Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Enthusiasm is catching, no matter the subject.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed spending time with Tom Elliott of Clinton, Arkansas.  He truly enjoys old wagons and that passion is a familiar sight at countless western events, trail rides, and chuck wagon competitions. 

It seems he’s always working on a new project in his shop and that bond to the old west is continually reinforced by a healthy interest in the history of the early wagon industry.  As another in a series of interviews we’ve been conducting, Tom was gracious to answer a few questions about his wagon-hobby-turned-business…

Whatever the topic, sometimes the story behind the story is the most interesting.  With that in mind, we asked Tom if he could give us some insight into his work with wagons along with the kind of services he offers.
“I enjoy the process of research, restoration, and replication of original metal parts for wagons.  We offer several for sale on our web site at  I also have a second web site  As far as I can tell, I'm about the only place you can buy new seat springs made just like the originals.  I'm not a blacksmith although in researching my family tree I had many blacksmith relatives.  I have one of the best blacksmiths in the country that works for me.  Same thing with pin striping.  I don't have that kind of talent but I've got an awesome pin striper who does my work.”

Tell us about your beginnings, Tom… how did you get started?
“I always loved western history and old wagons. One day at an auction in 1999 I bought an old wagon, took it home, tore it apart, rebuilt it with a new tongue and groove floor and I was hooked!”

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment in your business?
“It’s gratifying to help folks connect with hard-to-find wagon parts.  I also enjoy providing advice to people who have no idea where to begin in the restoration of a wagon.  I've been there and done that so I can relate to their problems.”

What's the most memorable vehicle (or part) that you've found or worked on?
“That's a tough one.  Each new project is memorable to me.  I guess one that really sticks in my mind though was a metal-wheeled Springfield wagon that had belonged to a client’s grandfather.  As you can see from the picture it was a pile of rusted metal and rotted wood.”

What are some of the projects you currently have in your shop?

“I have a high wheel Bain I need to get started on and I just bought a 1916 Pontiac spring wagon that's in pretty good shape but needs some minor work.”

What's your favorite early vehicle brand and why?
“Although I've never seen either one in person I guess it would have to be a Joseph Murphy freight wagon and the stagecoaches made by Abbot-Downing.  The number of wagons they turned out and the quality of work they did just amazes me.  Wouldn't it be great if we could go back in time, meet these people and work in their shop for about six months?”


What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
“Helping people with parts and restoration advice is important to me.  I also enjoy seeing the finished product of my restorations from a badly deteriorated old wagon to a like-new wagon. I've preserved a piece of history!” 

Thanks to Tom and all those we’ve interviewed to date.  They’re a special breed committed to education, preservation, and perpetuation of western-wheeled history.  You can learn more about Tom by visiting his website at  There’s plenty to take in on the site so enjoy your time there and tell him ‘hello’ from us. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What’s the Name of this Western Buckboard?

As I’ve shared numerous times before, the early horse-drawn vehicle industry was a complex and often complicated mix of vehicles, styles, uses, construction, and regional preferences.  In our continuing work to showcase some of the modern-day obstacles to authoritative study of the vehicles, we issued a friendly challenge last week to identify the name applied to a particular western buckboard marketed by Studebaker.  We had quite a few page views but, unfortunately, no guesses were ventured. 

Okay.  Now comes a small confession.  I deliberately left out some crucial information but, I did so to help point out the difficulties in conclusively researching these pieces.  We don’t always have the luxury of a maker tag or some other identifying mark, so it’s crucial to know the distinctions promoted by specific brands.  While the buckboard shown was indeed made and marketed under the Studebaker umbrella, it was sold as part of their “World Vehicles” or World Buggy Company brand in South Bend.  These buggies, carriages, surreys, and spring wagons were typically positioned as a quality brand but they were more competitively priced. 

