Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

With 2016 coming to a close, we thought we’d highlight a few of our discoveries from the year.  As I’ve shared before, the search for lost and forgotten history can be full of long, dry spells punctuated by the surprise-filled excitement of truly rare finds.  As Forrest Gump might say, “It’s like a box of choc-lates!”  Ultimately, it’s virtually impossible to predict what will be uncovered or learned next.

Nonetheless, 2016 left us with a wealth of finds.  Among those was the discovery of two, previously unknown patents granted for Sheep Camp wagons – one from the nineteenth and the other from the twentieth century.  Hidden deep inside a number of issues of “The Hub,” “The Carriage Monthly,” and other old trade journals, we found even more answers to questions tied to America's horse-drawn history.  In one instance, we stumbled upon primary source evidence showing what finally happened to the Giant (double-sized) Moline wagon first shown at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  It was used for years in cross-country promotions but over the last century appeared to have simply vanished. After featuring the research in our September 21st blog, the search for this iconic promotional piece can finally be put to rest.  In other discoveries, we were equally fortunate to acquire an extremely rare Studebaker-branded wrench made specifically for both sets of nuts on Archibald wheels.  While visiting a friend in Mississippi, we also came across a set of 1917 NOS Studebaker Military Ambulance harness (still in the crate).  

On other fronts, our Wheels That Won The West® archives added a host of original vehicle maker photos to the files.  Along with those glimpses into yesterday, our roster of period catalogs, signs, correspondence, and even vehicles also grew considerably.  During the latter part of the year, we ran across several intriguing images of Concord-style coaches.  The stages in these photos include distinctive features that may ultimately confirm them to be rare views into the world of stagecoaches built in Troy, New York.  Perhaps most importantly, we were able to reunite a number of folks with the history of their vehicle through our brand authentication and identification services.  It’s always rewarding to help bring lost provenance back to a set of wheels. 

All in all, it’s been a full year of tracking down a wide assortment of history from America’s first transportation industry.  Again and again, these types of mysteries have a way of fueling our research and recovery efforts.  So, as we look forward to 2017, we thank you for your regular visits to our website and blog as well as the opportunity to share even more discoveries in the days ahead. 

Wishing you, your family, and friends a safe, memorable, and very Merry Christmas!

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, LLC

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hard to Find Vehicles

Last week, I passed along some details about a uniquely designed touring coach with four brake blocks.  It got me to thinking about other western vehicles that we almost never see.  Of course, I’ve talked before about popular brands that are hard to come across.  Names like Cooper, Star, Flint, Whitewater, Caldwell, Kansas, Jackson, LaBelle, Rushford, and others are profiled in early trade publications as significant and highly desired brands.  Even though I’ve shared details before on some of these particular companies, I don’t think I’ve ever approached the overall subject as it relates to scarce design styles.

So, this week, I thought I’d focus on a few early American wagon designs that are tough to find.  Before we dive in, though, it’s important to recognize that almost all of the wheels we talk about from week to week can be classified as “rare.”  After all, this part of our history has long since passed.  So, when we talk about quality horse-drawn vehicles with a build date harkening back at least 90 years or more, we’re talking about an elite group of hard-to-find survivors.  Museum grade pieces from these eras have outlived harsh use, unforgiving environments, and the aging process in general.  Likewise, they’ve escaped countless recycling and repurposing projects along with a host of parting-out and demolition ventures as later generations focused on “cleaning out the old barn.”  With so many risks lying in wait for almost every old set of wheels, there are several types of wooden vehicles that stand out as being even more challenging to find. 

With that as a backdrop, we’ll skip past discussions covering elusive brands or manufacturing dates and briefly focus on a handful of vehicle types.  These configurations will be among the most difficult to catch a glimpse of – let alone be lucky enough to acquire.  After all, how many original, period examples of the following western vehicle types have you seen in a private collection…  Low Wheel Mountain wagon, Dougherty wagon, Dearborn wagon, Six Mule Army wagon, or Engineer’s Tool wagon?  While photos and/or period illustrations exist for most of these, it’s hard to find even a half dozen actual examples for any one of the vehicles.  It’s a point that makes individual study and field recognition of old parts even more crucial.

Low wheel Mountain wagon – Perhaps one of the more rarely-seen western designs, I stumbled across this variation purely by accident.  A number of years ago, I was doing research on an old Studebaker wagon gear that had been purchased in Colorado.  From the bolster stake irons to the reach pattern, tire rivets, 10-inch steel skeins, heavy-duty ironing, and numerous other features, the piece bore all the markings of a Studebaker Mountain Wagon.  Yet, the wheels were short – not the typical configuration most commonly associated with these heavy-duty work horses.  Instead of being at least 52 inches in height, the rear wheels were 46 inches tall and the front measured 38.  The overall design stood on a 56-inch track width.  As part of my study, I combed through some of our earlier Studebaker materials and quickly came across several promotional illustrations and specifications for… you guessed it – a ‘low wheel’ Mountain wagon.  Turns out that, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, Studebaker built and marketed both a ‘high wheel’ and ‘low wheel’ Mountain wagon.  The variation I uncovered from Colorado was highlighted feature-for-feature and spec-for-spec in multiple, century-plus-old catalogs.  Just as the high wheel Mountain wagons were ruggedly purposed, this ‘vertically-challenged’ gear was engineered for hard use and heavy loads in mountainous regions.  The shorter wheels provided a lower center of gravity and optimum stability over the most demanding and uneven terrain.  

