Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you, your family, and friends a wonderful Thanksgiving.  May God bless you during this special time of year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wagon Displays

Over the years, I’ve received countless questions related to early American wagons and western vehicles.  It’s a subject that continually invites curiosity and admiration.  Ultimately, what we, as collectors, know and share not only helps reinforce the fascination for these rolling works of art but perpetuates the true personality of a set of wheels. 

So, this week, I’d like to turn the tables a bit and ask a couple of questions to vehicle collectors as well.  First... how much do you truly know about the individual pieces in your collection?  And second... how do you display and share those details?  I’ve been researching and collecting for over two decades and never cease to be amazed at how much there is to learn about individual vehicles and brands, let alone the entire industry.

Whether we’re talking about a high-end museum collection with multiple transports or a single set of wheels that’s been passed down from an earlier generation, the staged atmosphere surrounding a piece helps set it off as more than a basic concept from a bygone era... it highlights the iconic personality; bringing the piece to life and uniting it to some of the most challenging and exciting times within American history. 

We’ve all seen museum exhibits with elaborate signage and expensive backdrops.  While sets like this can be impressive, some of these can be so elaborate they completely miss the mark.  Why?  Too often, basic history is repeated to the point that the specific provenance attached to a particular set of wheels is completely missed.  If you’re looking to add to the intrigue of your collection with friends, family, and visitors, hone in on the most personal and historic elements related to a vehicle.  I’d recommend that you begin modestly, perhaps with only one vehicle.  Start off with your favorite.  The feelings you have for that one vehicle will help keep you motivated and perhaps even help establish it as the obvious centerpiece in your collection.  Below are a few thoughts on some ways to get started...

Brand History – Work up a brief bio of the brand’s background, highlighting its connection to the growth and development of America.  You may even be able to profile the maker’s involvement in significant events, patents, or legal wranglings. While keeping the details short for easy reading, place the info on a placard next to the wagon.  

Brand Advertising/Signage – Early tin, wooden, and cardboard signs can be an ideal accent to a set of wheels.  Likewise, old print advertising is often elaborate, helping showcase the way a particular brand was perceived back in the day.  If the cost of rare, original signage runs a little outside of your budget, it’s also possible to accomplish similar results with inexpensive reproduction pieces.  Other options include having a digital print shop enlarge an original advertisement and mount it on a stiff backing board.

Design Elements – Get creative.  Look for supporting accessory pieces from the same era as your vehicle.  The presentation of your wagon can benefit from a few (not so many that they’re distracting) authentic components like a wagon jack, drag shoe, stay chains, wooden crates/barrels, or even a miniature child’s wagon of the same make as your full-sized wagon.  Some early wagons might even be appropriate custodians of a period odometer.

Technology Used – Look the wagon over closely.  Are there any patent markings or special features that can be called out?  These types of bonus details can add greatly to the talking points and interest of a particular vehicle. 

Personal History – It’s always a good idea to try and acquire as much history on a set of wheels as possible.  Even if you don’t have a full ownership history, many times a wagon still has the name of a selling dealer stenciled on the box or gear.  Researching the dates of operation and details of a particular retail outlet can reinforce the character and story tied to a piece.

Ultimately, it pays to do your homework.  Take your time researching; being careful in the details.  The last thing anyone wants is to get the history wrong.  That said, be advised... the subject of early wooden wagons is full of twists, turns, and sudden stops.  Many builders had similar names.  Some reinvented themselves under new brand or management names.  Still others have a history that has been widely misreported in modern times.

In the end, don’t be surprised if the extra efforts put forth in the interpretation of a piece not only reflect your deep appreciation for a set of wheels but also more fully engage family members and visitors in a way you never thought possible.  Best of luck to you!

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, November 11, 2015

Not Enough Timber

From the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century, America’s horse drawn vehicle makers competed heavily for certain wood stocks as they were in heavy demand from a multitude of industries.  With so much pressure on the nation’s forests, the challenges to acquiring the right raw materials in a timely manner were sometimes overwhelming.
To that point, the article below is from a 1906 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.”  It outlines the struggles of supply and demand along with concerns related to vehicle quality, performance, and customer satisfaction.  In part, it also helps explain why some types of wood were in use during a particular time.  Combined with a blog I wrote back in February of this year, it’s an interesting piece giving added insight into America’s first transportation industry.