Studebaker called this specific vehicle… a Prospector’s Buckboard.  The image came from a century-plus-old catalog distributed through the Studebaker Bros. Company of California with offices in San Francisco. It’s just one of numerous buckboard styles and names that were created by horse-drawn vehicle firms throughout the U.S.  The complications involved in these studies are why we continue to have such a strong focus on acquiring significant amounts of original, primary source materials covering western vehicles.  It’s what consistently sets the Wheels That Won The West® Archives apart and it’s allowed us to assist countless individuals, collectors, businesses, museums, writers, and enthusiasts the world over.

Finally, we’ve had a number of folks sign up to receive notifications each time we post our blogs.  Don’t forget, though, you will receive an email asking for confirmation of the sign-up BEFORE you’re able to be officially on-board.  So, if you haven’t done so, please confirm the sign-up.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Can You Identify This Buckboard?

A few weeks ago, we highlighted some of the challenges with identifying western vehicle types.  (See October 9, 2013 blog)  In that post, we profiled an Arizona buckboard built by Studebaker.  In doing some further research, we’ve uncovered a number of additional buckboard styles.  So many, that the perception of a ‘simple’ buckboard could easily become a misnomer.
Understanding that western buckboards came in a variety of styles, below is another image showcasing one of these vehicles.  Can you provide the proper name for this specific buckboard?  We’ll give you a hint by relaying that this, as with our October 9th blog, was also built by Studebaker.  Looking forward to hearing from you and, as with the last post, we’ll be happy to credit all correct answers.

Good luck! 

By the way…  If you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address in the “Follow By Email” section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Part 2 - How Do I Identify The Maker of A Wagon?

As we shared in Part 1 of last week’s blog, America’s early transportation industry included thousands of heavy vehicle makers spread throughout the U.S.  Several years ago, we produced a limited edition print showcasing many who are often recognized as being among the most prominent brands seen on the western frontier.  Clearly, with such a large number of builders, the process of identifying wagons that have lost their obvious markings can be tough.  While a healthy dose of experience as well as period literature for comparisons can be helpful, that combination isn’t always available.  So, what do you do if you’re trying to get information on a wagon maker and don’t have access to sufficient catalog illustrations and photography? 

First… it’s important to remember that all parts of the vehicle can hold clues.  Detail after detail, every element should receive close attention, including written and photographic documentation.  Second… particular care should be given to the vehicle’s surface, avoiding any cleaning or treatment that could permanently alter original features. Third… it’s equally vital to avoid the trap of assuming that similar designs on different wagons always translate into features from the same maker.  Over and over, we run across circumstances where someone has inaccurately labeled a vehicle because it appeared to look the same as another of known heritage.  It’s worth repeating here that “SIMILAR DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN ‘THE SAME’.” 
David Sneed on a historical ‘research and recovery’ trip near Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
In absence of a thorough knowledge of the most commonly known early builders, the best place to start the identification process is to methodically comb the entire vehicle.  You should document any and all details related to part designs, construction designs, markings, colors, part placements, part sizes, and so forth.   It will also be important to note non-original elements of a wagon.  As such, the review may require the assistance of someone familiar with the authentication process.  The overall evaluation can be a tedious task but accuracy demands focus and attention to detail. 

Diving into the assessment, we typically divide these vehicles into three major areas – Wood, Paint, and Metal.  To that point, back in 2009, I wrote a first-of-its-kind feature article in the April issue of Farm Collector magazine.  That piece served as a fundamental guide to identifying wagons and other western vehicles.  Below are some highlights from that introduction.
Both the metal and paint design of this bolster standard provide strong evidence of a Stoughton brand wagon.
When it comes to evaluating paint, it’s important to look at all areas – including the tops of bolsters as they can sometimes hold additional information.  Stenciling, logos, striping, colors, and even placement of colors are all important historical traits to document.  Faded paint and hard-to-read lettering may create a seemingly impassable obstacle.  Careful application of small amounts of distilled water, however, may be helpful in certain instances.  By temporarily wetting the wood, both signage and other paint markings can become more legible and clear.  This said, we'll also note that areas should be tested first to ensure that moisture will not harm the surviving surface paint.  Lighter pigmented or thin paint may be especially vulnerable to even small amounts of water.  Photographing all of your findings is equally helpful as you compare and review potential identities.  Finally, if the original paint is hidden beneath an old repaint job or perhaps a heavy coating of linseed oil, you may wish to employ assistance with the careful removal of this material.  We know of a number of rare vehicles whose values were saved –and  increased – by the recovery of good paint beneath a non-original surface coating.
Wood features such as the single groove in this hub combined with notable metal distinctions such as rounded spoke bands and other details point to Studebaker as the maker.
The wood within every wagon can also contain vital information.  Here again, details make the difference.  Take your time and scour the vehicle top to bottom.  I’ve found numerals, symbols, dates, and alpha characters stamped or pressed into the wood.  These elements are not always easy to see.  In fact, most cursory reviews of a wagon can easily miss these brand indicators.  From the insides of the boxes to the floor boards and countless gear and wheel locations, it’s possible for details to be on almost any wooden surface.  While these construction records may not immediately point to a maker, the collective power of all the clues can be helpful in narrowing down the list of possible manufacturers.
The shape, type, and contouring of the wood can also hold valuable evidence.  Pay particular attention to the design of the sideboard cleats, cross sills, wheel hubs, hound designs, bolster stakes, and even the reach.  While the end gates can also be helpful, these pieces are often transitory – in other words, they may have been replaced at some point with a non-original substitute.  It’s one more potential pitfall that requires careful scrutiny before assigning an identity.  
Both the paint and metal design of this front hound are typical of many twentieth-century-built Springfield wagons.

Similar to the examination of wood, the shape, design, and placement of original metal parts on a wagon can also hold important information.  Sometimes, metal parts include numerals and alpha characters.  These may be part numbers, skein sizes, patent dates, company names, geographic locales, or other important details.  Take clear, high resolution photos of all metal areas.  Locations like the reach plate, reach box, skeins, circle irons, and even rub irons can hold a treasure trove of information.  Other metal parts – like a brake ratchet – may have important information cast into them but these details may point more to the brake manufacturer and less to a specific vehicle maker. 

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the identification process is relatively simple based on known and more easily recognized features.  There are often confusing similarities between brands, though.  It’s why we’ve made it a practice to verify multiple traits – the more the better – prior to confirming a maker.   Simple observations leaning only on one or two features are often not enough to support a proposed identification.  All in all, it may take a little longer on the front end but it can save heartache and embarrassment from assumptions when these practices are employed. 

As a note of encouragement to those stumped by a wagon’s identity, we offer a complimentary initial review of these vehicles.  If your set of wheels can be easily identified through quick visual clues, we’re happy to assist at no cost.  Should the vehicle require more research, we’re equally pleased to discuss the value of a more detailed review.  Ultimately, when it comes to determining the significance and worth of any of these pieces, the presence of a known maker can have an important impact.   After all, it’s where the vehicle’s story begins and that heritage can make all the difference when it comes to resale value and collector interest.  
The faded numbers and lettering shown here are references to this wagon’s skein size and track width.
Just as a reminder…  If you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address in the Follow By Email section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance and we’ll look forward to sharing even more details on early wagons and western vehicles each week.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Part 1 - How Do I Identify The Maker of a Wagon?

Vintage American wagons and early western vehicles receive a lot of attention worldwide.  Likewise, from individual collectors and businesses to writers and curiosity seekers, our Wheels That Won The West® archives receive quite a few inquiries week in and week out.  The most often-asked questions are from folks wanting to know the identity or brand name of a wagon.  The reasons behind the queries not only stem from natural inquisitiveness but also point to the obvious truths.  In other words, knowing a vehicle’s identity helps define the piece and potentially grow its value – both emotionally and financially.

From the seemingly simple to the clearly complex, these identity-related questions can also be the most difficult to answer.   Much of the reason lies in the size of America’s early transportation industry.  There were literally thousands of different types, sizes, and styles of wagons produced by tens of thousands of horse-drawn vehicle makers in the U.S.  This isn’t just an off-the-cuff comment with no documentation to back it up.  In fact, our archives contain the names of nearly 40,000 makers.   Reinforcing that figure, several years ago, we were the first to discover an 1887 report from Clement Studebaker stating that there were at least 80,000 carriage and wagon builders in the U.S. at that time. 
So, once we get past the shock of the sheer number of makers, thoughts quickly turn to questions like, “How is there any hope of identifying pieces that have lost their obvious markings?” or “How is it possible to actually confirm that a paint-less wagon gear truly belongs to the box/body it’s currently sitting under?”  The answers, at least in part, lie in the numbers.  For instance, when it comes to wagon makers, there are perhaps only a few hundred that produced the vast majority of surviving pieces today.  Of course, there will be some heavier, extant vehicles that were made by small makers with little (if any) surviving historical documentation available for review.  Even in those circumstances, though, with enough diligent digging, we can sometimes resurrect details on previously obscure makers (See our history on the Rhoads Wagon Company in Volume 1 of the book, Borrowed Time, A Tribute to the Wheels that Built the American West.  Also, Click Here to see our original article conclusively identifying Jacob Becker’s one-of-a-kind wagon at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia.)

Fortunately, the predominant number of surviving wagons can often be narrowed down to less than two hundred makers who dominated the distribution channels.  That said, each of these major wagon makers can have dozens – if not hundreds – of variations in construction designs over the course of the company’s lifespan.  That’s where it becomes important to have access to original literature from as many companies and as many different parts of a company’s tenure as possible.  In a nutshell, that’s exactly what we have been collecting for the last two decades as we’ve built a large compilation of primary source materials for the Wheels That Won The West® archives.  It’s allowed us to consistently review individual vehicles with greater clarity and assurance while providing owners of these vehicles with clearer provenance and stronger documentation. 

Along that line of thought, a few years ago, we worked with Doug Hansen to track down more details on a specific set of wheels.  At the time, Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop was working on a museum restoration of an early Fish Bros. wagon that had lost almost all of its original paint.  While Fish Bros. wagons (both Racine, Wisconsin and Clinton, Iowa) carried an extraordinary reputation during the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there are few survivors today.  Our archives were called in to help date the vehicle as well as determine whether the gear was original to the box.  We were also asked to confirm original striping and logo details.  The process involved considerable research within original pieces in our collection.  With the earliest Fish Bros. material in the ‘Wheels’ archives being published in 1875, we were confident we could assist.  Ultimately, the wagon was dated to just after the turn of the 20th century.  Equally important, we were able to supply the craftsmen at Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop with detailed imagery showing specific placement of striping in virtually all areas of the box and gear.  We were also privileged to provide exclusive, original period artwork of the correct jumping fish logo for the box side.   

It was a success story for all involved but the primary point I wanted to share is that it could not have happened without the original company literature and sufficient preserved imagery.  So, where does that leave a person who doesn’t have access to those materials?  Fortunately, we’re far from the end of the identification story.  If an individual is truly committed to learning as much as possible from a vehicle, the piece will have a story to tell.  It will talk to you.  All we have to do – is Listen. With that as the backdrop, we’ll continue this blog next week as we share more details on identification of vintage vehicle makers.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A.A. Cooper: Another Rare Survivor

When it comes to locating early wagons for collections, many folks wonder where to start.  Over and over I’m asked, “How do you find collector grade wagons?”  The answer is easy to share.  The process involved, though, can be a lot more difficult.  The real secret to finding these vehicles is to never stop searching for them.  Honestly, that’s it.  You never know when one is going to pop up.  It’s a little like a ‘jack-in-the-box’ toy you might have played with as a kid.  You’re turning the crank, hearing the music, and you know from experience that the thing is going to pop up – yet, it still has a way of surprising you.

Before you can search, however, it’s important to know what to look for.  While this statement sounds simple, it’s the part of the process that can be considerably more difficult.  In fact, it can take years to learn how to interpret a vehicle’s identity, condition, originality, features, and overall desirability.  There are so many important distinctions of early wagons because the industry was vast and the time periods covered are extremely broad.  Equally challenging, makers frequently had multiple ways of building the same or similar pieces and, to make matters worse, truly authoritative information can be frustratingly hard to locate.  Once you have a direction for the search, though, the history chasing can begin.  I usually supplement my quests for the rarest wagons by putting out the word that I’m interested in a particular brand and just hope that enough paint has survived to make the vehicle easier to recognize without doing extensive research.   
With that as the backdrop to this blog, I can say it was a day like any other when I received an email from Doug Hansen of Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop.  He knows how to get my attention.  The email was short… only one photo with a single word question – “Interested?”  The photo showed a close-up of a wagon logo on a sideboard.  The brand name shown was ‘Cooper’.  Now, I had been looking for a Cooper wagon for years and I’d shared that with Doug quite some time ago.  While I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying early Cooper literature and have stumbled across a few 20th-century-built spring seats, I had never been this close to an original Cooper vehicle.
This set of wheels had a number of early distinctions and was just one day from selling at an estate auction.  High narrow wheels, wide original floorboards, a through-bolted gear, and a period box brake were among its notable attributes.  Best of all, the wagon was relatively untouched by modern restoration attempts.  The first thing I needed to do was confirm the originality of the gear to the box.  The design clearly pre-dated those shown in a commonly reproduced 1915 P & O catalog.  Based on comparisons with additional period imagery from our Wheels That Won The West® archives, the piece appeared consistent with what was produced during the 1880’s and 1890’s.  Only with sufficient high resolution photos or a first-hand inspection would I be able to narrow down the manufacturing date and also confirm whether the box and gear were mates.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get that kind of access before it sold.  Nonetheless, I took a chance and bought the piece. 
Once I had it home, it was easy to see that the wheels and gear were covered in an extremely old repaint job; not uncommon as many early farmers took care of their vehicles (especially the gears) by repainting when the original colors started to wear.  Over the years, I’ve discovered a method that allows the removal of the different paint layers.  Combined with a little elbow grease, the old supplements of barn paint on this wagon are coming off nicely.  Beneath the surplus red coating, I’m finding a significant amount of original orange paint along with the correct black stripes and white pinstripes.  Not only do all of the design elements on the gear match up with early Cooper imagery but the skeins, themselves, are cast with the initials AAC.  That lettering represents the name of the company president and founder, A.A. Cooper – which is the way most early literature referred to the company.  The final piece of evidence confirming the originality of the gear and box to each other happened when I uncovered the stenciled A.A. Cooper name on the rear axle. 
After reviewing the piece further and comparing multiple features with Cooper’s design and construction variations from the 19th century, it’s clear the wagon will date sometime shortly after 1885.  A supportable timeframe of manufacture would be the late 1880’s to near 1890.  The taller 54” rear wheels, original paint, pin striping, and logos on the box and gear as well as a patented cold-rolled steel brake ratchet and also a factory serial number further reinforce the uniqueness of the piece.  Combined with period government records listing Cooper as among the very best makes (only Peter Schuttler and Bain were ranked higher in this 1880 record of competitors for government contracts*), it was a relatively easy decision to add the vehicle to the Wheels That Won The West® collection. 
How many more 19th century Cooper wagons with original paint and serial numbers still exist?  It’s hard to say.  I’ve heard rumors of others but it’s taken me nearly two decades to actually locate one.  The real reward is the knowledge that another relevant piece of early American transportation can now be preserved for generations to come.  Well-known on the American frontier, Augustine A. Cooper made a complete line of carriages, wagons, and sleighs.  It’s appropriate, then, that this Cooper wagon should join a number of other extremely rare vehicles in our collection, each helping interpret the way it was… when opportunity ruled and wagons rolled throughout the American West.
By the way…  If you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address in the “Follow By Email” section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week. 
*1880 Government deposition.  For additional information within another contemporary publication, see “Wagons For The Santa Fe Trade” by Mark L. Gardner.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Texas Cowboy

Glenn Moreland of Texas Cowboy Outfitters is the epitome of a Texas cowboy.  Focused and friendly, his tall, lanky frame is accented by a warm smile and easy way of moving.  Glenn not only knows his way around cattle and wagons but is quite a cowboy musician as well.  Located in historic Fort Davis, Texas, he and his wife Patty are well-known in the wagon community.  From his quality woodwork to traditional blacksmithing, we’re pleased to highlight some of his work in our blog.  Below are a few questions we recently posed to him. 

Can you give us an overview of the primary work you do at Texas Cowboy Outfitters?   
“I’m involved a wide range of work including the complete restoration of horse drawn equipment.  I also repair a fair number of wagon wheels and build new wheels. The most common vehicles I work on are chuck wagons. It’s not unusual for a wagon to be missing some hardware like brake handles and other metal work.  My experience as a blacksmith allows me to reproduce parts in a manner consistent with the original design.”


You’ve been doing this for some time now.  How did you get started?     

“Fresh out of college I had a job as a cattle inspector. I saw a lot of wagons going to ruin so I started collecting them. This was about 1971. I tinkered with them for years and then made it a full time business about 1995.”

During all that time you’ve been involved with a number of vehicle projects.  Which ones do you consider to be the most significant?

“I guess the most significant accomplishments I’ve had the privilege of being a part of are the restorations for different museums. Last year, I restored a Newton brand wagon into an 1880’s trail wagon with all the items needed to go up the trail. This was for the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero Texas. I did a chuck wagon and a Chihuahua two-wheeled freight cart for the Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine Texas. Another interesting project was a Prairie schooner scene for the Harrison County Museum in Marshall, Texas.”  

What's the most memorable vehicle that you've been involved with?

“Most projects are memorable at the time. The Chihuahua cart was a challenge. I actually felled the cottonwood trees and hand-hewed the parts to fit.  Another interesting set of wheels was a chuck wagon that went to Australia. It had roller bearings in wooden hubs.  All of the wood had to be new for it to clear customs in Australia.”

What are some of the things you’re working on now?
“I'm restoring a Springfield wagon right now.  I also have an assortment of wheels I’m repairing and other blacksmithing jobs, including one where I’m making the chain for an old drag shoe. When I’m finished with the Springfield, it will have new rear wheels as well as a new bed, seat, chuck box, and oven boot. Next in line is a Weber brand wagon that will also be made into a chuck wagon.”  
Of all the old makers, is there one brand that you tend to gravitate toward? 

“My favorite wagon is an Owensboro since I've had one for 42 years.  It was originally a Texas Edition Cotton wagon.  I’m also partial to Peter Schuttler wagons.”

Just one more question and we’ll let you get back to work…  What is it that you enjoy most about the work you do?               

“You meet a lot of nice people in this business. It’s rewarding seeing something you built being preserved in a museum. I enjoy working with wood and metal.  Working on wagons allows me to do both.  The November 2013 issue of Western Horseman magazine has an article about my work as well.”

Thanks to Glenn and Patty Moreland for their time and assistance with this interview.  You can learn more about their work by visiting their website at  Next week, we’ll take a brief break from the interviews and share a few details related to a rare set of wheels in the Wheels That Won The West® vehicle collection. 

By the way…  If you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address in the “Follow By Email” section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Western Vehicles in South Dakota

When it comes to the restoration, conservation, and re-creation of early western vehicles, Doug Hansen and his team of craftsmen in Letcher, South Dakota are among those often mentioned.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting Doug’s place several times and am always impressed with the diversity of vehicles on site and the quality he turns out.  If you enjoy the heritage of the early American West, Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop gets you up close and personal with some of the most legendary surviving wheels from that era.
In keeping with a series of interviews we’ve been doing for our Wheels That Won The West® Archives, we asked Doug to share some thoughts on his company and the vehicles they work with. 
Can you give us an overview of the primary work you do at Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop?

“We specialize in heavy & western horse-drawn vehicles, and focus on historic replication of these vehicles, along with authentic restoration and conservation work. We also offer wheel repair, as we can build or restore nearly any kind of wooden-spoke wheel. Another key component of our business is the retail side, supplying wagon components, and wheels etc. to enthusiasts around the world.” 

Doug and Holly Hansen of Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop

It’s always interesting to learn how folks got started in any business.  What’s the background to your story?   
“Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop started as a hobby, which grew into a passion, and eventually a full-fledged business. My family was a key element in offering me fertile ground to grow my passion. I gained a lot of my interest in horses and buggies from my mother (a saddle maker), and grandfather (farmer, blacksmith).  My father was helpful as well by providing me access to his work shop & skills. My mother had collected several buggies which she had purchased at auctions & called on me to help with the restoration. My grandfather had worked in his uncle's blacksmith shop and had some great pointers on the art of the wheelwright and blacksmithing. He also was quite a hand with mules and horses and introduced me to driving as well. This proved very helpful in allowing me to fully understand all aspects of the trade. 
Eventually word of mouth spread and, as I continued my research, I became increasingly busy restoring neighbors' and acquaintances' horse-drawn vehicles. I saw this as a way to make a full-time career out of my growing interest in and passion for preserving history through these horse-drawn vehicles. Thus, Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop was started in 1978 in an old Depot building I moved to our location on the west bluffs of the James River just north of Mitchell, South Dakota.  My wife Holly and I have grown our business over the years as we built chuck wagons, hitch wagons, stagecoaches, and restored vehicles of all varieties. I’m often asked how I was trained in the field and my best answer to this is; I was driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Pursuing understanding, I embarked on a self-taught journey, with very limited written resources, searching out tidbits of information along the way. But in reality I studied under the old masters of the trade, not literally in person, but by example: as I have studied, dissected and analyzed their work for over 35 years.”

Replica 1840 linch pin Prairie Schooner

Over that time period, you’ve worked on a lot of different vehicles.  What do you consider your most significant accomplishment in your business?  

“I think that would have to be our ability to embody the authentic and original elements of design, and implementing those elements as we work to restore, replicate and conserve the historic integrity of these unique, wheeled vehicles of the past. Capturing the essence of design, function, and technology held so close by the craftsmen of old has made a profound impact on our success.”

What's the most memorable vehicle that you've been involved with?
“Wow! That’s a tough question as there are so many vehicles steeped in rich history. If I were to say what vehicles I have learned the most from, it is the original concord coaches that we have restored. We have found signatures, dates, details in construction processes, methods, etc.           

I’ve developed a deep respect for the industry of horse drawn vehicle manufacturing. The people behind it were every bit as talented, educated and gifted as any in the present transportation industry. The craftsmen, engineers, designers and marketers developed some of the most intricately handsome, stylish and enduring vehicles that played such a dynamic role in developing our nation.” 

Doug Hansen driving Jim Patrick's Peter Schuttler chuck wagon during
 a buffalo hunt reenactment 

Your shop always seems to be full of interesting projects.  What are some of the things you’re working on now? 

“Current and upcoming shop projects include: restoration of a 2-seat mountain spring wagon, conservation of a historic Henderson mud wagon from Santa Barbara, California, restoration of an original Yosemite coach, a Schooner for the California Trail Museum, a replica Banning Concord Coach, one of 3 made by the Wilmington wagon factory. 

We just recently completed a newly constructed 5th wheel covered wagon. Currently we are working on restoring both an oil & a water wagon. We have several buggies and light wagons in for repairs, along with a few chuck wagons. Most notably we have five stagecoaches on our schedule in the next year for new construction or restoration work.” 

Doug Hansen driving his restored mud wagon during a historical reenactment

There are a number of similarities between the marketing and advertising of vehicle companies in the 1800’s and those of today.  Not the least of which are the efforts to create and strengthen brand loyalty.  With that said, I’m always curious as to whether a person has a favorite early vehicle brand?

“Sorry but I do not have just one… Peter Schuttler for their design and quality which continued throughout the wagon making era, Abbot-Downing for their famous Concord Coaches, and MP Henderson for their great western vehicles.”
Replica of M.P. Henderson mud wagon circa 1870

Interesting; Just one more question before we let you go back to the shop… What is it that you enjoy most about the work you do?        

“I feel like I am an explorer discovering the lost world, kind of like the Indiana Jones of wagon archeologists. Really, not a day goes by without making some discovery. My passion to fully understand this lost art & era is nourished by the new knowledge I recover daily. Another great aspect is the relationships that have developed from this quest. I’ve met so many great people on this journey and enjoy sharing this interest.” 

Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop Team

Special thanks to Doug and the entire crew at Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop for sharing some the behind-the-scenes details of their business.
Finally, for those waiting on an answer for our October 9th blog post, “Name That Vehicle,” the set of wheels we highlighted was built by Studebaker and called an “Arizona buckboard.”  We chose that image to illustrate the point that vehicles often had numerous variations made to their designs, sometimes making them a bit more challenging to immediately identify.  Congratulations to Doug Hansen as he emailed with the correct answer.  Reviewing these pieces makes for interesting discussions as well as opportunities to learn more about America's early western vehicle industry.  As a result, we’ll make it a point to share a few others from time to time. 

By the way…  If you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address in the “Follow By Email” section above.  You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’re officially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We’re looking forward to your visits each week.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost a Schuttler - Gained a Friend

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know quite a few folks with similar interests in early western vehicles.  Just as we’re often asked about the Wheels That Won The West® story, many others also have intriguing backgrounds to share.  In this first of several brief interviews, we thought we’d highlight a few more folks that regularly work to keep this part of America’s past alive and well.

The first time I met Kathy Christensen of Midwest Buggy (Lockney, Texas), was at an auction in Arkansas.  We were locked in a mini bidding war, vying for the privilege of owning an old, dusty, and paint-less Peter Schuttler wagon.  As the bidding wore on, I wondered, ‘Who is this lady and why doesn’t she stop bidding?’  Ha!  She ended up with the wagon and I’m glad she did.  It gave me a chance to find out just who that Texan was and what she was up to. 
Kathy and I quickly become friends and I never cease to be amazed at the good wagons she finds and brings back to life.  Her commitment to the American Chuck Wagon Association goes far beyond the wagon and cooking competitions as she’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the organization for years.  With that as a brief backdrop, we asked Kathy a few questions about her business and vehicle interests below. 

Kathy, can you give us a little insight into the primary focus of your business?
My business is more of a hobby, because I love what I do.  I enjoy restoring wagons and making some into chuck wagons.  It’s a good feeling to see the finished product.

How did you get started?
I started into the business with my interest in buggies.  I started collecting and working on buggies many years ago.  When I moved to Texas, I was introduced to the chuck wagon…I was hooked. 

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment with this hobby/business?
If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s been saving wagons.  I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to introduce youth to wagons and chuck wagon cooking.

What's the most memorable vehicle (or part) that you've found or worked on?
The most memorable vehicle was a Rhodes wagon.  With the help of David Sneed, he identified the make and history of this wagon for me. 

What are some of the projects you currently have in your shop?
I’m currently making a great Newton wagon into a chuck wagon.  I’ve cleaned and colored a New Stoughton wagon which will be the next chuck wagon.  Scheduled, is a chuck wagon to color and detail.  If I get caught up, I hope to return to the restoration of an old sheepherder wagon.  (Editor’s Note:  I’ve seen part of her initial work on this sheep camp wagon and can’t wait to see it finished!)

What's your favorite early vehicle brand and why?
My favorite wagon is a Bain, probably because it was my first chuck wagon and I still own it.  I haven’t competed in chuck wagon cooking competitions for several years with the Bain.  I will be using it in 2014.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
The best part of working on wagons for me has been meeting great people and making wonderful, long lasting friendships.

I’m thankful to Kathy and the others we’re interviewing for sharing part of their story.  Ultimately, these enthusiasts are among a great group of folks continually promoting one of the most historical parts of the American West.  Their commitment to rescuing and sharing history will be felt for generations to come.