Most emigrants used light covered wagons with sloping sides. The canvas top was waterproofed with linseed oil and stretched over a framework of hoop-shaped slats. Although mainly made of wood, iron was used to reinforce the wagon at crucial points. However, iron was used sparingly in construction since it was heavy and would slow down and exhaust the animals pulling the wagon.

The wagons were packed with food supplies, cooking equipment, water kegs, and other things needed for a long journey. These wagons could carry loads of up to 2,500 pounds, but the recommended maximum was 1,600 pounds. There was little room in the wagon for people and so only small children or senior citizens rode in the wagon. The rest of the party walked beside the slow moving vehicle or rode on the back of a horse.

The four wheels of the wagon were made of wood (strengthened with iron). The front wheels were usually smaller than those at the back. The wagon train would travel at around two miles an hour. This enabled the emigrants to average ten miles a day. With good weather the 2,000 mile journey from Missouri to California and Oregon would take about five months. However, heavy rains would increase this by several weeks.

These wagons rarely had springs. This was not a major problem for the passengers as the wagon travelled very slowly. Nor did the wagons have brakes and this caused serious problems when travelling downhill. One solution was to use chains to lock at least one wheel. Another strategy was to cut down a tree and haul it behind to supply drag.

The emigrants used horses, oxen and mules to pull their wagons. The most popular animal with emigrants was the ox. It was cheaper, stronger and easier to work than horses or mules. They were also less likely to be stolen by Native Americans on the journey and would be more useful as a farm animal when you reached your destination. Oxen were able to exist on sparse vegetation and were less likely to stray from camp. The main argument against oxen was that they could become reckless when hot and thirsty and were known to cause stampedes in a rush to reach water.

Between 1840 and 1860 more than half of the animals used to pull the wagons were oxen. Probably the major reason for this was that an ox cost $25 in the 1840s whereas mules were $75. During the early stages of this migration, mules were the second most popular animal with the emigrants. Later, horses replaced mules as the second choice for pulling wagons.

When the party stopped for any length of time the wagons were arranged, end to end, in a circular or square compound. This served both as a corral for the animals and as protection against a possible attack from Native Americans.

When I arrived in St. Louis, we went to work to get the necessary equipment together. Most important of all, we had to have a strong wagon and at least two teams of oxen. We bought the wagon without framework and covering for fifty dollars. It was a good wagon which stood the trip well. Ripstein had bought two teams of oxen on the Illinois side of the river for twenty-five dollars each, but one team was too heavy and too old for such a long and difficult journey. Therefore, upon the advice of everybody, we exchanged it in Independence for a much younger and also much cheaper team. To strengthen the wagon tongue, we had an iron rod attached along its entire length, and, thanks to this arrangement, the tongue did good service. Our wagon was, of course, outfitted with a framework and a covering of oiled canvas. There were five of us in all, of whom I was the youngest, who were going to take the trip together in the same wagon.

The wagons used in those days by Russell, Majors & Waddell were known as the "J. Murphy wagons," made at St. Louis specially for the plains business. They were very large and were strongly built, being capable of carrying seven thousand pounds of freight each. The wagon-boxes were very commodious - being as large as the rooms of an ordinary house - and were covered with two heavy canvas sheets to protect the merchandise from the rain. These wagons were generally sent out from Leavenworth, each loaded with six thousand pounds of freight, and each drawn by several yokes of oxen in charge of one driver.

We found St. Joseph after nearly two months' steady tramp and solid tread of the honest old oxen, a sea of tents. For miles and miles up the Missouri and down were to be seen the white tents, white covered wagons and busy people passing and surging to and fro. It was now the middle of May. The weather was warm and we could sleep in the tents instead of the covered wagons. So we rested here for several days while papa purchased food and other things that we needed.

We had two big heavily laden wagons, with eight yoke of oxen to each, a carriage and two horses for mother and baby sister, and a single horse for the three boys to ride. This was particularly convenient, especially at the crossing of the swollen streams, when all three could climb on together and get lots of fun and often times a little wetting; for we all had learned to swim in the dear old Tippecanoe, and we did not mind a bit if we all rolled off together in the middle of the stream.

Historical Trails

Nothing contributed more to the success or failure of a Western wagon trek than the wagons that carried the pioneers across 2,000 miles of jolting wilderness. Pioneers needed wagons strong enough to haul people and supplies for five months or more. To outlast the rugged trail and months of wear, the wagon needed to be constructed of seasoned hardwood. Most pioneers used the typical farm wagon with a canvas cover stretched over hooped frames. A family of four could manage with a single wagon. It would be very tight on space since supplies would take up almost the entire space within the wagon. If they could afford it, many families took more than one wagon Most emigrants on the trail went West in their farm wagons, modified to take the punishment, while others bought rigs specifically built for the one-way journey.

A wagon had to be light enough to not over tax the mules or oxen that pulled it and strong enough not to break down under loads of as much as 2,500 pounds. For these reasons wagons were constructed of such hardwoods as maple, hickory and oak. Iron was used only to reinforce parts that took the greatest beating such as tires, axles and hounds. An emigrant wagon was not comfortable to ride in, since wagons lacked springs and there was little room to sit inside the wagon because most space was taken up with cargo.

The three main parts of a prairie wagon were the bed, the undercarriage, and the cover.

BED = was a rectangular wooden box, usually 4 feet wide by 10 feet long. At its front end was a jockey box to hold tools.

UNDERCARRIAGE = was composed of the wheels, axle assemblies, the reach (which connected the two axle assemblies), the hounds (which fastened the rear axle to the reach and the front axle to the wagon tongue) and the bolsters (which supported the wagon bed). Dangling from the rear axle was a bucket containing a mixture of tar and tallow to lubricate the wheels.

COVER = was made of canvas or cotton and was supported by a frame of hickory bows and tied to the sides of the bed. It was closed by a drawstring. The cover served the purpose of shielding the wagon from rain and dust, but when the summer heat became stifling the cover could be rolled back and bunched to let fresh air in.

10 of the Best Historical American Station Wagons

Station wagons are not inherently cool—that's just a hard, cold reality. Plus, excepting Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagons from a couple of generations ago, no modern examples are available with a handy third-row seat for the kids, as that's what SUVs are apparently for nowadays. Not to mention, when it comes to great American station wagons, well, diesels are not the least-bit cool anymore.

But American station wagons from the mid-1910s, when Ford offered a wood-bodied version of its Model T primarily as a train-station shuttle, to about the mid-1970s, had their own kind of kitschy-Americana cool. And after World War II, most came with powerful eight-cylinder engines.

In normal times, we'd be thinking about summer vacation season right about now, and any of these 10 American station wagons would be perfect for the retro-REI camping trip or trip to the lake of your dreams. Think pre-World War II interstate trips on Route 66, or Eisenhower-to-Ford-era trips on the Interstate, family trips to the beach, camping, or to the rural cabin.

