Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Moline Mandt Wagons

From old photos, catalogs, ledgers, and business correspondence to the vehicles, themselves, we’re always looking for rare survivors from America’s first transportation industry.  Several years ago, I ran across a near-mint-condition Moline Mandt wagon and feel fortunate to have been able to add it to our collection of wagons and western vehicles.  The beginning of the Mandt wagon brand dates back to 1865.  Whether you’re talking about early transportation, product ingenuity, or the growth of agriculture in the U.S., this vehicle brand is chock full of history.  Not long ago, I came across an article related to Mandt in the August 5, 1911 issue of “The Implement Age.”  After the company founder, T.G. Mandt passed away in 1902, the company assets were eventually sold to the Moline Plow Company in Moline, Illinois.  That firm immediately capitalized on the Mandt legacy by building the Moline Mandt wagon and other similarly constructed brands.  Below are a few segments from that August issue of “The Implement Age”...

As shown on this century-old wagon end gate, artistically-patterned logos often accompanied period brands.

The Moline Plow Works, known the world round by the sign of “The Flying Dutchman,” were launched in 1865 by Henry Candee and R.K. Swan, L.E. Hemmenway, J.B. Wyckoff and others being associated with them.  The plant of the Moline Plow Company, which eventually grew into an immense workshop employing hundreds of men, was originally a building of frame construction, located on the site of the present great factory.  At the time of its origin the company was engaged in the manufacture of fanning mills and hay racks.

In 1865 Andrew Friberg (former John Deere employee) became connected with the company, and the concern launched into the manufacture of plows.  The following year George Stephens became an equal partner in the business and a reorganization was effected.  Under the firm name of Candee, Swan & Co., Mr. Stephens had charge of the woodworking department, Mr. Friberg directed the blacksmith shop, Mr. Swan was the sales manager, and Mr. Candee had charge of the accounts.

The Moline Plow Company was incorporated in 1870 with an authorized capitalization of $400,000, of which $300,000 was paid up stock.  Among additional stockholders who became interested in the business at this time were Captain Good, his son, John W. (later vice-president of the Deere & Mansur Company, and who died last year in Bombay, India while on a world cruise), S.W. Wheelock, A.L. Carlson and A.R. Bryant...

The ‘Flying Dutchman’ was a distinctive trademark of the Moline Plow Company in Moline, Illinois.

...From its capitalization of $400,00 in 1870 the company has increased its volume of business steadily, gradually advancing till now the working capital is $9,000,000.  The business of the concern has grown space and today the product of the Moline Plow Company is known throughout the world.

One of the great factors in the growth of the company was the Flying Dutchman sulky plow, brought out by the company in 1884.  This plow was an instantaneous success and revolutionized the manufacture of sulky plows.  Up to this time, sulky plows had been of the two-wheeled variety.  Every three-wheeled plow manufactured today owes filial respect to the renowned Flying Dutchman.

Another factor in the development of the company was the patenting of the Moline Champion corn planter in 1886.  This implement caused a revolution almost equal to that occasioned by the Flying Dutchman plow, and soon the company was the leading manufacturer of corn planters in the country.  Other lines have been added from time to time, until now the company can boast of cultivators, harrows, disc harrows, stalk cutters, potato diggers, cotton planters, cane tools, sugar beet tools and other farm implements.

In 1906, the line was further augmented by the products of the Mandt Wagon Works, at Stoughton, Wis., and the Henney Buggy Company, of Freeport, Ill., which concerns were merged with the Moline Plow Company in that year.  Previous to their acquisition these concerns were controlled principally by Moline Plow Company stockholders...

This introduction page is from a 1901 T.G. Mandt catalog, possibly the last full-line book created before the death of the company founder the following year.  

...The business of the company at the present time is the largest in its history, and is growing rapidly.  About two hundred salesmen are employed in the United States by the Plow Company and its branch houses; the combined office force numbers nearly three hundred and, about twelve hundred men are constantly employed in the shops.  The Mandt Wagon Company employs about four hundred additional men, and the Henney Buggy Company and the Freeport Carriage Company about eight hundred more, making the total number of employees who win their bread through the operations of the Moline Plow Company approximately three thousand.”

