Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Antique Wagon & Stagecoach Collection

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time soaking up details from countless, horse-drawn vehicle catalogs, photos, patents, ledgers, directories, and even blueprints.  The exercise has been vital to understanding the evolution and changes within individual brands as well as capturing unparalleled insights into America’s first transportation industry.  Even so, the value of traveling to different locations and viewing actual vehicles in their native surroundings is irreplaceable.  From the rugged terrain of the mountainous West to the wide open feel of the plains, every old set of wheels was built as much for a certain region as well as a particular purpose.

From California to Virginia, Texas to North Dakota, and Mississippi to Delaware, I’ve had the privilege of viewing public and private collections all over the U.S.  Some are focused on specific designs while others encompass a broader range of vehicle types.  One of the most diverse collections I’ve come across is the group gathered by Doug Hansen in Letcher, South Dakota.  While many know Doug for the early vehicles he and his team have restored or built, fewer have seen the full spectrum of his personal collection.  Recently, he shared several photos with us that showed nine different western vehicles in his collection.  From an early spring wagon and Concord coach to a pair of large freighters and heavy-duty log wagons, these old wheels do a good job of conveying the wide range of vehicles used on the frontier. 

The wide assortment of transportation in Doug Hansen’s collection helps reinforce the different vehicle designs used on America’s western frontier.

One of the rarer pieces in Hansen’s collection is a Peter Schuttler brand log truck.  It’s a vehicle equipped with several unique features including a patented axle truss.  Schuttler built four different models of this design with capacities ranging from three to six tons.  With it engineered to carry so much weight, the gear is fashioned with massive bolsters and hounds as well as beefy brake blocks and hubs.  It also features an oscillating reach for navigation of rugged, uneven terrain.  Provenance of the vehicle ties it to the famed Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota.  The mine closed just after the turn of the 21st century but, it was once considered to be the largest gold mine in North America.  Gold was discovered there in 1876 and silver was also uncovered in the mine.  According to Hansen, there is a sister wagon to this one in the Days of ‘76 Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota.  From the gold mining connection to the brand, itself, these wheels carry some intriguing history. 

This Peter Schuttler wagon gear was referred to as a Montana Log Truck.

Also in Hansen’s collection is a stagecoach with roots to the Redig, South Dakota community.  This special mud wagon was acquired in 1997 and restored by Hansen and his team in Letcher.  Since completion, it’s been driven on numerous historic trails, including the legendary Ft. Pierre to Deadwood route.  The period photo below is part of the vehicle’s personal history or provenance, providing greater documentation and authentication to the piece.

Doug Hansen purchased this historic stagecoach nearly two decades ago and restored it to its original glory.

Among other vehicles in the collection is a tall-sided Studebaker freight wagon that Hansen restored several years ago.  These heavy vehicles were essential in keeping the West outfitted throughout the mid to late 1800’s.  Nonetheless, most of these giant transports have not survived so it’s important to give due credit when we run across one.  Of course, farm wagons were also a popular design in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  While most of these have also disappeared, millions were created so there are naturally more that have survived.  A few years back, Hansen shared that he came across an original, triple box Mitchell farm wagon.  Mitchell is a legendary brand with deep roots in the 1800’s.  He was fortunate to find it in exceptional condition with a great deal of original paint. 

Diversity, provenance, quality condition, and high levels of originality are strong elements to have in any early vehicle collection.

Clearly, Doug has an eye for rare pieces and we appreciate the opportunity to see a few of his keepsakes.  From time to time, we’ll be sharing other collections of America’s early wagons, coaches, and western vehicles.  So, if you have a special set of wheels or an entire warehouse full that you’d like us to feature here, drop us a line.  We’d love to hear from you.  It’s always a pleasure to see and share history.  Have a great week!

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.  Remember - IF YOU DON'T VERIFY - you won't receive the emailed blogs.  So, make sure you check the email confirmations and verify.  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 throughout the year. 

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 20, 2016

Viewing History Through Early Wheels

Every day we come across history and, often, those encounters are taken for granted or missed altogether.  When that happens, we all lose.  We lose a richness and depth of culture as well as pieces of history that can never be replaced.  So prevalent is transportation history in American society that we continue to see remnants of it in the words and phrases we use as well as in interstate commerce. 

To that point, our Wheels That Won The West® Archives aren’t just devoted to collecting and storing history but to uncovering and sharing it.  (And congrats to all of you reading this that do the same.  From school visits and historical presentations to published works and special events, your work is a valuable and essential part of preserving our past)  Likewise, we’re committed to digging for and discovering new details that help us better appreciate our first transportation industry.  Understanding those all-but-lost inner workings of the old trade have a way of growing our respect for the period vehicles while allowing us to pass along a more vivid heritage to future generations.  It’s a point that was recently reinforced to me through some of our research. 

