Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A “Tennessee” Wagon from Kentucky

In the tattered and fading files of early wagon maker history, it’s not uncommon to find a builder embellishing their vehicles with a logo in honor of their home state.  The Vaughn Mfg. Company did that with the name ‘Wisconsin’, as the Springfield Wagon Company did with the ‘Missouri’ name.  Likewise, Winona touted the 'Minnesota' brand and Alexander Caldwell’s Leavenworth factory proudly promoted the ‘Kansas’ wagon.  That said, it’s a bit more unusual to find a builder selling wagons highlighting a state other than their own.  That’s the case, though, with the legendary Kentucky Wagon Company (KWC) from Louisville, Kentucky as they placed the Tennessee name on thousands of wagons.  So, how does an early wagon maker headquartered in the Bluegrass State get to the point where they’re marketing wagons promoting the Volunteer State?

This cover is from an 1890’s-era promotional flyer for Tennessee brand wagons built by the Kentucky Wagon Company.

We know that the Kentucky Wagon Company built and sold countless wagons with the brand name of “Kentucky.”  It’s a natural association that makes sense.  So, how does Kentucky’s neighboring state fit in here?  Known for its Old Hickory and Kentucky brands, KWC also built wagons under the label of Studebaker Model, American, and Tennessee.  My July 11, 2012 blog included a few details about the Kentucky Wagon Company but the legacy of the firm runs a lot deeper.  As I’ve written before, the “Studebaker Model” brand was derived from the same patterns and designs as those of the original Studebaker wagons built in South Bend, Indiana.  You can read more about this arrangement in an article I wrote for Farm Collector magazine back in June of 2004. 

This catalog cover from 1893 references the still-fresh transition of Tennessee wagons from the firm of Cherry, Morrow & Co. to Kentucky.

The truth of the matter is that KWC’s “Tennessee” label is a brand that originated with another wagon maker.  In fact, the name and logo actually predates the formation of the Kentucky Wagon Company altogether.  According to government trademark records, the first use of the Tennessee name on a wagon was on January 1, 1878.  At the time, the firm building these wagons was known as Cherry, Morrow and Co., located in Nashville, Tennessee.  The company started out under the name of Cherry, O’Connor & Co. in 1871.  By 1873, they were using prison labor from the State penitentiary as the primary workforce.  During the 1880’s, Tennessee wagons were distributed throughout the southern U.S. as well as in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakota’s.  In addition to wagons, the company also built stoves, furniture, and the Sarven patent wheel.  Vehicles in the original Tennessee-branded line included delivery wagons, farm wagons, log wagons, emigrant wagons, spring wagons, carts, and army wagons.  By 1885, the company boasted sales of more than 17,000 Tennessee wagons and, within two years, that number had increased to over 20,000; a rate that equaled 75 vehicles finished each day.  In January of 1890, the company’s lease with the state prison system expired and, with the growing resistance to using incarcerated labor, a decision was made to sell the entire firm to the Kentucky Wagon Company in Louisville. 

By the time Kentucky purchased the Cherry-Morrow factory, the Tennessee brand was an extremely popular and well-established name.  Hence, there was great value and opportunity in keeping the Tennessee tag alive and well.  It’s inclusion with Old Hickory and Kentucky-labeled wheels only added to KWC’s growing market share, distribution, and bottom line.

Like most early wood-wheeled creations, the majority of the Tennessee vehicles have not survived.  But, for those that have, their roots run deep into the heart of America and the West.  During peak production times for the Kentucky Wagon Company, the firm was responsible for building tens of thousands of wagons in a given year.  From military escort wagons and sheep wagons to chuck wagons, log wagons, farm wagons, drays, and more, KWC built transportation for a broad range of uses.  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted and may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior permission of David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Production Capacities of Wagon Builders

A little over 110 years ago, “The Carriage Monthly” published an article more or less describing the state of business affairs with a number of wagon and carriage makers.  At the time, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition – otherwise known as the 1904 World’s Fair – was just about to open in St. Louis, Missouri.  For many wagon makers, the days were proving to be more than just the beginning of another century; from the advent of the automobile to the increasing consolidation and market domination by large agricultural firms, the competitive landscape was quickly changing. 

In spite of the shifting sands, the heydays of wagon making still had a couple more decades left before things would radically change.  As such, I thought I’d pass along some of the capacity details the article shared for a few of the better known brands at the time.  While ‘capacity’ didn’t always translate into sales, it does give us a fair idea of how the competition stacked up.  Enjoy!

Austin, Tomlinson, & Webster, Jackson MI
Jackson wagons – With a capacity of 10,000 vehicles annually, the company reported that 100% of production was focused on wagons.  This legendary brand had started in 1837 but was close to the end of its run at this time.