I’ve seen the Moline-Mandt wagon confused with a Moline brand wagon.  The wagons were made in the same city (Moline, Illinois) but they are completely different brands and companies.

During the teens of the twentieth century, the legendary plow works dabbled with early tractors and even automobiles, introducing the ‘Stephens’ car, named after one of founding partners.  A few years later, Willys-Overland purchased a majority interest in the Plow Company.  Then, in the late 1920’s, the company merged again to form the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company.  Around the same time period, industry directories ceased listing Moline Mandt wagons as an active brand.  Ultimately, it means that every surviving Moline Mandt wagon will be over or very near the century-mark in age.  Minneapolis-Moline sold in the early 1960’s to the White Motor Company.  About a decade later, the brand was discontinued. 

This Stephens-brand roadster was designed for two or three passengers.

Over the years, wagon and farm truck (wagon) brands either built or sold by the Moline Plow Company included the Genuine T.G. Mandt, Moline Mandt, Crescent, Sunny South, Badger, Wisconsin, Woodchuck, California, and Dixie monikers.  As with other makers, some of these names were not always exclusive to Mandt.  It’s a point of caution requiring greater examination to authoritatively confirm the maker of a particular set of wheels.  As a final bit of trivia related to the Moline Plow Company; the firm made a variety of horse-drawn vehicles including buggies and surreys, carts, bob sleds, Mountain wagons, farm wagons, farm trucks, dairy wagons, delivery wagons, low wheel ‘handy’ wagons, and spring wagons.

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, February 15, 2017

The Winona Wagon Company

In last week’s post, I mentioned the discovery of a rare Winona sheep wagon photo.  It reminded me that there are probably a number of folks that haven’t seen the story we published on the Winona Wagon Company back in 2009.  So, I thought I’d re-visit a portion of that article in this week’s blog.  Enjoy...

Nineteenth century America was a virtual field of dreams for many farm wagon makers. The discovery of gold and the opening of the West created opportunities and challenges beyond the imagination. So remarkable was the business that by the 1870s and 1880s, some wagon companies were regularly producing 30,000 to 50,000 vehicles per year. Working six days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day and finishing a vehicle as rapidly as every six minutes, fortunes were made – and lost.

In many ways, American vehicle makers in the 1800s were no different than those in the U.S., Germany, Japan, Italy, or about any other country today. They worked to consistently build quality products, keep good employees, strategically promote their advantages and maintain high customer loyalty.  It’s a tried-and-true business model.  But, even with those lofty goals, for any brand to be successful, it must create and sustain an identity for itself – something that consumers can remember and relate to.  Just as we may think of premium quality when Cadillac or Lexus brands are mentioned, strong vehicle names also conjured up the same feelings of desirability in the 1800’s.  Whether someone was considering a Studebaker, Schuttler, Milburn, Moline, Mitchell, Abbot-Downing or any of the thousands of others, there was no shortage of competition to be reckoned with.

So, if you’re a vehicle maker in the nineteenth century catering to farms, ranches, businesses and the American frontier, how do you separate yourself from so many viable competitors?  It’s a question with many answers and, the closer we look at a particular set of wheels, the easier it is to see how each company was strategically positioned. 

Quality Winona brand wagons remain in high demand today.  Many Winona wagons featured the eye-catching style of a yellow running gear.

Located on the upper Mississippi River, the Winona (Minn.) Wagon Company was ideally located for shipping and receiving materials as well as acquiring quality timber.  By the time it was established in 1879, Winona had plenty of firmly established competition.  Price wars, lawsuits, and leveraged buyouts were just some of the heavy-handed tactics used by well-heeled brands to squash newcomers vying for regional and national attention.  It was a demanding marketplace but Winona employed a variety of efforts to rise above the challenges of well-known, confident rivals.

