Wednesday, August 29, 2012

He Drove A Mandt Wagon

As I’ve grown older, there’s more about my family I wish I would have asked before cherished members left for their heavenly reward.  Some questions, no doubt, would have had more depth as I looked for greater understanding to my own heritage.  Others, though, would have been elements of simpler curiosity and general conversation.   Queries like… What’s the most acreage you ever plowed with your mule in a day?  Or… How long would a container of milk stay fresh when placed in the cold spring?  Or… How old were you when you started driving a team? 
Being fascinated with early wagons, I would almost certainly have asked more about the horse drawn vehicles my ancestors drove.  My dad has shared several stories, himself, and his dad once told me a particularly interesting account that I’ve never forgotten.  Seems he was using his team and wagon to pull up some old fence posts.  One, particularly stubborn post would not budge and as the team strained, the chain hooked between the wagon axle and post actually lifted the rear of the wagon up.  Once the wheels left the ground, the entire gear and box flipped upside down in an instant.  Making matters worse, one of my uncles – a youngster at the time – was in the bed of the wagon.  As my granddad told the story, he was still amazed at how fast it all happened but, even more surprised that the adrenalin generated by the emergency allowed him to quickly lift the double box and gear off the ground and rescue his son, bright-eyed but unhurt. 

I’ve recorded a few other old family accounts involving wagons – one involving a run-away team and another related to the echo of trace and stay chains as neighboring teams began work every morning.  Unfortunately, all that remains of my granddad’s wagon, though, is a lone box rod (found near the old wagon shed by my grandmother and I one fall afternoon) and a single board spring seat; saved only by being stored and forgotten in the cellar for more than a half century.  A few years ago, one of my mother’s sisters came across a photo of their uncle in a wagon.  Knowing my enthusiasm for this subject, my aunt passed this aged photo along to me.  As I peered through the magnifying loupe into the faces of family I never had the privilege of knowing, I found myself staring intently at the wagon as well.  Scanning and enlarging the near century-old image helped to bring out more details.  Almost instantly, the features of a Mandt brand wagon began to surface; the tubular bolster standards, hardware, faded paint and lettering all bore witness to this legendary maker. 

While our archive collection of literature contains a number of Mandt sales pieces, I’ve yet to come across the ideal Mandt wagon for our vehicle collection.  Someday maybe.  In the meantime, there is much to be shared before this subject, like so much of our individual and collective heritage, is forgotten and unreachable. 
In so many ways, the pace of life today can overlook the depth and fulfillment of simpler pleasures and family connections.  I’ll likely never know what brand of wagon any of my grandparents owned.  But, I now know, there was a great uncle that drove a well-worn legend on wheels.  Its name was Mandt.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More Westerns now on INSP

For those of us who never get enough of the Old West, the INSP television network is quickly establishing itself as THE place to go for legendary serial western shows.  Back in July, officials there let us know they had added The Big Valley along with Bonanza and a number of western movie classics to their “Saddle-Up Saturday” programming.

Now, they’ve confirmed that even more of these popular westerns are scheduled to begin airing on Saturday, September 15th.  In fact, well-known favorites like The High Chaparral and The Virginian will enjoy an exclusive home on the family-friendly INSP Network.  As part of the kickoff of these new additions, INSP will have a marathon of The High Chaparral episodes on September 15th.  The following Saturday will feature another marathon celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Virginian.  So, ‘Saddle-Up Saturday’ and check out the all-star lineup of popular cowboy and western programs on INSP. 

The INSP network is available in more than 70 million households across the U.S. on more than 2,800 cable systems and on DirecTV channel 364, Dish Network channel 269, AT&T  U-verse channel 564 and Verizon FiOs channel 242.   See your local program guides for more channel details or visit 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Was It Called?

Some of the most often debated topics in horse-drawn vehicle circles can center on questions related to the names of vehicles and the associated parts thereof.  Getting a comfortable handle on what might seem to be simple nineteenth century jargon can easily turn into a confusing and frustrating experience; often because multiple reference names were sometimes used among the end users as well as the manufacturers.  These variations can occasionally be tracked to regions of the country but, as people moved throughout the U.S., they often carried their terminology with them, ultimately adding to the challenges of understanding all of the parts and the whole.   
I have a friend who has been chided for calling Sheep herder wagons – “Sheep wagons.”  He’s often told something like, “Those wagons weren’t used by the sheep,” and then corrected for a supposed misapplication of the vehicle name.  Truth is, the wagon-making industry, itself, referred to these vehicles in a number of ways.  Sheep Camp wagons, Sheep Herder wagons and, yes, even Sheep wagons were among the references given to these vehicles. 
There are numerous other examples where multiple names are given for different wagon parts… Bolster standards are sometimes referred to as bolster stakes; a reach is the same as a coupling pole; a singletree might have also been called a swingletree or whiffletree; a slider might be referenced as the upper sway bar; and clouts could be pointed out as upper and lower skeins.  America’s early wagons and western vehicles were anything but simple.  Yet, acquiring an understanding of all of the accurate part names is the first step in both communicating and understanding these rolling works of art.

