Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wagon & Western Vehicle Categories

I’ve been traveling a fair amount this week so this post is a little shorter than what I normally share.  Nonetheless, there’s some good info here and, hopefully, enough fodder to get us all to thinking about vehicle origins, provenance, purposes, and the like.  So, without further ado, here ya go...  

Sometimes we overlook the obvious when we’re searching for things... kinda like hunting for a pair of glasses we forgot were propped up on our head or a set of keys left in a car ignition, or even a desperate attempt to find our cell phone as it’s ringing – Only to finally figure out it was with us the whole time in a hip pocket!  Yes, I actually had someone tell me that happened to them. 

Humans.  We’re funny creatures.  From mid-sentence, mind-wanderings to failed recall, it’s easy to forget or overlook the simplest of things.  (Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen to you)  As a kid, I would sometimes get frustrated when I faced situations where I had misplaced something.  With a smile, my mom would reassuringly encourage me to look “in the last place I left it.”  Yeah, yeah, mom.  Now where the devil IS the last place I left that whatchamacallit?

What do these trials have to do with this week’s blog?  Well, after writing hundreds of pieces related to America’s first transportation industry, I often wrestle with what to cover next.  Maybe it’s writer’s block, a weak mind, or maybe it’s just old age... nah, it couldn’t be any of those.  At any rate, as I pondered the topic for this week’s blog, I hit a wall for a moment.  My thoughts drifted - maybe I should cover this type of vehicle or perhaps this particular style or possibly folks would be interested in reading more about a certain design feature.  The more I questioned myself the more unsettled I became.  Time was ticking and I had a deadline to meet.  Then, it hit me.  One topic that I’ve never seen collectively discussed is the actual naming conventions of these old wheels.  In other words, what relevance is there to the way wagons and western vehicles were looked upon and referred to ‘back in the day?’  It’s such a basic and fundamental connection to these pieces that it’s almost too obvious of a subject.  As a result, it’s an easy message to overlook.  Even so, it’s an important part of a vehicle’s personality and provenance.  As groups and individuals, we regularly reference many of the names – whether we’re commenting on a ‘farm’ wagon, military ‘escort’ wagon, or something business-minded like a salesman’s or ‘huckster’ wagon.  Sometimes, it’s good to slow down and question the ‘whys’ of a topic.

As I ran through the makeup of America’s first transportation industry, I came up with at least a half-dozen categories that help define the farm, freight, ranch, coach, business, and military vehicles we review in this blog.  As I focused on the different pieces, it became clear that the labels they go by are often a derivative of what they do, where they go, how they’re made, what they haul, and even who occupies the vehicle.  Many times, a single vehicle can be lumped into several of these categories.  For instance, a ‘tobacco’ wagon and ‘crooked bed’ wagon can be the same thing.  In this case, the vehicle is not only defined by what it hauls but also by how it’s made/designed.  Take a look at the list below and see how many more wagons and western vehicle types you can come up with that fit into the various categories...


1)      What They Do – This category focuses on activities the vehicles are associated with.  Whether you’re looking at a Dump wagon, Escort wagon, Sprinkling wagon, Lunch wagon, Telegraph wagon, Chuck wagon, Round-up wagon, Ticket wagon, Stage wagon, Delivery wagon, or even a Patrol wagon, each bears a name that indicates occupations, pastimes, and pursuits that the old set of wheels was designed for.

Patents for horse-drawn dump wagons were granted as early as the 1840’s and continued well into the 1900’s.


2)      Where They Are Used (or came from) – This refers to any geographic connection including a relationship to a particular region or locale – It’s a category that includes work vehicles like a Road wagon, Mountain wagon (both types), Pacific wagon, Farm wagon, Conestoga wagon, Florida wagon, Concord coach, Yellowstone coach, Station wagon, Depot hack, Beach wagon, Santa Fe wagon, Mud wagon, Red River cart, and more.  A lot of early vehicle brand names also shared geographic ties; with labels mirroring the city or state of manufacture.  Examples like Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Pekin, Tiffin, Troy, Florence, Stoughton, and Springfield were well-known all over the United States. 


The legendary Conestoga style of wagon takes its name from the Conestoga River/township region in Pennsylvania.


3)      How They’re Made – Vehicles in this category can be defined and referred to by mentioning a prominent design feature(s) – Some examples include Crooked bed wagons, Dead axle wagons, Spring wagons, Cut-under wagons, Rack bed wagons, Boot end bed wagons, Crane neck drays, Low-Down wagons, and even Double and Triple box wagons. 

