Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Multiple Bain Wagon Brands

Studying the world of America’s early wagon makers can be full of dead-ends, questions, fake news, and even duplicity.  This last point can be particularly troublesome as it can instantly bring confusion into a center stage drama, leaving us with more questions than answers.  A good case-in-point is the challenge we sometimes face when looking at the labels painted on the axles or side of a vehicle. Things aren’t always what they appear and the tendency to jump to conclusions can be rife with problems.

Brand names like O’Brien, Whitewater, Fish Bros., Rushford, and Miller are well-known for their early starts and popularity on America’s frontier.  Unfortunately, there are other, sometimes lesser known, vehicle companies that used these same names.  In these cases, it’s easy to see how misunderstandings, insufficient research, and incorrect vehicle identifications can take place.  Even the venerable old title of ‘Bain’ is not immune to these problems.  The mark was applied to the sides of wagons from two separate companies headquartered in two different countries.  At first glance, that seems like ample division to prevent issues.  Unfortunately, when the borders are as close as the U.S. and Canada, there can be a blurring of the lines.  Over the years, many Canadian-built wagons have been brought into the U.S. and sold at auction.  I’ve even seen a Canadian wagon used as part of a yesteryear display at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon home near Washington, D.C.  It was particularly disappointing to see a clearly labeled, twentieth-century Canadian piece used to convey eighteenth-century U.S. history.

Back to the perplexities of like-named brands... This week, I thought we’d take some time to provide additional details on the Canadian version of the two Bain brands.  Hopefully, it can help raise awareness while reducing confusion between both firms.

This old print advertisement shows a Kenosha-built Bain wagon from 1899.

I’ve written before about the Bain brand built in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  The company started in 1852 and was an outgrowth of Henry Mitchell’s firm (Mitchell wagons).  While Mitchell went on to become a major brand headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, Edward Bain took the old Mitchell wagon works, grew the distribution, and heavily marketed the new brand.  In the U.S., “The Bain” became a legendary name throughout the country and particularly in the West.  Later, in the twentieth century, the brand was briefly part of the Pekin Wagon Company and then, finally, it was absorbed by the Springfield Wagon Company in Springfield, Missouri. 

The ‘other’ company carrying the Bain label is a Canadian firm.  In this case, the international boundary hasn’t kept wagon brands sufficiently separated.  Rather, the popularity of antique wooden wagons in the U.S. has led to many Canadian-built vehicles being shipped back over the border.  It’s a point that can cause a fair amount of consternation when trying to identify or authenticate a particular set of wheels.  It’s especially challenging when the name on the Canadian wagon is the same as a major brand in the U.S. 

Cutting directly to the chase, as of this writing, there’s no known connection between the two Bain brands.  The only things they appear to have in common are wooden wheels and the brand name.  Reinforcing that point, immediately below, I’ve transcribed a 115-year-old article that was written about one of the Canadian company’s founders, John Bain.  It was published in 1903 as part of The Newspaper Reference Book of Canada.  The historical documentation shows a distinct history wholly separate from Ed Bain’s wagons built in Kenosha, Wisconsin... not to mention the fact that Ed Bain’s company was started three decades earlier.

                                                John Alexander Bain, Woodstock, Ont.
            “General Manager and Vice President of one of the most enterprising manufacturing concerns in the Province of Ontario, the Bain Wagon Co., Limited, John Alexander Bain, of the town of Woodstock, is a representative Canadian of a class who, through their own ability and industry, have risen to positions of prominence in the industrial life of their country.  The son of John Bain, a native of Keith, Scotland, and a cabinetmaker who came to Canada in the early forties of the last century, and Isabella Robb, his wife, a native of Scotland, he was born in Woodstock, Ont., on the 23rd of September 1852.  Educated in the public and grammar schools of his native town until the age of nineteen, he became articled to S. & J. Hext of Brantford, to learn the trade of wagon-making.  Upon the completion of his apprenticeship, he went to Milwaukee, in the United States, and worked at his trade for over a year in one of the large factories of that city.  Subsequently he worked in several large wagon-making factories at Batavia, Rock Island and Moline, in the State of Illinois.  In 1880, learning that wagons were being imported into Canada for the Northwest trade, he decided to establish a business for the manufacture of wagons in his native country.  In 1881, with his brother, George A. Bain, under the firm name of the Bain Wagon Company, they began the manufacture of wagons at Woodstock and during the first year turned out about 100 wagons.  In 1890 the Bain Wagon Company sold their plant at Woodstock and removed to Brantford, Ont., where the firm continued under the name of Bain Bros. Mfg. Co., until 1893, when they affiliated with the Massey-Harris Company, of Toronto, and removed its manufacturing plant to Woodstock, where they purchased their present large and efficient factory.