Despite their lengthy service within the military, very few original Dougherty wagons have survived.

Dougherty wagon – Purportedly originating in St. Louis, Dougherty wagons were used throughout the early days of the American frontier and into the 20th century.  There were slight changes in the ultra-nimble design over the years, including a raised driver’s seat and cut-under body for tighter turning.  Most nineteenth century Dougherty wagons were equipped with a set of elliptical springs balancing all four corners of the body.  They featured doors on both sides, canvas curtains that could be raised and lowered, and a luggage rack in the rear.  The design was also referred to as an ambulance and was often used to transport officers and their families as well as paymasters and other special needs related to military business.  A good example of one built by the Kansas Manufacturing Company is located in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  An even earlier Dougherty can be seen in the collection at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Montana and still one more is shown at Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park in Nebraska.

In 1911, L. Mervin Maus, a Colonel in the U.S. Army reminisced about his past experiences with the wagon…

“Anyone who has failed to travel in a Dougherty wagon has never enjoyed one of the real pleasures of life and one of the genuine refinements of wheel transportation.  He has missed something which has left a hiatus in his life and a blank that can never be filled until he finds himself at last safely seated in one of these classical army chariots, behind four snappy, faithful, and patriotic government mules, such as for generations have been the friend of the army at frontier posts and his ally in conducting campaigns…”

Dearborn wagon – Easily one of the most elusive sets of early frontier wheels, Dearborn wagons were regularly discussed in early diaries and journals of those headed through the American West.  In his book, “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary,” Don Berkebile includes a good – and somewhat lengthy – description of the vehicle along with an illustration from an 1879 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.”  With its name attributed to General Henry Dearborn, the vehicles were used throughout the 19th century for hauling both freight and passengers.  There were multiple variations over time and a variety of names such as Jersey wagon and Carryall were sometimes used to describe a Dearborn. 

Tom Lindmier’s book, “The Great Blue Army Wagon,” includes a host of details on America’s early military vehicles and harness.

Six Mule Army wagon – Most surviving military wagons seem to be of the lighter Escort or four mule designs.  Even so, there was a larger and more robust version developed prior to the Civil War.  Referred to as the Six Mule Army wagon, these configurations were important for hauling baggage, supplies, rations, and other large loads.  The reinforced patterns were popular within military circles due to the tremendous durability and versatility of the design.  According to Thomas Lindmier in his book, “The Great Blue Army Wagon,” these vehicles were also occasionally used as an ambulance.  Advantages over Four Horse/Mule wagons included heavier wheels, larger axles, and the ability (since there were two more mules) to travel greater distances with less pressure on the draft animals.  Developed in the mid-1850’s, the designs were used by the military into the 1930’s.  One of the few surviving Six Mule wagons is located in Douglas Wyoming at the Pioneer Memorial Museum.  It was built by a maker almost unheard of by collectors and historians today.  His name was Louis Palm and his shops were located on South Jefferson street in Chicago.  For more details on this type of transport, check out Mr. Lindmier’s book.  It’s a great volume of research that should be in every enthusiast’s library. 

A military “Tool” wagon was essentially a huge, wooden tool box positioned on an Escort wagon gear.

Engineer’s Tool wagon – One of the rarest horse-drawn military wagons, these specialty vehicles were in use as early as America’s Civil War and throughout the early 20th century.  These vehicles were typically composed of an Escort wagon gear carrying a large wooden box.  Larger, but similar to a drummer’s (salesman’s) wagon, the box was enclosed and compartmentalized.  Each section inside the box was designed to hold a variety of tools, equipment, and materials needed to build roads, bridges, and other military necessities.  Examples of items included could be axes, picks, levels, sledges, shovels, lanterns, hatchets, crow bars, wrenches, carpenter’s and saddler’s tools, blacksmith materials, paint brushes, wire, and numerous other essentials.  In spite of their presence within the military over such a broad timeframe, Tool wagons are about as common today as leprechauns and unicorns.  I’ve searched high and low, managing to come up with a few old photos, illustrations, specifications, and period writings.  Even so, I’ve yet to set my eyes on an actual survivor. 

