Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Anchor Buggy Company – A Real Giant

Doctor’s buggies, piano-box buggies, coal-box buggies, top buggies... Whatever you call them, millions of these ubiquitous vehicles were made by thousands of companies across the U.S.  Don Berkebile, in his book “Carriage Terminology: An Historical Dictionary,” defines a buggy as being a light, 4-wheel vehicle with accommodations for one or two people but, in some instances, may also have room for 3 or 4.  The small carriage is typically hung on springs and is known for being nimble and easy to pull.  By the way, if you don’t have Mr. Berkebile’s book in your personal library, I’d recommend getting a copy.  You may be able to find it through the Carriage Association of America, Ebay,, or other outlets like Wild Horse Books

While this particular type of light carriage isn’t often thought of as being a ‘western vehicle,’ it was a familiar sight in the West.  Ranchers, farmers, businessmen, liveries, and even the military utilized them.  Their agile, easy operation and relatively low cost made them an extremely popular set of wheels.  Catalog Order Houses like Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, and others capitalized on their widespread desirability, offering price ranges as low as $25–$40 for a new buggy.  So affordable were the rates that buggies became even more prevalent and, today, they’re still a common sight.

With so many builders creating buggies of every style imaginable, it was hard for some manufacturers to compete.  Like anything that becomes pervasive, there was only so much business to go around.  As a result, the selling price could easily become the main focus for consumers shopping for these wheels.  Some sellers perpetuated the issue – effectively undercutting their own profitability – by engaging in price wars.  It’s a tactic that never works for long.  After all, it’s virtually impossible to always have the lowest price and best quality while still selling enough products to pay for employees, supplies, tools, raw materials, and other expenses – not to mention the need to grow the business through some semblance of profit.

The Anchor Buggy Company had a lot to be proud of.  Helping celebrate its first decade of business, this piece of promotional art showcased several of the different carriages they offered.

So, beyond price, how did manufacturers set themselves apart?  For some, the answer to success was a blend of craftsmanship, innovation, effective marketing, and… location.  Real estate and business moguls have long heralded the importance of “location, location, location.”  For some of the earliest vehicle makers, the phrase highlighted the advantages of setting up shop next to a power source (water), shipping company (railroad or waterway), substantial community, or area with plenty of natural resources.  To that point, modern day transportation historians are well aware of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania.  Known as “Buggy Town,” the community is said to have produced more horse-drawn vehicles per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.  Even so, other American cities held equally strong reputations for turning out quality horse-drawn vehicles.  One of those areas was Cincinnati, Ohio.  Home to at least sixty carriage and accessory factories, the city produced as many as 250,000 vehicles annually.  So significant was the metropolis that, by 1904, Cincinnati is said to have been the largest carriage center in the world.

This extraordinary print ad demonstrates the very unique and durable qualities of an Anchor brand buggy.

Helping lead the charge in Cincinnati was a firm by the name of ‘Anchor Buggy Company.’  Founded between 1886 and 1887 (there are conflicting period reports) and incorporated in 1910, the business was a progressive endeavor with multiple patents to its credit.  One of its well-known innovations was a patented fifth wheel and king bolt.  According to an 1895 reprint of “Modern Mechanism,” the main distinctions centered on a full-circle top and bottom (5th) wheel, with the “king bolt forming a part of five different attachments bolted together in rear of the axle by a double-head bolt, so that all wear can be taken up.”  Should a part break, the gear would not necessarily drop the body.  Rather, it was claimed that at least four breakages had to occur before the body would fall.  Combined with an ultra-flexible reach that Anchor patented in 1907, these buggies were incredibly resilient. 

Before the end of its first decade in business, the Anchor Buggy Company was crafting 18,000 vehicles per year.  By 1911, the annual production capacity had more than doubled to 45,000 light pleasure vehicles.  At the same time, Anchor was home to 350 employees.

This giant piano box buggy was shown throughout the very early 1900’s as part of a huge promotional tour driven by the Anchor Buggy Company. 

Like a number of other builders, the leaders at Anchor Buggy knew the power of promotion.  While many folks have seen the company’s ads showing the dramatic flexibility of the Anchor reach system and strength of their patented fifth wheel, most have never seen the giant buggy the company built and toured all over the U.S.  Some time back, we were extremely fortunate to discover a period photo showcasing this special piece.  It now resides with a world of rare imagery from yesterday in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Reminiscent of the huge, double-sized Moline wagon built for the 1904 World’s Fair, the mammoth Anchor Buggy was making the rounds throughout the country several years before the colossal Moline wagon became a hit on the exposition circuit.  