While virtually all builders dealt with the worry of maintaining a strong, marketable identity, many – just like companies today – created a slogan that summarized their commitment to quality or some other beneficial feature.  The Winona Wagon Company was quite effective using the catchphrase “Good Timber and Bone Dry.”  The saying focused on the central and most important element of any early wagon – superior wood selection, preparation, and construction.  After all, quality hardwoods were the heart of a wagon and companies that presented themselves as thorough, trustworthy and value-conscious generally enjoyed the greatest success.  The use of higher-grade raw materials, though, wasn’t the only advantage Winona touted.  Like many successful firms, it promoted itself heavily while consistently stressing innovative features and design elements.

Joining the chorus of those parroting their brand to have the “lightest draft” and “wheels boiled in oil,” Winona also proclaimed the superiority of its “clipped” undercarriages as opposed to competitive wagon gears that were through-bolted and presumably weakened.  Their grain-tight boxes were designed to keep flax and seed from spilling out of the wagons and double-riveted felloes provided even more strength to the wheels. Ultimately, though, those qualities were remarkably similar to those of other competitors.  Fortunately, the company had other features that really did set it apart.  As it turns out, those characteristics were some of the most visually different and promotionally significant traits on any wagon and they centered on the foundational soundness of axles and wheels.

This image clearly shows an iron reinforcement block placed between the axle and rear bolster of a Winona wagon.  Even so, not all Winona wagons will include this feature or that of iron clad hubs.

Reinforcing the company’s commitment to quality construction, Winona built its heavier mountain wagons with a characteristic it called “outer bearing” axles.  The term sounds like it referred to a roller bearing or outer seal on the axles.  In fact, the feature was more simple, but equally ingenious.  On many Winona wagons, a custom-formed block of iron was placed immediately beneath the bolster stake and allowed to rest on the shoulder of the skein.

The effect was similar to the addition of structural supports to a suspension bridge.  The iron blocks helped take more of the load off the center portion of the axle and spread it across the entire wheel base.  The result was that the outer axle was tied to the upper bolster while also being reinforced by the skein (the metal thimble fitted over the wooden axle).  It meant that both the axle beam and the bolster or sand board above it would have to break before the wagon could be rendered helpless.  In an era when wagons were often used in remote, rugged regions, this was a dramatically important feature.

According to Winona, by shifting the load toward the wheels, the wagon could carry a greater load and was easier to pull.  The company explained this by pointing out that an ordinary wagon with a very heavy load experiences a strain that pushes down on the axle, slightly springing it and throwing the wheels outward at the bottom.  The net effect of the wheels being pushed out would cause them to bind against the nut on the outside and the axle on the inside, making the entire rig harder to maneuver and roll.  By contrast, Winona claimed that its outer bearing axles actually relieved the strain beneath the hounds, kept the axle rigid, the bearings straight, and the grease more evenly distributed.  It all had a very technical and logical sound to it, helping reinforce Winona’s image as a leader.

Truly, the whole structure was a novel idea and Winona took great advantage of promotional opportunities.  Beyond a simple verbal description touting the design’s strength, the company’s marketing folks made a practice of cutting out the entire center section of a Winona rear axle.  Then, they loaded the wagon and took photos to show the design strengths at work.  At the same time, they would take a competitor’s wagon, remove the same area of the rear axle, load it and clearly demonstrate the weakened and sagging gear.  These types of dramatic visual displays continually reinforced Winona as a major competitive force.

This century-plus-old image is housed in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  It clearly shows the significant strength of the outer bearing axle design.

Yet another distinctive design feature of Winona wagons was the “iron clad” hub. Once again, the carefully chosen name presented a vivid mental picture of strength, value, and confidence.  The design was a metal covering or shield tightly formed around the hub, protecting it from the destructive elements of work and weather.

According to the company’s early literature, this feature meant that “no matter how much the hubs were exposed to sun, snow, rain or dirt, they wouldn’t check or crack.”  Winona claimed that once a wagon hub begins to check, “the spokes work loose, the tires come off, and a breakdown occurs.”  While other builders could match many of the company’s quality construction traits, the patented features of an ironclad hub and outer bearing axle were clear advantages that set Winona apart.  The distinctions were so easy to see that, even today, they’re very helpful in the identification process.  (NOTE: Even though these features can help with the authentication process, there were other brands that used similar technology.  As a result, careful study is still needed to correctly identify the brand.)