 “The growing scarcity of timber forces manufacturers to make the very best of the kind of timber they find on the market.  In the opinion of some very careful observers, the time will come when substitutes will have to be had for oak and hickory, none of which will be as good as the oak and hickory stock which contains small defects, but which do not interfere with the strength of the material.  Heretofore, it has been the custom to throw out anything with a defect, even if it did not impair the strength of the material, but the present condition of things limits the manufacturer in this respect.
Take white ash.  A few years ago it was comparatively plentiful.  Now it is practically exhausted.  No wood can easily take the place of second growth northern white ash for certain parts of a vehicle.  There is no white ash to-day that is suitable for the same purposes of the old second growth white ash of a few years ago.  It is not so long ago since that all wagon manufacturers used ash for wagon tongues and they would not hear to the use of anything else.  To-day oak is used for wagon tongues almost entirely, and it is a rare thing to find an ash tongue.  Those that are in use are inferior to ordinary oak stock.  It is true that there is considerable ash in the South, but experience has taught manufacturers that when it is thoroughly dry, it is “brash” and hardly suitable for vehicle construction. 
The inferiority of ash and its scarcity has, in a certain sense, driven vehicle builders to use oak for purposes which a few years ago were not permissible.  Besides, the supply of oak, limited as it is, affords the manufacturers a wide selection.  It is for this reason that oak is being largely used for wagon tongues; also in such articles as buggy bows, oak has almost entirely taken the place of ash.  When a builder comes across a lot of genuine second growth white ash, he feels himself particularly lucky.  Southern ash has the appearance of being tough when it is green; but when it comes to a matter of testing in use, it is demonstrated that oak is superior to ash as it is found to-day.
These are only a few of the instances which could be greatly multiplied, and which are suggested in the timber situation as it faces the carriage and wagon builder to-day.  Cottonwood has been brought out as a substitute for high-priced poplar, but it met with a great deal of opposition for awhile.  Today, wagon builders know to what extent wagon boxes are made from cottonwood, and even this number is approaching the scarcity of poplar.  The question now is, what will next be employed?
Attention is being turned to gum, and it is probable that gum will be largely utilized in the construction of wagon box boards.  Coming down to hickory, we are up against the most serious part of the proposition.  We can find substitutes for oak, poplar, ash and cottonwood, but when it comes to hickory, there is no apparent substitute, and the supply is rapidly diminishing.  The way out of the serious difficulty will be the subject of future discussions, for it is a problem which must be met and solved.”

Just as manufacturers today are dependent upon the availability of quality raw materials, vehicle makers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also wrestled with maintaining sufficient stocks of building supplies.  This century-plus-old article is just one more reminder that the ‘good old days’ were not necessarily as simplistic as sometimes portrayed.  Builders worked with purpose but often found themselves experimenting with new materials and a whole new set of advertising hyperbole.

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, November 4, 2015

What’s My Wagon Worth?

Undoubtedly, the most common questions we receive are focused on early vehicle values.  Before diving off into this surprisingly deep topic, let's take a look at a few points that can sometimes cause confusion.  Too often, these antiquities are generalized with one set of wheels assumed to always be on par with any other.  The fact is, every period wagon is an individual, with a separate history and unique attributes.  It takes a thorough understanding of these early pieces to make comparisons.  As a result, it’s not typically a good idea to assume a particular value for one set of wheels by looking solely at what someone else is asking for another. 

Unlike today’s automotive industry, there are no printed value guides for old wagons and, since there are seemingly endless variables separating these pieces, the subject is full of opportunities to misinterpret value.  Yet another point to be made is that since no two wagons are ever exactly alike, it can sometimes be problematic to take even realized prices at face value without examining various qualities of the vehicle, itself.  I’ve seen pieces with “perceived” attributes sell at auction for significant prices, only for the new owner to discover that troubling points had been overlooked and too much had been paid.  Cue the well-worn phrase, “Caveat Emptor.”

With those thoughts in mind, we’ll take a look at seven areas that should always be assessed prior to assigning value to a specific piece.  Even so, none of the points below can be looked upon as stand-alone considerations.  The collective whole of what I’ll point out in this post (as well as other considerations) must be evaluated together.  With that as a background, let’s take a look at a few crucial areas that can impact period wagon values.

Condition – This point covers a lot of territory with countless features to be examined.  What is missing, broke, weakened, replaced, or rotted on the wagon?  What is the level of wear to each and every part?  This portion of the evaluation process can be extensive and costly if one doesn’t know where and what to look for. 

Degradation or rot in old wheel felloes is a common sight these days.  Nonetheless, its presence can lessen a vehicle’s resale value.

Brand – Similar to motorized vehicles today, the authenticated brand name of a wagon box and gear can easily impact the desirability and purchase price.  Similarly, it’s important to understand that many well-known wagon brands also created secondary brands.  Knowing this history can help a collector add important pieces to a collection without the cost sometimes attached to the primary brand.

Age – Most antique, wood-wheeled wagons are either near or over one hundred years in age.  While it’s a remarkable thought to ponder, simply because a wagon possesses a well-seasoned age does not necessarily mean it has great value.  Similarly, it’s possible for some 20th century wagons to carry more value than a 19th century counterpart - or maybe not.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the collective whole of these points, ultimately, helps define an accurate value.

 Not all wagon companies attached dates to their wagons but some did.

Provenance – The documented personal history of a particular piece can also impact historic, sentimental, intrinsic, and resale values.  It’s generally good to pursue as much verifiable information as possible about a vehicle as it can add to the interest of a set of wheels. 

Originality levels – Like so many other elements, this is an area that requires significant experience to confirm the authenticity of a piece.  Replaced and mismatched features along with modern repairs, repainting, or other aftermarket wood treatments can impact values.

Vehicle features – Original accessories and intriguing construction elements can sway values both positively and negatively.  Knowing what a particular brand was doing at a particular time can be extremely helpful in assessing the significance of individual features.

Vehicle type – Wagon makers created numerous types of wagons with even more varieties of construction and features.  Not all vehicle types are considered equally collectible.

Ultimately, this overview is not meant to be all-encompassing, overly simplistic, or even confusing.  Rather, it’s clear that the need for resale value information is important to the preservation and understanding of every surviving vehicle.  It’s our hope that the highlights in this week’s blog can help others put these wood-wheeled warriors into better perspective; encouraging more attention be given to individual pieces with less reliance on vague, non-descript, and non-supportable notions.

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.