Many are likely aware of a wagon brand by the name of Buerkens.  The company was located in Pella, Iowa and dates its beginnings to the mid-1860’s.  Not long after moving to Pella from Burlington, Iowa, it seems the firm’s founder, Barney Buerkens, struck up a deal with James Sexton.  At the time, Sexton was a blacksmith and Buerkens needed someone to help fabricate the metalwork for his wagons.  As time went on, Mr. Sexton became something of an inventor with at least six patents awarded to him between 1869 and 1880.  He was even purported to have built the first bicycle in Iowa during the 1860’s.

This Sexton brake ratchet image was part of an improved patent application filed in 1879.  The original concept was submitted by J.B. Sexton in 1876.

Two of the patents awarded to J.B. Sexton dealt with a wagon brake lever that was commonly referred to as the Sexton or Pella brake ratchet.  The design dates to as early as the mid 1870’s and was sold by the thousands upon thousands.  The unique part of the configuration was that, instead of a ratchet and pawl being located on top of the brake bracket, it was on the bottom, below the pivot point.  This adjustable, self-locking design was easy to operate, allowing the brake to maintain consistent pressure without constant oversight and correction.  The design was so prevalent that it’s still fairly common to run across them on antique wagons today.

So, other than locating the information, how does all of this tie into our files?  As many know, just over a decade ago, we introduced a limited edition print entitled, “Making Tracks.”  While preparing materials for the creation of the print, we reviewed a considerable number of early sales pieces for wagons and decided to include a few of the more popular brake ratchet designs as part of the artwork.  Among the brake concepts shown in the print is the Sexton.  At the time, I didn’t know that the inventor of the ratchet was once a partner of sorts in the production of Buerkens wagons.  Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see how so much history continues to overlap.  As we might say today – ‘It’s a small world.’

This exclusive, limited edition print features wagon-making gear and heavy vehicle accessories common in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

For the record, identifying a particular brake style on a wagon does not necessarily tell us anything about the wagon – brand identity or otherwise.  Why?  Because these parts were (and still are) often re-purposed and moved to vehicles they did not originate with.  Additionally, most of the brakes used on early wagons were not proprietary designs.  In other words, the configurations were not necessarily exclusive to a particular brand.  That said, “sometimes” a brake can be helpful in pinpointing details associated with a specific vehicle.  Even so, it often requires a good bit of knowledge about the vehicle’s timeframe of manufacture as well as other considerations to know what any element on these works is actually saying. 

One thing's for sure, when you see a proper noun added as a descriptive to an early vehicle feature, it’s time to take note as there is more rich history just waiting to be shared.  Just like the "Sexton" brake, whether you’re talking about Sandage skeins, Concord coaches, Oregon brakes, or Sarven, Warner, or Archibald hubs, there are a number of early vehicle features named after their inventors or locations of origin.  Understanding that truth can help lead to the discovery of even more history while reinforcing the rich past carried by an old set of wheels.  

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 13, 2016

Studebaker Military Ambulances

Among early vehicle enthusiasts, there’s no shortage of discussions related to period military Escort Wagons as well as 6-Mule or even 4-Mule Army Wagons.  Less talked about, though, are the dozens of other early military transports such as Lance, Lumber, Battery, Balloon, Abutment, Telegraph, Trestle, Forge, Tool Wagons and more.  Another seldom-covered essential vehicle dating to America’s horse-drawn military era is the Ambulance.  With origins in a multiplicity of uses, including as a stage and officer’s wagon, there is still a lot to be uncovered about this particular design.

1968 Evan Ambulance

This rare illustration dates to 1868 and shows one view of an ambulance designed by Thomas Evans.  It’s from an original promotional booklet in our collection and held in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

It’s been close to a century since the legendary Studebaker Bros. Company sent horse-drawn military vehicles into the field.  From heavy army wagons to light carts and artillery pieces, the company created a host of vehicle types for use by the military.  To that point, not long ago, I ran across an 1898 article referencing “Rucker” ambulances that Studebaker was building for the Spanish-American War.  Originally designed by Brigadier General D.H. Rucker, the layout came into use during the latter part of the Civil War.  This week, I thought I’d pass along a part of that story from the well-known, early trade publication called, “The Hub.” 

“The half-tone illustration herewith represents one of six train loads of United States Government ambulances, built by Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing Co., South Bend, Ind.  This company has received orders for 500 of these ambulances since the outbreak of hostilities with Spain, and up to the present time they have shipped 316;  50 are to be delivered weekly until the order is filled.  These are known as the Rucker ambulance.  The sides are composed of three white duck curtains which may be rolled up if desired.  Under the front end of the wagon and extending the full width of it is a water tank 16 x 9 inches.  The inside of the body is fitted out to accommodate six persons.  Two adjustable partitions are made to fit in the bottom, which may be taken out when not in use.  Each of these partitions is capable of accommodating one person.  Two swings are suspended from the top, leaving room for two bodies to be placed above the lower partitions.  The wagons will be finished in natural wood.  In addition to the ambulances, the Studebaker Co. received orders for 1,000 army wagons, 500 of which have been delivered and the remaining 500 are underway…”  

Studebaker Ambulances

This late-1890’s photo shows dozens of Rucker-style ambulances leaving the Studebaker factory in South Bend. 