During the teens of the 20th century, Winona adopted what would be one of its last identifiable icons.  Further securing itself to the historical namesake of its city and the romance of the Old West, the company attached its brand to the symbol of a Dakota American Indian maiden by the name of Wenonah.  It was a distinctive and easy-to-remember visual.  The Native American image was often included on the wagon, wagon seat, company letterhead, catalogs, ads and other promotional signage.

Even with a strong commitment to promotion, Winona ultimately fell victim to the same weakness that gripped virtually every wagon maker of the period.  Almost all of the old builders found it hard to accept the passing of the grand wagon era.  Changing times, needs, and expectations helped increase the influence of motorized transportation while the archaic look of a horse-and-wagon-dominated society fell increasingly out of favor.

By the 1930s, Winona (and the majority of U.S.-based wood-wheeled wagon makers) had ceased operations. Vintage directories list Mike’s Trading Store in Spokane, Wash., as the only place to obtain replacement parts during the Great Depression.  Fittingly, the company’s final legacy continues to be carried by many of those highly identifiable design and construction traits.  It seems “Good Timber and Bone Dry” was more than a slogan.  It was a deep-seated commitment to craftsmanship that can still be seen as the Winona brand regularly takes on all comers in 21st century chuck wagon and sheep wagon competitions as well as collector gatherings throughout the country.


Through much of the company’s history, Winona also made another brand of wagon called ‘Rushford.’  This was actually the company that Winona originated from in 1879.  In the early part of the 20th century, the firm ceased using the Rushford name and it was carried on by another organization.  It’s an important element of history as not all surviving Rushford wagons can be connected to the Winona Wagon Company. 

In a nod to the company’s roots, the Rushford brand was marketed by Winona throughout the late nineteenth century. 


Winona made a wide variety of wagon types including farm, freight, mountain, sheep camp, fruit, potato bed, and U.S. military wagons.  While ironclad hubs and outer bearing axles were primarily used on the company’s heavier vehicles, individual features of every wagon were designed to satisfy specific terrain, user purposes, and price ranges.

Throughout its construction, Winona utilized hickory timber for axles and white oak for spokes, hubs, and felloes. Box sides were generally constructed from poplar but cottonwood was also used.  Box floors were almost always built from pine.

Beyond wheel size and box bed variations, other distinctions between different styles of Winona wagons included choices between wooden or steel axles, stiff or drop tongues as well as multiple brake styles, track widths, and tire widths ranging from 1-1/2 to 4 inches. All wagon builders had geographical regions where they were most competitive.  Winona wagons were touted as being particularly well suited to the South and West and, as such, were sold predominantly west of the Mississippi River. 

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, February 8, 2017

Building Collections – Never Stop Looking

Looking for remnants of America’s transportation past may be disheartening on occasion.  For those pursuing the most elusive wooden wheels, it can sometimes feel like all of the important pieces have disappeared.  In truth, there are a number of amazing collections as well as individual vehicles scattered all over this great country.  Some are highly publicized.  Some are lesser known.  Others – and elements related to those – are still waiting to be discovered.  One thing that’s become increasingly essential to 21st century collectors is the need for careful discernment and understanding of a particular set of wheels.  That ability to look at every detail of a vehicle and clearly understand what it has to say is of immense value. 

At the risk of sounding like I’m overstating the obvious, some of these pieces are more valuable than others.  Pushing that point a little farther down the road, if you’re buying a set of wheels and expecting it to grow in value at the same rate as extreme examples you’ve heard, seen, or read about, it’s important to understand what drives those better sale prices.  Otherwise, we run the risk of consistently ending up with buyer’s remorse.  Ultimately, not every good-looking set of wheels will have the best return on a given investment. (Oh, and for the record, proper appraisal values are not based on list prices seen on the internet – no two pieces are ever the same and what someone asks isn’t necessarily what something is worth).    