The success met with in the manufacture of high-grade farm and freight wagons, log trucks, dump carts, spring lorries, delivery wagons, and bob-sleighs has been large and their sales extensive throughout the civilized world.  The Massey-Harris Company, of Toronto, are the sole agents for the output of the Bain Wagon Company, Limited, which can be obtained from any of their agencies throughout the world.  The Bain wagon, one of the principal lines of manufacture of the Bain Wagon Company, is used throughout Canada, and in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa and the Yukon.  From an output of 100 wagons in 1881, the business has grown to an output of 8,500 wagons and 4,000 sleighs in 1902.  In 1899 the Bain Wagon Company made two shipments of wagons and ambulances to South Africa for the Canadian contingent, which were highly recommended by Lieut.-Col. Steele and others as being the best available wagon for military service in that country.  The Bain Wagon Company employs from 250 to 300 in their factory, and is building additional buildings which will give one-third more productive capacity in 1903...”

This early 1900’s catalog promoted Canadian-built Bain wagons.


By the early 1890’s, the Canadian-born Bain Wagon Company became part of the powerful Massey-Harris line of agricultural products.

Clearly, there are different beginnings, owners, histories – and countries – for both Bain Wagon Companies.  That said, there are some elements of the two brands that seem a little more than coincidental.  One, in particular, stands out to me.  They both use the term, “The Bain” on the side of the wagon box.  It’s a similarity that makes me wonder if the later-established firm might have deliberately been blurring the lines a bit to trade on the longer, legendary history of its U.S. competitor?   Whatever the case may be, the two names continue to cause confusion with collectors, historians, and enthusiasts.  Hopefully, this week’s blog will help clear up some of the misunderstandings while allowing each brand to take advantage of its own heritage.  

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, October 18, 2017

One Last Look – 2017 SFTA Symposium

There are a number of ways to learn more about America’s first transportation industry.  Some of the more popular methods include seminars, books, authoritative websites, museums, question-and-answer-sessions, and personal networking.  It just so happens that the recent symposium presented by the Santa Fe Trail Association and National Stagecoach & Freight Wagon Association included all of the above.   

This is the third and final week of our coverage of the 2017 symposium.  As such, we’ll focus on a couple more of the event's activities, including our trip to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City.  The ‘night-at-the-museum’ included a video, tour, meal, and one-on-one narratives with museum docents.  The museum, in two words, is “beyond amazing.”  This was my third trip and every time I’m amazed at what was found and preserved.  There was so much on board this boat that I’m always seeing new things.  In fact, the Arabia was packed with over 200 tons of goods when it sank in 1856.  As of 2017, the museum is estimating that it still has at least 10 more years of conservation and preservation work to do before all of the recovered items are available for presentation.

The Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City shares an incredible story that combines mid-1800’s history, the lure of treasure hunting, and the power of the American Dream.

With numerous scheduled stops on the Missouri River, the Arabia and other nineteenth century steamboats helped provide vital materials to those living on the American frontier.

This portion of the Arabia’s stern and rudder were salvaged and preserved, helping showcase the vital role America’s western steamboats played during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Doug Hansen (Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop) and Jim Patrick take a closer look at an extremely rare, wheeled relic.  This 1856 Peter Schuttler brand running gear is likely the oldest surviving, factory-built wagon in America.

If you’re not familiar with the story of the Steamboat Arabia, I wrote a feature article years ago that highlighted the vessel's sinking and recovery while also focusing on the high wheel wagon gear found onboard.  The piece was published by The Carriage Journal back in January of 2008.  If you missed it, another writing of the account can still be found on our website.  The story is entitled, Arabia’s Buried Treasure.  The sinking of the Arabia in 1856 left us with a time capsule of life on the frontier in those days.  Almost anything one can imagine was on that boat – including a pre-fabricated house!