While some of the designs discussed here can be found in a very limited number of museums, as a general rule, they remain among the most difficult to come across anywhere.  Should you know of additional examples beyond those mentioned above, I’d enjoy hearing more about those survivors as well.  In addition to the wheels above, there are a number of other heavier transports that are next to impossible to locate.  Among those are the Davis Iron Wagon gear, first introduced around 1880 and tested for use by the U.S. military.  Other obscure pieces include Herdic Coaches and the McMaster Camping Car.  Truth is, there are a slew of early vehicle types that are still among the missing.  So, if you’re partial to a good mystery and enjoy treasure hunts, there are plenty of pieces from America’s first transportation industry that are waiting to be found.  So, the next time you see an old horse drawn vehicle that looks a little different, do some investigating.  It just might be one of a number of pieces that we thought were lost to time! 

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, LLC

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Stagecoach Differences

“If I’d only known then what I know now.”  It’s a thought that many of us have probably uttered before.  In my case, if I’d had any idea of how diverse, complicated, and extensive the workings of America’s first transportation industry actually were, I’m not sure I would have jumped into the study so whole-heartedly in the first place.  Then again, it’s tough to not be captivated by something with so many mysteries yet to be solved.  As it is, the subject is faithful to regularly give up secrets, albeit slowly.  So, I find myself constantly immersed in this hunt for history; waiting in anticipation for what’s uncovered next.  Through all of the research, one of the things I continue to notice is the huge number of accurate but overly-generic references to so many of our country’s early rides. 

Case in point… Terms like road wagon, mountain wagon, freight wagon, spring wagon, and even the phrase ‘covered wagon’ are all common identifiers of American horse-drawn vehicles.  While the names seem to offer sufficient descriptions, there’s often much more information needed to paint an accurate image of each design.  In fact, one of the greatest challenges to understanding these (and other) basic classifications is that each of the names can refer to various types of transports.    

As confusing as the above examples might be, the term “stagecoach” can also be applied to a multiplicity of designs.  As a result, without a photo, it’s not always easy to correctly imagine what the title of ‘coach’ or ‘stage’ is referring to.  There were a host of four-wheeled creations that were used and labeled as a stage. 

In the absence of information, it’s often assumed that a reference to a coach must mean that we’re talking about a heavy Abbot-Downing-style Concord.  While these particular designs are iconic, it’s this type of mass generalization that can make it difficult to get an accurate perception of transportation in the Old West.  Yes, Abbot-Downing Concords played a very prominent role in a large part of the American frontier.  Likewise, so did many other commercial vehicles carrying both passengers and packages.  Some builders of these stages even borrowed the “Concord” designation to describe a coach that was considerably different than the legendary Abbot-Downing patterns originating the name.  Legendary builder, M.P. Henderson of Stockton, California, is just one of the vehicle makers that capitalized on the popularity of the Concord moniker by attaching it to their own mud coach designs. 

Labeled as being built by Lewis Downing in 1851, this Hotel-style Concord coach is just one of the variations that were produced in Concord, New Hampshire.

Throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were numerous types of vehicles serving as stages in the eastern portions of the U.S.  At the same time, the collective hauling of mail, passengers, express packages, money, and gold was handled by an equally diverse group of transports in the West.  From coast to coast, these old wheels took on a variety of titles.  They may have been referred to as a Mud wagon, Stage wagon, Overland wagon, Celerity wagon, Passenger wagon, Passenger hack, Mail hack, Mail coach, Mail jerky, Western coach, Concord coach, Mountain wagon, or any number of other names that could (and usually did) vary in style and construction.  Making things even more convoluted, this overview of stage nomenclature doesn’t include all of the coach vehicles used for cities, hotels, and touring.  In still more instances, even covered farm wagons are known to have been occasionally used as a stage.  Due to trail/road conditions, vehicle availability, acquisition costs, serviceability, individual manufacturer styles, loads to be hauled, passenger requirements, or a multitude of other reasons, it was common to see a fair amount of diversity in commercial stage designs. 

While most stagecoaches in the American West were mounted on a suspension of springs or thoroughbraces, that observation could easily be where many construction similarities stopped.  When comparing side-by-side photos of these old vehicles, a particular set of wheels may – or may not – have a triple reach, single reach, lamps, full-length side springs, thoroughbraces, open top, enclosed body, raised driver’s seat, fixed rear boot, folding rear rack, foot brake, hand brake, roof rack, side curtains, round top, flat top, wood hubs, Sarven hubs, dodged spokes, drop tongue/pole, stiff tongue, bunters, 6 horse hitch, mule hitch… Whew!  Well, you get the picture.  It’s impossible to corral and strictly define a single group of features that encompassed every early stagecoach. 

This period image from the American plains shows 2 different styles of mud coaches as well as a smaller stage wagon.  One of the mud wagons is drawn by mules.

Working to get a better understanding of the variety of designs and regional distinctions, we’ve spent decades searching for and acquiring original, period imagery.  Looking through the collection of tintypes, daguerreotypes, CDV’s, cabinet cards, glass plates, stereo views, and even real photo postcards in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives, it’s easy to see the wide range of vehicles used as coaches throughout the U.S.    