Special thanks to Old Car Brochures/The Old Car Manual Project for letting us use its vintage new-car brochure art featured in this list, and for the resources and fact-checking materials in the text of those catalogs. Its sites, www.oldcarbrochures.org and www.oldcarmanualproject.com, offer fascinating diversions worth hours of your time between at-home work assignments.

Make your comments and criticisms of my list on Twitter at @AM_Lassa. Which wagons have I left out? Here are my choices for the 10 coolest American station wagons to drive for this summer's imaginary vacation.

1937 Ford V-8 Station Wagon

American automakers farmed-out station wagon assembly to suppliers until the mid-1960s, but in 1936, Ford opened its own wagon plant in Iron Mountain, Michigan. That factory, in the state's Upper Peninsula, used raw material from "its vast timber operations near Lake Superior," according to David Traver Adolphus's article, "The American Woody," in the September 2005 issue of Hemmings Classic Car. The Iron Mountain factory shipped whole wooden bodies to Ford's assembly plants around North America. Price was $755, according to "The Standard Catalog of American Cars."

Riding on a 112-inch wheelbase, with 3-2-3, eight-passenger seating, the 1937 Ford V-8 Station Wagon offered choice of a 60-horsepower or an 85-hp, 221 cubic-inch (3.6L) V-8, and its dealer brochure, separate from the brand's full lineup booklet, nicely describes the market these cars sought. "For transporting a weekend party to the yacht, to the stables, the lodge, or to the cottage by the seashore, it is ideal since it enables the party to travel en masse, taking supplies with them in comfort."

1942 Chrysler Town & Country Car

A curious mix of Art Deco and Martha's Vineyard cabin styling, the Town & Country became a staple over the next three decades of upper-middle class suburbs. It was the sort of wagon you might buy if even a well-equipped Ford V-8 could no longer meet your needs and desires. Chrysler touted the '42 Town & Country as "the only station wagon with an all-steel automotive-type top."

It was just a hair longer than 217 inches, and about 75-inches wide, on a 121.5-inch wheelbase. The Town & Country could seat up to nine passengers, with its auxiliary center jump seat. Height, presumably without the optional luggage rack, was 68 inches, just 1.3-inches short of a modern Jeep Grand Cherokee's. The roofline predicted the "coupe-style" SUVs that would come along in another 75 years. Engine was a 120-hp, 250.6 cubic-inch (4.1L) inline-six, coupled to a fluid-drive semi-automatic transmission. "The Standard Catalog" does not have a price for this wagon, though the '42 Town & Country sedan cost $1,520.

1949 Buick Estate Wagon

Ionia Manufacturing in the eponymous town in Michigan built wagon bodies mostly for the various General Motors divisions, but also for Ford, Mercury, and Chrysler, before and after WWII. Buick's 1949 models—Roadmaster, Super, and Special—were all-new for the first time since the war, and Ionia built wagon bodies for the top-two models. The top-spec Roadmaster wagon was 214.5-inches long on a 126-inch wheelbase, and the Super was 209.5-inches long on a 121-inch wheelbase. The Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon came with a 150-hp, 320 cubic-inch (5.2L) straight-eight and standard Dynaflow two-speed automatic transmission. The Super Estate Wagon had a 248 cubic-inch (4.1L) I-8, rated for 115 hp with the standard three-speed manual, and 120 hp with the optional Dynaflow.

These Buicks were two-row, six-passenger vehicles, and like the '42 Chrysler, they featured a clamshell-style tailgate. The rear bench seat folded down like many of today's SUV seats, with the cushion folding forward into the rear footwell and the seatback folding flat. The brochure suggests "Sleep where you stop: Carry along an air mattress, and when you want to stop—presto!--sleeping quarters." Base price was $3,176 for the Super, and $3,734 for the Roadmaster, according to "The Standard Catalog of American Cars," our pricing source throughout this story.

1955 Pontiac Star Chief Custom Safari

The 1955-57 Safari was Pontiac's version of the Chevrolet Nomad, which also ran for those three years, as a sporty two-door, two-row station wagon, priced at the top of the model lineup.

Both cars were inspired by the 1954 Chevy Corvette Nomad Motorama car, a two-seat two-door wagon, and perhaps even more than the '42 Chrysler Town & Country, these truly were precursors to such modern models as the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE Coupes.

This is distinct from American two-door sedan-style wagons marketed as handyman utility cars in the '50s, popular long before everybody drove pickup trucks. The two-door Safari was 202.9-inches long, 75.4-inches wide, with a modern crossover vehicle-like height of 61 inches, and it came with a 180-hp two-barrel, or 200-hp four-barrel 287 cubic-inch (4.7L) V-8, coupled to a three-on-the-tree or a Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission. List price was $3,124, the only '55 Pontiac base price exceeding $3,000

After 1957, the Safari nameplate was attached to the Bonneville, Executive, Catalina and LeMans wagons through the '60s and '70s.

1956 Rambler Cross Country

George Romney, chief of the newly formed American Motors Corp., future Michigan governor, and failed candidate for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination, shuttered Hudson not long after it merged with Nash-Kelvinator in 1954. The surviving Rambler marque continued to offer smaller, reasonably sized cars as the big three offered prairie schooners roughly 205- to 220-inches long. The Cross Country was 193.6 inches on a 108-inch wheelbase, and was 71.3 inches wide and 58.6 inches tall. Its 195.6 cubic-inch (3.2L) six made 120 hp and 170 lb-ft. It was a two-row, six-passenger wagon, with "airliner" fully reclining front seats and a one-piece tailgate.

But what made this Rambler so freaking cool was its body style, a four-door pillarless hardtop station wagon, the first in the U.S. industry. GM had just introduced its first four-door hardtops a year earlier with the 1955 Olds 88 and Buick Century. In case that's not enough, check out the woodgrain applique on the green Cross Country, which looks like it could be pulled off the sides of the car and flipped over to make a fabulous Mid-Century Modern coffee table. Base price, $2,326.

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Fiesta/Buick Century Caballero Riviera

See a pattern here? To me, four-door hardtops are even more evocative of Mid-Century American automobilia than station wagons, and when you combine the two, I just can't resist. Ionia Manufacturing built the Olds and Buick hardtop wagons for just two model years, ending with 1958, but the over-the-top, late Harley Earl-era styling really makes them stand out. (The '58 models, which added dual headlamps, got heavier with chunky-looking, creased sheetmetal and tons of added chrome.) The Buick was available with two or three rows for six or nine passengers, and offered divided second row seats, while the Olds was available as a two-row, six-passenger car only. Tailgate was a two-piece, clamshell design.

Ford's Mercury division also made four-door hardtop deluxe wagons, the Country Cruiser series, for the 1957-60 model years.

