Wednesday, January 25, 2017

E. D. Clapp – Wagons, Staging, & Drop Forging

Researching America’s first transportation industry isn’t always an easy task.  The whole process can be extremely time-consuming and exasperating; cold trails running this way and that... hearsay, rumors, misinformation, dead ends and mysteries running rampant.  Truth is, so much of what once was common knowledge has passed into a hard-to-track category so vague, unfamiliar, and fruitless, we often label it as a four-letter word... Lost.  It’s a box canyon we’re continually fighting our way through and, along the way, celebrating when another piece of the puzzle is found. 

One of the portals offering insights and clues into days-gone-by is that of obituaries.  While it might seem a bit on the morbid side at first, these period documents can contain life overviews that are otherwise difficult to find.  Inside those information particulars, it’s not unusual to come across nuggets that help define, date, and even authenticate vehicles.  With tens of thousands of carriage and wagon makers dotting the American landscape, we’ll never get to the bottom of the history of each one but, our ultimate goal is to help introduce enough folks to these stories that we save as much of our past as possible. 

This factory illustration shows the E.D. Clapp factory in the late 1880’s

To that point, E.D. Clapp (Emerous Donaldson Clapp) may not be very well-known to many of today’s early vehicle enthusiasts.  Nonetheless, he and his businesses were an important part of America’s horse-drawn vehicle world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  From wagon-making to manufacturing carriage and saddlery hardware, hauling coal, and running stage lines, Mr. Clapp was an instrumental force in our first transportation industry. 

In an effort to share a bit more about this seldom-profiled manufacturer, I thought we’d take a look at the legacy of the man through the words published after his death in the July 1889 issue of The Hub. The story was originally written for The Bulletin in Auburn, New York in that same month...

“The deceased was born at Ira, this country, November 12, 1829, and was consequently 60 years of age.  He was educated at the district school and at Falley Seminary, at Fulton.  In 1851 he moved to Ira and built a small shop and began the manufacture of farm wagons and other vehicles.  He continued doing business in Ira for four years, employing six men and turning out about twenty-five wagons per year, besides a number of light carriages.  In 1855 he leased his wagon shop and began running a stage line between Oswego and Auburn, carrying a daily mail from that year up to 1880.  He was uncommonly successful in bidding for mail carrying contracts, and until 1865 gave the greater share of his attention to carrying out and sub letting the same.

In 1856, when Auburn contained only 7,000 inhabitants, he removed here, and has since been one of the most active and successful businessmen in the community.  He carried on a livery business on Garden and State streets, for several years until 1867, when he sold out and concentrated all his energies in the manufacturing business.  In 1864, he leased a small shop on Mechanic street, and having a patent on a thill coupling for vehicles he began manufacturing the same.  This was the first institution which manufactured carriage hardware in Auburn, and, as time progressed it grew to be one of the largest factories of the kind in the United States.  The business grew to such proportions that in 1867 it was removed to a new factory on Water street, the firm name being Clapp, Fitch & Co.  In 1873, Mr. Fitch retired, and the business was continued by Mr. Clapp and F. Van Patten, under the firm name of E.D. Clapp & Co.  In 1873 the site on the corner of Genesee and Division streets, now occupied by the large shops of the company, was presented to the firm, and sufficient money was subscribed to build the foundation of the present factory.  In 1876 the business was incorporated under the name of E. D. Clapp Mfg. Co., with a paid up capital of $150,000.  In 1880 Mr. Clapp organized the Auburn Wrought-Iron Bit and Iron Co., with a capital of $60,000, and in the same year the E.D. Clapp Wagon Co. Limited, turning out the first wagon in April 1881.  The company have also done an extensive business in coal, handling from 15,000 to 20,000 tons a year.  The various shops under the management of Mr. Clapp at the time of his death gave employment to about 600 hands...” 

The E.D. Clapp Wagon Company Limited built its first wagon in 1881.  This rare, surviving card was created to promote the brand’s offerings of iron axle and thimble skein wagons.