Not to be confused with a Conestoga wagon, a ‘Crooked-bed’ wagon is considerably smaller and more lightly built.  


4)      What They Haul – Sometimes a particular set of wheels was called out by what it was designed to transport.  This category can be closely related to the first one mentioned above (What they do) since both are involved with a variety of occupations.  Vehicles included in this category were transports like a Tobacco wagon, Turpentine wagon, Potato wagon, Cotton wagon, Coal wagon, Tool wagon, Freight wagon, Water wagon, Grocery wagon, Milk wagon, Mail wagon, Ladder wagon, Popcorn wagon, Log wagon, Lumber wagon, Ore wagon, Ice wagon, whew!  That’s just a start. 


This extraordinary example of a Harrington brand mail wagon retains almost all of its original paint and signage.  


5)      Who Occupies The Vehicle – A Huckster or Peddler’s wagon, Gypsy wagon, Sheep herder wagon, Contractor’s wagon, Pallbearers’ Coach, and Grocer’s wagon are just a few of the specialized designs that can be defined by the person or occupation using a set of wheels. 

Referred to as Sheep, Sheep Camp, or Sheepherder wagons, these vehicles were often highly customized by the user.  Even so, some time ago, we uncovered a pair of patents on these designs.


6)      Who originated the vehicle – Labels like Herdic coach, Hansom Cab, and McMaster Camping Car are all tied to their inventors.  Similarly, there are countless brands like Fish Bros., Studebaker, Peter Schuttler, Weber, Gestring, Espenschied, Luedinghaus, Nissen, Bain, Mitchell, Murphy, Mandt, Knapheide, and Cooper that were named for their founders.  In fact, the practice of naming the transportation brand after an individual who either owned or was instrumental to the firm’s beginnings continues to be a part of modern day car companies.


Connecting vehicles to specific categories may seem like a tedious and trivial exercise.  The truth is that the act of studying every vehicle a bit deeper almost always sheds greater light onto the provenance, personality, and potential of a vehicle.  It’s the start to every wagon and western vehicle story; it’s who it was, where it worked, what it did, the folks involved with it, businesses that needed it, and how it was engineered to accomplish its purposes.

Focusing on these details helps us develop a more thorough understanding of different vehicle types as well as a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the individual pieces.  It also helps us avoid lumping so many of these old workhorses into a generic perception that tends to over-simplify the significance of a set of wheels.  Ultimately, it’s one more way to put America’s first transportation industry into greater perspective while increasing opportunities for more broad-scale interest.



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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Have You Seen These Wagon Brands?

The study of America’s first transportation industry – wagons and western vehicles, in particular – continually takes me down trails that can be confusing, hard to follow, and even phantom-like as they appear and then disappear.  It’s still well worth the chase, though, as the mystery of the unknown can provide amazing insights into vehicle provenance – not the least of which is the narrowing down of manufacturing time frames. 

When I was at Tom and Betty Watt’s auction about a month ago, something else struck me.  The most expensive-selling farm wagon was not only a mix of two brands (box & running gear) but, the box was from a very small maker in Anderson, Indiana.  It was built by the Rhoads Wagon Company and is the only one I’ve ever seen.  Years ago, I had done research on the firm and, through a lot of digging, was able to provide some background within the pages of our Borrowed Time book.  Still, the ability of this small brand to outsell major brands with huge legacies got me to thinking.  What other industry icons with fascinating histories have I seen limited examples of? 

I began to think about all those brands with strong reputations that I’ve seen at least one example of but no more than a handful of survivors in total.  After a fair amount of consideration, I believe a number of these brands also have the opportunity to excel in resale values – especially when found in above average condition.  So, with all of this as background, I thought we’d look at a half dozen more brands that are seldom seen but could be excellent additions to any wagon or western vehicle collection.  Certainly, the back-stories to the brands are filled with thought-provoking details.  What follows is a simple overview of some of those makers...



