Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Yellow Peter Schuttler Wagon?

Not long ago I received a question from a friend asking if there were ever design variations or different construction styles of a Peter Schuttler brand wagon hub.  It’s a great question and one that some enthusiasts may not be aware of.  Beyond the obvious variations in different hub sizes, there indeed were subtle, but notable differences in certain aspects of Schuttler designs over the decades.  Believe it or not, there were even major color shifts in some Schuttler running gears.

A while back, during one of my research trips out of state, I happened across a Peter Schuttler brand wagon with a ‘yellow’ gear.  It had been sloppily overpainted orange but the original color, striping, and stenciling could still be seen in several areas.  The initial color of the gear had clearly been yellow with black striping and stenciling.  While there were a number of early builders that were known for producing yellow running gears, Schuttler is not one that usually comes to mind – even to knowledgeable collectors.  Orange was the gear color seen on virtually every Peter Schuttler wagon from the company’s beginnings in 1843. It’s a statement reinforced through period literature as well as an extremely rare survivor located at the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.  Kept in a climate-controlled enclosure, this set of wheels represents the earliest surviving Schuttler and one we were the first to extensively study, photograph, and identify back in May of 2007.

We were given exclusive access and the opportunity to thoroughly document this 1856 Peter Schuttler running gear in 2007.

I wrote a follow-up article on the discovery later that year and it was published by The Carriage Journal in January 2008.  We also posted a variation of the story on our website at the time.   Along with several tons of miscellaneous supplies and goods, the spanking-new wagon gear was originally loaded on board the Steamboat Arabia.  The journey was short-lived as the entire ship sank on the Missouri River not long after leaving Westport (Kansas City) in 1856.  Today, at well over 150 years in age, it is likely to be the oldest surviving factory-built wagon in America.  We were graciously provided extraordinary access to the vehicle at the time; allowing us to document various technologies present as well as dimensions, colors, construction features, and surviving markings.  In the process of the review, we found a number of remnants of orange paint pigment on the wagon.  Our Archives also hold 1870’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s-era color advertising from the company.  Combined with the gear found on the Steamboat Arabia, the surviving evidence seems to confirm the regular and consistent use of orange paint on Peter Schuttler running gears throughout the 19th century.

For a company to be so aligned with a particular hue, the use of a different color like yellow can be indicative of some type of change within the firm.  Sometimes, these changes are identifiers of different types of vehicles or even a preference indicated by an end user or retailer.  In this case, the gear had other variations as well, leading us to feel reasonably confident that the yellow coloring is likely tied to the transition of the company’s assets from Chicago to Springfield, Missouri during the mid-1920’s.  Close examination of the wagon revealed a number of additional design elements consistent with transitional vehicles built during early ownership by the Springfield Wagon Company.    

Why is this information important?  For the very reasons our Wheels That Won The West® Archives exist as a historical resource, this knowledge helps us to better identify, authenticate, date, and provide supportable provenance to vintage pieces.  Without these background details, a wagon is just a wagon with no personality to separate it from a sea of non-descript designs.  Ultimately, every stick of timber, every contour, every bit of iron, and every part of the paint hold clues… Clues that bring us closer to fully understanding America’s early wagons and western vehicle builders.

Thanks for stopping by today.  By the way, if you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above.  You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board.  Once that's done, you'll receive an email every time we update the blog.  Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We appreciate your continued feedback and look forward to sharing even more wooden vehicle info in the coming weeks. 

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Headlights for Horses?

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably come to realize that it’s anybody’s guess as to what each week’s topic will cover.  In fact, if you ask my wife, she’d probably say that’s just the way my attention deficit mind works; bouncing from one point to another.  The reality is that the overall category of western vehicles is so large there’s a world of information rolling around out there.  With that said, I doubt anyone could have imagined the focus of today’s blog. 