Filled with dates and other business details, Mr. Clapp’s obituary provides an abundance of leads, helping fill in the gaps of this part of history.  We know from other sources that, in 1876, Mr. Clapp and his business partner, Frederick Van Patten, were awarded another patent for a quiet, non-rattling thill coupling.  We also know that the company produced a variety of vehicles, including farm, freight, coal, lumber, and ice wagons as well as bob sleighs.  They ceased building wagons around 1890, focusing on the expertise they had gained in the drop forging industry. Even so, the same “Auburn” brand and logo was carried on by the Auburn Wagon Company first in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and then moving to Martinsburg, West Virginia, with its charter there issued in March of 1897.

E.D. Clapp’s firm was sold in 1958, marking the first time in more than a century that it was not owned by a member of the Clapp family.  Over the decades, the company had provided hundreds of thousands of hardware parts for buggies built by a host of legendary builders.  Included among those parts were fifth wheels, axle clips, king bolts, clevises, shaft couplings, doubletree clevises and staples, spring clips, shaft and pole eyes, and more.

During the Civil War, they provided forgings for guns as well as for wagons.  They supplied additional hardware for wagons in the Spanish-American War.  Likewise, during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War they provided forgings for trucks, tanks, planes, warships, torpedoes, and countless other military needs.

Today, too many folks walk by the old wheels of yesterday, passing off the silent survivors and never asking what real history they’re connected to or hold.  Each is filled with information and the stories they tell help us reassemble the road map to our past.  Most of the time, we only scratch the surface when we examine a vehicle’s provenance.  Digging a little deeper, though, can add greatly to our appreciation of the past while enriching the present and passing along an important heritage to future generations.  

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, January 18, 2017

The Palace Hotel – Staging in the West

In today’s world, it’s not unusual to see early western vehicles on display in major hotels, banks, restaurants, theme parks, museums, and other public gathering places.  After all, the legacy and lore of the American West continues to be popular with audiences around the world.  What often goes unseen, though, is how these same vehicles were also used as promotional icons throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century.  Truth is, the allure of the West and its vehicles was well-known to nineteenth century marketers.  In fact, some were already visually tying these rolling works of art to the frontier as early as the 1860’s and ‘70’s.  Reinforcing that point, our Wheels That Won The West® Archives include a few examples of period paintings and engravings originally commissioned by the likes of Peter Schuttler, Milburn, and Studebaker Wagon Companies. 

What is harder to find are actual photos showing these vehicles directly involved with event marketing efforts (beyond trade shows, fairs, and Wild West shows) during these timeframes.  I know the challenge firsthand because we’ve been actively collecting early vehicle imagery for over two decades.  In that time, we’ve uncovered some amazing moments in time.  Things like tall-sided western freighters being righted after a mountain-side wreck, photos of legendary vehicle brands that are all-but-extinct today, early chuck wagon designs and descriptions, rare Exposition wagons from the United States’ first century as a nation, and even one-of-a-kind wagon factory images are just a few of the finds we’ve been fortunate to uncover. 

In the middle of it all, I can get lost in the history, nostalgia, and details of these old photos.  There’s so much going on.  From the people, clothing, scenery, and signage to vehicle designs, period tools, weather, and terrain, every original image is chock full of primary source information.  Even so, uncovering photographs of these vehicles being used as promotional tools can be a tall order. 

With great fanfare, the Palace Hotel opened in San Francisco in 1875.  The grand design and extensive accoutrements made it an instant landmark of the West.

Not long ago, I came across a photo from the mid-1870’s.  It’s a shot showing the interior courtyard in the Old Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  I say ‘old’ because the hotel still exists in the same location on Montgomery street but, it was rebuilt after its destruction in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  Like other structures, it managed to largely survive the enormous ground-shaking but it couldn’t hold up to the relentless fires.  Almost immediately after the quake, the old hotel was razed and work began on a smaller, temporary Palace hotel.  By December of 1909, a new Palace hotel was completed on the original site.  Today, the facility continues to receive high marks as an exceptional and luxurious guest experience.    

This rare view of the Old Palace Hotel in San Francisco shows a period touring coach as part of a promotional display.