Beggs – Many folks may associate this brand with Circus wagons or even early automobiles as it became so well-known for in Kansas City, Missouri.  Long before these products were part of the company’s offerings, though, the firm was producing a host of other horse-drawn vehicles.  Samuel Beggs grew up learning both the farming and wagon-making trades of his father, James Beggs.  According to the Centennial History of Missouri, when Samuel turned twenty-two years old in 1881, he started his own wagon manufactory in King City, Missouri.  A half dozen years later, he moved to Carrollton, Missouri and continued to turn out quality farm, freight, and transfer wagons.  In 1905, the company moved from Carrollton to Kansas City to take advantage of better shipping facilities and freight rates.  Production of farm, freight, log, and mountain wagons was maintained at least through the mid-teens.  Within a few years of moving to Kansas City, though, Beggs also took up the manufacture of all types of circus wagons, including chariots.  As another decade began to pass, the firm shifted its transportation focus once more.  This time, the only horses involved were under a sheet metal hood.  By 1917, it had become clear to the folks at Beggs that the future of ground transportation would not be focused on horse-drawn vehicles.  The auto industry was already well-entrenched and was gaining ground on virtually every front – from commercial and farm uses to mining, military, and personal use.  So, in that same year, the Beggs Wagon Company began manufacturing motor cars and expanding their distribution from coast to coast.  In spite of that vision, the company ceased operations before the mid-1920’s.  With Samuel Beggs dating his vehicle-making beginnings to 1875, the Beggs firm could lay claim to being in business for almost a half century.  Still, finding a quality example of a Beggs wagon in the twenty-first century can be a tall order.



One of the toughest Beggs brand wagons to find is their California Rack Bed.



Flint – In 1882, the same year that Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford – four years before the surrender of Geronimo and a full decade before the historic Johnson County War, the Flint Wagon Works was formed in Flint, Michigan.  Many of the earliest examples of these wagons were adorned with scenic murals similar to those found on Concord stagecoaches.  It was a significant visual difference between Flint and other wagon makes with the ultimate purpose being to draw attention and quality perceptions to the brand.  Even though the West was still wild during the early days of this firm, the company was destined to be different

The manufacture of wood-wheeled wagons was a business model that would, eventually, be abandoned as part of the transportation revolution in America.  James Whiting could see the change coming.  He was one of the Flint Wagon Works founders and roughly two decades after he and his partners established the brand, he announced that the firm had purchased the newly-founded Buick company so they could produce gasoline engines for farm customers.  There is speculation that, from the beginning, Whiting intended to use the purchase as a launch for leaving the horse-drawn era and pursuing the age of travel by internal combustion.  Unfortunately, the entire operation was under-capitalized, putting a strain on the Flint Wagon Works.  Whiting and his partners would need more help if they were going to make this venture work.  Enter another highly successful horse-drawn vehicle maker, William C. Durant (Durant-Dort Carriages).  By all accounts, Durant was a popular entrepreneur with extensive manufacturing experience, a long list of investor connections, and an uncanny ability to sell just about anything he believed in.  After initial talks with Whiting, Durant accepted the opportunity to take charge of Buick and grow the brand.  It was the beginning of a major transition into the U.S. auto industry. 

With consistent growth and attention-building excitement, Durant significantly grew the Buick brand.  By 1908, he had formed a parent holding company, General Motors, and within another couple years, he’d added Cadillac and multiple other auto brands as part of the overall organization.  While many of these vehicles were initially built elsewhere, by 1909 the old wagon factory was rapidly being looked upon as a valued automotive asset.  The July 1909 issue of The Hub reported that the Flint Wagon Works had already “completed a half dozen or so machines” and expected to “put out a complete line of cars in 1910.” 

Ultimately, that interest in early autos led to the Flint wagon factory being the place where many of the first Buicks and Chevrolets were built in this country.  Production of the last Flint wagons appears to have wrapped up by 1912.  In the following decades, the only mentions of Flint Wagons in old directories are those referring to replacement skeins.  Those skeins could be purchased from Illinois Iron & Bolt Company in Carpentersville, Illinois.  The Flint brand is special because it’s a visible and firm connection between two worlds – the Old West and some of the earliest beginnings of General Motors – especially with the Buick and Chevrolet brands.  Finding a surviving Flint wagon today is a rare treat.  Owning one is even more uncommon.    



This logo is part of a well-preserved Flint survivor in a private collection.



Fish Bros. - Racine, Wisconsin or Clinton, Iowa. – You may be looking at this and saying, “I thought Fish Bros. was a large wagon manufacturer in Racine, Wisconsin.”  If so, you’d be right.  Ultimately, there were two, highly publicized firms incorporating the ‘Fish Bros.’ name within their company monikers.  The Fish Bros. Wagon Company in Racine was started in 1864 by Abner Fish and his brother, Titus.  The firm had actually begun operations a year earlier under the name of Fish and Bull (only to have Mr. Bull retire in 1864 and the Fish brothers take over the firm). 