This massive display of hand tools is just a fraction of the countless goods recovered from the Arabia.

It’s hard to imagine such beautiful and fragile china heading west on a steamboat in 1856.  It’s even more amazing to know these pieces survived wagon freighting, a shipwreck, flooding, and being buried beneath nearly fifty feet of Kansas cornfield.

Getting a firsthand look at the vibrant colors, patterns, and styles of clothing being sent into the mid-1800’s American West gives us an even greater understanding of how things really appeared in that time period.

New-old-stock keys, hinges, and other hardware from 1856 are unheard-of finds in today’s world.

The steamboat Arabia included a wealth of materials for the frontier, including this printer’s type bound for Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The last place we visited on our trip to the symposium was the Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  This facility is loaded with early military transportation, wheeled weaponry, and other items used in the exploration of the American West.  Articles such as a circa-1800 surveyor’s compass, photographic equipment, pack saddles, signal corp gear, recovered picket pins, early bayonets, and countless other items are also housed in this museum.  If you’re ever in the area, it’s a stop well worth your time.  Plus, just a few blocks from the museum, deep swales from mid-nineteenth century wagon traffic still tell the story of heavy freighting and emigrants leaving the Missouri River, headed west.

The Frontier Army Museum, located at Fort Leavenworth, includes a wealth of transportation history related to the early U.S. Army.  A special permit is required to enter the military base.

This ox yoke was built in 1860 by Mr. Lackbee.  It was made for the legendary freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell.

There’s a lot to see and study at the Frontier Army Museum.

The Model 1909 Army Ambulance was the last horse-drawn ambulance design used by the U.S. Army.  

This is a rare, ‘Improved Dougherty’ wagon.  The design was in use before and during World War 1.

As evidenced by this buckboard, the U.S. army used literally dozens of different types of horse-drawn vehicles during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Coming soon... we’ll take a look at two well-known, early vehicle brands that are often confused as being one-and-the-same.  As it happens, brand history and the associated identification challenges are common issues for many enthusiasts and collectors of wheeled history.  We’ll talk more soon.  In the meantime, have a great week!  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The 2017 SFTA Symposium – More Moments

Last week, I shared a few of the activities and behind-the-scenes events from the recent Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium held in Olathe, Kansas.  This week, I’m continuing coverage of the gathering with a focus on the happenings at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm.  On October 18th, I’ll finish up the highlights with a look at our trip to the Steamboat Arabia Museum and the Fort Leavenworth Frontier Museum.  Each of these settings provided an amazing backdrop for studying America’s early trail and transportation history. 

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Mahaffie home served passengers traveling with the ‘Barlow, Sanderson and Company’ stagecoach line during the nineteenth century.

As we arrived at the Mahaffie farm, the mud wagon was just leaving the barn.

Stagecoach rides are a popular part of the activities at the Mahaffie farm.  

While commonplace on the Santa Fe and other trails, the process of yoking and driving oxen is a rare sight today.  

Don Werner of Werner Wagon Works demonstrated the art and science involved in hot-setting wagon tires.

The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Historic Farm is located just across the street from where the formal presentations took place in the Olathe Community Center.  Friday, September 29th, a host of activities were on tap for the symposium attendees.  Don Werner of Werner’s Wagon Works shared a wealth of information related to the design and construction of wagon wheels.  Tim Talbott, Mahaffie Site Director, discussed the process of yoking oxen and Rawhide Johnson gave a particularly interesting firsthand account of stage coaching.  Turns out that his dad had purchased a stage coach line (complete with coaches) in the early part of the twentieth century.  What an amazing opportunity!  Doug Hansen followed up with more details on various accoutrements of staging and wagon driving while Greg VanCoevern shared aspects of his army ambulance and Jeff McManus and Cameron Bean conducted blacksmithing seminars.  It was a full day of demonstrations which also included tours of the historic Mahaffie farm and period home.  The Mahaffie farm was a stage stop for passing travelers as early as the Civil War.  Today, the home stands as one of the few, surviving stage coach stops on the Santa Fe Trail.  The preservation of the facilities allows visitors from all over the world to learn more about U.S. frontier travel as well as life on an 1860’s-era farm.

An emigrant camp with Dutch oven cooking was also part of the event.