To that point, I recently came across an old photo showing a pair of touring coaches in California.  While one is a typical open-sided design resting on a thoroughbrace suspension, the other is equipped with side elliptical springs similar to those positioned front and rear on a Dougherty wagon.  Also unique, the spring-mounted coach utilized a dual-block braking system on the rear wheels.  Specifically, I’m referring to the use of four brake blocks – one in front of and one behind each of the rear wheels.  I’ve seen this twin “brake-clamping” of the rear wheel before but, typically, it’s been associated with wagons doing heavy freighting in rugged, mountainous terrain.  Finding this configuration on a coach is akin to discovering yet another needle in a haystack.  Again and again, we’ve been fortunate to uncover a world of forgotten and lost details related to America’s first transportation industry.  Ultimately, these types of encounters not only help us avoid false assumptions but also provide a more complete picture of what was truly happening in the West. 


This small stage has been traced to service in the Angels Camp, California region.  While the maker of this piece is unknown, similar vehicles were made by a variety of builders – including M.P. Henderson and Abbot-Downing.  

When it comes to carrying passengers, stagecoaches weren’t the only means of commercial transportation.  Inside cities and larger communities, conveyances like omnibuses, Herdic coaches, accommodations, wagonettes, depot wagons, station wagons, and livery vehicles were a common sight at train stations and along community streets.    

So, ultimately, what’s the definition of a stagecoach?  Clearly, the look of these wheels can be incredibly diverse and different regions were known for using different designs.  Recognizing the need to first identify the type of coach, (touring, western, hotel, city, mud wagon, stage wagon, etc.) perhaps the most encompassing definition would include points like… a four-wheeled, commercial vehicle typically drawn by 2 to 6 equine (sometimes even oxen) and dedicated to hauling passengers, packages, and luggage with many also carrying money, mail, and gold.  For a longer definition of the design (reflecting more of its complexity), you can find details in Don Berkebile’s book, “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary.”   

Still more information can be gleaned from the articles and presentations of well-known stagecoach authority, Ken Wheeling.  He’s researched and written extensively on the subject for decades.  You’ll find a few of his coach articles in the following issues of “The Carriage Journal” – Summer 1993, Fall 1993, Winter 1993, August 2001, October 2005, October 2008, March 2009, and October 2016.  These are far from being Mr. Wheeling’s only writings but they do give a good overview of stagecoaches and the challenges associated with their study.

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, LLC

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From Wagons to Trains, Planes, & Automobiles

We hear a lot these days about the ‘transition’ team that America’s newest President is assembling.  The process marks an event that takes place at least every 8 years and sometimes as part of a 4-year cycle – depending on the outcome of a particular election.  When it comes to product innovation or industry transformations in the U.S., though, the sequence of events isn’t necessarily routine or predictable.  Such was the case for the massive transportation industry during the dawn of the 20th century.  At the time, many in the horse-drawn era found themselves surprised at the influence and excitement heralded by the new, internal combustion machines.  They couldn’t fathom a total transition to motorized power and, as a result, they were largely unprepared for the change. 

Overall, it’s an understandable perception.  With almost 200 years of this country’s history being dominated by horse-drawn vehicles, a sizeable number of folks had become hard set in their ways and felt things should remain the same.  Even so, it was a severely-limiting paradigm forming a lot of its own barriers to growth and success.  Generations had grown up using the products and had become financially dependent on the industry.  So, when a new, more advanced form of travel began to gain traction, the transformation was an unfamiliar and uneasy one for a large number of folks.  It was also one that required more capital for start-ups.  So, it’s not all that surprising that some found it a hard proposition to warm up to.  At the same time that so many were grappling with fears and resistance, others embraced and participated in the movement while still more waited to see what would happen. 

The early 1900’s amounted to a collision of worlds between horse-drawn and motorized transportation.

The study of this part of our history reminds me of the old adage pointing out that there are just 3 kinds of people in this world… Those that make things happen.  Those that watch what happens.  And those that wonder what happened!  Ultimately, those early days were a tumultuous time filled with rivalries, litigation, questions, and plenty of folks watching and wondering what the devil was going on. 

During the early 1900’s, there were hundreds of U.S. companies fighting for success in the newly-formed auto industry.  Ultimately, almost all of them failed.  Along the same lines, there were tens of thousands of horse-drawn vehicle makers and repairers struggling with their own perceptions of the horseless carriage.  For some, it was a fad.  For others, the vehicles were a luxury that would never be affordable.  Trade publications initially decried the evils of motorized transportation.  Salesmen missed no chance to deride the rubber-tired dragons whether they were gas, steam, or electric.  Associations banded together to see what might be done to slow or stop the acceptance of these new-fangled machines.  Articles were written discussing the noise, smell, cost, speed, power, unreliability, and other challenges associated with automobiles – some of those things continue to be a point of reference!