As the antique vehicle landscape becomes more picked over and attrition wreaks havoc with other wagons and western vehicles, it’s helpful to know what’s more desirable and why.  It’s also increasingly significant to realize what defines construction features from a particular timeframe of manufacture.  This is an area that sometimes makes me an unpopular fella.  In truth, I understand the disappointment.  If a person feels they have an 1880’s brand X and they find out it’s an amalgamation of several 1920’s W, X, Y, and Z brands, it’s not necessarily good news.  Nonetheless, we work hard to deliver objective and period supportable evaluations without speculation or hearsay.  Likewise, the all-important assessment of what’s original and what isn’t continues to create problems for some.  Why?  Well, with prices on the best pieces continuing to escalate, it’s easier than ever for buyers to be tempted with doctored or less-than-honest pieces.  The old Latin phrase, Caveat Emptor, is as pertinent as it’s ever been. 

But, even if a particular group of vehicles does contain quality and desirable pieces, is that enough of an investment plan?  In other words, how do we help ensure we’re investing in the long-term growth potential of vehicles without purchasing pieces that continually duplicate the collection?  One way is to diversify the types of vehicles in the group.  Like any investment portfolio, the right mix can help look after the value of the whole.  The added variety also has potential to reinforce the intrigue of an entire collection to a broader audience, especially if all the quality pieces are connected by a central theme or purpose. 

Small stage wagons built on Mountain wagon gears were a prominent feature throughout the Old West.  Regrettably, most have disappeared which is one of the reasons we felt this piece was an important addition to our collection.

As our own collecting continues to evolve, I find myself more and more interested in helping tell the whole western vehicle story.  After all, these wheels were tied to a massive industry and there are a host of supporting elements that help fill in some important storylines.  To that point, there’s a wide array of unique or patented parts as well as early signage, tools, advertising, accessories, and design distinctions that can add to the fascination and fullness of a collection.  It’s just one of the reasons we focus on the pieces related to a vehicle’s background as much as we do the vehicle itself. 

 We purchased this rare stage wagon (mail jerky) in 2015 and commissioned Doug Hansen and his team to help with some light conservation and restoration efforts.  It had served in the rugged country around Angels Camp, California.  Our desire was to retain as much of the original patina and hard-earned character as possible.  

Special thanks to the entire crew at Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota for the museum-grade work done on this 19th century stage wagon.  It's a special connection to the Old West.

Another reason to consider acquiring background elements relates to the need for authentication at every level of a vehicle.  For instance, just because the box, body, or running gear has a quality maker name attached to it is no guarantee that all of the other parts are of the same make and timeframe.  Correctly-tied period imagery, literature, and promotional materials can go a long way in answering questions while eliminating doubts about originality.  Reinforcing that point, in all my years of collecting, I’ve seen very few original brochures highlighting the full-line of Winona brand wagons.  Just as hard to locate are period images of the vehicles they built.  Why are these important?  Because they offer irrefutable evidence as to how these pieces were designed and used during a particular period of time.  Recently, I stumbled upon an original photo of a Winona Sheep Bed wagon.  It was one more needle-in-a-haystack find we were able to add to the rare history we’ve uncovered over the past two-plus decades.

In a nod to the significance of the sheep industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Winona was just one of a number of major brands offering these designs.  Most surviving Sheep wagon or Sheep Camp wagon photos don’t show enough detail or logos to conclusively identify a maker.  Finding this image not only corroborates the brochure promotions from the same timeframe but gives us a clear example of the vehicle in use.  That can be a valued point of historical reference for those wanting to authenticate a Winona Sheepherder wagon.

Likewise, within the past year, we came across another century-plus-old photo showing an ultra-rare, dual-labeled Moline John Deere chuck wagon.  With the help of some extensive research we did a few years ago, this wagon can be immediately pinpointed to the 1910 to early 1912-era.  It’s a seldom-seen look at the beginnings of John Deere-branded wagons. 