Rucker Ambulance

The Rucker ambulance design was used for decades by the U.S. Army.

As with virtually every aspect of America’s first transportation industry, the subject of early ambulances is more complex than many realize.  Ambulance styles were varied and included numerous designs like the Rucker, Wheeling, Coolidge, Moses, and Tripler patterns as well as others, such as Thomas Evan’s 1868 concept shown in the first image above.  Some designs received additional credentials as found in the 1865 patent awarded to Benjamin Howard.  While certain layouts might be similar, others differed by a host of considerations including interior features, body size, weight, spring configurations, and overall functionality concerns – such as the ability of the front wheels to turn under the body of the vehicle. 

If this week’s blog has whetted your appetite for more information, you’re in luck.  In 2004, the Carriage Museum of America published a detailed book on the subject of horse-drawn military, civilian, and veterinary ambulances.  If it’s not part of your library, I’d recommend it.  It’s full of information and you can still find it on-line from a number of sources. 

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 6, 2016

A Legendary Roundup in the West

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on America’s first transportation industry to a local historical group.  A portion of the sixty-minute talk covered a wide variety of wood-wheeled vehicles produced during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  As part of that segment, I discussed a few examples of tall-sided western freighters and included a rare photo showing a half dozen large wagons engaged in an extraordinary event that took place in 1909.

Truth is, there was a lot of transitioning taking place during that year.  Henry Ford’s Model T was only a few months old.  It was the last, full year of production for Moline wagons prior to being purchased and rebranded by John Deere.  The world’s first military plane – The Wright Military Flyer – was purchased in 1909 by the U.S. Army Signal Corp and legendary Apache leader, Geronimo as well as renowned western artist, Frederic Remington, both passed away that year.  In the midst of so much change, thankfully, one other fading part of America’s western landscape was being rounded up and preserved. 

Michel Pablo’s buffalo roundup is documented with text and photos in this rare pamphlet published in 1909.

For centuries, bison – by the tens of millions – roamed America’s plains.  They were a powerful symbol of sustenance, freedom, culture, and the majestic lure of the West.  Nonetheless, by the turn of the twentieth century, there is believed to have only been around 1,000 of these creatures left in America.  The biggest of the herds was in Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation. This herd was originally started by Samuel Walking Coyote.  Begun from 4 orphaned calves, the herd slowly grew to just over a dozen and was sold to Michel Pablo and Charles Allard.  By 1900, Allard had passed away but the herd numbered several hundred strong.  All was going well until Pablo lost his grazing rights due to the government opening up the Flathead Indian reservation to settlers. 

Pablo tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the herd to the U.S. government.  At the time, there wasn’t sufficient support to purchase them.  Fortunately, the Canadian government did recognize the herd's value and made the deal with Pablo.  There were just a few rather sizeable problems.  They had to be rounded up and shipped via train cars to Canada.  As the work started, it became clear that the herd was much larger than expected.  It meant more challenges and more time would be needed to complete the task.  Ultimately, the roundups took years to complete.  Also… these weren’t domesticated cattle.  They were wild beasts with minds of their own.  They could be dangerous, running through heavy fences and rail cars, trampling anything in their way.  As the character, Pea Eye, on the legendary western movie, “Lonesome Dove” warned, “Them bulls will hook ya!” 

Some were able to be driven to the rails while others had to be caught in remote pens and hauled to rail yards for shipment to Canada.  You might be wondering how the bison were hauled?  Specially-built, tall-sided freight wagons were heavily reinforced for the cargo.  I’ve never seen any size specifications of these vehicles but, from the photo below, it’s clear they were a sight to behold.  Bulls, calves, and cows rocking the wagons and hitting the thick sideboards would have made transporting difficult and perhaps required more stops along the way. 

This rare photo shows the tall-sided, heavy duty wagons used to haul a number of America’s last buffalo to the protection of Canada.

Rounding up buffalo on horseback proved to be an enormous task for Michel Pablo.

A recent story on Fox News highlighted the return of a number of direct descendants of these buffalo to the same Montana reservation this year.  To read more about it, click here. 

Over and over, America’s early wagon industry is proven to be tied to some of this country’s most unique and legendary events.  From early freighting and mining to ranching and farming, it’s an all-out historical rush, packed with stories just waiting to be told.  

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.