Brown Mfg. Co. – Zanesville, Ohio
Brown wagons – The company didn’t list their yearly capacity in this article but reported the breakdown of their output in 1904 as 55% for implements and 45% for farm wagons.  Brown was a huge producer of plows.  I was able to conclusively identify one of these wagons in Wyoming some time back.  It’s doubtful that this particular company was shipping wagons that far west but, in today’s world, collectors and enthusiasts are increasingly widening the territory where particular brands can be found.  As a result, today’s identification and authentication processes require an open mind and high degree of brand familiarity.

Troy Wagon Works – Troy, Ohio
Troy wagons – The factory boasted a capacity of 10,000 vehicles annually.  Their output in 1904 was devoted exclusively to wagons. 

Fish Bros. – Clinton, Iowa
Fish Bros. wagons – You may be looking at this and saying, “I thought Fish Bros. was in Racine, Wisconsin.”  You’d be right.  These folks in Clinton represent several of the Fish family members who had previously been directing the factory in Racine.  With the onset of some disagreements with the company’s board of directors, a significant portion of the founding family established a separate Fish Bros. firm and eventually set up shop in Clinton, Iowa.  The duplication of the name caused quite a stir with a long line of legal wrangling between both sides.  Nonetheless, in 1904, the Clinton, Iowa factory claimed a capacity for 20,000 wagons annually. 

Olds Wagon Works – Ft. Wayne, Indiana
Olds wagons – For the curious, there is no known connection between the wagon maker and the automobile brand.  Olds was reported to have a capacity of 10,000 farm wagons per year during the early 1900’s.

Linstroth Wagon Co. – St. Louis, MO
Linstroth wagons – At the time of the original printing of this article in “The Carriage Monthy,” Linstroth had been in business 55 years.  They listed a capacity of 8,000 vehicles annually and were solely devoted to the production of farm wagons.

The Mitchell & Lewis Co., Ltd. – Racine, WI
Mitchell wagons – One of the oldest and more legendary wagon brands, the company listed its capacity in 1904 as being 28,000 vehicles annually.  Of that total, spring wagons were said to make up 10% and farm wagons the remaining 90% of production.

Harrison Wagon Company – Grand Rapids, MI
Harrison wagons – This company was over a half century in age in 1904.  Their production capacity that year was recorded as 15,000 farm wagons annually.

Tiffin Wagon Company – Tiffin, Ohio
Tiffin wagons – A strong promoter and competitor in the Ohio regions, the company listed its 1904 production capacity as 20,000 farm wagons.  That number potentially qualifies the firm as one of the top producers for the year.

Farmer’s Handy Wagon – Saginaw, Michigan
The Farmer’s Handy wagon was a lower-wheeled farm wagon; typically steel-wheeled.  Capacity of the factory was listed as 15,000 wagons annually.

A.A. Cooper Wagon & Buggy Co. – Dubuque, Iowa
Cooper wagons proclaimed a capacity of 20,000 vehicles in 1904.  Of that total, farm wagons were said to amount to 60% of production while lighter carriages and other wagons made up 40%.  Original Cooper vehicles continue to be among the more difficult to locate today.

Stoughton Wagon Company – Stoughton, Wisconsin
Stoughton wagons – The capacity for the factory is listed as 19,000 vehicles annually.  Farm wagons apparently made up 65% of the production while other wagons and bob sleds accounted for 35%.

The Racine-Sattley Co. – Racine, Wisconsin
Racine-Sattley wagons – By 1904, the company was a little over a quarter century in age.  Their capacity was shown as 50,000 vehicles annually.  60% of their total production was devoted to carriages.  20% was reserved for farm wagons and another 20% was filled by other wagon styles.

Winona Wagon Company – Winona, Minnesota
Winona wagons were popular throughout the West.  Their capacity in 1904 was listed as 10,000 farm wagons.  It should be noted here that ‘farm wagons’ can carry numerous connotations within these descriptions.  During the early 1900’s, Winona was also building sheep camp wagons, mountain wagons, stake rack bed wagons, fruit wagons, potato bed wagons, one horse wagons, and more.

Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing Co. – South Bend, Indiana
Studebaker Bros. – This manufacturing giant was clearly the production capacity winner with a claim of 100,000 vehicles annually.  At the time, these numbers were purported to be made up of carriages, light wagons, and farm wagons.  No autos are listed even though they were in production at the time.

Milburn Wagon Company – Toledo, Ohio
Milburn – Here’s another giant in the early vehicle industry and one with close ties to Studebaker.  1904 marked the company’s 70th birthday and, no doubt, they celebrated their capacity for building 50,000 vehicles annually.  The production breakdown was listed as 26% for carriages, 67% for farm wagons, and 7% for other wagon types.