The earliest Flint wagons were adorned with scenic murals similar to those found on Concord stagecoaches.  Like many legendary brands, quality Flint wagons are now among the most difficult to find.

Even so, among the ranks, there were a number of legendary wagon makers that saw true opportunity in the ‘crisis’ that others perceived to be a direct threat.  Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing receives a fair – and deserving – amount of credit for recognizing the shifting tide.  There were other wagon makers, though, that are often overlooked in their roles related to motorized transportation.  Brands like Kentucky, Flint, Stoughton, Electric Wheel, Swab, Knapheide, Mitchell, Champion, and more were all active in their pursuit of various elements within the up-and-coming auto industry. 

Studebaker, for instance, not only designed and crafted cars, trucks, buses, and bodies but also built aircraft engines during WWII.  They had begun working on their own automobile in the late 1890’s, making every effort to continually reinforce their role as a transportation king pin.  After they ceased building wagons in 1920, they sold the related equipment and patterns while leasing their name to another powerful brand – the Kentucky Wagon Company of Louisville, Kentucky.  This move not only gave Kentucky another strong wagon brand to sell but provided a way for Studebaker loyalists to access original parts and maintenance on wagons that had been built in South Bend

Speaking of Kentucky (Wagon) Manufacturing Company; from their beginning in 1879, they were a force to be reckoned with.  Not only were they well capitalized but they were strong marketers producing tens of thousands of wagons per year.  During the 1930’s, the company was even more diversified as they took charge of Continental Car Company, producing a wide array of train cars.  The firm also made numerous early truck bodies and trailers, not to mention the manufacture and support of a full line of Dixie Flyer automobiles.  The direct descendant of Kentucky Wagon Company – Kentucky Trailer – has not only has survived but thrives as a dominant force in today’s trucking, specialty trailer, and body industries.  In fact, from commercial, medical, military, and government applications to motorsports, mobile broadcast production, moving & storage, package delivery, and enclosed auto haulers, Kentucky Trailer has been called, “the most innovative custom trailer manufacturer in the world.”

Kentucky has been a patriotic supplier to the U.S. Military for over a century.  

Kentucky Trailer produces a wide variety of custom work.  

In Flint, Michigan where much of the 20th century auto industry eventually found a home, the owners of Flint Wagon Works also launched a plan to build cars in the first decade of the new century.  This was done during the same time they were building wagons and the public was assured that they would continue manufacturing these vehicles just as they had since 1882.  Ultimately, the old wagon factory served as the origin of some of the earliest Buick and Chevrolet cars.

In Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, the Swab Wagon Company is still in business with the same name it carried in the 1800’s.  Like many others, Swab became actively involved in building bodies for early autos.  The company built their first fire-related vehicle in 1890 and, today, they specialize in the production of emergency vehicles for police, fire, and rescue needs as well as animal transports and utility bodies.  With roots to 1868, the brand is still family-owned and stands as one of the country’s oldest continuously-operated transportation manufacturers.

Located north of Hannibal, Missouri on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, Quincy, Illinois is home to a pair of extraordinary survivors from the early wagon industry.  One of the oldest businesses in the city today is Knapheide.  Established in 1848 as Knapheide Wagon Company, the firm is well-known for its truck and van bodies, utility beds, truck caps, and tool boxes.    

As evidenced by this 1891 patent, innovation and a strong quest for excellence were a big part of Titan International’s DNA from the beginning.

Another of Quincy’s amazing success stories has deep roots in the tire and wheel industries.  Tracing its foundations to 1890, Titan International began life as the Electric Wheel Company.  As such, the company was an early producer of innovative metal wheels, wagons, tractors, crawlers, truck bodies, semi-trailers, rubber tires, carts, portable motors, and numerous other products.  Today, the firm is a powerful mainstay producing tires and wheels for agriculture, construction, forestry, mining, ATV, and lawn and garden applications.  As such, they supply tires and wheels for many well-known brands like John Deere, Case, New Holland, Kubota, and Goodyear.

So, there they are.  Just a few examples of how America’s horse-drawn wagon brands worked to overcome the trials of changing times.  Like so many early auto firms, most wagon builders met their demise by or during the Great Depression.  Nonetheless, as we’ve shared in today’s blog, a number of survivors have built strong foundations in the modern transportation industry.  Truth is, I suspect there are more companies with roots to wagon and carriage-making still around today than those who actually started out building automobiles.  It’s certainly an interesting supposition that points to even greater resilience and marketing savvy than many of our country’s first auto makers.

From field and farm to the highways and back roads, America’s early horse-drawn brands took on an overwhelming challenge to re-make themselves with reliable and relevant offerings.  It’s a heritage that’s been well rewarded with proven products, disciplined management, and forward-thinking momentum.  Ultimately, it’s no real surprise.  After all, that same focus on excellence, achievement, and customer satisfaction is what drove America’s first wheels to such prominence in the first place.  