Upon completion, the original structure stood 120 feet tall and was said to have been the largest hotel in the West.  Similarly, it was San Francisco’s tallest building for a number of years.  The magnificent facility was designed so that the whole creation surrounded a huge interior courtyard.  White columned balconies fronted seven stories and a massive skylight.  With more than 750 rooms, there were accommodations for 1200 people.  Hydraulic elevators (referred to as ‘rising rooms’) were lined with redwood paneling.  Individual rooms included 15 and 16 foot ceilings as well as private baths and electric call buttons for attendants.  The exquisite lodgings also featured a barber shop, multiple dining rooms, billiard rooms, ballroom, reception rooms, and even fireplaces in the guest rooms.  Visitors were treated as regal nobility, wanting for nothing.  The central court was surrounded by marble-tiled promenades and a tropical garden filled with exotic plants, statues and fountains.  Just as notable, the courtyard was anchored by a paved, circular drive and huge doors allowing horse-drawn carriages and coaches to enter and exit the interior of the hotel.  Guests departing for depots, ferry landings, and the like were able to check their bags before leaving the hotel and avoid the logistics of keeping up with their luggage when departing. 

As I studied the old photo, my eyes ran over the beautiful columns, globed light fixtures, and flourishing plants.  Then, focusing on the far end of the courtyard, I noticed a seating area.  Centering that section, a twelve-passenger (including driver) Yosemite stagecoach was on display.  The wheels of the coach were secured inside a grooved rail and signage was positioned near the front of the coach.  When considering the clientele of the hotel, it’s not hard to deduce how this piece was being used.  There were countless excursion sites near the city as well as those taking in the scenic California coast and historic interior.  Capitalizing on those opportunities, these open-sided touring coaches were among the most popular ways to view America’s western wonders.  From Yellowstone to Yosemite and numerous other locales, these carefully crafted designs were used in all types of recreational outings.  Thousands upon thousands experienced the majestic beauty of America while surrounded by the style and splendor of a thoroughbrace-cradled ride.  

With its circular drive, the interior courtyard of the Old Palace Hotel offered extraordinary comfort and convenience to hotel guests.

Looking closely at the vehicle in the photo, it’s easy to see the high-gloss varnish, paint, and lettering as well as the unmarked leather and bright, clean canvas on the rear boot and top.  The coach appears to be new and in pristine condition.  Later, pre-quake photos, show different courtyard displays that do not include the coach, leaving us to wonder where the vehicle might be today or if it has survived?  To that point, there are a number of these century-plus-old touring vehicles that do still exist.  From private collections and historical organizations to museums across the country, many of these legendary stages continue to be part of promotions showcasing the wealth of stories and rich, national heritage of the Great American West.  Again and again, these old wheels are proven to be more than just leftover parts of a forgotten world.  They’re connections to and reminders of the blessings of freedom, inspiration of dreams, and rewards of hard work.  

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.  If you don't receive a request to verify your email address, you might check your spam filter as it may have flagged the correspondence.  Once you've verified, you'll receive a notification 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, LLC

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

George Yule & the Bain Wagon Company

I’ve spent close to three and a half decades in the world of advertising, marketing, and branding.  For many, that would be a long time.  For some, though, that kind of background is just a beginning.  Reinforcing that point, I recently ran across a story of an employee working for a company for almost three-quarters of a century!

Bain wagons often included maker logos on the front and rear axles.

The example I’m referring to is that of George Yule.  Prior to reading this blog, you may not have heard of Mr. Yule.  However, if you’re a fan of the legendary ‘Bain’ wagon brand, you have that same love-for-the-brand in common with him.  In the August 1913 issue of “The Carriage Monthly,” Mr. Yule was commended for an incredible seventy-one years with the firm!  That brief story (shown below) also includes some interesting history of both the Bain and Mitchell wagon companies.  As such, and in light of the fact that 2017 marks the 165th Anniversary of the launch of the Bain Wagon Company, I thought I’d pass along this part of our past...

“George Yule, president of the Bain Wagon Co., Kenosha, Wis., has what is probably the most unique record of any man in a responsible position with any big manufacturing concern in the United States. Recently Mr. Yule celebrated the seventy-first anniversary of his connection with the Bain Wagon Co.

For seventy-one years he had just the one employer, and most of the time that he has been connected with the company his position has been one of great influence.  Mr. Yule was at his office on his seventy-first anniversary just as early as any of the other employees of the company and, the fact that he was ready to start on a seventy-second year of work seemed to have no effect on him whatever.

