Wednesday, May 27, 2015

1901 Weber Wagon Gear For Sale

Over the last four years, our blogs have been filled with historic information on wagons, stagecoaches, and western vehicles as well as activities of a few collectors and modern day builders.  We’ve even profiled some of the pieces from our own collection.  I can’t remember a time, though, when I’ve pointed out vehicles we have for sale.  So, if you’ll permit me a little commercialism, I thought I’d highlight several unique pieces we have available.

Weber Wagon Gear

With a history dating to before the California Gold Rush, the Weber Wagon Company is one of the more historic and popular wooden wagons today.  Like many brands, though, the vast majority of the earliest pieces have disappeared.  Time and neglect have taken their toll.

In 1904, International Harvester Corporation (IHC) purchased the Weber Wagon firm and immediately capitalized on the company’s quality, tenure, and reputation.  Production was significantly increased to the point that most of the Weber wagons found these days will date to the IHC era.  If you’ve ever searched for an original Weber built before 1904, you know what I’m talking about.  Legendary pieces constructed prior to International Harvester’s buyout are out there but – they are few and far between.

As part of our study of early wagons, we’re always on the lookout for these earlier works.  It’s an important element in our overall mission.  We’re committed to locating and helping preserve the most historic examples of early companies.  Along the way, we’ve been fortunate to uncover a number of seldom-seen-survivors.  Regrettably, we can’t keep them all (at least that’s what my wife tells me).  To that point, we recently came across a high wheel, narrow tire gear built by Henry Weber prior to the company’s purchase by IHC.  Dating to 1901, this piece is guaranteed original and is an exceptionally rare barn find.  It’s in decent shape for its age but will need some felloe work as might be expected.  Overall, it would be a great period piece for a Weber collection, turn-of-the-century chuck wagon, or other historic purpose.

This 1901 wagon gear is a scarce example of a Weber wagon built prior to the acquisition of the firm by International Harvester Corporation.


At 114 years old, this running gear is one of a very few pre-IHC Weber wagons known to exist.  As would be expected for an earlier piece, the rear wheels are taller, measuring 54 inches in height while the front are 44 inches.  Distance between bolsters is 38 inches.  The track width is 56 inches and the tire width is 1 5/8 inches.  The construction is through-bolted and it features William Henry Weber’s (founder’s son) newly patented reach clamp fitted to the rear bolster.  Skein size is 3 1/4 inches x 10 inches.  Elsewhere, the axles are fitted with steel trusses and the rocking bolster was factory equipped with bolster iron extensions.

If this set of wheels sounds like something you’ve been looking for, drop us a line.  We’d be happy to discuss it with you. 

In addition to the Weber gear, we also have a few other overstocks…

1.      Peter Schuttler wagon – 1923, high wheel, narrow tire, triple box and seat – a nice, solid wagon.

2.      Springfield wagon – Late 1920’s, high wheel, narrow tire, triple box and seat – very good wagon & wheels.

3.      Springfield wagon gear – 1940’s, low wheel, 42” bolsters.

4.      American Wagon Company – Patented folding wagon box, 38” width, late-teens to early 20’s.  Very hard to find these.

5.      Bain wagon – will date to mid teens, high wheel, narrow tire, double box and seat.

6.      Wagon gear built in Shenandoah, Iowa – lots of paint remaining. 

7.      Super-rare sideboards from a Pennsylvania Conestoga wagon.  1850’s or earlier.  Toolbox has the initials “I.K” stamped into it.

8.      1901 Weber mentioned in article above.

Beyond the vehicles above, we have approximately twenty other vehicles representing brands such as Studebaker, Springfield, Florence, Birdsell, Gestring, Owensboro, Schuttler, Weber, Nissen, American, Cooper, Stoughton, Weber & Damme, and more.  While most are not for sale, we do occasionally make some available for purchase. 