Elsewhere, we’ve been fortunate to uncover more original factory images – including one showing employees of the Stoughton Wagon Works with recently finished products.  Others we’ve come across include the employees and early wagons built by Carver, Ft. Smith, Moline, Piqua, Kentucky, and more.  Our series of original chuck wagon photos have also continued to grow with several hundred now in the archives.  We’re also still in the process of tracking down the maker of a Concord-style coach that may be from a different builder than either Abbot or Downing.  At this point, we know the coach was publicly shown in the West just after WW1 but, like a lot of pieces, it's left very few clues as to its whereabouts today. 

These are just a few of the vehicle-related acquisitions and research projects that make up our regular searches.  It’s our hope that what we uncover not only helps us in our efforts but also adds value to the finds of countless collectors all over the U.S.  After all, it’s the stories behind these pieces that will often boost interest while preserving some of America’s most misunderstood history.  Ultimately, no matter the vehicle brands or area of focus, one of the greatest secrets to building a quality collection is to never stop looking.  Good luck in your pursuits!

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, February 1, 2017

Early Vehicle Provenance – The Reach Plate Connection

Researching ancestral histories and investing in DNA testing to determine an individual’s genetic composition are popular pursuits these days.  It seems that more and more people want to know about the personal history that’s part of their makeup.  Similarly, it’s rewarding to know as much as possible about the history (provenance) of an antique horse-drawn vehicle. 

If you ever want to learn how much is not known (and objectively substantiated) about a piece, start visually dissecting the vehicle and ask what can be confirmed about each part of the whole.  Where did a specific part come from? – Did the builder make the part or buy it?  Was the design ever patented?  Why was that particular part used?  How is it different from other forms of construction?  Is it original to the time of manufacture?  Has a particular part ever been replaced? – If so, when and why?  What, if any, features on the vehicle help define a particular region or purpose for which it was built?  Clearly, asking specific questions about a set of wheels can highlight just how much more there is to know.  Likewise, every piece of an early vehicle has a story to tell. 

Further highlighting the search for information on these functional works of art, let’s look at one of America’s most popular, mass-produced vehicles.  Spanning the 1800’s and early 1900’s timeframes, millions of farm wagons were produced.  Yet, most have largely disappeared and only a small percentage of the brands that were created in the U.S. have survived.  Looking at those that are still here, there are literally hundreds of individual components to review on any given vehicle.  Even if two wagons are of the same make, they will not carry the same provenance since they had different users, use patterns, environmental exposures, and so forth.  As a result, it’s doubtful that most of us will ever know everything there is to know about the history of a particular set of wheels.

This snapshot shows a variety of reach plate designs dating from the 1860’s through the early 1900’s.

One area within farm wagon construction that can be interesting to examine is the reach plate.  For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a reach plate is the metal piece surrounding the mid-portion of the reach or coupling pole.  Looking under the wagon, the center section of the running gear (undercarriage) often includes a reach plate with a drop-in pin that connects the front and rear portions of the running gear.  Of course, not all early wagons were constructed with reach plates.  However, many were and it can be a good place to find clues related to the history of an old wagon; assuming that it hasn’t been replaced and is still original to the wagon gear/box. 

Over the years, we’ve gathered up a number of unique plates, including some of the first ones ever made by a particular brand.  The efforts have been part of our efforts to preserve the countless stories and unique history within America’s first transportation industry.  Oftentimes, original reach plate housings can hold information helpful in determining a vehicle’s timeframe of manufacture, general carrying capacities, design standards, maker name, factory location, and, in some instances, patent records.

To that point, I thought I'd share a few details that can be quickly gleaned from a half-dozen pieces in our collection...

Funck & Hertzler – Burlington, Iowa

Funck & Hertzler (F&H) was the predecessor to the Orchard City Wagon Company.  Both firms built the Orchard City brand wagon.  The company’s factory was originally established in 1856 by John Funck.  Like many early wagon makers, the firm built and repaired other farm implements as well.  Within the first few decades of its existence, F & H was making as many as 1600 wagons per year, almost as many plows, and about 800 cultivators.  By 1882, they employed 90 folks producing 4,000 wagons per year as well as 3,000 plows, and another 4,000 cultivators and harrows.