Between the travel and extensive amount of research we’re able to pack into each year, I’m fortunate to be able to explore countless early vehicle designs and related accessories.  Today’s post, though, may push the boundaries of what most of us might consider believable.  With that teaser as a backdrop, you might want to file this one under the “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” segment of horse-drawn vehicle history. 

Not long ago, I was reviewing a century-plus-old sales pamphlet we have in our Archives.  It was promoting the “Richards System of Electric Lighting for Horse Drawn Vehicles.”  Sounds basic enough.  Upon further inspection though, this piece isn’t referring so much to lights positioned on the vehicle as it is to lights placed on the draft animal.  Yep, we’re talking about hanging lights on horses.

Proclaimed as “Shadowless, Scientific, and Satisfactory,” this vehicle headlight was worn by the draft animal and promoted by The Richards Horse Headlight Works in Bethel, Connecticut.

Before we snicker too much, these folks did have a good point in that the traditional method of placing lights on the vehicle – behind the horse(s) – did make it tough to always see the terrain ahead with sufficient clarity.   According to the sales piece, the answer to this lack of sight was to move the light ahead of the animal.  The biggest challenge to this solution seems to be the stability of the light as well as the potential for dramatic shadows to dart back and forth in front of the horse.

For those who may be wondering – Yes, this idea was patented!  Applied for in the spring of 1906, the patent was awarded in early 1908 to Mr. E.L. Richards of Litchfield, Connecticut.  The introduction of the patent states that…

“…it has been attempted from time to time to provide a means for carrying a lamp so that the rays of light will fall directly in front of the horse, as for instance by fastening it to the breast collar or shafts; but it has been found that a very great amount of motion and jarring was imparted to the lamp when carried in such positions.” 

The description goes on to proclaim…

“… This device is readily applied to the horse when occasion may demand, and may be readily removed, and will when in position fit the neck securely but not uncomfortably, and hold the lamp from vibration...”

Patented more than a century ago, this “headlight for horses” was designed to provide greater visibility for night time operation of horse drawn vehicles.


Ultimately, the idea was built on a three-fold premise; it was to be worn by the horse, unobstructed by the horse, and be carried in the “most steady manner.”  In spite of what were surely the best intentions, there’s no evidence that the concept ever caught on.  That said, the notion is so unique that any surviving examples may have trouble being recognized today.  Perhaps this post can help someone identify and preserve another extremely rare – and different – fragment of America’s first transportation industry.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

National Stagecoach & Freight Wagon Assoc. Meeting

We recently received an email from the National Stagecoach & Freight Wagon Association.  These are great folks with a wonderful heart for western vehicles.  This summer, their annual meeting will be in West Yellowstone, Montana.  The event will be commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the last horse-drawn stagecoaches used in Yellowstone Park.  As part of the event, the group is also actively searching for fellow owners/managers/curators of vehicles used in the Park prior to 1915.  Below is a poster they forwarded and asked us to share.  From the vehicles to the guest speakers and special events, it sounds like a great time and we’re pleased to pass the information on.   For registration information and other details, you’re invited to visit

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Western Vehicle Wheels

Most modern day wheelwrights will tell you that the complexity of wooden wheels can be deceiving.  I mean, they look simple enough – just some pre-cut, shaped, and measured wood fitted together and bound up with steel bands.  Can’t be that much to it, right?  Wrong.  The subject is so deep that 19th and early 20th century practitioners had multiple, regularly-issued publications devoted to covering the continual challenges, designs, and intricacies of the craft. 

Like other areas of a western vehicle, an early wooden wheel can be divided into the three primary areas of wood, paint, and metal.  That’s the end of the simplicity.  So, if you were hoping you’d learn all there is to know about wooden wagon and coach wheels from this week’s blog, you’re about to be disappointed.  As with so much early vehicle history, there’s too much involved in this field of study to treat it lightly.  That said, the first step to fully appreciating any subject is to better understand its depth.  So, hold on.  We’re about to dive head first into an extensive and complicated trade.

