared for decades.  Unfortunately, some perceptions are hard to change and we continue to see how misperceptions not only degrade and oversimplify these old wheels but actually contribute to the demise of valuable history.  The truth is, no two of these workhorses will ever be exactly the same.  It might be variations in condition, accessories, features, or overall designs that create the contrast.  Or, it may be differences in the brand, age, completeness, levels of originality, or even the color and graphics that help set a particular vehicle apart.  Ultimately, every detail can be crucial when determining collectability, value, rarity levels, and overall provenance.

Stake rings were used for a multitude of purposes.  This photo shows the rings helping extend the support and height of the bolster stakes (standards).

The most popular blogs related to early vehicle brands (at least of the ones I’ve written) include Weber, Electric Wheel Company, Abbot-Downing, Moline, and Studebaker to name a few.  There are a great many more brands that we’ve yet to feature.  Some relatively unknown 19th century makes like Star, Whitewater, Kansas, and Jackson have also generated their fair share of interest.  

The early wagon and coaching industries were filled with larger-than-life personalities such as the Studebaker brothers in South Bend, Lewis Downing and J. Stephens Abbot of Concord, New Hampshire, early freighter and U.S. Senator, Alexander Caldwell (Kansas & Caldwell wagons), Peter Schuttler of Chicago, Henry Mitchell of Racine, the Nissen families in North Carolina, and so many more.  I’ve highlighted several of these legendary vehicle builders in my blogs.  At the end of the day, though, the craftsman that seems to regularly attract the most interest may also be the one whose history is among the murkiest – Joseph Murphy.  Established in 1825, the history of Murphy wagons is filled with hearsay – especially when comments are brought up about the giant freight wagons he allegedly built for use on the Santa Fe Trail.  The claims could be true but, to date, there has been a general lack of primary source evidence to back up the assertions.  It’s also regularly stated that Murphy was extremely quality-conscious with the manufacture of his wagons.  Just over a decade ago, we were able to independently verify that claim with the discovery of a number of original letters dating to the early and mid-1880’s.  Several of the notes were hand-written by Joseph Murphy and give explicit instructions on how and when to cut raw timber for use in his wagons.  The documents also lend some insight into the wood sizes and manufacturing needs Murphy’s business was experiencing.  We expect to have another opportunity in the fall of 2017 to share more about Mr. Murphy during a meeting with the Santa Fe Trail Association and National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  I’ll have more info on that conference as we get a little closer.  

Finally, we occasionally get requests to profile a particular topic.  Such was the case with an email we received back in 2013 asking about the inventor of the cast thimble skein.  It was a good question as the research makes clear that wagons used in 18th century events such as America’s Revolutionary War did not use cast skeins… someone please cue Hollywood to take note.

 The Wheels That Won The West® Archives house hundreds of original coaching images. The photo above features an Abbot-Downing Concord Coach used on the Good Intent stage line.

So, there it is – a brief list of highlights from the last 5 years of our blogs.  Do I have another 5 years of blogs in me?  Good question.  With increasingly challenging work schedules and vehicle projects, there may be a time down the road when we need to reduce the posting frequency a bit.  Who knows?  Maybe it will increase.  Whatever the case, we’re grateful for the privilege of overseeing so much history – and equally thankful to share time with you each week.  Don’t forget to stay in touch and pass along a few of your own stories.  We’d enjoy hearing from you.

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC