Wednesday, March 27, 2013

À l'œuvre, on connaît l'artisan

It was out of a desire to know more about early western vehicles that, nearly two decades ago, we began searching for greater information on the subject.  While it began as a hobby, the depth of study has driven our files of primary source research materials much deeper.  In fact, the pursuit has grown to include literally thousands of period photos, original catalogs, broadsides, and promotional and business pieces related to heavy wood-wheeled vehicle makers in the U.S.  No matter how much we discover, though, I never cease to be amazed – and humbled – at how much more there is to learn.  The search for more details about America’s earliest and largest transportation industry is truly never-ending.  The good news is that the quest often turns up extraordinary pieces tied to some of the most exciting eras of American history.  

Recently, the value of our commitment to constantly learn and grow our archives was reinforced as our Wheels That Won The West® collection (WTWTW) of images and information was tapped by the leading French equestrian publication, “Attelages” magazine.  Profiled in an extensive article entitled, “The Conquest of the West,” by Stephan Broeckx, a number of period western vehicle images and historical highlights were selected from our archives.  The story introduction is dominated by a WTWTW photo showing an early freight wagon pulled by a unique hitch of 5 horses.  Other photographic highlights from our files include an early mud coach in Oregon, a small wagon shop in Wisconsin, a surviving Peter Schuttler wagon and a Fish Bros. wagon, restored by Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop, that we were able to assist with dating, authentication and restoration details. 

In addition to our weekly blog and regular additions of original articles on our website, we expect to have several other articles printed by additional publications this year.  Combined with the upcoming Volume 2 edition of our “Borrowed Time” western vehicle book series (Peter Schuttler), we’re busy sharing even more exclusive and little-known history.  We’re pleased to continue to help fill a niche by showcasing so many of the vehicles that helped build America.
In keeping with the spirit of the recent French article, the title of this blog is À l'œuvre, on connaît l'artisan.  Roughly translated, it’s a reminder that the craftsman is known by his work.  It’s our hope that, along with so many other historians and enthusiasts, our ephemeral archeology and historical preservation work will ultimately be viewed as beneficial research for generations to come. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wagon Gear Needed…

For centuries, the world depended on wooden wheels to accomplish the moving of a wide variety of things.  Beyond raw materials, equipment, supplies and crops, early wagons and wagon gears also regularly carried houses, animals and even boats.  We recently received an email from the Deltaville Maritime Museum in Deltaville, Virginia.  They have a particular need and asked if we might help spread the word.  Below is a portion of the request…

“The Deltaville Maritime Museum will be putting on a re-enactment of a gunboat capture that occurred in August, 1863. Led by Col. John Taylor Wood, the capture used four boats that Wood called boarding cutters. He carried these 28' boats overland on wagons and launched them in the dead of night.”

The museum is looking for a wood-wheeled wagon gear that could be used to replicate the original gears that would have hauled these boarding cutters.  As shown in the photo below, the keel of the boat is shallow so, it would likely fit a number of early wagon gears with minimal adaptations.  Hauling capacity would need to be at least 1,800 pounds to cover the weight of the boat and crew.  They are interested in either buying or renting the gear for the reenactment event which takes place August 16-17, 2013.  In order to have time for rehearsals, they would prefer to have the gear acquired by June or July.  For more information, interested parties are invited to contact the museum curator, Ms. Raynell Smith.  Her email address is

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

You Never Know…
Following the Road to a Studebaker Mountain Wagon

As I’ve shared in previous articles and blog postings, vigilance is important to historians and collectors of vintage vehicles.  You never know where something important may show up.  You never know who might help lead you to those clues.  You never know how soon you might run across something extremely intriguing and… You never know what you might find if you’re simply watching at the right time.  You just never know.

Such are the stories that have repeatedly happened to me over the last 20 years… experiences that one-by-one have consistently opened doors to some of the rarest vehicle history this country ever produced.   From our discovery of an exceptionally scarce and documented 1878 Studebaker with a significant amount of original paint to personal business correspondence written by legendary wagon maker, Joseph Murphy, himself, there are countless experiences I could relate of doors being opened.  The main effort it took was simply this… a true commitment to seeking answers. It’s a point that reminds me of numerous experiences I’ve encountered during my research and travels.  (Click Here to see more images and information on this Studebaker discovery) 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Big Dreams… Profiling An 1860’s Western Freighter

By the thousands, they were once commonplace on the American frontier.  Large western freight wagons did more than just carry their weight, they built and sustained some of the most demanding and harsh regions of the U.S.  Individually and collectively, they were as big as the dreams they carried.  They were dreams of personal and corporate success; firmly committed to the task at hand; dreams built by hard work and tenacity and driven by a desire to excel.  It’s easy to look back from the comfort of our modern conveniences and minimize the everyday challenges associated with operating these big rigs.  But, the reality is these men, beasts and machines ruled the road. 

To illustrate that point, let’s consider just a few of the dozens of questions we could ask.  Things like… How do you negotiate sharp turns on steep, narrow mountainous terrain when the full length of your train – including horses/mules/oxen and wagons – can easily stretch 100 - 200 feet in length?  How do you maintain control while descending long grades with full loads?  Finally, when the wheel weighs several hundred pounds more than you do, how do you manage any repairs on the trail that might require it to be removed?  Clearly, there was a tremendous amount of strength, skill, finesse, wisdom and experience necessary to command an early freighting operation. 

Large and in-charge, these no-nonsense designs were especially rugged and built for strength.  (Click here to see more photos, specifications and information about this unique freighter on our Wheels That Won The West® website.