Within a few years of the startup, the company began to struggle financially and engaged the support of J.I. Case.  The financial hardships continued and, by 1883, Case was appointed receiver and took control of the factory.  At that point, Titus Fish and E.B. Fish struck out on their own, enlisting the help of the Olds Wagon Works in Ft. Wayne, Indiana to build a separate brand of Fish Bros. wagons.  By the mid-to-late 1880’s, the brothers had gradually returned to the original factory which was now under new ownership in Racine.  However, the harmony with the new proprietors didn't last and the Fish family and brothers were back on their own by 1890.  This was the start of another new Fish Bros. firm.  This time, the family reached out to a different brand, the Labelle Wagon Company, to help build the wagons for the new venture.  Even with the added business, by the mid-1890’s, the Labelle factory had become insolvent and the brothers were in the midst of a move to Clinton, Iowa.  There, they set up their own factory to build ‘Fish Bros. Wagons’ under the company name of Fish Bros. Manufacturing Company. 

While the original factory in Racine continued to thrive, the name similarities between the new Fish Bros. operation and those in Racine were causing quite a stir.  To the folks in Racine, the use of the name was an unthinkable violation of trademark laws.  To the family members, it was a clear and rightful use of a brand name that had always belonged to them.  Ultimately, it was a source of constant irritation to both sides and a long line of lawsuits and legal wrangling ensued as the Racine firm sought to squelch the family from using the name.  Even the Labelle Wagon Company had been drawn into the fray and others similarly contemplating association with the ‘new’ Fish wagons were threatened with legal action by the folks in Racine.  Nonetheless, after years of infighting and countless monies spent, the end result was that both firms were deemed to have legal right to the name, ‘Fish Bros.,’ as well as the use of a fish in the company logos and branding efforts. 

In 1904, the Clinton, Iowa factory claimed a capacity for 20,000 wagons annually.  It's a sizeable number that seems to point to a healthy business.  Even so, both the Iowa and the Wisconsin brands disappear from industry directories by or before the early teens of the twentieth century.  As a result, it's a safe bet that any original survivor of either of these brands is over a century in age.  


Years ago, we worked with Doug Hansen and his team at Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop to restore a Fish Bros. wagon back to its former glory.  The wagon was originally built by Fish Bros. Manufacturing Company in Clinton, Iowa.   


Fort Smith – The Fort Smith Wagon Company was organized in 1903.  By 1907, John Deere had begun purchasing shares of the firm with a total buyout taking place a few years later.  I’ve always been fascinated with the brand for a number of reasons.  While the western legacy attached to the Fort Smith name is one draw, the company’s association with John Deere along with the production of wagons for Native Americans is another intriguing part of our nation’s early transportation history.  Even though the brand is fairly well-known (with sales extending into the 1940’s), original wagons with the Fort Smith label are extremely tough to find today.  In all of my searching, I’ve only come across two survivors and both had been repainted.  In my view, an unrestored, solid Fort Smith wagon is an excellent – and extremely rare – piece to have in any collection.  You can read a little more about the unique background of this brand in a brief bio I wrote in one of our blogs from 2014.


Even though the Fort Smith wagon brand enjoyed strong sales and distribution for over forty years, surviving examples of this brand are tough to find today.


Labelle – With origins dating to 1868, the Labelle Wagon Works of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin was once one of the most recognized names on the western frontier.  So prominent was the firm in Old West that, within its first decade of production, it was already being recognized alongside other firms who were decades older.  In 1874, the company was purchased by Benjamin F. Moore and A.G. Ruggles.  At that time, the name was changed from Farnsworth Bros., Knapp and Company to the Labelle Wagon Works.  By 1880, the brand is purported to have been building around 5,000 wagons per year and, by 1887, it was viewed as a highly profitable investment opportunity by a group from Minneapolis.  As a result, the brand was sold and moved to Superior, Wisconsin in 1890.  In 1892, period records indicate that Labelle produced over 8,000 wagons at its factory in Superior.  It was an impressive 17% increase over the previous year and the company was preparing for annual production rates to rapidly approach 10,000.  It should be noted that, during this same time frame, Labelle was producing wagons for the family members who were responsible for starting and running the original Fish Bros. Wagon Company – Titus Fish, Edwin Fish, and Fred Fish who had separated from the Fish Bros. factory in Racine, Wisconsin and had started their own company. 

While the last Labelle was likely built in Superior around 1896, this was not the last time the brand would grace the side of a high wheel wagon.  For the first decade of the twentieth century, the Labelle and New Labelle names were built by the Fish Bros. Mfg. Company wagon firm (Fish family) which had finally located itself in Clinton, Iowa.  In a way, it was likely a tribute to the brand while also an opportunity for the Clinton, Iowa maker to capitalize on a quality, well-known name. 


A Labelle brand wagon from an 1895 advertisement.