Seventy-one years ago on July 1st Mr. Yule went to Kenosha from his father’s farm in the town of Somers.  At that time the Mitchell and Quarles Co. had only a few employees, but Mr. Mitchell decided to put young Yule to work.  In a short time he had worked himself up to a place where he was considered one of the best wagonmakers in the employ of the company, and when the late Edward Bain purchased the Mitchell & Quarles interest in 1852 he made Mr. Yule superintendent of the plant. 

For thirty years he served in this capacity, and in 1882, when the company was incorporated under the name of the Bain Wagon Co., Mr. Yule was elected vice-president.  In 1890, there were other changes, and with a record of fifty years of continued success, Mr. Yule was elected as president of the company.  Later on the heirs of the late Edward Bain retired from the management of the big plant and Mr. Yule become not only the president of the company, but the principal owner of the stock of the concern. 

When he went to work for the company, away back before the Civil War, all portions of the wagons were built by hand and the output was only a few wagons a year.  The plant now turns out thousands of wagons yearly, and is one of the largest wagonmaking concerns in the country.”

This extremely rare reach plate will date as early as the 1860’s or ‘70’s.  It’s housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives and is one of the oldest surviving pieces from Ed Bain’s wagon factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Historical records in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives point out that Mr. Yule came to America from Scotland when he was sixteen.  Two years later, in 1842, he was hired by Mitchell & Quarles to help build wagons in Kenosha (then known as Southport).  At the time, the Mitchell & Quarles shops were only building about 10-15 wagons each year.  They also did repair work on plows and implements for area farmers.  

Based on period details from above article as well as our archives, Mr. Yule was not only an influential force in the earliest days of Bain and Mitchell wagons but, he was there when the U.S. purchased California from Mexico, when gold was discovered in California, when western territories became states, when legendary outlaws were making headlines, when the transcontinental railroad was built, and when so many other major events in the history of the West took place.  He even lived to see the automobile and the new challenges of transportation competition in the 20th century.  Very few individuals will ever have a front-row-seat to the rise and fall of international commerce the size of America’s first transportation industry.  Nonetheless, Mr. Yule not only saw these things but was instrumental in guiding one of the biggest brands to shape the American West. 

From its beginnings, Bain was never a small endeavor.  The brand leapt from its newborn page of possibilities to near-instant national recognition as it capitalized on the factory and distribution network left wholly in place by Henry Mitchell (Mitchell & Quarles).  By the late 1860’s, the firm was producing several thousand wagons per year and within another decade, annual production numbers were near ten thousand.  In 1911, the company was purchased by George Yule and other family members for an estimated $1.5 million.  Growth continued into the mid-teens as the company touted 450 employees and a capacity of 18,000 wagons.  

After transferring his interest in the Kenosha factory to Edward Bain in 1852, Henry Mitchell moved on to Racine, Wisconsin, eventually restarting his empire and building the Mitchell wagon brand into a powerhouse that would be purchased by John Deere in 1917.  

Today, the Mitchell and Bain brands continue to be extremely popular with collectors and enthusiasts; and for good reason.  The quality, history, reputation, and wide range of designs created by both firms left a legacy that most makers had a tough time competing with.  When looking at Bain, a big part of that reputation came from time-honored employees like George Yule who not only was an exceptional wagon maker but possessed a steadfast loyalty that both grew and protected the brand for generations.  Corporate America could still learn from these early business giants. 

This early promotional flyer for Bain wagons dates to the late 1860’s.  

Dating to the 1870’s, this Bain wagon catalog may be the earliest surviving piece promoting the brand’s entire product line.

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, January 4, 2017

Surface Imperfections on Wagons

The longer you live on this planet, the more the effects of time, stress, extreme exercise, and even the sun and gravity have a way of working on the body.  It happens to everyone – and everything.  Case in point; I’ve never seen an original, period wagon that was perfect in every respect.  If not properly protected, gravity will suck an old wagon down into the ground, rotting away felloes and spokes.  Sun, wind, snow, and rain will erode even the hardest wood and heavily degrade iron and steel.  Ultimately, every old survivor is saddled with some type of issue - at the very least, a surface deformity.  Whether it’s warped, cracked, or chipped boards, missing and broken hardware, scratched paint, or some other less-than-perfect part, the age of a piece has a way of shining through. 