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, LLC

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Popular Western Vehicle Blogs

Exactly 4 weeks from today, we’ll mark 5 years of consistently writing and posting at least 1 blog per week.  It will total just over 270 times that I’ve sat down and wondered what part of America’s first transportation industry to share next.  Some weeks, the subject came easy.  On other occasions, I struggled – struggled to squeeze in the time and struggled to keep the diversity of topics fresh and pertinent.  Ultimately, there were days when I wondered if we could reach the 5-year milestone.  Even though we still have a few weeks to go, it’s good to see the goal so close.  So, as a bit of a reflection and nod to what continues to be an amazing research and writing experience, I thought we might look back at a few of the most popular posts to date.

Most of America's early wagon makers were small shops serving limited areas.

Some might feel that the older posts on our site would have inherently accumulated more traffic.  There’s a certain amount of logic to that line of thinking.  However, as I’ve reviewed the list of topics, it’s clear that some pieces have just naturally attracted more interest – regardless of the age of the post.  Case in point, several of my articles from this year have already risen to the top 10% in total views.      

As a general rule, there always seems to be a fair amount of interest anytime we’re focused on a particular vehicle type.  While many folks have their own idea of the perfect set of wheels, when it comes to our overall readership, it doesn’t seem to matter which type we focus on – farm, freight, ranch, coach, military, or business.  As long as the details are documented and the information is there, the traffic finds a way to the stories.  Our all-time, most popular posting was one I wrote back in 2012.  This particular piece wasn’t overly lengthy but it pointed out a number of ways that farm wagons are different.  It’s a message that we’ve shared for decades.  Unfortunately, some perceptions are hard to change and we continue to see how misperceptions not only degrade and oversimplify these old wheels but actually contribute to the demise of valuable history.  The truth is, no two of these workhorses will ever be exactly the same.  It might be variations in condition, accessories, features, or overall designs that create the contrast.  Or, it may be differences in the brand, age, completeness, levels of originality, or even the color and graphics that help set a particular vehicle apart.  Ultimately, every detail can be crucial when determining collectability, value, rarity levels, and overall provenance.

Stake rings were used for a multitude of purposes.  This photo shows the rings helping extend the support and height of the bolster stakes (standards).

The most popular blogs related to early vehicle brands (at least of the ones I’ve written) include Weber, Electric Wheel Company, Abbot-Downing, Moline, and Studebaker to name a few.  There are a great many more brands that we’ve yet to feature.  Some relatively unknown 19th century makes like Star, Whitewater, Kansas, and Jackson have also generated their fair share of interest.  

The early wagon and coaching industries were filled with larger-than-life personalities such as the Studebaker brothers in South Bend, Lewis Downing and J. Stephens Abbot of Concord, New Hampshire, early freighter and U.S. Senator, Alexander Caldwell (Kansas & Caldwell wagons), Peter Schuttler of Chicago, Henry Mitchell of Racine, the Nissen families in North Carolina, and so many more.  I’ve highlighted several of these legendary vehicle builders in my blogs.  At the end of the day, though, the craftsman that seems to regularly attract the most interest may also be the one whose history is among the murkiest – Joseph Murphy.  Established in 1825, the history of Murphy wagons is filled with hearsay – especially when comments are brought up about the giant freight wagons he allegedly built for use on the Santa Fe Trail.  The claims could be true but, to date, there has been a general lack of primary source evidence to back up the assertions.  It’s also regularly stated that Murphy was extremely quality-conscious with the manufacture of his wagons.  Just over a decade ago, we were able to independently verify that claim with the discovery of a number of original letters dating to the early and mid-1880’s.  Several of the notes were hand-written by Joseph Murphy and give explicit instructions on how and when to cut raw timber for use in his wagons.  The documents also lend some insight into the wood sizes and manufacturing needs Murphy’s business was experiencing.  We expect to have another opportunity in the fall of 2017 to share more about Mr. Murphy during a meeting with the Santa Fe Trail Association and National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  I’ll have more info on that conference as we get a little closer.  

Finally, we occasionally get requests to profile a particular topic.  Such was the case with an email we received back in 2013 asking about the inventor of the cast thimble skein.  It was a good question as the research makes clear that wagons used in 18th century events such as America’s Revolutionary War did not use cast skeins… someone please cue Hollywood to take note.

 The Wheels That Won The West® Archives house hundreds of original coaching images. The photo above features an Abbot-Downing Concord Coach used on the Good Intent stage line.