The Olds Super 88 Fiesta came with a 277-hp, 400-lb-ft 371 cubic-inch (6.1L) V-8, coupled to either a three-on-the-tree or Jetaway Hydra-Matic two-speed automatic. The Buick Century Caballero Riviera had a 300-hp, 400-lb-ft, 364-cubic-inch (6.0L) V-8 and standard Dynaflow automatic. A cheaper Special Caballero Riviera was available, with a 250-hp, 380-lb-ft 264 (4.3L) V-8 and choice of manual or Dynaflow. Oldsmobile (1957 base price): $3,017-$3,220 Buick (1957 base price): $3,167-$3,831

1960 Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler didn't even offer a b-post station wagon alternative to the New Yorker Town & Country and Windsor Town & Country when they premiered in the 1960 model year. New Yorker Town & Countrys were America's most prestigious production station wagons from the 1950s to the early '80s.

The '60 New Yorker Town & Country was powered by a 350-hp, 413-cubic-inch (6.8L) V-8, and was 219.6-inches long, on a 126-inch wheelbase. The entry-level Chrysler Windsor Town & Country, powered by a 305-hp 383-cubic-inch (6.3L) V-8, was 215.4-inches long, on a 122-inch wheelbase. Both cars came with a pushbutton Torqueflite automatic, standard, and offered optional rear-facing third-row seats.

Chrysler's 1964 wagons were the last available as four-door hardtops. Within a few years, all pillarless hardtops, whether two-door, four-door or wagon, come under intensifying scrutiny in light of the Ralph Nader-sparked safety movement. Wagons in particular are susceptible to rollover crush because of long rooftops without adequate vertical pillars, which is why modern three-row wagons are hard to find. The passenger areas need stiff, relatively thick roof structures that eat up third-row space, so the taller bodies found on SUVs are more accommodating of three-row seating. Base price: $3,691 (Windsor Town & Country) $5,212 New Yorker Town & Country.

1963 Studebaker Lark Wagonaire

Famed industrial designer Brook Stevens designed a sliding roof panel as a kind of mid-cycle update for the new-for-1960 Studebaker Lark wagon. It opened the top from just behind the thin c-pillar, to the back. The idea was you could haul home tall items, say, a new Sears Kenmore refrigerator, placed upright on the cargo floor. We expect at least a few of these were hooned back in the day, with second or third owners "surfing" in back. More than four decades after the Wagonaire's introduction, GMC copied the idea for the Envoy XUV SUV.

The Wagonaires were available in Regal or upmarket Daytona trim levels, offered with a 112-hp 169.6-cubic-inch (2.8L) six, a 180-hp 259-cubic-inch (4.2L) V-8, a 210-hp 289-cubic-inch (4.7L) V-8, or a supercharged 289 rated for 289 horsepower.

According to our friends at Motor Trend, Studebaker built just 15 such '63 Lark Wagonaires with this latter R2 engine package. It also offered them with a four-speed manual, as well as three-speed manual or automatic. It was 190.3-inches long and 57-inches tall, on a 113-inch wheelbase, and available only as a two-row, six-passenger car. The one-piece tailgate was, obviously, hinged at the bottom.

Studebaker moved production from South Bend, Indiana, to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, after the 1963 model year, and ceased business after the '66 model year. Base price range ('63): $2,550-2,700.

1964 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser/1965 Buick Sportwagon

If you can't have a pillarless hardtop, why not a Vista Roof (Olds) or Skyroof (Buick)? The '64 model year was the last in which Ionia Manufacturing built Olds and Buick full-size wagons. These two in-house assembled cars essentially replaced them.

While the Vista Cruiser and Sportwagon shared their bodywork forward of c-pillars with the F-85/Cutlass and Special/Skylark, respectively, both were longer, on bigger body-on-frame platforms than the F-85 and Special wagons. The '64 Olds Vista Cruiser was 208-inches long on a 120-inch wheelbase, versus 203 inches on a 115-inch wheelbase for the F-85 wagon, and the Sportwagon and Special wagons had similar dimensions. With their Vista/Skyroofs, the Olds was 58.3-inches tall, and the Buick 57.5-inches tall.

Engines were a 230-hp or 290-hp 330-cubic-inch (5.4L) V-8 for the Vista Cruiser, and a 210-hp or 250-hp 300-cubic-inch (4.9L) Wildcat V-8 for the Sportwagon. Both were offered in two- and three-row variations.

Obviously inspired by the Volkswagen 19-window Microbus (which went to 21 windows for '64), the Vista Cruiser's Vista roof survived four iterations through the '72 model year. The '73 Vista Cruiser had only a small sunroof and was on GM's new Colonnade A-bodies. Buick used the Skyroof from the 1965 to '69 model years, though the Sportwagon name lasted through 1972. Oldsmobile (1964 base price): $2,938-$3,122 Buick (1965 base price): $2,925-$3,214.

1966 Ford Country Squire

Ford called itself The Wagonmaster in those days, and I'm singling out the '66 model because it was the first with the Magic Doorgate. The one-piece tailgate with power window was hinged so that it could open like a conventional tailgate, or like a door, with an upper and lower hinge on the driver's side.

The third-row option was unique to Fords and Mercurys in this era, with dual-facing rear seats. If you could fit two kids on each side, voila, you had a 10-passenger wagon.

But the full-size Ford wagons were all-new for 1965, when both Ford and GM full-size models were fully redesigned, taking a big design leap over the '64s. The vinyl woodgrain-paneled Ford Country Squire, with its LTD interior and exterior trim, became the poster-car for cul-de-sac suburban America.

The '66 Ford Country Squire was 210.9 inches on a 119-inch wheelbase and was 79-inches wide and a low-ish 56.7-inches tall. The '66 Country Squire's engine options included 289 (4.7L), 352 (5.8L), 390 (6.4L) and 428 (7.0L) V-8s ranging from 200-345 hp. Heyday for the Ford Country Squire lasted until the mid-'70s. Base price range (1966): $3,289-$3,372.

Mule Skinners and Bull Whackers

Depending on your team of animals those who drove the freight wagons were called mule skinners or bull whackers. The mules, of course were not skinned, but the “bull whackers” did have long whips with which to “urge the oxen along”.

Typically drivers were loners, and might go days without seeing another human, a bath, decent food, or necessities. They slept in the open or under the wagons and most often the larger wagons, especially the ore wagons, had no place to sit, so the freighter rode on the last animal that was in harness or yoke. Some of the wagons had wooden bench seats but men often walked since it was easier on the body than the bouncing of the wagon.

Ore Wagons somewhere in Nevada late 1800s

There were often no way stations, no pull offs, no places to safely seek shelter. Up until around the mid 1880, Indians were a menace and quite eager to attack a lone freight wagon and take the animals and goods.