The complexity of early wagon wheels is reinforced by numerous 19th and early 20th century patents vowing improvements on previous designs.


Have you ever wondered why hub lengths, hub diameters, hub bands, spoke positions, and spoke fittings are sometimes different?  How about the design of felloes – What dictates their size and why are some wheels engineered with bent felloes and others are cut?  With cut felloes, why are there ‘usually’ only two spokes per felloe?  Have you ever seen a wheel with one spoke per felloe?  Yes, it happened.  In fact, it had several purposes and it could be a clue pointing to a particular maker. 

Ever found yourself wondering, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different styles of wheels?”  Do you know the differences between Warner hubs, Sarven hubs, Shell band hubs, Compressed band hubs, Iron Clad hubs, Archibald hubs, and regular ol’ wooden hubs.  These details are important as they represent a significant part of any early vehicle’s personality and provenance.  Clearly, there’s a lot going on beyond the surface of an old set of wheels.  Hence the popularity of period publications like The Blacksmith & Wheelwright, The Spokesman, The Hub, The Carriage Monthly and numerous other early books and periodicals. 

The Blacksmith & Wheelwright was a well-known trade magazine for U.S. vehicle builders during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Wooden wheels also need the correct pitch, gather, dish, size, fit, strength, elasticity, and resilience.  In other words, while different wood types, sizes, and shapes are used in particular areas, the whole design must be properly positioned and balanced to run free, true, strong, and durable.  Reinforcing these standards, most period builders boasted of how little draft was required to pull their wagon.  Of course, none of this overview gets into the equally complicated topics related to the various cast and steel skein designs, roller bearings, steel axle spindles, or other types of surfaces the wheel boxings (inner wheel casings) were fitted to.

One of the more prominent wheelwright shops in the U.S. is Hansen Wheel &Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota.  According to Doug Hansen, his team will build, repair, and sell more than 100 sets of wheels in the course of a year.  From stagecoaches, cannons, carriages, and hitch wagons to farm, military, and chuck wagons, it’s a commitment that requires a solid understanding of the vast technology in so many wooden wheel designs. 

Likewise, early builders recognized that wheels were the literal foundation of a vehicle and, as such, were specifically engineered to retain the right support and performance for the entire piece.  That dedication to quality appeared in a variety of forms; each recognizing that no other part of a western vehicle is more vital to the whole than the wheel.  From tire and spoke rivets to bolts, dowels, bands, channels, and a seemingly endless array of patents, every wooden wheel is full of innovation, purpose, and expertise.  It’s literally ‘the way they rolled.’ 

We’ll dissect the wheel in more detail in a later blog but felt this overview would be a good first look at some of the complexities involved with early wooden wheels.

By the way, if you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board. Once that's done, you'll receive an email every time we update the blog.  Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance. We're looking forward to your visits each week.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Collecting Wood Wheeled History

Since I publish this blog on the same day each week it’s inevitable that, as the years pass, some postings will land on Christmas, New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and other notable dates.  This week, the blog post happens to occur on April 1st.  In the U.S., most know that as “April Fools’ Day.”  The 24 hour timeframe is frequently filled with innocent tomfoolery and other gags played on unsuspecting souls.  Rest easy, I’m not planning any tricks today but, it did seem like a good time to talk about things that can cause us more than a little chagrin with early vehicles.  Maybe, by sharing some of these stories, we can help reduce unfortunate experiences down the road. 

Caveat Emptor

One of the environments that can sometimes invite regrettable events is that of an auction.  While these events can be enjoyable, getting caught up in the atmosphere of competitive bidding has left more than one person with a serious case of “buyer’s remorse.”  Years ago, I was at a sale and ran across a man who had just bought what he had hastily assumed was an original, framed John Deere sign.  He had won the piece in aggressive bidding, only to discover the advertisement was a much cheaper (and common) modern day print.  The last time I saw him, he was trying to unload the short-lived prize for almost anything anyone would give him.