Have a great 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, May 20, 2015

The End of the Olds Wagon Works

I just finished an article for Farm Collector magazine that’s slated for the August issue of this year.  The opening paragraph shares some survival challenges that many wagon makers faced a few years after the turn of the 20th century.  While some, more dominant agricultural brands like John Deere, International Harvester, and Emerson Brantingham were busy buying up wagon companies during this period, others were starting to have trouble making ends meet.  The automobile was making its presence felt and there would be no turning back.

As early as 1904, there were literally hundreds of firms building autos in the U.S.  Reinforcing this pressure, larger wagon brands were tying up wood resources, making it hard for many competitors to acquire adequate materials.  Times were changing and changing fast.  For horse drawn vehicle makers, it was the beginning of the end.  Hard times did not discriminate.  Large, small, and intermediately-sized builders suffered.  One strong regional maker that seemed to quickly succumb to shifts in consumer buying habits was the Olds Wagon Works in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The business was established in 1881 and had been well known for building quality, reputable products.  Nonetheless, at just over a quarter century in age, the firm had decided to face the music.

The Olds Wagon brand was a strong competitor during the late 1800’s.

An article from 1907 outlines the closing of the buiness...

“The Olds Wagon Works, one of the oldest manufacturing establishments in the city, will retire from business.  Scarcity in timber, general rise in the price of skilled labor, with no corresponding increase in price in the finished product, are the reasons assigned.  The plant will close as soon as the present raw material on hand is worked up or disposed of.  The Olds Wagon Works was organized in 1881 by Henry G. Olds, father of the men who are now at the head of the institution, and at first about 200 men were employed in the institution but of late years as demand for their product decreased the force dwindled until at present there are about seventy-five men employed, nearly all of whom are skilled wagon builders.”

For modern day collectors, this type of information not only provides historical background for individual vehicle provenance but also can be helpful in narrowing down a production timeframe.  Based on several period articles we’ve uncovered, it indeed appears that all manufacturing of Olds brand wagons ceased in 1907.  It’s an important detail as any surviving Olds wagons will clearly be beyond a century in age. 

With multiple patents and innovative designs to its credit, the company was clearly a progressive competitor.  Late 19th century advertisements claimed that the wheels had 3/4 to 7/8 inch more spoke tenon in the hub.  As a result, the company professed that the wheels were “three times stronger” than others.  Peak output of the wagon works is said to have been around 50 vehicles per day.  While the production rate was not as high as prolific builders like Studebaker, it was significant enough to have been a solid competitor to just about any wagon builder.  Certainly, the Olds plant was far from a small-time operation.  As a parting thought, we’ve received emails in the past asking if there is any connection between the Olds Wagon Works and the Oldsmobile brand of automobile.  Other than similar names, the businesses were not connected.  

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, May 13, 2015

Studebaker Aluminum vs. Ford?

Whether we’re talking about human nature and our tendency to be creatures of habit or the fact that comparable ideas are sometimes reborn in different packages, history does indeed have a way of repeating itself.  A few years ago, I wrote about the twin axle steering system that was offered in some Chevy trucks.  The basic idea is one that had been around for quite a while.  In fact, the wood-wheeled wagon industry had generated multiple patents on the concept at least 140 years ago. 

Similarly, the use of aluminum in work vehicles is not a new notion.  With that in mind, most readers are likely aware that the 2015 Ford F150 trucks have received a lot of press for using an aluminum-alloy versus steel in the new truck bodies.  While the switchover left many with reservations, this 21st century announcement is far from the first time a well-known vehicle brand engaged the properties of aluminum instead of relying on heavier metalwork.  In 1893, the legendary Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing Company demonstrated a level of superior craftsmanship as well as innovative thinking by creating a first-of-its-kind wagon utilizing aluminum in place of all of the vehicle metal – except for the steel tires.  The wagon was initially unveiled at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) that year.

This 1893 wagon was especially built with aluminum hardware and structural supports to showcase Studebaker craftsmanship and innovation.  