Traditional blacksmithing techniques and tools were highlighted by Jeff McManus and Cameron Bean from the National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  

Part of Doug Hansen’s on-site presentations included highlights on braking methods used on early western vehicles.

Rawhide Johnson’s insights into stagecoaching were both humorous & educational.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S. Army employed a number of different styles of horse-drawn vehicles.  Greg VanCoevern shared some of those details as they related to his army ambulance.  

Next week, I’ll wrap up our coverage of the 2017 Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium with a look at our visit to the Steamboat Arabia Museum and Fort Leavenworth Frontier Museum.  Both locales provided a great deal of insight into early freighting, travel on American trails, and the vehicles used throughout the frontier. 

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, October 4, 2017

2017 Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium

This past week, I was privileged to attend a special, historical trail symposium presented by the Santa Fe Trail Association and the National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association.  From start to finish, it was one of the best organized and information-packed excursions I’ve ever been a part of.  If you missed it, you missed a lot.  That said, word on the street is that these folks will have an equally significant retreat in St. Louis in 2019.  Consider yourself duly informed.  If you’re interested in early trails, western vehicles, and the particulars surrounding those studies, you’ll want to make sure you have the next event marked on your ‘to do’ list.  With that said, I thought I’d take the next few weeks and give a brief overview of some highlights of this year’s event. 

The Olathe Community Center was an exceptional facility for the formal presentations shared during the 2017 Santa Fe Trail Association symposium.

Larry Short introduced each of the half dozen speakers to a crowd of just over 150 folks from all over the country.

The presentations for the 2017 Santa Fe Trail symposium were held at the Olathe Community Center and the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Historic Farm.  Other segments of the gathering included a series of bus tours focused on different aspects of the Santa Fe Trail.  Organizers also included a ‘night-at-the-museum’ dinner and tour of the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City.  That facility - and the discoveries it holds - is beyond amazing.  Some attendees even made the brief trip to Ft. Leavenworth to take in even more history housed in the Frontier Museum. 

While informal talks were conducted throughout the multitude of activities, the opening presentations for the event were held at the Olathe Community Center.  Unfortunately, that simple-sounding name doesn’t do much to convey what an outstanding asset this facility is to the local area.  Surrounded by an ultra-modern, yet relaxed and inviting atmosphere, the resource is filled with art, education, exercise, and sports activities for the young and young at heart.  While we were there, families were celebrating birthdays, holding volleyball games, swimming, participating in study groups, checking out a huge consignment sale, exploring a farmer’s market, and relaxing in the picturesque setting and picnic/playground areas.  It’s an incredibly welcoming jewel for the folks in Olathe. 

Steve Schmidt’s presentation on the Sibley Survey provided an exceptionally detailed look at the history, beginnings, and development of the Santa Fe Trail.  

Mike Dickey outlined a wealth of information related to Native American tribes located along the Santa Fe Trail.

Truth is, if you came to this event expecting to learn more than you could carry away, you weren’t disappointed.  There was so much information passed along throughout the multi-day event that it would be tough to get it all into one blog post.  As a result, this week, I’ll limit my focus to the formal presentations and share more details on the rest of the symposium in the weeks to come.

My presentation focused on the historical development of freight wagons on the Santa Fe Trail.  It included a considerable amount of primary source details and imagery never shown before.  

Leo Oliva expounded on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ within his talk related to Soldiers on the Santa Fe Trail.

Doug Hansen of Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop provided a wealth of information related to the Art of the Wheelwright.  His talk was generously filled with technical and practical information.

Craig Crease not only delivered an excellent formal presentation on the Santa Fe Trail but also hosted an extensive bus tour highlighting the trail’s original routes.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share even more images and insights from this Santa Fe Trail Association event.  To the person, the meeting was filled with friendly, engaging folks.  I’m glad I was there.  Not only does that kind of atmosphere make for an ideal learning experience, it left everyone with a lot of great memories.  Special thanks to Greg and Joanne VanCoevern for reaching out to me over two years ago as they helped to plan this impressive gathering.

Rawhide Johnson, Cameron Bean, and Jeff McManus provided additional presentations at the historic Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop.

Next week, we’ll focus on a lot more of the event activities, including a hands-on look at wheelwrighting presented by Don Werner of Werner Wagon Works.

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