Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take A Load Off…

From the mid-1800’s through the early part of the 20th century, there were literally thousands of patents granted for wagon designs and associated parts.  One of the areas with numerous patent submissions involved the reduction of stress on draft animals while harnessed to a vehicle. 

To that point, Kathy Christensen at recently sent us a few snapshots of a design intent on reducing the pressure of tongue weight.  The accompanying photos show a rigid spring attached to the forward hounds of an early Mandt wagon.  The device is appropriately referred to as a tongue support or tongue spring.  A number of adaptations of this idea were successfully used and it’s possible to still see quite a few variations across the country.

Along with the spring itself, mounted on the rear cross member of the tongue is a latch that when placed in its fully extended and open position, will lock beneath the spring and help hold the tongue up, reducing pressure on the draft animals.  By simply lifting up on the tongue, the latch can be flipped back over and, instantly, it converts to a fully functioning drop tongue. 

As a matter of note, this particular spring appears to be a close adaptation of an 1888 patent granted to legendary wagon maker and inventor, T.G. Mandt. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Determining Values – Getting Started

What’s it worth?  When it comes to vintage wagons and western vehicles, this may be the most common question we all hear.  It’s a query laden with challenges because no matter how similar a set of vehicles may appear on the surface, no two are exactly the same.  Complicating the matter even more, poorly appraised or non-supported asking prices (too high or too low) are sometimes assumed to be the same as actual confirmed values. 

In Volume One of our book series, Borrowed Time – A Tribute to the Wheels that Built the American West, we introduced the first-ever profile of what we believe are the typical value-drivers of these early wood-wheeled vehicles.  Within that bonus feature, a dozen elements are highlighted and explored.  While ‘condition’ and ‘confirmed originality’ are two themes crucial to collector-quality vehicles, each of the twelve points, when carefully considered, can be of tremendous assistance in helping determine the most rewarding purchases. 
Clearly, not every old set of wheels will grow in value at a pace consistent with the best pieces.  That’s why it’s important to look closely and knowledgeably in every circumstance.  On the flip side of the same coin is the subject of how to best care for your vehicle to help protect and grow its value.  We’ll share more on that topic later in this blog. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Secrets to Cleaning

As I’ve shared before in this blog, the January 2012 horse drawn vehicle symposium conducted by the Carriage Association of America and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was full of fascinating material.  Each of the presentations was followed by a period of questions from the audience.  One of the most interesting queries in this segment was posed to conservator, Brian Howard of B.R. Howard & Associates.  An audience member asked how best to clean a fresh, original horse-drawn vehicle "find."  Mr. Howard’s answer pointed to a Q-tip and steady supply of saliva.

While the abbreviated answer may not have 'seemed' to carry the details that some may have expected, it was a very appropriate reply for a number of reasons.  Mr. Howard later shared that enzymes in saliva can actually help break down oily films and, with such capabilities, this readily-available fluid is often used in sensitive cleaning tests.  Of course, vehicles with flaking paint require a different approach utilizing experienced direction and steady caution. 

Ultimately, the straight-forward response clearly reinforced another important implication; that every project is unique and any purported “cleaning” should not be rushed but approached with a slow and very deliberate, professional intent.  Too often, irreplaceable history and information, not to mention vehicle values and condition have been forever lost due to impatience, inexperience and disregard for the true worth of an original condition, antique wood-wheeled vehicle. 

We offer our sincerest thank you to Brian Howard and his extraordinary team of professionals for their consistent, responsible and scholarly approach to conserving so much of the world’s history.  Shown in this blog are a few images highlighting conservative work done on the legendary "Aluminum Wagon" built by Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing Company in 1893.  If you’d like to see more of their exceptional conservative work, you can visit their website at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Army Wagon Information

While we’re on the subject of military vehicles (see last week's blog), I thought I’d pass along a quick review of a book published in 2009 that covers early war wagons for the U.S. military.  For those looking for solid research and accurate details on military escort wagons and other vehicles, Thomas Lindmier’s book, “The Great Blue Army Wagon,” is an excellent resource.  The subject is well laid out into multiple eras, making it extremely helpful for collectors, re-enactors, writers, historians, museums and enthusiasts.  Published by the Carriage Museum of America, the book offers well chronicled insights into colors and designs as well as a multitude of specifications that haven’t readily been available in the past.  The work even includes military harness information.  Mr. Lindmier was involved in years of research that ultimately took him all the way to the Smithsonian Archives.  The finished piece is a book that instantly found a home among the trove of reference materials in our Wheels That Won The West® Archives.