Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brand Builder Answers

Last week, I posted a few of the numerous wagon brands marketed by early vehicle builders and asked for thoughts on who made what.  While there were quite a few visitors to that blog, no one ventured any guesses.  I won’t give away all of the answers this week but, here are a few details on some of the relatively unknown brands...   

  • Overland – This was a lower-priced, sister brand to a Newton wagon.
  •  Chief – ‘Chief’ was a farm truck brand made by the Fort Smith Wagon Company.
  • Superior – Built by the Abingdon Wagon Company in Abingdon, Illinois. 
  • Gate City – Made by the Winona Wagon Company in Winona, Minnesota.
  • L. R. V. – One of several vehicle brands made by the Auburn Wagon Company in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
  • Red Hickory – This was a farm wagon brand built by the Florence Wagon Company in Florence, Alabama.
  • Fairfield – Built and marketed by J. Turney & Company in Fairfield, Iowa, this was a value-priced option to the firm’s flagship ‘Charter Oak’ brand.           

From trademark construction features to differences in brands over time, the information shown above is just a small sampling of the wealth of data found inside our Archives.  Spanning almost 200 years of America’s horse drawn history, this one-of-a-kind collection continues to grow and remains focused on preserving our wood-wheeled past.  Almost weekly, we're fortunate to uncover even more all-but-lost details.  Ultimately, the process is helping countless individuals and organizations understand more about specific vehicles and the true provenance of a set of wheels. 

Coming soon... We’ll cover a different, ‘lower form’ of wagon.  In the meantime, if you’ve run across a brand you don’t recognize, send us some good photos.  We’d be glad to take a look.

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, July 20, 2016

Wagon Maker Brands

For the next few weeks, my blog will be shorter than normal.  My computer is in the shop and single-finger typing on this iPad is a bit of a challenge.  So, in an effort to keep the length reined in, we'll cover a subject I'm often quizzed about by using a quiz itself.

Over the past few decades, I've shared many of the difficulties involved in the study of America's early wagon and western vehicle makers.  One of the complications is the sheer size of the country's first transportation industry.  While the tens of thousands of manufacturers are impressive in scope, trying to get a handle on such a large crowd can turn almost any research into an intimidating process.  Even more challenging are the massive numbers of additional brands marketed by these companies.  Knowing who built what and where is more than interesting background in the provenance of a set of wheels - it can be crucial to understanding the value, age, originality levels, and desirability of each survivor.

Reinforcing the hurdles mentioned above, I've set up a brief list of brand names from different builders. Take a look below and see how many of the brands you recognize.  Next week, I'll share any correct answers I receive.  There were countless others, all contributing to the complexity of this subject.  (Oh, be advised - some brands were built by multiple makers)

- Jack Rabbit

- Overland

- Ajax

- Chief

- California

- Superior

- The Dutch

- Western Special

- Gate City

- Hickory (not Old Hickory)

- L. R. V.

- Red Hickory

- Rockford

- Fairfield

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, July 13, 2016

Senter House Stagecoach

Some of America’s most attention-getting horse drawn vehicles are stagecoaches.  So much so, that individuals, museums, and especially businesses, like Wells Fargo, use these pieces as significant elements in advertising and promotions.  Of course, from East to West, there was an amazing variety of staging vehicles.  When it comes to the more recognized Concord-style coaches, though, there are generally three basic types – Hotel, City, and Western.  Each featured a triple reach design as well as a thoroughbrace suspension.  The heavy Concords were also built in a range of sizes including 6, 9, and 12 passenger configurations.  While thousands of stages were built across the U.S., according to well-known stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, less than 10% of the legendary Abbot–Downing Concords are known to have survived.  A number of them are showcased in Wells Fargo’s Historical Museums as well as other public and private collections.  (As a side note, I just received an email from Ken letting us known that he'll be profiling the oldest known surviving coach - no. XXXI - in the October 2016 issue of the "Carriage Journal."  As with all of his research, this is bound to be an interesting read.)

This rare Concord coach was ordered in 1850 by Curtis Coe for use at the Senter House in Center Harbor, NH.

Another survivor, a city coach built well over a century and a half ago, is cared for today by the Sandwich Historical Society in Sandwich, New Hampshire.  In 2017, the Society will celebrate its 100th Anniversary and, with that milestone in mind, it seemed like a good time to share a little more about this particular coach.  Inside our Archives is a piece originally published in the April 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly.”  On page 162 of that trade publication is a photograph showing this same nine-passenger stagecoach.  At the time, the Senter House Coach was already more than a half-century in age.  The image included the follow caption...      

“The accompanying cut represents a coach built by the Abbot-Downing Co., Concord, N.H., for a hotel at Center Harbor, N.H., known then as the Senter House.  The order was placed on April 20, 1850, and the completed vehicle was shipped June 15th of the same year.  The coach has been in continuous service since that time and the original linings and trimmings are in good condition : the same wheels are under it.  The most of the work was done by Major Downing himself who, in recent years has enjoyed many a ride in it.”

While the image caption above seems to indicate the coach was built by the joint Abbot-Downing firm, the vehicle was actually constructed while J. Stephens Abbot and Lewis Downing had gone separate ways.  The firm of L. Downing & Sons built the coach.  It is said that Major Lewis Downing, Jr. visited the coach in 1900 and claimed that, “with a few general repairs it will stand the racket for many years to come.”    