The teamsters usually traveled light carrying a hat, knife, rifle, and the clothes they wore including heavy boots. A rough and ready group, full of profanities and lack of social etiquette, their work day began early and ended late – taking care of the animals and feeding themselves. John Bratt, a bull whacker, said he only ever knew one who did not chew tobacco, swear or drink.

“Freight leaving for Bullfrog” – Goldfield, Nevada ca. 1906

Their life on the trail and vices generally meant most were single and when they did have free time it was often spent on booze, gambling, and soiled doves. The pay of around $70-$80 a month for an experience hand was above that of common laborers or miners who generally got from $2.00-$3.50 a day. To put that in perspective, before the Civil War soldiers (privates) stationed in the West received no more than $15 a month.

A typical charge to haul freight might be $8 to $10 per one hundred pounds but also depended on distance, dangers and difficulty. Large companies with many outfits on the road could do quite well. Russell, Majors and Waddell wagons once made $300,000 on one trip carrying supplies for the army.

The Earp brothers were often engaged in the freight trade, taking turns as “swampers” (helpers who generally assisted in loading and unloading) and drivers.

This undated California photo is captioned “Jerk Line, Mule Skinner”

In deliveries to towns of any size there often was an area of town where the needs of the freighters, such as reshoeing and repairs, could be obtained. More often, especially on lonely, isolated stretches, the swamper and driver performed the chores. Fortunately the wagons were so carefully and sturdily built that despite the difficult conditions serious breakdowns were infrequent.

Wagons - History

They’re among the last visible icons of a dramatic bygone era. They stocked the shelves of America’s early merchants and traders, kept communication flowing into many of the most remote reaches of the frontier, and helped open the West with the new-found wealth of the nation. These were the Freight Wagons. Built for a single profit-driven purpose, they were designed to take a literal beating while carrying massive amounts of goods, supplies, equipment and raw ore. But, creating these designs was just the first step in a long line of business logistics and challenges. Before the goods and raw materials could arrive at their destinations, they had to overcome the demands of poor and non-existing roads.

Photo Courtesy of Hansen Wheel & Wagon
Even considering all of the frustrations involved with delivering goods on an international scale today, nothing comes close to the adversity that met America’s early western freighting industry. Poorly maintained, steep, narrow dirt paths with axle deep mud, washed out chasms, and an endless array of unforeseen problems were matched only by scenic routes with stomach-curdling drop-offs overlooking deep, mountainous ravines. Crossing mile after mile of secluded country, these slow-moving, heavy wagons were constantly twisted, racked, and pounded along the trails. Adding to the pressure, there were no emergency roadside services to call for help, no regularly-spaced convenience stores to replenish themselves and their teams with food and water, and no protection from bandits and renegades looking to take full advantage of an isolated caravan. It was not an occupation for the faint of heart or the indecisive. Here, strong men with even stronger resolves wore hardened faces and the added savvy of a backcountry survivor. When confronted with cantankerous mules, their vernacular could be explosive and unashamedly colorful. However, they also had a softer side – especially when it came to caring for the animals they spent so much time around. Their livestock and equipment were their primary means of sustenance and that fact was never far from any of the day’s thoughts. Averaging about 15 miles per day in hill country and 25 a day in the flatlands, the first of these western freighters is usually traced to 1821 and the efforts of William Becknell to open the Santa Fe Trail for increased commerce with the New Mexico region.

Photo Courtesy of Hansen Wheel & Wagon
Because they traveled some of the most torturous terrain ever conquered on four wheels, it’s understandable that the abuse and ravages of time have left very few of these vehicles for modern eyes to witness. Perhaps that’s why each year on Labor Day weekend more than 20,000 people gather in Ketchum, Idaho for the annual Wagon Days Festival. It’s an event started almost a half century ago to commemorate the area’s heritage and link to the old west. The highlight of the event is the parade and display of six giant ore wagons. Built in 1889, these Goliath-sized creations are a direct connection to America’s legendary western heritage. They represent some of the biggest, toughest, and most impressive vehicles that ever traversed the American frontier. Just walking up to the wagons reminds one of the enormous tasks confronted by our pioneer ancestors. Resting on a mammoth foundation of seven foot tall rear wheels, four inch wide steel tires and an overall height - with canvas - of fourteen feet, the vehicles carry an impressive display of strength and determination. Individually, these wagons stretch some sixteen feet in length and include a monstrous interior capacity totaling 250 cubic feet. The dimensions translate to a vehicle capable of carrying about 9 tons of cargo. Even standing empty, the wagons still weigh a ground-crushing 6,400 pounds. Comparably, the wagons are similar in weight to a typical full-size, heavy duty pickup truck - but with about four times the payload capacity.

A strong indicator of the impressive loads carried by these wagons, the brake blocks themselves are massive carved wedges positioned just in front of the rear wheels. Nearing 3 feet in length, these huge wooden chocks were oversized to enable a stronger ‘bite’ on the wheel thus delivering better control when traversing hills and across uneven terrain. In addition to the wooden brake blocks, freight wagons like these also used rough locks and drag shoes to help safely slow their descent on especially steep grades. A rough lock was a short-link chain or iron bar with chain looped around the felloe of the rear wheel(s). Drag shoes – sometimes called ‘wheel shoes’ - served a similar purpose but allowed the wheel to “ride” in the slot of the shoe (see photo). In both methods, the rear wheels were tied off to the wagon, but a drag shoe had the added benefit of preventing the tires of the wheel from wearing a flat spot in one area while skidding down a slope.

Wheels That Won The West
Unlike lighter-weight farm wagons, the operator of these large freight teams did not ride in the wagon. Instead, every ounce of space was reserved for ore and supplies. Riding on the rearmost horse/mule on the left side (nigh wheeler), the freight operator or ‘skinner’ controlled the team and wagons from one location. Because freight wagons were often hooked together to form a lead wagon and subsequent trail wagons, other men would sometimes ride on the sides of the successive wagons to help control additional operations including braking. So grueling was the job of carrying the ore out of the Idaho interior that these huge wagons were typically drawn by a long stretch of 14 to 24 mules on a jerkline. Jerklines were single reins that ran from the driver through rings in the near-side harness of the teams up to the near-side bit of the leader. The lead mule was connected to the off (right-side) leader by a jockey stick and trained to turn right with one steady pull on the line and to the left when short jerks were made. It was a natural extension of the task to call the operation a ‘jerk line’.

The wagons were often loaded using a calculation of about one ton per animal. The big mules were expected to at least pull enough payload to equal their own weight – hence the origin of today’s phrase, “Pull your own weight.” According to Ivan Swaner, a local expert on the Ketchum wagons, the Wagon Days Association was started in 1958 to celebrate the early mining era in the surrounding Wood River Valley. “These are the last of the great ore wagons,” says Swaner. “They were used until 1909 to haul gold, silver and lead ore from the backcountry mines in Idaho.” Swaner points out that the freighters followed a circuitous 180 mile route that took a full two weeks to complete. Horace C. Lewis was the owner of the freight wagons. Born in 1858, Lewis had operated his own freight line for several years before he created the Ketchum Fast Freight Line in 1884. With at least 30 outfits comprised of approximately 200 mules and a number of ox teams, Lewis’ wagons heavily traveled the country between Ketchum, Clayton, BayHorse, Challis, Custer and Bonanza, Idaho. In one season, the Lewis wagons reportedly hauled an incredible 700,000 pounds of ore and silver bullion to the railroad for shipping. While a number of legendary wagon makers like Studebaker, Bain, Schuttler, Weber and others catered to freight company vehicle needs, these specific wagons were built by the smiths and woodworkers of Horace Lewis’ own shops. 2006 marks the 117th birthday of these still incredibly solid vehicles. Looking at them, it’s not hard to find ourselves wondering if we too would have had the same vision and strength to have faced such daunting physical tasks.

Big, bold and brawny, the Freight Wagons of the West were true bastions of America’s independent spirit. The heavy bracing, tires of double thicknesses, reinforced gears (undercarriages) and oversized wheel construction were typical features of the heaviest vehicles used in the west. From Santa Fe to the Rockies, St. Louis to the Pacific coast, western freight wagons and their teamsters overcame some of the most rugged and unforgiving terrain. In the process, they created an enduring legacy pointing to the power of sheer will and the endless rewards of opportunity. Each Labor Day Weekend, the city of Ketchum, Idaho plays host to one of the greatest tributes to the pioneers and entrepreneurs of America’s western history. With an abundance of events including a mountain man rendezvous, Old West shoot-outs, a barbeque, rodeo, fiddler’s contest, antique shows, arts, crafts, and the legendary Big Hitch parade of freight wagons, Ketchum comes alive with the sights, sounds and inspiration that built a fledging nation into a world power. For more information on this unique Labor Day celebration, contact the Sun Valley / Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau at 800-634-3347 or email them at [email protected]

In today’s modern world, the business of shipping products, materials and information has never been easier. Armed with an expansive interstate highway system, express airline services, satellite communications and instant computer-tracking capabilities, the shipping business has become extremely sophisticated and organized. But, even with such high levels of service, we often still find ourselves wondering why something couldn’t be here yesterday. Today, consumers are trained to expect instant gratification and it’s created a never-ending battle to transport goods from point A to point B faster, cheaper and better. While today’s shipping companies spend a great deal of time and money creating better logistics and greater efficiencies, the bottom line is still the same. Goods still have to make it to the manufacturer and marketplace in order for commerce to be successful. It’s a reminder that no matter how far we travel some things never change. Through it all, history has much to share and we - always have more to learn.



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No record has been found of whether the protest had any impact on the company or the election in Indiana. However, in Fannin County, Texas, the Democrats garnered 3,724 votes in 1884, the Independents got 911 and the Republicans brought up the rear with just 99 votes. History also records the presence of a black spot on Main Street in Dodd City for many years afterward. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002 (806) 779-3164 e-mail: [email protected]

Willys Station Wagon: A History

388,000 produced between 1946 and 1965 | Designed by Brooks Stevens.

James D. Mooney, president and board chairman of Willys-Overland Motors, announces the “introduction of a new jeep station wagon” describing it as a “people’s car.” Indeed, the new 2WD, all-steel station wagon boasted easy maintenance, safety and a seven-passenger capacity. Powered by the Go-Devil flathead, four cylinder engine, the 463 model was designed to compete with the “rear” wood wagons manufactured by Detroit’s Big Three.

In 1949 the Station Wagon pushes ahead, adding 4-wheel drive and claiming “The new 4-Wheel-Drive Willys Station wagon has the powerful all-wheel traction to get you through deep mud, sand and snow – to keep you rolling on slippery ice. It will climb murderous grades – let you head cross-country with no road at all.” (E.W. Schwarz Motors Ad, Nov. 6, 1949 – Milwaukee Sentinel).

The new addition of 4WD to the Willys Station Wagon was the civilian result of the government’s request in the previous year to build a prototype four-wheel drive wagon. At the time, the implications of the evolution of the station wagon to include 4WD were little understood however, this innovation would lead to the creation of an important and emerging market segment, and arguably earned Willys-Overland the credit for the creation of the SUV.

While in production, the Willys Station Wagon employed many different engines and was also available in several commercial delivery formats (Sedan Delivery, Panel Delivery, Utility Delivery) but was ultimately phased out in 1965 by the Jeep Wagoneer.

Engines for the Willys Station Wagon included: (1946-50) L4-134 Go-Devil, (1948-50) L6-148 Lightning, (1950-1965) F 4-134 Hurricane, (1950-1951) L6-161 Lightning, (1952-1954) F6-161 Hurricane, (1954-1962) L6-226 Super Hurricane, (1962-1965) 6-230 Tornado.

Pop culture: In 1958, the Maverick model was introduced (the name was taken from the TV Show of which Willys was a sponsor, a comedy-western created by Roy Huggins and featuring James Garner, Jack Kelly, Roger Moore, and Robert Colbert).

Kaiser Willys carries a large selection of New, Used and NOS for Willys vehicles between the years 1941-1971, including the Willys Station Wagon.

If you are looking for, Willys Jeep Parts, or Willys Jeep Restoration Parts and much more for your 1941-1971 Willys vehicle, you have come to the right place!

Wagon Wheels, Wooden Wagon Wheels

We make Wagon Wheels, Wooden Wagon Wheels, Cannon Wheels, Custom Wagon Wheels, Steel Wagon Wheels,, Decorative Wagon Wheels. Carriage Wheels and Buggy Wheels. Yesterdays Handmade Wagon Wheels, Handmade in the USA Today. For over 50 years Wagon Wheels and Wagons is what we do. That is why we sell more Wagon Wheels and Wagons than anyone else.

We are a family owned and operated business, located in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Pennsylvania. You will find our wagon wheels In the movies (Paramount, DreamWorks, Warner Brothers Pictures, Disney, Turner Films), on TV (Trading Places, Into The West, Myth Busters), on the beach at resorts, in university theater groups and major theme parks (Disney, Six Flags, Silver Dollar City, Kennywood, Tweetsie Rail Road) across America.

A Wagon Wheel, especially an American wagon wheel is made like no other wagon wheel in the world. There is no doubt that the invention of the wheel is one of the most important inventions in history. The reason you do not see a flood of wagon wheels from China being sent into the America market is because there has never been a machine made that can build an American type Wagon Wheel, it is a labor intensive project and most of the time the person building the wagon wheel is an artesian.

Over Fifty Years of Wagon Wheels, Wood Wagons Wheels, Wagon Wheel Hubs, Wagon Wheel Axles

Wagon Wheels, Wood Wagon Wheels, Carriage Wheels, Wagon Wheel Hubs, Wagon Wheel Axles, Handmade Wagon Wheels. Yesterdays Wagon Wheels, Handmade in the USA Today. Our Wood Wagon Wheels and Carriage Wheels are hand crafted and quality made from the finest USA Hickory hardwood. All our Wood Wagon Wheels and Carriage Wheels are made with solid steam-bent or cut Hickory construction and Hickory spokes. Our Wagon Axles, wood and steel, are made to order, please Contact Us for prices.

All of our Wood Wagon Wheels have forge shrunk steel rims, rubber can be applied to most of our Handmade Wagon Wheels. Our Wood Wagon Wheels are not only authentic Wagon Wheels that are use on our wagons, they can be used to add that rustic, country, or western decor to any room or landscape. These are the same Handmade Wood Wagon Wheels that we use for our wagon wheel chandeliers.

Wagon Wheel Hubs, like Wagon Wheels, come in all size and shapes, we have designed this information page on Wagon Wheel Hubs to assist you in determining the type of Wagon Wheel Hubs and the type to use for your project. We can custom build any size Wagon Wheel Hubs, Wagon Wheel Axles or Wagon Wheels to meet your needs.


Wagon Wheels consists of four main parts, the tire, felloe's, spokes, and hubs.

The normal felloes width on our Wagon Wheels range from 1" - 2 1/2". We can custom make the width on any of our Wagon Wheel to match the needs of your project. The width and depth of the felloe must remain in proportion. A 2" wide fellows should have a 1 1/2 - 2" depth.

Our Wood Wagon Wheels have 8, 10, 12, 14, or 16 spokes depending on the size of the wheel and what the wheel will be used for. The number of spokes must be in relationship to the size of the Wagon Wheels.

There are three types of tires on our Wood Wagon Wheel, forge shrunk steel tires, flat rubber tires, and rolled rubber tires. We can place any type tire on any of our Wagon Wheels to fit your project needs.

Rubber, flat or rolled, can be added to any of the Wagon Wheels we make. Rubber not only makes less noise on pavement than steel tires, the wheel rolls better which makes it easier to pull. Rubber will last for 2000 -4000 miles before having to be replaced, depending on surface and conditions.

Adding rubber will increase the wheel size by approximately 2" please allow for the increase when ordering Wagon Wheels. If you add rubber to a 32" wheel, it will be 34" after the rubber.

The Sarven Hub Wheel became very popular from aroung 1850 with carriage makers in America and is still in use today. The Sarven Hub Wheel has a wood hub core, reinforced with iron flanges which gives the hub greater strength than the conventional wooden hub.

We build our hubs from select Ash. Weight limit on wood hubs depends on the size of the wagon wheels and hubs.. We can also custom build any size wood hub to meet your project needs, up to 1500 pounds.

Wagon Wheel Wood Hub, medium duty and heavy duty for an original wooden wagon wheel look and light to heavy use. Wood hubs can be used with a boxing, bearings or oil soaked brass inserts. We offer a large selection of wood hubs in all sizes.

We build our hubs from select Ash. Weight limit on wood hubs depends on the size of the wagon wheels and hubs.. We can also custom build any size wood hub to meet your project needs, up to 2000 pounds.

PA Bolt Carriage Wheel Steel Hub used on Amish Buggies and Carriages and Buggies and Carriages around the world, 16 hickory spokes.

When used with bearings, the hub and wheel can be used for medium to light heavy duty and on-road use. Weight limit on PA Bolt Carriage Wheel with steel hubs and bearings, 500 - 700 pounds per wheel.

FA Bolt Carriage Heavy Duty Wheel Steel Hub used on heavy duty Amish Buggies and Heavy Duty Carriages and Buggies and Carriages around the world, 16 hickory wood spokes.

When used with bearings, the hub and wheel can be used for medium to light heavy duty and on-road use. Weight limit on FA Bolt Carriage Wheel with steel hubs and bearings, 700 - 1000 pounds per wheel.

Sealed Bearing Carriage Wheel Steel Hub is a scaled down version of our large Carriage Wheel, powder coated hub, 12 spokes hickory wood.

Designed to be used on miniature horse carts, venders carts, and antique carts. This wheel comes with (2) 3/4" i. d. sealed bearings inside the hub which makes for easy pulling for miniatures, can be used for road use.

Weight limit on Sealed Bearing Carriage Wheel with steel hubs, 500 pounds per wheel.

Wagon Wheel Solid Aluminum Hub for light off-road and ornamental use. For light off-road use, wheel must have oil soaked bronze bushing inserted in bore, 12 spokes hickory wood.

This hub is ideal for venders carts for use in retail shops and stores as well as grocery store displays. The wheel is made from 100% solid American Hickory Wood with an Aluminum hub. Weight limit on Solid Aluminum Hub Wheel, 500 pounds per wheel.

Wagon Wheel Solid Aluminum Lite Hub for ornamental use and light yard use. For light yard use, wheel must have oil soaked bronze bushing inserted in bore, 10 spokes hickory wood.

This hub is ideal for venders carts for use in retail shops and stores as well as grocery store displays. The wheel is made from 100% solid American Hickory Wood with an Aluminum hub. Weight limit on Solid Aluminum Hub Wheel, 250 pounds per wheel.

Yesterdays Handmade Steel Wagon Wheels, Handmade in the USA Today. For over 50 years Steel Wheels is what we do. That is why we sell more Steel Wheels than anyone else. Our Steel Wagon Wheels comes in seven sizes and can be used as decorative wagon wheels or functional wagon wheels.

Rubber can be placed on our 36", 30", 24", 18", 14" 12" and 10" steel wagon wheels. Remember, when adding rubber, it adds two (2) inches of diameter to the wheels. Rubber can only be placed on our 1 inch wide wheels. Our 1 inch Steel Wheels come in 1" wide, 1/8 tire, 5/16 inch spokes, 1/2" axle bore in hub, depth of bore is 1.5”, measurements may vary very slightly. or 2 inch wide wheels, 3/16 thick tire, 3/8 inch spokes, 1/2 inch hub bore or 1 inch hub bore is available.

Our one inch wide steel wagon wheel will hold 125 pounds per wheel, 2 inch wide, 250 pounds

Most all carriage wheels, cannon wheels and wagon wheels have been dished, one of the main reasons the wheel is dished is strength. Dished wheels were invented by the Romans, from Egyptian time's war chariots were built with flat wheels or straight wheels while this type of wheel was great for fast speed, making a turn with this type of wheel could not be done. If you made a turn with a straight wheel at high speeds it would put pressure on the hub and cause the wheel to fail.

The Romans were superior engineers and knew that coming to a stop to make a turn was not the way to win a war. The Romans figured out that putting an iron tire on the wheel while it was hot and let it cool down would pull the wheel together and dish the wheel or cause the center of the hub to be off center not straight. With the wheel dished, it caused the hub to be braced by the spokes unlike the spokes in a straight wheel, the dish would offset the force that would be generated in a turn at a high speed and would allow war chariots to be efficient. Wagon wheels for the most part, have been made this way through the twentieth century.

Carriage Wheels - Buggy Wheels , made from quality hickory wood with a powder coated metal hubs. These carriage wheels are real working wheels, yet can be used for decoration replacement carriage wheels are used on carriages, Amish buggies and buggy's around the world. These Handmade Carriage Wheels are Horse Drawn Carriage Wheels, Bearings and axles for these carriage wheels come in many different sizes and are made to the customers specifications.

Wood Butter Churns - Wood Buckets , Take A Trip Back In Time. Both adds a country accent to your home. Like all of our churns or buckets, it is a replica of old style used on the American frontier and in farm houses throughout the US. Sanded smooth white pine staves and hoops that are fastened by copper nails. Add a great country or antique accent, or unfinished, it makes a project for painting or stenciling to add your own personal touch.

Wood Wheelbarrow , Handcrafted and Works in your garden or yeard, quality workmanship to insure years of service. This wheelbarrow is constructed of solid wood with steam bent wooden wheel and steel rim. The sides are removable for oversized loads or for more decorating options. Great for seasonal yard or porch decoration, fill with pumpkins and corn in the fall, fill with plants in the spring and summer, or use for general landscaping.

Cannon Wheels made of hickory wood and designed to look like the civil war era cannon wheels. These wheels are extremely strong and solid, designed and dished for working cannon use. If you plan on rolling your cannon wheels around or pulling your cannon, your cannon wheels will require a bushing inserted into the hub, the price of the bushing includes truing so the wheel runs true and epoxying the bushing inside the hub. Axles are available for all of our Cannon Wheels.

Butter Churn Lamp , you do not have to buy a wagon wheel chandelier to enjoy a light from yesterday with our butter churn lamps. We have a large selection of cloth shades available for all the lamps we make for the butter churn lamps to our wagon hub lamps Our butter churn lamps are made from the butter churns found in our online store, Our butter churn lamps can be used to add that rustic, country, or western decor to any room or landscape.

The Last, Great, Gasp of the American Station Wagon

Few true station wagons remain on the roads, but the imprint of their design influence is everywhere.

Growing up, my family owned a burgundy 1984 Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon, complete with faux-wood paneling and a rooftop luggage rack. It fit nine passengers comfortably and over the course of its 17-year lifetime, it made no less than 12 road trips from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Florida carrying our entire family’s luggage on its roof. As a teenager, I loathed that machine. My friends made fun of the heavy, black smoke it emitted every time someone started the engine.

I remember gathering as a family, all six of our heads peering at the dashboard as we watched the car surpass 100,000 miles on the odometer, celebrating in its resilience but not me. I waited impatiently for it to die so we could buy a smaller, slightly cooler car. But it never did. The Caprice Classic held on until I moved out. It had more than 200,000 miles on it by the time we were done with it and it was traded in for a Daewoo. Now that I have a family of my own, I kind of miss it.

At one point in America’s automotive history, the station wagon defined the typical modern, middle-class family. For more than 40 years, we trusted it to get us where we needed to go, to haul what needed to be hauled. And when it finally petered out, the station wagon left an indelible imprint on the future of automotive design. Station wagons in America bring to mind the gas-guzzling behemoth glorified in movies like National Lampoon’s Vacation the unsexy byproduct of American families’ summer road trips nightmares to teenagers and the rite-of-passage to middle-aged parenthood. But what we’ve come to identify with the station wagon has not always been the case.

According to Byron Olsen’s book, Station Wagons, the ultimate vacation vehicle is a uniquely American automotive design development with an origin almost as old as the automotive industry itself.

The original station wagons were products of the railroad age, a commercial-only product used as hackneys to taxi passengers around busy train terminals or to and from hotels. These early wagons were often built on top of a truck or large car chassis. These primitive wagons had a windshield and roof to help keep the rain off, but they rarely had side windows—occasionally they had curtains. The body was built out of wood with bench seats and room for storage.

Station wagon in Washington, D.C., 1915 (Library of Congress)

In the 1920s, motorcars were becoming more widespread in America. By 1929 they were less of a toy for the rich and more of a necessity for everyone. To fulfill the need, wagon builders—small manufacturers who typically built these hybrid vehicles (yes, these were hybrids before hybrids became cool) per order—began to advertise them in popular magazines targeted for upper-class citizens like Country Life. Often referred to as “depot hacks,” these models were rugged and simple in design, able to travel rough roads that regular cars couldn’t. Consider them to be the first SUVs or crossovers, if you will well, sort of. While modern SUVs and crossovers are owned by people from all social classes and driven everywhere, their earlier counterparts were priced higher and made-to-order, meant to be driven around the estate grounds after an afternoon of hunting, perhaps.

In 1923, Star, a division of Durant Motors—a short-lived automotive company that was meant to be direct competition of General Motors—was the first car company to offer a factory-built station wagon.

Within a few years, wagon companies like Cantrell, York, Ionia, and Hercules began to emerge. Ford Motor Company began producing its own station wagon in 1929, marking the first time a station wagon was part of a regular catalog. Popularity for Ford’s product soared. The company made 5,200 of them that year, selling at $695 each.

By the 1930s, wood-bodied station wagons, or Woodies, as they were often called, had gained some prestige. They were priced higher than regular cars and popular in affluent communities.

1930s Ford woodie (Brian Snelson/Wikipedia)

But, they required constant maintenance—the bodies had to be varnished periodically and as the wood expanded and contracted with the weather, bolts and screws had to be tightened and retightened. Later, when all-steel wagons were introduced, faux-wood trim became popular on various models as an ode to the earlier all-wood designs.

When Dodge and Plymouth began producing station wagons, the bodies were still made out of wood but the designs were more streamlined with curved roofs that allowed rainwater to flow down the side of the body better. The Dodge Winchester was the first wagon to introduce roll-up front door windows instead of the side curtains.

In 1935, Chevrolet introduced the CarryAll, which later became known as the Suburban. Based on the 1933 and 1934 model built exclusively for the National Guard units, this commercial version was guilt on the same half-ton truck frame as the earlier models but featured all-metal wagon bodies resembling the popular woodie wagons of the time. It had windows, two removable upholstered seats and room for eight people.

It’s argued whether this was the first all-steel station wagon, as many considered it more of a light truck. If that’s the case, the first all-steel, car-sized wagon would have been the 1946 Willlys Jeep station wagon, which was based on the Willys-Overland jeep produced during World War II. The steel construction, of course, was far sturdier than wood and required less maintenance. And it was cheaper and less noisy.

