Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wagon Brakes

Drag shoes, rough locks, wheel lock chains and even trees… these are just a few of the early types of brakes used on wagons both prior to and during the eras of box & gear brakes.  Drag shoes and rough locks were used in conjunction with chain locks to help slow the descent of heavy vehicles by holding one or both rear wheels in a fixed position, thereby increasing the drag and friction of downhill movement. 

There are numerous primary source accounts where larger trees were also attached with chains or ropes to help arrest downhill travel to a safer pace.  We use the term, “safer” because there was often little ‘safe’ about the raw, rugged and torturous terrain facing many westward Argonauts.

Box and gear braking systems tended to be a later addition – although variations in terrain could also be a determining factor as to whether a vehicle was designed with a brake or not.  That said, even mounted brakes such as these were often supplemented with drag shoes, rough locks, chains and other devices as well.

While some have questioned the authenticity of box brakes on nineteenth century western vehicles, our examination of primary source materials of the era supports the conclusion that box brakes were a common feature on many Civil War era and later western wagons. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Farm Wagon Differences

The “simple” farm wagon.  It’s a verbal reference and perception I’ve heard many times yet remains one that defies logic.  The point becomes even clearer when attempting to identify non-obvious brands in the numerous surviving examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century wagons.  So, how are these seemingly simple vehicles complicated?  First, it’s important to recognize that similarities between brands generally exist only with casual overviews or cursory glances.  Detailed examinations can help point to specific brand identities while also exposing significant variations within engineered construction, design, materials and features. 

Differences can include but, are certainly not limited to… track width, weight capacities, wheel height, tire width, tire design, tire rivets, tire bolts, felloe rivets, hub bands, felloe contours, hub dimensions, wheel boxings, skein type, skein size, axle type and construction, sand board plate design, sand board design, bolster plate design, wheel wrench, hammer strap, stay chain hook placement and design, hound bracing, hound configuration, circle iron design, slider design, sway bar design, reach parts, reach plate, bolster standard/stake design, reach box design, tongue hardware design, types of wood used and specific wood contour elements. 

Box size, box ironing, floor board design and dimensions, floor cleat designs, rub iron designs, brake hanger designs, brake shoe shapes and attachment style, individual sideboard dimensions, wooden sideboard cleat shape, cleat dimensions and fastening method, grain cleat design, box ironing design, running board and associated hardware design, box rods, box rod washer, box rod nut, footboard and associated hardware, end gate designs, brake lever, ratchet and rod design as well as rein tie, seat and spring designs all further contribute to potential variations and diversity of functions. 

With all of this mentioned, none of these distinctions include the complicated, scientific and artistic aspects of wheel dish, pitch, gather, vehicle draft, balance and tire metallurgy; Not to mention variations in paint chemistry, application and design - or any of the numerous variables within the hygroscopic aspects of wood itself. 

Ultimately, these differences – and even more – are just part of the all-but-countless reasons that the “simple” farm wagon is far from an elementary product.  These rolling workhorses are complex creations of functional art and science with all major parts engineered for specific benefits and achievements.  The leading heavy vehicle brands of the day recognized the importance of solid quality, innovation, performance and customer satisfaction.  As a result, they designed, built and leveraged those distinctions with patents, promotions and purposes that are often emulated today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Memories of Kentucky Wagons

Several years ago, the country music duo, “Montgomery Gentry,” released a song entitled, “Gone.”  While the lyrics inevitably focus on a lost love, they also reminisce about once common things that have disappeared.  Along that line of thought, when it comes to early western vehicles – namely wagons and coaches – a lot of this history has also gone the way of the wind.  Sometimes it happens through attrition, tragedy or negligence and in other cases; it seems to be the price of progress so to speak.  As a result, it’s not only hard to find examples of certain vehicles built by many legendary makers but equally tough to locate original manufacturing structures still standing. 

Such is soon-to-be the case with one of the industry’s more notable brands, the Kentucky Wagon Company.  Established in 1879, this Louisville, Kentucky firm quickly became a serious competitor with quality vehicles and broad distribution.  They were a major supplier of horse-drawn military vehicles as well as producer of countless farm, freight, ranch, construction, timber and business wagons.   Old Hickory, Tennessee, Kentucky and American dump wagons were among the labels they manufactured. 

Many are aware that when the legendary Studebaker Wagon Company closed its doors that Kentucky purchased the patterns, designs and many construction materials from them.  Kentucky then re-branded and sold the Studebaker designs under the name, “Studebaker Model.”  I wrote an article in the June 2004 issue of Farm Collector magazine profiling this interesting part of both Studebaker and Kentucky’s history. 

Kentucky Wagon’s successor, the Kentucky Manufacturing Company, survives today under the name of Kentucky Trailer.  The company builds high quality truck bodies and specialty trailers for mobile broadcasting, marketing, racing, medical and military purposes.  Sadly, the original buildings where so much early wagon history took place are gradually being razed to make room for educational expansions on the University of Louisville campus.  As the old buildings deteriorate, it’s an inevitable fate I suppose.  And why, I’m thankful we had an opportunity to see these facilities before it was all just a memory.  Early 20th century literature points out that the facility covered 30 acres, with much of it under roof.  In their heyday, the company touted a capacity of as many as 90,000 vehicles annually.  Kentucky even built automobiles for a few years.  In fact, as a tribute to the transport maker’s heritage, Kentucky Trailer recently restored a rare “Dixie Flyer” car produced by the firm.

As time progresses and memories wane, it will be up to the few surviving vehicles, two-dimensional photos and pages from rare surviving literature to serve as reminders of the vital role this firm played; not only in America’s first transportation industry but, the growth and development of a nation into a world power. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saddle Up Saturdays on INSP

Whoa there! We just got word from the good folks at the INSP Television Network that they've extended their western block of programming on Saturdays by adding a 1pm to 6pm slot to their current lineup. Now there's even more legendary western movies and serial shows you can look forward to. From Bonanza to The Big Valley and much more, INSP offers a world of family friendly programming. Check out the new "Saddle Up Saturdays" on INSP. The network airs in 71 million U.S. households on DirecTV, Dish and more than 2800 cable systems.