Like many other early resort communities, the Senter House was a large hotel using coaches for transporting guests and providing tours of the surrounding area.   The photo and details from the century-plus-old story is like so many other parts of our past.  It helps build and strengthen the provenance of the surviving coach while giving us a more complete picture of the era.  Likewise, it’s another example of why we devote so much time and energy to digging through and helping preserve early records.

Coach #84 was ordered in 1865 for the Butterfield Overland Despatch.

Looking at a slightly different-styled Concord; several years ago, I profiled a western mail stage in the Articles section of our website. The coach has an equally storied history and is currently housed in the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.  Built in 1865, this Abbot-Downing survivor is number 84.  It was historically conserved in 2003 and offers a rare opportunity to see the wheeled West as it was.    

With several hundred period stagecoach photos already in our Archives, we continue to add rare, original images of these pieces to our collection on a regular basis.  Among the more recent acquisitions is a cabinet photo documenting the retirement of the ‘Good Intent’ stage line after completion of the Chartiers railroad in Pennsylvania.  This glimpse into yesterday will likely date to the early 1870’s and prominently features a Concord with 4 horse hitch, coach lamps, and leather boots, front and rear. 

More details on American stagecoaches can be found in a number of early books including “Stagecoach and Tavern Days” by Alice Morse Earle, “Six Horses” by Capt. William Banning and George Hugh Banning, and “Old Waybills” by Alvin F. Harlow.  Wells Fargo even has a more recent book entitled, “Time Well Kept” that includes several high quality images of Concord coaches in their history museums.  All of these and many others have a great deal to share about this part of our early transportation history.  Enjoy the reads!

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, July 6, 2016

Chicago Wagons

From the moment the first wheel was built in America, there was a need in every community for reliable transportation.  In fact, period records focused on the wagon and carriage trade make it clear that vehicles for personal and business purposes were highly sought after.  As it turns out, some of the most legendary wagon makers were originally based in Chicago, Illinois.  Among the more notable brands are Peter Schuttler, Weber, Louis Palm, and Columbus.  Even Henry Mitchell (Mitchell Wagons) who ultimately made Racine, Wisconsin his home, started out in Chicago.  Of course, St. Louis often receives accolades as a major center for early transportation and the city certainly deserves the ‘Gateway to the West’ moniker.  However, Chicago was no stranger to the vehicle industry either, claiming more than 200 wagon and carriage makers during the heyday of horse-drawn vehicle making. 

With the U.S. economy supporting tens of thousands of vehicle builders in both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, understanding all there is to know about just one manufacturer can be tough.  Yet, having an awareness of who did what, when, where, how, and why is just part of the role of any historian.  For me, it’s also been helpful in the evaluation process for vehicle purchases. 

A good deal of information that supports this process is contained in the original catalog collection housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Even so, there are often gaps in tracking builders from year-to-year.  Those historians and collectors that do search for period literature know that finding wagon-maker brochures from a time just prior to the turn of the twentieth century can be a challenge.  Finding even earlier catalogs published before the 1890’s requires an extra dose of patience.  They are rarely found.  Looking even farther back in time, catalogs and promotional literature connected to the days of America’s Centennial or earlier are practically non-existent.  The result is that, when conducting research during these eras, we often have to rely on books, newspapers, and other accounts printed during the periods.  

To that point, I spend a fair amount of time rooting out forgotten facts wherever they can be found.  So it was that I recently came across a pre-Civil War story highlighting wagon makers in Chicago.  The article gives us some insights into a number of builders who saw and supported so much of America’s westward migration.  One example is the Weber Wagon Company.  After only a decade or so in business, it appears that, Henry Weber’s business was still relatively small.  In fact, prior to the 1860’s, Weber is said to have employed around 18 workers while finishing 200 wagons per year.  Even though the company built quality products, the earliest production numbers were quite modest, especially compared to the growth experienced after International Harvester bought the brand in 1904. 

Certain elements of Weber’s logo design and construction features were changed after the brand was purchased by International Harvester in 1904.

In contrast to Weber, after roughly a decade in business, the Peter Schuttler Wagon Company was a beehive of activity.  Its popularity was clear for all to see.  In fact, during this part of the 19th century, the brand was producing some 1800 (largely hand-built) wagons per year while employing at least a hundred men.  Many Schuttler wagons were sold to Mormons moving West at the time.  From employment to production, by the 1850’s, Schuttler was already more than 5 times larger than Weber.  It’s a point further reinforced by period accounts pointing to Schuttler as the largest factory serving the western trade at the time. (For a look at what they were building during these years, see my article on the Steamboat Arabia find in the ‘Article’ section of our website.  I also wrote an even more detailed look on this 1856 Schuttler in the January 2008 issue of the Carriage Journal magazine.)

Locating original wagons with large amounts of original paint is an increasingly difficult task.  This Peter Schuttler running gear at is a rare find. 

By the mid 1850’s, the city of Chicago was just under twenty years old.  Its population had swelled to near 80,000 and it was supported by less than a hundred vehicle builders – many of them of Germans who had yet to learn the English language.  Quality, though, is a universal language.  As folks saw the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and dependability of certain makes, they clamored for more.  The value packed into so many of these early icons was clear with the result being that, still today, the Peter Schuttler and Weber brands remain highly desirable to early vehicle collectors.  Even so, it’s difficult to find a Weber wagon built prior to the company’s purchase by International Harvester.  Nonetheless, from clothing and signage to the vehicles, themselves, collectors continue to scour the country looking for survivors that started out in Chicago. 

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