A similar story from another sale centers on what appeared to be a mint condition spring seat for a major wagon brand.  It had gotten my attention as I surveyed the different items scheduled to run through the ring.  Upon closer inspection, though, the seat was not exactly what it appeared to be.  The paint was not original but had been completely re-applied with slightly better than average attention to detail.  For those not focused on the intricacies of originality, it carried the feel of a rare find in premium condition.  The reality was that it was nothing more than a partially restored seat with non-original paint and semi-adequate stenciling.  Yep, someone bought it and paid a hefty sum.  The only explanation I could imagine for the final price being so high was that at least two bidders felt the seat was truly original.  Those instances are hard to watch.       

On a related note, it always surprises me to see a post-1900 vehicle portrayed as an 1800’s piece with no supporting documentation.  Instead of immediately accepting what may well be an honest belief about a set of wheels, it’s important to know the vehicle is being properly represented.  Countless wood-wheeled wagons were built well into the 20th century and some brands were never built in the 19th century.  Reinforcing those points, no major western wagon brand produced vehicles exactly the same way throughout its tenure in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Because of that reality, we’re often able to determine timeframes of manufacture without guesswork.  It’s a significant reason we’ve worked tirelessly over the last two decades to assemble such a large amount of literature in the Wheels That Won The West® collection. Those materials and other period documents and imagery have helped us avoid much of the conjecture surrounding construction dates. 
Ultimately, the best advice I could give any collector is to get to know the vehicle you’re interested in.  Not everyone is going to take the same amount of time studying that set of wheels and the extra attention on your part could save you time, money, and disappointment.    

Vehicle Care

I’m regularly asked how to best care for an antique, wood-wheeled vehicle.  Most times that question comes with preconditions like… I don’t have a dust-free, humidity-controlled, temperature-monitored, and UV-restricted facility but, otherwise, how should I care for my vehicle(s)?  First off, these folks should be commended because they’re asking before – not after – something negative has been done to the vehicle.  That said, of the four environmental points mentioned above, each is important to recognize and do our best to attain. 

One of the more common questions I’m asked is, “Is it okay to re-paint the vehicle?”  That’s a touchy point in that there is a lot to be evaluated first.  For instance – How rare is the piece?  What condition is it in?  How much original paint is still on the vehicle?  What levels of originality does it possess?  What is the vehicle’s history or provenance?  Has it been evaluated by an authority on early vehicles?  What is the objective and purpose behind re-painting?  What level or quality of re-painting would be attempted?  Answers to each of these questions (and more) are crucial as the information will help make the final decision.  As a general rule, it’s good practice to move slowly in this area.  After all, it’s impossible to undo many of the most well-intentioned efforts and originality can be a valuable asset to lose.

Another question I am asked involves the use of polyurethane.   Unlike the previous question on paint, this one gets a quick and sharp reply from me… DON’T DO IT.  Polyurethane may bring out more saturated paint colors and might initially be deemed as ‘pretty.’  Nonetheless, someone will likely rue the day that it was applied.  Why?  Because this polymer hardens significantly while penetrating and bonding with the paint.  It can turn brittle, eventually acting like a paint stripper, peeling the coloring right off of the vehicle and leaving only the bare wood.  It may take a while for the process to begin, but it has a way of irreversibly taking hold.  Below is a photo showing a seat after a few years of polyurethane working its magic.

A sad sight; this image shows part of a wagon spring seat that once had a significant amount of original paint.

Other advice on storing collector grade vehicles is to keep them away from varmints of all sorts.  I’ve seen damage done by a variety of critters; birds, squirrels, goats, horses, cows, cats, rats, mice, and all sorts of insects.  At the end of the day, to be a better steward of history, it really does come down to what you know and how that information is applied.  Knowledge is key to saving irreplaceable history and it can also keep embarrassment from camping at your door.  

Week in and week out, it’s our hope that these tidbits of info can help prevent even the best of intentions from turning into a bad April Fool’s joke. 

Have a good week!

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