The company was reorganized in 1893 and, at that point, the firm name was changed to “Orchard City Wagon Company.”  This particular builder closed its doors around 1912.  While these details are brief, they can be combined with addition information on the city’s growth as well as obituaries, genealogical histories, and other points of interest from local libraries and historical societies.  Every element can add intrigue to the provenance of a surviving Orchard City wagon.

This rare Funck & Hertzler plate will likely date to the 1870’s or 1880’s.  

Ed Bain - Kenosha, Wisconsin

I shared a fair number of details related to the background of the Bain Wagon Company in my January 11th blog post a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, it seemed appropriate to include a mention of the same, very early “E. Bain” reach plate here.  As I’d stated earlier, knowing the history of a particular company can help us recognize rare survivors while gleaning important provenance and passing on the details to future generations. Ultimately, if we don’t do it now, this incredible part of our past will likely be lost.

Ball Bros. - Bushnell, Illinois  

One of the earliest wagon and carriage builders in Bushnell, Illinois and the immediate predecessor to Ball Bros. was Ball & Sons.  The company was launched near the close of the Civil War and remained in business for almost a half century.  It closed down in 1914. Perhaps as a sign of the times, after selling its assets, the building that the business had occupied became a dealership for the Packard automobile.  The reach plate in our collection will likely date to around 1910.   

This rare reach plate for a regional maker in Bushnell, Illinois once belonged to a Ball Bros. wagon likely built around 1910.

Studebaker - South Bend, Indiana

Some of the more interesting reach plates from Studebaker are those dating to the nineteenth century.  Many of these have five-digit numerals cast into them and I’ve yet to run across two plates with the same numbers.  As of this writing, I don’t have any concrete evidence but have wondered if these might correspond to serial numbers attached to the earlier wagons?  I do know that the serial numbers attached to the wagons tended to be five digits.  If any reader has details on this supposition, I’d be interested in hearing from you. 

Phillip Miller & Sons – Edina, MO

The Miller Wagon Company in Edina, Missouri is profiled on our Wheels That Won The West® limited edition print.  It was established by German emigrant, Philip Miller in 1867.  While the firm may be best known for its farm wagons, they also made buggies and spring wagons.  The P M & Sons reach plate (seen in the group photo above) was a rare, earlier find for our collection.

In the 1877 patent submission for this reach plate, Targe Mandt referred to it as a reach brake-plate since it also served as a mount for the brake beam.

T.G. Mandt - Stoughton, Wisconsin

One of the most proficient and prolific inventors within the world of early wagons was Targe (T.G.) Mandt.  His innovations covered everything from wheels, tongues, and brakes to running gears, standards, box tighteners, axles, end gates, spring seats, and more.  He started his company in Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1865.  There’s a fair amount written on the company and original T.G. Mandt wagons in good condition remain popular with collectors.

Targe Mandt passed away in 1902.  While the factory remained in Stoughton, Wisconsin, by 1906, the brand and its innovations were acquired by the Moline Plow Company in Moline, Illinois.  Digging a little deeper, Mandt’s history gets even more interesting as it eventually became a sister brand to the Stevens automobile as well as Willys-Overland. 

One last observation related to the Mandt brand wagon.  Today, some confuse the Moline-Mandt brand with the Moline brand.  The two are as different as the sun and moon.  The Moline-Mandt is directly related to the original Mandt wagons (due to rights purchased after T.G. Mandt’s death in 1902).  The other Moline is a legendary company with roots pre-dating the Civil War.  It is a completely separate firm, eventually purchased by John Deere in 1910.     

There you have it... a brief look at just one part of many early wagons that can hold valuable information and clues to even more history of a piece.  Again and again, information cast into the stamped and cast metal reach plates of wagons can be extremely helpful.  Not only did these innovative pieces serve their initial purpose by connecting the front and rear running gear sections but, today, they can re-connect us to the vehicle’s past as well as showcase what technologies were available when.  It’s one more reminder that we can learn something from every part of an old wagon.  Sometimes, it requires time and patience to glean the information but, if we listen close, these wooden warriors always have something to say.  

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