Luedinghaus – In October of 2013, I wrote an article for Farm Collector magazine that highlighted six period wagon makers from St. Louis, Missouri.  One of those was the legendary firm of Luedinghaus Wagon Company.  Founder, Henry Luedinghaus’ earliest days in St. Louis are connected to another well-known wagon brand - Gestring (pronounced as 'Guess - String').  During Gestring’s early years and, until just after the Civil War, Luedinghaus was a partner with the brand’s namesake, Casper Gestring.  By 1866, the partnership had dissolved with each man’s separate shop still being within sight of the other.   Luedinghaus continued to grow and by 1889 had merged with another legendary St. Louis maker – the Espenschied Wagon Company.  By the late 1890’s, reports in industry trade publications indicate the brand continuing to grow with fifty completed wagons being built each day.  After several attempts to compete in the automobile and trailer industry, the Luedinghaus firm finally closed its doors in 1934.  Henry Luedinghaus had died almost two decades before on Christmas night of 1916.  He was 83.  In all of my searches for early wagons, I’ve only come across a handful of Luedinghaus wagons.  They are among a number of legendary but elusive brands.


The Luedinghaus-Espenschied brand was still marketing large freight wagons at the turn of the twentieth century.



The six examples above are just a few of the tough-to-find brands worth adding to any collection.  There are many others.  Brands like Chattanooga from Chattanooga, Tennessee, James & Graham from Memphis, Tennessee, and Racine-Sattley with either Racine, Sattley, or both names combined on the side of the wagon are among a host of medium to large-sized wagon firms with very few surviving examples today.  These, and many others, are worthy of serious evaluation and, if you know of one, I’d enjoy hearing from you.  These rolling legacies can easily possess the history, rarity, and the intrigue to be coveted by enthusiasts everywhere.  


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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

America – Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.



Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  As America’s founders put it so well, these are inalienable rights granted to us by our Creator.  Even so, every one of those individuals signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 knew what that proclamation meant.  It meant that they would no longer be subject to absolute tyranny and a lack of voice in government.  It meant that they would be personally targeted for speaking the truth.  It meant that they would rely (as stated in the final sentence of the Declaration) on the protection of God.  It also meant that they were willing to sacrifice everything they had for freedom. 

The Independence we enjoy in this Great Land is directly connected to the dreams of so many who have gone before us and will come after us.  Those Liberties are bigger than a cause and crucial to every individual.  They not only bind us together but are a priceless inheritance granted at the highest cost.  They remain dear to this day.  As we celebrate the blessings of our nation, we remember those patriots who have made America possible and those who continue to help us guard against oppression.  From sea to shining sea, the Hope we share with the world is a reminder of what can happen when we look beyond ourselves and join together to achieve something much bigger – One nation, under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All. 

Wishing you and your family a wonderful week!  We’ll have more details related to early wagons and western vehicles next week.  


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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Gunsmoke on INSP in July!

As most of our readers know, the good folks at the INSP television network have been supporters of western television programming, as well as our western vehicle blog, for some time.  So, anytime I receive news from them that relates to promotion of the Old West, I’m happy to pass it along. 

In my October 26, 2016 blog post, I shared some insights from an interview with Buck Taylor, famed actor (and artist) from the legendary television series, Gunsmoke.  As I’d mentioned back then, the series is a deeply rooted part of my growing-up years.  So, when INSP told me they were planning a ‘Justice in July’ promotion with a focus on Gunsmoke, I knew that others would also want to know. 

  

According to their sneak-peek info, during the month of July, INSP will be featuring a marathon of Gunsmoke episodes and movies.  Focusing on the theme of justice throughout July, the shows will kick off with the network premiere of Gunsmoke: To the Last Man on July 8th at 2pm Eastern Time.  The marathon will continue throughout July with the following shows and times (all times listed are Eastern)


·         Gunsmoke: To the Last Man on July 8th at 2pm ET

·         Return to Dodge on July 16th at 2pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: All That on July 22nd at 10am ET

·         Gunsmoke: Long, Long Trail on July 22nd at 11am ET

·         Gunsmoke: The Squaw on July 22nd at 12pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: Chesterland on July 22nd at 1pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: Milly on July 22nd at 4pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: Indian Ford on July 22nd at 5pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: The Long Ride on July 23rd at 2pm ET

·         Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice on July 23rd at 10pm ET


Consider yourself duly informed with plenty of time to set your DVR or arrange your schedule so you can walk the streets of Dodge City with all your friends.  Gunsmoke is one western that I always have time for.  Have a great 4th of July week!  Those celebrations will be a good lead-in to the Gunsmoke marathon.



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