Clearly, the passing of time along with normal wear and tear have a way of leaving their mark on a piece.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle is of less value.  In fact, the presence of certain character traits can be an important part of a vehicle’s provenance, authenticity, and originality levels.  Time tells a story that’s unique to every set of wheels.

Years ago, I attended an estate auction where several antique wagons were sold.  One, in particular, had seen minimal use and, therefore, was in remarkable shape.  Even so, it was not without blemishes; the most notable of which was an obvious blistering of the varnish in many areas along the sideboards.  Not all old wagons have suffered this fate but many have.  In this case, the most likely culprit causing the imperfection was exposure to radiated heat (the vehicle had been parked near the side of a corrugated tin shed for thirty years).

Blistered varnish is a common sight on many old wagons that have retained notable levels of original paint.

As it turns out, the challenge of blistering varnish and paint was a common problem in the horse-drawn era.  Reinforcing that point, in the August 1913 issue of “The Carriage Monthly,” during the peak of that summer’s heat and humidity, the trade magazine published these details about surface issues in wooden vehicles…

Paint and Varnish Blisters

“At this season of the year the painter of vehicles, horse-drawn and horse-less, is usually assailed with complaints concerning the above surface disorders; and not infrequently he is held accountable for their development when, in fact, he may be, and usually is, as free from responsibility in the matter as the man in the moon.

When asked for a cause of a case of paint and varnish blisters it is not an easy thing for a painter to give off-hand, even upon an examination, a definite cause, unless he has at hand some detailed history of the case.  There are a variety of causes for the development of blisters in a newly finished surface.  For example, the hot sun of the spring and summer months, if allowed for a considerable length of time to concentrate upon a recently varnished surface, will raise blisters, and the more elastic the varnish the more certain the blisters.  A hard drying varnish, by reason of its smaller proportion of oil, gets out of the way of the sun’s heat quicker.

Because of the sensitiveness of the elastic varnish has arisen the admonition handed down through many generations of painters; ‘Wash the varnish early and often with clean, cold water,’ which is a good treatment, by the way.  Other causes of blisters are, briefly; Unseasoned, or sappy, or resinous, wood.  Grease or oil upon the surface.  In a word, this latter surface condition is about as certain as death in causing blisters.  Blisters come also from hurrying one coat of paint over another before preceding coat is dry.  Sometimes blisters are just simply the outcropping of a cantankerous coat of paint or color made so by the injection of an inferior grade of oil or japan into its composition.

The cure for blisters consists mainly in preventing them – in eradicating the sources through which they come.  Occasionally, they can be punctured and pressed down to a condition not easily noticeable.  Again, and perhaps more frequently, the cure consists of removing them, resurfacing and revarnishing.”

Not every surviving wagon will have areas of blistered varnish.  Why?  Because some of these vehicles never received a coat of varnish while others were better preserved and still more have totally lost their painted surfaces.

While some may wish a vehicle’s painted surface to be perfect, a truly original vehicle hasn’t lived its life in a vacuum.  As a result, there will always be some type of deformity to the original creation. Beyond provenance and authentication benefits, wagons with their original-use surfaces are also highly desirable because they're getting harder to find.  The result is that the natural principles of supply and demand have a way of kicking in and these pieces tend to stand out in a crowd, making them even more desirable.  Just as antique furniture experts will tell you and many car collectors are coming to realize, originality has great value since every part of an old set of wheels plays a role in telling that vehicle’s life story.  

When the old is stripped away and replaced, the original, painted surface will never be seen again.  History, provenance, and generations of character are forever lost.  So, even though a piece may not be perfect, it’s important to carefully consider the long-term value of a set of wheels before making modern updates to the painted surface.  That said, there are countless vehicles with little to no paint and replicating a worn simulation that mirrors what it likely looked like during its time in the horse-drawn era can be an effective investment for a number of pieces. 

As we look down the road of this new year, there are a lot of topics we’re looking forward to discussing.  Among those stories is the fact that 2017 is a year packed with anniversaries related to America’s first transportation industry.  With that in mind, next week, we’ll talk about the beginnings and history of one of the biggest wagon brands to ever grace the American frontier.  See ya 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