Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Unique Antique Wagons

Most folks have likely heard the phrase, “You have to kiss a few frogs to find a prince.”  For collectors of early transportation, we can often apply the same principle to the process of finding truly unique western vehicles.  It’s easy to locate the common stuff.  Those rolling works of art that consistently stand out in a crowd, though, are not only in high demand but, by definition, are in short supply. 

Over the years, we’ve managed to assemble a few dozen wagons and western vehicles in our collection.  As with any significant gathering of history, it takes a lot less time to view it than it usually involves to bring it all together.  Like so many other collectors out there, we’ve committed a fair amount of resources to research as well as shelling out healthy doses of patience and persistence.  Along the way, we’ve seen a number of good, bad, and ugly pieces.  Even so, every vehicle I’ve been privileged to see has been a valuable encounter.  Why?  Because, each one has taught me something.  One of the main things I’ve learned is the value of unceasingly searching for the best pieces.  It sounds simple enough but, I know a number of collectors and enthusiasts that limit their efforts, rarely expanding their searches beyond a fifty or sixty-mile range.  The old adage about people getting ‘luckier’ the harder they work for something is true in this case as well.  Focused commitments may strike out a lot but they’re also in a great position to make it home with the best pieces.

This heavy-duty Moline Mandt gear with original bolster extensions is a relatively new addition to our collection.  It was built with a 56-inch track and 3-ton capacity.

I’ve been chasing these wheels for more than two decades and, from time to time, I’ve heard folks express frustration over an inability to find the right piece at the right price.  First off, IF a person has truly found the right set of wheels, the price may need to take a back seat to personal satisfaction.  In fact, for collectors, personal satisfaction may be the most important consideration when looking at a set of wheels.  I remember a particular gentleman at an auction years ago that purchased a piece, then began to really look at it and was immediately disappointed in it.  At that point, it really didn’t matter how cheap the old vehicle was.  Truth is, I’ve never come across anyone with buyer’s remorse that had done the appropriate research and knew exactly what they were buying. 

So, how many special pieces are still out there waiting to be appreciated for the uniqueness they possess?  Who knows?  One thing I’ve become convinced of is that there is still A LOT of America’s transportation past waiting to be discovered.  Since my pocketbook won’t allow me to buy every good piece I come across, I’ve learned to enjoy the thrill of the chase and opportunity to learn.  After all, the chance to see so many different pieces as well as a wide variety of construction styles employed over the years is an important part of recognizing what was done when, where, and by whom.  Reinforcing that point, this week, I thought I’d share a few of the latest pieces I’ve come across. Best of all?  Each of the examples below are available for purchase as of this writing...

This exceptional Bain wagon gear retains almost all of its original paint.  It’s a rare treat to find pieces of this quality.  For more photos, visit


When it comes to locating some of America’s best western vehicles, Doug Hansen, in South Dakota, has a knack for gathering exceptional early pieces from all over the country.  As of this writing, the “In Stock” section of his website includes one of the finest high wheel running gears that I’ve ever come across.  I’ve seen it in person and, honestly, I’m not sure the photos do it justice.  He even has a brand-matching, lazy back spring seat that would be ideal for this piece.  The gear is a Bain brand wagon – which also happens to be one of the most legendary western vehicle names on the planet.  For collectors, competitors, and serious enthusiasts, this is a piece that instantly commands attention.  After all, true quality is a feature that almost everyone can recognize.  Plus, it’s a truth that often bears significant fruit when it comes to resale values. 


Some of the historical features I’ll be covering in my upcoming presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association involve how to spot generational differences in dead axle wagons – especially those used in farm, freight, trail, and ranch applications.  Generally speaking, we rarely see as many wagons that were made in the 19th century as we do those from the 20th century.  In fact, even with an extensive travel schedule over the last two-plus decades, I can probably count on one hand the number of 1800’s-era Peter Schuttler brand wagons I’ve come across.  Nonetheless, that challenge doesn’t stop me from continuing to search for these elusive survivors. 

Not long ago, I was traveling through Oklahoma and stopped in to see Jim Doyle with Doyle’s Antiques in Lawton.  As is usually the case, his grounds were covered with antique farming equipment, old windmills, early horse-drawn graders, and period wagons.  Jim knows I’m a fan of Peter Schuttler pieces so he tempted me with a few wagons and a spring seat, then told me he’d just gotten another Schuttler gear in that he hadn’t cleaned up yet. 

As we walked into a side bay of one of the enclosed buildings, I instantly noticed several features that got my attention; taller standards, through-bolted construction, three-quarter circle irons, and more.  I’m always looking for older pieces.  Yet, as I’ve mentioned, they are few and far between.  Leaning over to check the date stamp on this one, the year “1894” was clearly visible on the front axle.  For me, it was exciting to see this ultra-rare, original condition, true 1800’s, high wheel Schuttler.  After taking a few photos for our Archives, I thought I would share the find with our readers.  I suspect someone out there is looking for a nineteenth-century piece from a major western wagon maker like Schuttler.  For anyone interested, Jim’s phone number is 580-574-9570.

This rare, high wheel Peter Schuttler is almost 125 years old.  It dates to the same year that four members of the Dalton Gang were killed in Coffeeville, Kansas and actually pre-dates the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.   


Another person that seems to have an uncanny ability to uncover barn-fresh wagons is Tom Elliot.  A few weeks ago, I stopped by Tom’s place and he shared one of his finds.  It’s a wagon with an amazingly well-preserved Buerkens box.  For anyone that might not have heard of the company, it was located in Pella, Iowa and may have been the longest continuously operated business in Pella.  Mr. Buerkens began building wagons in the town during the mid-1860’s.  The company survived well into the twentieth century.  In fact, industry directories still list the firm among active makers as late as the early 1930’s.  If you’d like more information on this vehicle, feel free to drop Tom a note by visiting his website at 

It’s tough to find this much original paint on surviving wagon boxes.  

Even the end gates of this Buerkens box retain a significant amount of original paint.

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