Ionia Wagon Company – Ionia, Michigan
The Ionia Wagon Company produced several different brands.  1904 marked the quarter century mark for the company.  Their production capacity at the time was listed at 12,000 vehicles annually.  Of that, spring wagons and drays represent 10% and farm wagons equalled 90%.

Moline Wagon Company – Moline, Illinois
The company was a 50 year old legend by the time this article was published in 1904.  They listed their yearly capacity at 30,000 farm wagons.  They were largely sold through John Deere-affiliated agencies at the time.

Lansing Wagon Works – Lansing, Michigan
Lansing wagons – Production capacity in 1904 was listed as 8,000 vehicles annually.  Lighter carriages and wagons were said to represent 30% of the total while farm wagons amounted to 70% of the company’s yearly output.

Flint Wagon Works – Flint, Michigan
Flint wagons – The company didn’t list their total capacity but did break down the production variables a bit.  Farm wagons were said to equal 25% of the production while other wagon styles filled out the remaining 75%.  An interesting note about Flint wagons is that the directors of the company had purchased the fledgling Buick Motor Company in the fall of 1903.  By the time of this article, they were just a couple months from rolling out the first of many Buick automobiles from their factory in Flint.

Columbia Wagon Co., Columbia PA
Columbia – This eastern firm was only 15 years old in 1904 but touted an annual production capacity of 7,000 wagons.  Not bad considering the age, experience, and dominant distribution of many larger competitors.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another Look At Keeping Wagon Tires Tight

First things first… I have a correction to make in last week’s blog.  Incredibly, no one caught it as of this writing (or at least everyone was kind enough to turn a blind eye to my obvious oversight).  Nonetheless, I clearly was in too much of a hurry and mistyped the incorporation date of the Star Wagon Company.  As it’s shown on the period letterhead within the blog, the correct date is 1870.  So, with that out of the way, we’ll move forward to this week’s subject.

I recently received an email from Doug Hansen of Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota.  Over the years, Doug and I have shared a mutual appreciation for the technology employed in so many aspects of early horse drawn vehicles.  Truth is, there are few – if any – areas of early vehicle design that didn’t have someone working on improvements.  It’s just one of the reasons why no two vehicles are ever the same and no period vehicle is ever just a ‘simple’ design.  The closer you look, the more there is to see – and learn.

Doug sees a lot of America’s wood-wheeled history in his shops and sometimes passes along highlights of his current projects.  Not too long ago, he was working on a wheel from a Winona brand wagon.  When he removed the tire, there was a groove in the top of the felloes.  In most circumstances, this part of the felloe is a smooth, flat surface shaped to fit flush and tight to the bottom of the tire.  In this case, while most of the top of the felloe is flat, there is the addition of an offset, cupped channel completely encircling the wheel.  Some of you may remember my December 3, 2014 blog talked about a matching tire/felloe groove technology engineered to help keep a tire on the wheel.  Well, this Winona groove is designed differently but has a similar purpose.

This cupped channel was designed as an oil reservoir, helping preserve the wooden felloes while keeping the tire tight.

Knowing my enthusiasm for pointing out these special features, Doug has kindly allowed me to pass along the photo above while accompanying it with a little more info from our Archives.  I should mention that this is not a feature you’ll find on every Winona brand wagon nor was Winona the only well-known maker to use this. 

Unlike the December 3rd blog, where a ridged bead was designed to seat inside a matching groove in the backside of the tire; this carved out, hollow channel is actually a full-circle oil reservoir meant to help preserve the wooden felloes and keep the tire tight.  There were a variety of these designs in the marketplace, some being capped with a solid plug or even a screw.  It’s an innovation with roots at least as early as 1875 when Charles Lea of California filed for a patent on the idea. 


These early patent images clearly show how the cupped channel is designed to circulate oil completely around the wheel.

After Mr. Lea’s patent expired, another similar design was submitted in 1898.  While each concept, as well as several I’ve seen in practical application, was similar, they also had subtle differences.  The primary purposes were to prevent undue shrinkage or swelling of the felloe while preserving the original shape and strength.  The designs often allowed for spoke joints to also benefit from the oil. 

Ultimately, the advancements are another great example of how these builders continually worked to enhance the quality of their products and the satisfaction of their owners.  Thanks again to Doug Hansen and his team for sharing the photo.  It’s another reminder that things are rarely as straightforward as they appear.  By the way, if you have an image you’d like to pass along or vehicle subject you’d like to see more on, drop us a line.  We enjoy hearing from folks and look forward to sharing even more in 2015.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Overview Of The Star Wagon Company

Living in an age where visual arts have enjoyed so much progress can make it tempting to take the work of graphic design for granted.  Modern advances in digital photography, clip art, computerized image manipulation, and stock photo availabilities make it significantly easier to produce eye-catching advertising in the 21st century. 
Looking back to the late 1800’s, promotional expressions were not so simple.  Businesses desiring a tailored polish to their marketing materials were at the mercy of the tedious, costly, and highly skilled craft of engraving as well as the burgeoning lithographic processes.  As such, quick turnarounds on elaborate, custom printings weren’t commonplace during the 1870’s and ‘80’s. 