So, there it is – a brief list of highlights from the last 5 years of our blogs.  Do I have another 5 years of blogs in me?  Good question.  With increasingly challenging work schedules and vehicle projects, there may be a time down the road when we need to reduce the posting frequency a bit.  Who knows?  Maybe it will increase.  Whatever the case, we’re grateful for the privilege of overseeing so much history – and equally thankful to share time with you each week.  Don’t forget to stay in touch and pass along a few of your own stories.  We’d enjoy hearing from 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, LLC

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sheep Camp Wagon Patents

Not long ago, I read a piece estimating that 80% of the world’s gold has yet to be uncovered.  It’s one of those thought-provoking assertions that helps remind us of how much opportunity still exists in this world.  In a similar way, I believe that the vast majority of what there is to learn about America’s first transportation industry has yet to be discovered.  We may know a fair amount but most of us still don’t have all the pages of the early trade publications committed to memory.  It’s a humbling reminder of the extreme depth of this subject and how far we have to go to preserve what’s left.   

Truth is, in order to save and properly share our heritage, we must first be able to recognize it.  The only way to recognize and fully appreciate this part of yesterday is to develop a more solid understanding of the vehicles, brands, parts, processes, people, challenges, innovations, and industry practices. 

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any shortcuts to acquiring so much information.  As a result, over the last 20-plus years, I’ve chased more than my fair share of discarded history.  Along the way, I’ve logged tens of thousands of hours in the hunt for old documents, forgotten artifacts, and other unknown details related to wheels from the horse-drawn era.  It’s an obsession that’s taken me all over the U.S. in a continual search for answers.  And, yes, the efforts can seem a little crazy even to me at times.  Nonetheless, the process has allowed us to recognize, recover, and gather thousands of period artifacts and images.  Along the way, we’ve been able to help preserve and showcase a world of information – including the establishment of time frames pointing to evolutionary differences in wagons and early western vehicles.  In other words, every old wagon isn’t the same as another. 

Housed in our Wheels That Won The West® Archives, this early photo of a Sheep Camp wagon shows a divided front door.  This was a common design, allowing the lower portion of the door to be closed while driving.

Some of these character traits can even highlight ways that competition drove innovation – just as it does today.  For instance, did you know that almost every type of early horse-drawn wagon had multiple patents attached to its design?  There is one early style, though, that I’ve yet to find a single patent directly associated with… the chuck wagon.  Typically built on early farm, military, and mountain wagon running gears (any of which may have had its own patents), these rolling kitchens were truly custom creations for almost every outfit.  Studebaker Manufacturing Company in South Bend, Indiana did offer and produce a ‘Round-Up’ chuck wagon for use on ranches in the early 1880’s.  Even though it was equipped with Studebaker’s own version of a chuck box and pantry, it was merely a ‘ready-made’ chuck wagon and wasn’t patented. (Although the steel skeins on the running gear were).  It’s a different story for a wealth of other wagon styles though.  From farm, freight, and business wagons to military and even sheep wagons, each of these vehicle types had some connection to legally protected ideas. 

To that point, I recently uncovered what may be the only patents ever granted for Sheep Camp wagons – also known as sheep wagons and sheepherder wagons.  As far as I know, today’s blog is the first public notice of these patents in well over a century.  Each is a discovery we were fortunate to make and, likewise, each is another reminder of how we’re often required to adjust what we thought we knew about America’s first transportation industry.

The oldest sheep wagon patent I came across was applied for in January of 1899.  It primarily dealt with ways to keep the living quarters more comfortable from outdoor conditions.  More specifically, the patent describes construction features engineered to keep the wagon interior “absolutely wind-proof and dust-proof.”  Additionally, the design was complemented with a large hook mounted on the side of the wagon for holding harness.  When not in use, the hook was fashioned to fold flush and out of the way.

Filed in 1908, the second patent also came well after the commonly acknowledged creation of the sheep wagon in the 1880’s.  Yet, almost every feature listed in this patent seems to be a replication of elements that were likely already included on many sheep wagons.  It’s hard to see a substantial difference that would have allowed for a legitimate patent.  Even so, the legal proclamation was granted in 1909.   

This illustration is part of a Sheep Camp wagon patent that was granted in 1909.  

Like so many other sheepherder wagons, the 1909 patent calls for a bed to lie transverse to the length of the wagon box.  A pull-out table was located under the bed, side bunks doubled as seating and storage, an indoor stove was positioned near the door, the door, itself, was divided in half, and the rear window included a hinged and sliding sash.  Additionally, there were a host of other commonly-seen accoutrements listed in the patent. 

It’s possible that, with large national manufacturers like Studebaker, Stoughton, Mitchell, Milburn, Winona, Kentucky, and Racine-Sattley all taking an interest in Sheep Camp beds, the attention may have caused some to want to secure ownership rights on the most popular designs.  At this point, it’s hard to say.  We just don’t have enough details to know on what grounds this particular patent was submitted and granted.  As is the case in so many discoveries, the finding of one piece of a puzzle may help answer some questions.  At the same time, it can open the door to a whole new can of worms.