Eleven years later, Studebaker again displayed the well-known aluminum wagon at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  At this huge, internationally recognized event, Studebaker had one of the largest carriage and wagon displays with 75 different vehicles exhibited.  Among those pieces were exquisite broughams, victorias, depot wagons, coupe rockaways, extension and canopy top surreys, phaetons, top buggies, runabouts, road wagons, farm wagons, coal wagons, express and truck wagons, sheep camp wagons, mountain wagons, and electric as well as gasoline powered autos.

Perhaps the most extraordinary vehicle in the group was the “Aluminum Wagon.”  At the time, this precious metal was quite expensive and working it required exceptional skill levels.  The August 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly” carried a detailed description of the wagon...

“This metal is adaptable to mechanical and manufacturing purposes by reason of its extreme lightness, great malleability, tensile strength, beauty, and freedom from oxidation or loss of luster by exposure to the weather. 

It required 149 pounds and 2 ounces of the new metal to fit up the wagon, whereas if iron had been used the quantity required would have been three times as great or 447 pounds.  All the metal comprising bolts, nuts, screws, rods, clips, braces, chains, nails, etc. are made from solid aluminum.  Steel tires are burnished and plated and glisten like a mirror.  The feat of using aluminum has never been attempted before, and has not been imitated since the wagon has been built.   The accomplishment of such a work as the Studebaker Bros. Mfg. Co., will be appreciated by mechanical experts as an achievement of no ordinary character.  The aggregate labor in making and finishing the wagon represented an expenditure of four hundred and twenty-four and one-half days, at a total cost for the wagon of $2,110.68.

The box or body has a remarkable history.  It is made of rosewood, inlaid with a border of holly, and the 35 medals awarded to the company since 1852.  The inscription of the box is in raised gold letters.  The rosewood log weighed 1,505 pounds and cost $230.80.  It had to be large enough to cut out box, sides, and ends to suit.  This log was cut in the province of Belmonte, Brazil and was brought down the Belmonte River for a long distance in huge canoes, thence by barge to Bahia, Brazil and thence to New York by steamer.  The Astoria Veneer Mills, of New York, the importing firm, state that it was by the greatest good fortune that the log was secured, and the probabilities are that years will elapse before another one like it will appear in the market.  It required the services of a woodworker three months to prepare the wood for the finisher, and 36 different processes were gone through to bring it to its present state of finish and polish. 

The usual striping and corner scrolls are imitated with white holly, all inlaid into mahogany, and the name of the firm is in solid gold raised letters, in the shape of a graceful ribbon pattern placed in the center of the side panels of the box.”

These additional photos of the Studebaker ‘Aluminum Wagon’ show some of the exceptional detail of the vehicle.  It remains a showpiece today and is on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

Clearly, this vehicle was (and remains) a head-turner.  Several years ago, I wrote a brief piece on Studebaker’s Aluminum Wagon.  One of the best parts of this story is that the wagon still exists.  If you’re ever in South Bend, Indiana, you’ll want to make plans to stop by the Studebaker National Museum and see this amazing part of America’s transportation history.  It’s in remarkable condition.  In fact, a few years ago, the wagon underwent professional cleaning and conservation work by B. R. Howard and Associates in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Brian and his team did an exceptional job bringing back the highly polished look and rich wood tones.  Our thanks to them for sharing these photos with us.

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, May 6, 2015

Western Vehicle Research

The old barn was dark, dusty, and full of cobwebs.  It had been ages since it was an active part of the family farm.  Swallow and mud dobber nests dotted the interior and sunlight pried its way through the slat board sides.  As I walked across the loft floor, the old planks popped and groaned, warning me to step lightly.  I stopped to survey the interior, finally fixing my eyes on the back of the building.  As my sight adjusted to the dim surroundings, I noticed a familiar shape peering out from under a massive pile of loose hay.  Pulling back the musty straw, I began to uncover yet another nineteenth century survivor on wheels.  Who was the maker?   What history did it hold?  Why had it been buried?  Plenty of questions begged for answers but one fact was clear.  This was more than an old wagon.  It was a reminder that scarce pieces of early transportation history are still out there, waiting to be discovered and worthy of being preserved for future generations. 