When it comes to helping highlight specific wagon nomenclature, we created a call-out section within our “Making Tracks” print that covers some of the more common terminology typically referring to wagons built in the U.S.  You’ll see a bit more descriptive of that by clicking this link to our website.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Joseph Murphy Wagons

Joseph Murphy is arguably one of the most legendary early wagon builders in America.  Located in St. Louis, Missouri, he dated the beginnings of his firm to 1825.  As one of the earliest, prominent wagon makers west of the Mississippi, his legacy is often tied to his purported construction of monster-sized freighting vehicles for use on the Santa Fe Trail.  While little period evidence currently exists to help corroborate this information, Murphy freighting vehicles did have a significant presence in the West, from Santa Fe to the plains and beyond.  I covered more specific details related to Murphy freighters in my presentation at the Colonial Williamsburg – CAA vehicle conference earlier this year.

Mr. Murphy is also often credited as a man of strong quality convictions and this characterization can be confirmed.  In addition to historical profiles written during the nineteenth century, our Wheels That Won The West® Archives contain several exclusive and original documents that validate Mr. Murphy’s reported obsession with quality.  In fact, his commitment to excellence apparently began long before the construction of the vehicle and even before his first hand evaluation of the wood being used.  Joseph Murphy had strong expectations from the raw materials he purchased and within several original letters written by him we find very detailed, explicit instructions as to how and when to cut the specific wood types he required.

As part of our own commitment to excellence in research and vehicle identifications/evaluations, we’re pleased to help confirm hard-earned legacies like those of Joseph Murphy.  It’s a passion of pursuit that continues to help locate even more lost artifacts and details related to America’s early, heavy vehicle industry.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Los Angeles Vehicle Uncovered

As we’ve shared so many times, due to the prevalence and significance of horse drawn transportation in America, the subject of wagons and western vehicles continues to have important historic, social and financial relevance. 
Earlier this year, we were contacted by archeological officials working a dig in Los Angeles.  In the process of excavation work within the city’s Echo Park Lake, elements of a wooden vehicle were discovered.  After receiving photographs of the find, we were able to confirm the parts as belonging to the rear gear of a farm wagon.  The remaining section of the gear included portions of the rear wheels, hounds, bolster, axle, reach plate and brake roller.

While significant elements were missing that might have helped secure a brand identity, based on multiple construction features, we were able to date the gear as most likely being built sometime between the mid-1880’s and just prior to the twentieth century.  Because the area is so rich with local history - including being home to numerous early film companies prior to World War 1, it’s difficult to say whether the gear was in the lake bed prior to the lake’s creation or if it was deposited there afterward.  Several westerns were apparently shot in the Echo Park area during the first part of the 20th century as well.

From working with archeologists in St. Louis, Kansas City and Phoenix to assisting with interpretive details of this gear in Los Angeles and so many others across the country, we’re pleased to see more and more interest in preserving America’s transportation heritage.  It’s a rich legacy full of rewards and serves as a constant reminder of the individual spirit and strength that built America. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rare Book Collection – Western Wagons & Stagecoaches

Earlier this year, I posted a few images of an early Peter Schuttler brand child’s wagon and commented on the rarity of these pieces.  Coincidentally, a few days after posting the blog, I was contacted by a gentleman indicating he had another of these scarce vehicles.  It was a pleasure to see the wagon as so few of these miniature Schuttlers have survived.  As an added bonus, this particular piece is largely complete with strong levels of original paint and several accessories – including the original wheel nut wrench.  That’s amazing!

We’re currently working on Volume 2 of the “Borrowed Time” series of western vehicle history books and will showcase more about this and many more aspects of the legendary Peter Schuttler company in that book.  Stay tuned for additional details on this growing and exclusive library of western history resources.  With such a strong archive of early vehicle imagery and information, our Wheels That Won The West® collection continues to serve as a popular and authoritative asset for historians, writers, archeologists, museums, collectors and enthusiasts the world over.

If you’d like more details on acquiring a limited edition copy of Volume 1 of “Borrowed Time,” visit our website at  As word has spread about this work, fewer copies are remaining.  So, don’t miss your opportunity to make this first edition, first volume part of your collection.  As the different volumes are introduced, you’ll want to ensure you have them all.