Today, Sheepherder wagons are still extremely popular.  From collectors and resort operators to private guest quarters, working ranches, and competitions, the custom creations have a way of providing a world of unforgettable memories in a truly ‘moving’ design.  

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, LLC

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Early Transportation Innovations

It seems to me that it might be easier to discuss the existence of the Easter bunny compared to the challenges of convincing some that America’s first transportation industry was full of innovation.  After all, antique horse-drawn vehicles are just raw and rudimentary efforts that are only slightly elevated over stone age tools, right?  Of course, that’s wrong but some perceptions can be hard to overcome.

Decades ago, when I began researching this subject, I came across a number of period materials outlining the size and complexity of America’s early transportation industry.  It was the first of many breakthroughs helping highlight the need for sufficient historical reports.  In the process, the discoveries opened doors to countless intriguing – and still untold – stories.  I’ll never forget the first time I accessed U.S. patent records related to horse-drawn wagons.  With thousands upon thousands of patents filed and granted in the nineteenth century, it was dizzying to see so much ingenuity occurring in what is often called ‘simpler’ times. 

Equally impressive, many of these ideas have served as foundational concepts for a wealth of advancements in the auto industry.  After all, horse drawn vehicles were the primary method of wheeled transportation in America for roughly 200 years and many of the most basic requirements remain similar today.  During the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s, numerous designs were created, adapted, and evolved for purposes of the day.  Some of those ideas have even become part of our most modern needs and activities.

So, with intellectual property being such a hot topic and well-known part of business these days, I thought we’d take a look at some wheeled ideas born at least a century ago that are still being used.

The Pop-Up Camper…

Surely, one of the great space-saving innovations of the mid to late 20th century is the pop-up camper.  It’s easy to tow, stow, maneuver, and use while packing a wealth of space for outdoor camping trips.  It seems natural that something so advanced would have been developed by modern minds focused on a shrinking world and the need for efficient, cost-effective, multi-purpose designs, right?  Well, not exactly. 

Believe it or not, these concepts were first engineered for and incorporated into horse-drawn wagons.  That’s right… Wagons.  Even in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, camping was a popular activity in America.  So, it’s fairly easy to find a number of patents covering variations of pop-up and adjustable camp transportation. 

 This patent for a pop-up wagon camper was filed more than a century ago in 1916.

  Developed in the early 1890's, this patent for a wagon camper shows tremendous similarities to modern RV's. 

While not a pop-up design, the McMaster Camping Car (wagon) was one of America’s first true RV campers.  It was patented in the 1880’s, included a host of home-style comforts, and was actually used on excursions within Yellowstone National Park.  I wrote a blog on this ultra-rare vehicle some time ago. 

The Refrigerated Truck…

From beverages and perishable foods to medical needs, refrigerated trucks and trailers are a very common sight today.  Incredibly, it’s an idea with roots to horse-drawn wagons and dates to as early as the 1870’s. 

This beverage cooler was designed for horse-drawn wagons. It dates to the early part of 1879 and incorporates block ice and ventilation fans for optimum refrigeration.

Mobile Scissor Lifts…

In today’s worlds of manufacturing, construction, maintenance, and repair, the convenience of mobile scissor lifts continues to play a vital role.  More secure than simple extension ladders and having an expanded work space, these rolling scaffolds are equipped for a multitude of uses.  Even so, it’s a concept that’s been a part of American life for well over a century.  In fact, the 1904 patent image below clearly shows the benefits of having an adjustable platform on wheels.  

  Submitted to the U.S. Patent office in 1904, this unique scissor-lift concept has become a valued part of life in the modern era.

Built-in Tailgate Steps…

Those 21st century ‘step’ additions to the rear bumpers and tailgates of pickup trucks must be an overdue idea, right?  I mean, climbing into the back of a truck bed can be hard on the back and knees, especially if you’re carrying a load.  Well, back in the 1890's, the challenge was the same for our ancestors.  As a result, having a collapsible step attached to a wagon’s end gate (tailgate) was an equally important idea to some folks.  Take a look at the patent image below. 

 Two Wisconsin men are credited with this nineteenth century patent featuring a built-in step to the back of a wagon box.   Filed with the patent office in 1896, the idea has been emulated in modern pickup truck designs.

It seems that the old adage about ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ still has a lot of merit.  As such, the early innovations I shared above are just a few of the ideas initiated during the world of wagons that have found their way into modern life.  Twin axle steering control, fixed axle steering, leaf spring suspension, bead locks for wheels/tires, run-flat tires, convertible tops, vehicle fenders, dump bed designs, automatic brakes, and so many other concepts that were drawn up in the horse-drawn era remain as pertinent ideas today. 

No matter how deceivingly simple it may appear, America’s first transportation industry and the specialized needs of wagons moving west created a world of innovation.  It’s a legacy so strong that we're still benefiting from ideas born in the horse-drawn age.    

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, LLC