To that point, we’re thankful to be adding a couple more original pieces to our collection this week.  One is a small stage wagon – also referred to as a mail jerky – from California’s legendary gold country.  Built on a Mountain Wagon frame, the aged structure is oozing with western character.  (For readers primarily familiar with “farm-style” mountain wagons, this is a different design entirely – I’ll try and cover the distinctions in a later blog).  The other vehicle is an early, slip-reach running gear with a morphing bed/box that folds into multiple configurations.  The folding box was built by the American Wagon Company and is one of only a handful or two we believe to have survived. 

While each vehicle is from a different century, both represent hard-to-find, century-plus-old pieces.  To date, the Wheels That Won The West® vehicle collection includes examples from several dozen brands with documented histories spanning every decade from the 1870’s through the 1940’s.      

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that the process of locating and studying vintage wagons has long been a passion of mine.  It’s a rewarding pastime highlighted by countless stories and remarkable finds.  For every find, though, there are countless dry runs and false leads.  Two decades ago, as I began to earnestly analyze early wagons and western vehicles, I couldn’t have imagined how much there would be to learn.  Similarly, I never cease to be amazed at the amount of misinformation that can be heard and seen today.  I’ve come to believe that the near-endless number of speculative statements, personal opinions, misconceptions, and outright untruths may be the biggest obstacle for anyone sincerely wanting to understand period wood-wheeled vehicles.

My recommendation for avoiding these pitfalls goes straight to the heart of the definition of ‘research.’  Modern dictionaries describe this term as being “a careful or diligent search.”  That means you probably shouldn’t believe everything you hear offhand and certainly should be cautious about placing too much credibility in every search of topics on the internet.

The process of closely examining and documenting features on numerous original wagons can play an important role in sustainable research. 

Case in point… Not long ago, I noticed an auction where a wagon was represented as an early 1800’s piece.  It was not.  The supposed history of the vehicle was equally incorrect.  Likewise, elements of the vehicle were mismatched and not original.  How did I know?  First of all, the purported date of the piece was not in sync with multiple design standards and construction methods on the wagon.  As I’ve shared before, over the years, wagon makers often changed methods of manufacturing as they repeatedly looked for ways to create better products.  Recognizing these variables is important when assessing wood-wheeled transportation. 

Secondly, the wagon brand was one I knew had not been manufactured until after the turn of the 20th century.  The original maker stenciling and stamping on different parts of the wagon made this point even more obvious.  Finally, I’ve shared over and over that every part of a period vehicle has a story to tell.  Part of my mission in these situations is to study details to determine what information can be gleaned from every part.  These types of comprehensive reviews have a way of uncovering inconsistencies in a vehicle.  After examining thousands of these rolling workhorses, I’ve noticed a number of patterns.  The experience has made it easier to know where to look and what to look for.  In this particular auction, it was eventually learned that the well-meaning seller had briefly looked at one source on the internet and, based on that single (unreliable) source, had made statements that left his credibility in question.

At the end of the day, there is a great deal of pride and satisfaction in knowing exactly what a particular piece represents.  If you’re looking at purchasing a period vehicle, don’t be afraid to dive in, ask plenty of questions, and insistent on documentation to support historical assertions.  Regrettably, quick assumptions can leave a less than positive feeling for both parties in a transaction. 

Twenty years ago, there was a reason that generalizations and best guesses were made about many old wagons and western conveyances.  At the time, almost no information on individual brands could be found in a centralized source.  As a result, not as much study had taken place.  We knew little about period design standards and even less about construction variations among the myriad of different manufacturers.  Today, information is more prevalent but still needs to be properly vetted to help insure its reliability.  

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.