From business and promotional literature to the vehicle, itself, early wagon makers recognized the value of first impressions and often produced elaborate visuals to reinforce a reputable brand image. 

Nevertheless, many agricultural companies of the day took great pains to set themselves apart in advertising.  Prominent wagon makers were no exception.  From dynamic depictions of frontier scenes to the use of vibrant colors and exquisite line work, countless designs were meticulously fashioned and widely distributed by savvy western vehicle marketers like Peter Schuttler, Mitchell, Bain, Moline, Jackson, and Studebaker.  Among the early pieces in the Wheels That Won The West® archives are several produced by a wagon company launched on the edge of the American frontier just after the Civil War.  Today, the manufacturer is best known as the Star Wagon Company from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

As shown in this early 1880’s letterhead and receipt, the Star Wagon Company produced impressive graphics to accompany their acclaimed vehicles. 

According to the 1878 book, “The History of Linn County Iowa,” the organization began its life in 1866 as Upton, Chambers, and Company.  Even so, it seems the firm’s brand may have always been aligned with the five-pointed celestial name.  A very early local advertisement from 1867 refers to the vehicles as ‘Star Wagons.’
In 1871, the business was officially incorporated and the name was changed from Upton, Chambers, and Company to the “Star Wagon Company.”  Almost before the ink on the incorporation papers was dry, the firm suffered a devastating fire.  In the aftermath, the charred wooden remains were replaced with brick structures.  The rebuilding process was completed in 1872.  By 1877, the company was producing 3,000 vehicles per year and, within another couple years, the enterprise had become recognized as one of the leading wagon builders for the western trade. (See our December 10, 2014 blog for more details).  

One of the greater complications for a number of larger-scale wagon makers during the late 1800’s was the use of prison labor by a few private sector vehicle builders.  On the surface, it sounds like a pretty good idea; put felons to work, teach ‘em a trade, and keep ‘em out of more trouble – all the while helping reduce costs in the penal system.  Like any good idea, though, there’s likely somebody somewhere waiting to exploit it.  The problem?  Convicts were paid a mere fraction of the day rates required by those hiring from the general populace.  It was a situation that allowed some large-scale builders to drastically undercut prices to the public as well as in government bids.  At the end of the day, it put most all wagon makers at a huge disadvantage in the marketplace.

So serious was the issue that in 1886, officials from the Star Wagon Company met with numerous other wagon and farm implement manufacturers such as Studebaker, Schuttler, Bain, Mandt, Coquillard, Winona, John Deere, and others.  Within a few years, these meetings and the ensuing political pressures finally resulted in changes to prison labor practices across a whole spectrum of industries.

This section of an original illustration shows a portion of the Star Wagon Works as it appeared in 1875.

While Star was never the powerhouse of manufacturing that Studebaker and others were, they were clearly far from being a marginal bystander.  During their startup in 1866, vehicle offerings were limited to lumber and farm wagons.  However, by the 1880’s their product line had greatly expanded to also include drays, ice wagons, heavy trucks, butcher’s wagons, milk wagons, express wagons, ranch wagons, oil wagons, grain wagons, furniture wagons, road wagons, road carts, surreys, phaetons, bob sleds, and numerous styles of carriages. It’s quite an array of vehicles for so many to have not survived.  (To date, we’ve only located one confirmed Star Wagon – see below.)  Then again, we could say similar things for about any manufacturer during this timeframe.  Most 19th century-built wagons have disappeared through neglect, abuse, and the passage of time.
The story of the Star Wagon Company begins to rapidly wind down during the 1890’s.  Like so many other firms, the devastating economic depression created by the Panic of 1893 likely added to the swift downfall of the organization.  By the turn of the 20th century, the Star Wagon Company is no longer listed, even for repairs, within industry directories.

Below are a number of images graciously shared with us by Dale Stutzman of Iowa.  Several years ago, he found this Star Wagon.  As you can see in the ‘before’ images, it was in tough shape.  The primary brand identifier left on the wagon was the cast ‘Star Wagon Co.’ name molded into each of the axle skeins.  In an effort to preserve the legacy of the vehicle and company, Mr. Stutzman rebuilt the box using the surviving wood for patterns while also salvaging all the original metal for placement on the new box.  Apparently, most of the running gear was solid but the felloes and spokes were replaced.  The hubs are original.  Our thanks again to Mr. Stutzman for his generosity in providing these images for the story.

Where there is one, there is always the possibility of more.  Perhaps through this brief blog, enough information can be passed along that other Star vehicles can be accurately preserved for future generations as well.