Jeep wagon (Christopher Ziemnowicz/Wikipedia)

The Jeep wagon was the first to offer painted faux-wood trim work, mimicking the earlier wooden models. By the late 1950s, wood accents on all-steel bodies were commonplace, one of the most popular models at the time being Ford’s Country Squire with simulated wood paneling.

After World War II, the era of summer family vacations began as many job benefits expanded to allow more time off. Car ownership became more widespread and new, government-funded highways were being built. Station wagons were there to meet the demand for family trips during the baby boom generation.

Car companies began making larger wagons—full-sized wagons—with six and nine-passenger seating to accommodate larger families and America’s newfound freedom of mass material consumption in the golden age of tourism. These full-sized wagons had forward-facing and rear-facing third row seats that folded down for hauling luggage, groceries and pretty much anything else, along with two-way and three-way tailgates with retractable windows, along with sliding roof panels, and liftbacks for versatility. Because of the widespread availability of station wagons, and the many different styles in which they were offered, they became a product more for functionality rather than style or status.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, the popularity of the station wagon experienced an all-time high in the United States. But by the mid ‘70s, sales declined for a few reasons. The 1973 oil crisis—in which oil prices jumped from $3 a barrel to $12—didn’t help the cost of fueling the mighty V8 engines of these full-sized beasts.

And then the minivan happened.

Chrysler introduced the first models in 1984, providing the perfect combination of the family-friendly design of the station wagon with the functionality of commercial vans and trucks. Minivans were classified as light trucks under the U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFÉ standards, which was first enacted in 1975 as a result of the oil crisis as a way to regulate the average fuel economy of cars and trucks. Station wagons, however, were classified as cars, which meant they were held to a higher standard for fuel efficiency than minivans and other light trucks. And the wagons, especially the full-sized kind, had a hard time complying. So, auto manufacturers were incentivized to produce and market larger vehicles—minivans and the eventual family-friendly SUV—that had lower fuel standards than cars. The last American full-size wagons—the Buick Roadmaster and my old favorite, the Chevrolet Caprice Classic, were discontinued in 1996.

You don’t see too many station wagons on American roads these days. What you do see among the millions of minivans and SUVS are compact and fuel-efficient, sporty and sleek.

And they’re no longer called station wagons rather, they are called sport wagons or crossovers, to avoid the embarrassing stigma of what modern-day parents remember from their childhoods.

However, were it not for the station wagon, which allowed consumers to have it all—utility, style and drivability—minivans, SUVS and even crossovers might not enjoy the popularity they do today. More than the minivan that replaced it, or the SUV, the station wagon wasn’t just a car it was the epitome, at least for a while, of what it meant to be a modern American family.

Studebaker’s Frontier Wagons

When we hear the name Studebaker the first thing we may think of are those unique automobiles with the front end bullet shaped noses.

Those automobiles of the early 1950’s were produced by a company that started into business 100 years previously in South Bend Indiana from ancestors who had immigrated to America from Germany. The family’s name had been changed from Stutenbecker to Studebaker.

The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, began in business as horse drawn wagon makers and achieved a great deal of success. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, established in 1852, built horse drawn wagons for a population that was on the move.

Pioneers and Prospectors Head West

The 1850’s were a time of great western expansion and there were many of the Studebaker brother’s products that made the trek over the popular Overland Trail. In a big way the California Gold Rush and it’s demand for transportation launched to Studebaker brothers into the wagon building business.

Studebaker Brothers wagon

The Studebakers just like many others realized there was a good deal of money to be made by supplying the needs of prospectors rather than searching for gold.

The story is that a Studebaker brother journeyed to California to search for gold. On his way he was fleeced by gamblers and arrived in California with no money to buy prospecting supplies. Instead, he built sturdy wheelbarrows to sell to prospectors. When he reported back to his brothers the demand for wagons the Studebaker wagon building soon commenced.

A another good example of these businessmen were the merchants of early Sacramento California who ended up establshing the Central Pacific Railroad.

The Studebaker’s who had also been involved in blacksmithing earlier on quickly achieved a reputation for building quality wagons that could take a lot of punishment. Their first covered wagon was built in 1857.

Studebaker wagon iron suspension

Wagons For The Union Army

At the time of the American Civil War the Studebaker brothers were operating the country’s leading horse drawn wagon manufacturer. They had actually supplied wagons to the Union in 1858 prior to the war. Their wagons were well known for their durability and as a result, and their location in the Union town of South Bend Indiana, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was called upon to supply wagons to the Union Army. The fact was, it took tens of thousands of wagons to keep an army on the move. This was a key event that helped solidify the company as America’s premiere wagon builder.

Expansion After the Civil War

When the Civil War came to an end, the brothers has a factory in South Bend and the capital necessary to expand further. The Studebaker’s were building all types of wagons from simple farm wagons to elaborately built closed carriages.Some of these wagon models were named the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham. Interestingly enough, these same model names were used by various automobile makers during the 1900’s.

As a side note, the tale of the first chuckwagon also has a Studebaker connection. The legendary Texas rancher and developer of the chuckwagon, Charles Goodnight, modified and used an old Studebaker military ambulance wagon in 1866 as the first chuckwagon for his cattle drives to the northern rail heads. These surplus wagons, and there were many after the war, had steel axles and iron springs and Goodnight felt comfortable they could handle the rigors of a trail drive.

In 1878 the Studebaker wagons won awards at the Paris Exposition and in 1888 President Harrison chose Studebaker wagons for the White House. The Studebaker name gained such a strong reputation for quality that sales continued to grow and they were the first to standardize production methods and build interchangeable parts. With standardized production, the Studebaker company was able to build 500 wagons in about a day and a half for the Spanish American War effort. When World War One began the Studebakers built thousands of wagons for England.

Five Studebaker Brothers of the Studebaker Corporation

The Automotive Business

Studebaker’s experiments on a horseless carriage had started as early as 1895.

The Studebaker Brothers Corporation entered the automotive business with electric powered horseless carriages from 1902 to 1911. .At the same time they were involved in body building for other upstart manufacturers. Studebaker manufactured it’s last automobile in December 1963.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are on the links below…

One of the most thorough books regarding Studebaker is Studebaker: The Complete History by author Patrick R. Foster.

Today there are several places to view models of Studebaker wagons.

The wagon shown in this article is exhibited at the Pioneer Museum in Corsicana Texas just south of Dallas. Another venue you may want to add to your trip planner is the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend Indiana. For those in northern California, the museum at the Empire Mine State Historic Park exhibits several Studebaker wagons used during the Gold Rush era. This park is located in Grass Valley California, east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

(Article and photos of Studebaker wagon copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Studebaker Brothers photo from the public domain)

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