In 1903, the May 30th issue of “Farm Implements” magazine printed another image of this over-sized Anchor vehicle, referring to it as the “Jumbo Buggy.”  Signage attached to the carriage called it the “Largest Buggy in the World.”    It is said to have been a full fifteen feet in height with rear wheels in excess of seven feet tall.  The rolling mammoth was used in promotions from Maine to California and Ohio to Florida, stirring the imagination and talk of folks everywhere as it became the centerpiece of fairs, parades, and individual dealer events.   

As the automobile business continued to take root, the Anchor Buggy Company became interested in transitioning to this mechanized industry.  Unfortunately, the company’s prominent co-founder and President, Anthony G. Brunsman, died in 1911.  With his passing, others in the firm were less than eager to take on such a monumental effort.  In the end, the brand left a bit of a toe in the water – building auto bodies for more established brands.  Even so, it was too little, too late.  By the time the early 1920’s rolled around, the Anchor Buggy Company had joined the fate of thousands of other horse-drawn vehicle makers and was no longer listed as an active business in period directories.  The brand had grown and matured for a little over three decades.  Then, in a moment of critical transition, it succumbed to the changes of time and competition.  

When we consider all of the vehicle brands and support industries making up America’s first transportation industry, it’s hard to imagine just how much history has disappeared.  Like the giant Moline wagon shown at the 1904 World’s Fair, our century-plus-old Anchor buggy photo and the accompanying newspaper image may be all that’s left of this massive show-stopper.  That said, if anyone knows more about this piece, we’d love to hear from you. 

  “The Carriage Monthly,”  December 1904

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, August 24, 2016

Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 2

Last week, we started a discussion related to the challenges of mold and mildew growing on antique wooden vehicles.  This week, we’ll take a closer look at what is not only an important vehicle preservation issue but also a caution for potential health concerns. 

With that brief introduction, how do we both avoid and correct issues related to mildew and mold.  First, keep an eye on the humidity where your vehicle is stored.  Experts often say that a 35-50% level is a good target.  However, those lower volumes can sometimes be difficult to achieve.  The reality is that any storage atmosphere with humidity amounts consistently over 65-70% is an invitation for trouble.  So, at a minimum, it’s important to work at keeping the indoor humidity below that range.  Using dehumidifiers can be very helpful in these efforts.  You can typically find them in a number of stores like Wal-Mart, Lowes, Orscheln, Murdoch’s,, and others.  Some dehumidifiers are also paired with portable AC units.  It’s a good combination for the battle since warmer temperatures can also ratchet up the reproductive tendencies of mold and mildew.  While cooler temperatures don’t necessarily stop mold growth, cool air tends to hold less moisture than warm air.  As a result, cooler temps can help minimize the moisture content necessary for mold to grow.  Keeping indoor temps stable, without broad fluctuations, is also important. 

When it comes to the overall air quality, a general lack of airflow can actually encourage the growth of fungi.  By using indoor fans (not fans pulling in outdoor air) to help keep good air circulation in a building, the environment can be kept drier while mold spores have less of a chance to settle and form colonies.  It’s also advisable for air conditioning units to be of the proper size as oversized systems may help deliver excess moisture.  Likewise, it’s important to be mindful of surplus water from other sources.  In other words, if a building has a leak, a bucket may provide an immediate answer but, for many reasons, it’s a situation that needs to be promptly corrected.

Should you find mold and/or mildew on a vehicle, there are several points to consider.  First, let’s talk about a few of the ‘do–nots.’  Do not take a rag and merely wipe the spores from the affected areas.  It may look like the problem is gone but, essentially, all you’re doing is loosening and spreading the spores.  Not only will this help transfer the problem to even more areas on the vehicle but it’s going to send countless microscopic critters into the air and, possibly, directly into the respiratory system of you and others.  Similarly, do not attempt to clean any vehicle without the proper protective clothing, eye wear, gloves, and respiratory gear.  Do not engage in any cleaning process without ensuring that you’re containing and not spreading the spores.  Do not clean mold from a piece only to continually subject it to the same environment – or nutrients like linseed oil within that environment.  Those elements are only perpetuating the mold growth you’re fighting.  If you're intent on managing the circumstances yourself, make sure you do sufficient research and preparation on proper procedures prior to taking on the task.    

When it comes to removing mold and mildew as seen in the photos from last week’s blog, I’ve had good success using common household cleaners like a mixture of dish washing soap and water or vinegar and water – or both.  Allowing the piece to dry in the sun afterward can also help neutralize any possible leftover spores.  If you’re doing this outside in a yard, it’s worth mentioning that the vinegar will likely kill any grass it comes in contact with.  Consider yourself duly warned in case your spouse asks what caused that big dead spot!

Ultimately, this is a subject with more depth than can be focused on in a brief blog and, it’s worth your time to become more aware of the issue.  From excess humidity levels and insufficient air flow to warmer temps and available nutrient sources, there are a number of things that can quietly promote harmful mold growth.  So, before you take off in search of the next vehicle to join all of your other treasures, take a closer look inside your warehouse, shed, shop, barn, or garage.  Mold spores can be hiding where you least expect them and they’re definitely not on the list of what you want to be collecting.

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, August 17, 2016

Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 1

There are a lot of places in the world where the summer heat and humidity are hard to ignore.  It’s an oppressive combination that tends to put a lot of stress on anyone and anything it can surround.  To that point, most collectors of early transportation understand that leaving a wooden vehicle outside – in any season – can be harmful to the piece.  The negative effects are easy to see in countless rotted wagon and coach carcasses scattered across the pages of time.  The relentless hammering of the sun’s UV rays along with excessive and fluctuating temperatures have a way of overwhelming some of the most important parts of our nation’s history.  Similarly, accumulations of ice, snow, rain, bird droppings, insects, and other naturally-occurring phenomena can be equally challenging to an old set of wheels. 

Moving a vehicle inside may seem like the perfect solution to properly care for these irreplaceable treasures.  While it is a step in the right direction, it may also be premature to believe that just because it’s ‘inside’ everything will be okay.  Storing an antique vehicle indoors is just part of the process in protecting a survivor.  Properly guarding these rolling links to yesterday means staying abreast of things like temperature, humidity, and airflow as well. 

Years ago, I was visiting a large historical collection in another state.  The atmosphere of the building was reasonably comfortable since it included central heat and air.  As I walked through the dimly lit rooms, I noticed something on the back of a wagon on display.  Backed up to a wall, the rear end gates of the wagon box were covered in mold spores.  I was surprised to see it.  Truth is, though, no location or region is completely immune from these types of challenges.  There are a number of culprits that could have created this particular problem.  The air conditioning might have been funneling excessive moisture into the room.  Even more likely, since a concrete wall was just inches from the back of the wagon, I suspect it was transferring moisture to the rear end gates.  Combined with a lack of light and minimal airflow in the isolated area, this spot was a haven for mold spores to collect. 

Mold spores are a natural part of our world.  So, the fact that they’re in the air is not a surprise.  Allowing them to settle, collect, and feed as an indoor colony, though, can create real issues.  One of the most important preventative measures is vigilance.  I’m talking about a level of proactive watchfulness that goes beyond noticing problems.  For instance, how susceptible to mold is your vehicle collection in the first place?  Awareness of the makeup of wood as well as managing atmospheric conditions can go a long way in protecting a set of wheels and your health.

Someone coated this old spring seat in linseed oil.  Left to incubate in a humid and dark room, it became a feeding host for mold spores (see whiter areas).

Poor maintenance of temperatures, humidity, and wood moisture content as well as overly dark environments and other considerations can all collaborate to set the stage for the growth of mold and mildew.  Even more to the point – do you know how much moisture (humidity) is in the air around your early wooden vehicle(s)?  What temperatures are the vehicles regularly subjected to?  Are the wood fibers in a particular piece continually saturated with moisture/oil?  Answers to these (and other) questions have a way of highlighting levels of risk.  For instance, even if temperature levels are reasonably maintained, some oils – even those from your hand or soap residue – can actually provide nourishment for mold spores.  Vegetable oils – including linseed oil – can also supply a good nutrient base for the growth of fungi.  (This is just one reason I don’t recommend the use of linseed oil on an antique wooden vehicle) 

Looking beyond the poor visual appeal, what’s the harm in allowing mold and mildew to grow on an antique vehicle?  First of all, left in an unchecked condition, it will continue to grow.  Second, the fungi may destroy wood fibers or at least leave stains on and in the wood.  Third, and most critical, are the serious health concerns connected to colonies of spores.  Even though these spores are a part of nature, allowing them to grow unhindered while on and around antique vehicles is a situation that collectors want to avoid.  After all, it’s typically better to prevent problems than deal with them afterward.

Next week, I’ll cover some specific things we can all do to better protect antique vehicles and parts from the ill-effects of mold and mildew.  Talk to you then!

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, August 10, 2016

The World of Wagons, 100 Years Ago

Understanding the ins-and-outs of America’s first transportation industry requires a great deal of research.  It’s one of the reasons I spend a fair amount of time perusing the early trade papers.  Period magazines like The Spokesman, The Implement Age, The Carriage Monthly, Blacksmith and Wheelwright, and The Hub are packed with valuable details on who did what, when, where, and why.  Those publications – and others – provide a true window into yesterday, helping minimize modern-day speculation and best guesses while giving us a better appreciation of the times.  In many instances, “the good ol’ days” from the horse drawn era were just as competitive, aggressive, and stressful as corporate maneuverings today. 

Regular challenges from fires, floods, corporate takeovers, economic depressions, bank failures, raw material shortages, and other issues meant that the most successful wagon and carriage makers had to be true businessmen (and women).  They had to be intensely focused on present and future circumstances as competition in this industry demanded acumen at every level.  Even so, at the turn of the 20th century, another issue began to plague America’s horse-drawn vehicle builders.

The growing popularity of the automobile was a new kind of challenge.  It was a direct attack on the entire industry and one that was difficult for many to understand.  Initially, the industry ignored the noisy and expensive upstarts.  Progress, though, couldn’t be stopped by turning a blind eye to the facts.  Eventually, a good number of wagon and carriage makers did unite in their efforts to deal with this johnny-come-lately competitor.  In other ways, though, the added pressure to pay the bills actually reinforced hard-line competition and backbiting rumors within the ranks.  Ultimately, every dollar was vital to those struggling to keep their doors open and many did whatever they felt necessary to secure business. 

While reviewing some of what took place a century ago, I examined several issues of The Hub magazine from that time frame.  As you might imagine, topics pertaining to the continued growth of the auto industry dominated the pages.  Nonetheless, countless other articles related to stock dividends, company expansions, business failures, deaths, adjustments to sales and distribution networks, the importance of good roads, needs for vehicle standardization, values of horses and mules, proper painting methods, elimination of waste – especially with wood, and a host of other news was covered.   

The subject matter is so vast that I couldn’t begin to list everything in my weekly blog.  However, I did pick out a few tidbits that may be of particular interest to today’s western vehicle enthusiasts.  With that said, below are a few takeaways from the 1915 and 1916 issues of “The Hub.”

  • The Kentucky Wagon Company announced it would begin assembling Dixie Motor Cars and manufacture some of the parts.  Just a few years earlier, the firm had shared that they had built over 1 million wagons since 1879.
  • William T. Lewis died on December 30, 1915.  His obituary states that he was born in Utica, New York but moved to Racine, Wisconsin when he was in his mid-teens.  In 1864, he married the daughter of legendary wagon maker, Henry Mitchell.  Lewis then joined the wagon firm and, within a couple of years, the company was renamed as Mitchell, Lewis & Co.
  • Studebaker announced they would reduce weekly working hours from 55 to 50.
  •  As the Stoughton Wagon Company wrapped up its 50th anniversary, they shared some details related to the firm’s roots with legendary wagon builder, T.G. Mandt.  According to the report, Mandt’s first wagons sold for $85 each and many of his first laborers came from Norway.  Mandt is said to have paid for their passage to America but required repayment by reducing wages.  It was an agreeable arrangement for all parties.
  • A.A. Cooper (Cooper Wagons) celebrated his 86th birthday on November 9, 1915. 
  • The Florence Wagon Works (Florence, Alabama) resumed operation in June of 1915 after being closed for a few months due to slow business. 
  • The Fort Smith Wagon Company reported that its staff of 250 workers were enduring 12 hour days to fulfill a large military ambulance contract.  The vehicles were being used by the Red Cross on European battlefields.
  • While the auto industry was growing rapidly, 1914 still saw the completion and sale of 1 million horse drawn carriages.
  • For modern-day collectors looking for the earliest timeframe of a Turnbull brand (Defiance, Ohio) bob sled, the May 1915 issue of “The Hub” announced these new additions to the company’s product line.
  •  Despite rumors to the contrary, Tiffin Wagon Company (Tiffin, Ohio) vigorously denied claims that it was ceasing construction of wagons.  They shared that they had “not the remotest intention of discontinuing” production.

It’s interesting to read history first-hand.  When I was going through these pages of The Hub, it became obvious that some companies clearly understood the promotional power of the press while others only occasionally shared news about their organization.  It’s an observation that can still be made today.  In fact, the more I looked at these old stories, the more convinced I became that some things never change – even to the point of gasoline discussions.  Believe it or not, a century ago, some were calling for the government to investigate petroleum producers due to the high prices of gasoline.  One hundred years later, the price of gas (high or low) continues to be a regular topic and – albeit to a smaller number of buyers – horse drawn vehicles are still being sold.

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, August 3, 2016

Parson’s Low-Down Wagons

With thousands of different types, sizes, and brands of early horse-drawn wagons used in America, studying this part of our past can sometimes be overwhelming.  There are so many facets to the subject that we will likely never know every part of our transportation history.  That said, there is a great deal that we do know and much of that still has a way of going largely unnoticed. 

Patented designs, for instance, are not often highlighted – even though the information is important to the understanding of a vehicle’s design, value, rarity, and overall provenance.  One example of what, today, might be looked upon as a common design is a series of business wagons built by J.R. Parsons of Earlville, New York.  The custom form was patented in 1890 and almost immediately referred to as a ‘Low-Down’ wagon.  To our 21st century way of thinking, the term may sound derogatory, as though it was referring to a worthless or less-than-savory wagon experience.  In this case, though, the name points to the low-slung, physical nature of the design.  In fact, the phrase was so defining it was trademarked by Parsons.

This logo was trademarked by the early 1890’s and used to heavily promote the namesake designs as being exceptionally comfortable, efficient, and profitable. 

There were a host of benefits to the Low-Down design and many of the advantages were (and still are) easy to see.  From an overall perspective, the main body was engineered to hang below the axles.  It’s a configuration that makes the vehicle easier to load and unload; no doubt, a big plus when you’re carrying heavy articles to and from the wagon.  In addition, the dropped body helps place more weight in a lower position, where it’s easier to draw by a single horse or team. 

Those with milk deliveries were among the biggest users of the unique designs.  Some of these operators even claimed that the layout allowed them to deliver a third more milk in a given timeframe.  Period sales literature touted the rewards of the design and claimed users could benefit from time savings, convenience, comfort, and profitability.  Many of the wagons were also equipped with a patented, ball-bearing fifth wheel that required no oil or grease - so it was always clean.  The cut-under pattern was said to turn as easily when loaded as empty, so the user had no more worries with broken shafts and unnecessary strain on the horse.

Beneath the body, the forward portion of the gear was initially constructed with a reinforced A-frame support and diagonal, elliptic springs on the front axle (later designs did not necessarily have the A-frame configuration).  The upshot to the plan was that it allowed the wagon to turn tighter without sacrificing interior space, comfort, stability, and ease of access.  The rear half of the gear utilized a regular platform hung from irons that extended under the body.  In essence, the wagon enjoyed great stability with a series of smooth-riding, elliptic springs.

The bodies were fabricated from ash and oak while the wheels were said to be hickory with Sarven hubs and riveted felloes.  Collinge collar steel axles protected the spindles and hubs from dust and grime while capacities on these light-running wagons could range from 600 to 2500 pounds.  Prices in the mid to late 1890’s were compatible with medium and heavy capacity farm wagons, ranging from $130 to just over $200.

The Parsons’ “Low-Down” wagon was used for a multitude of business purposes.

While popular with the milkman, the Parsons’ wagon was also readily adapted by those in the bakery, butcher, laundry, florist, department store, ice cream, and retail grocery businesses.  Even so, if a person still wanted a more traditional body mounted atop the axles, Mr. Parsons did offer a taller, straight sill wagon.  Since those models had a higher center of gravity and a much smaller turning radius, though, most folks gravitated away from the old style and readily adapted the new, ‘Low-Down’ designs.  Some will note that the company actually had another, even earlier, wagon patent dating to 1888.  This design innovation, though, utilized a tapered body which affected interior space.  This issue was overcome with the updated 1890 patent.  So, top to bottom, that’s the low-down on the ‘Low-Downs.’  

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