Military Escort Wagons

Published by: David Sneed
Photos courtesy of Hansen Wheel & Wagon
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During and after the Civil War, animal drawn Pontoon wagons, Daugherty wagons, Escort wagons, ambulances, caissons and other military support vehicles were a lifeline for a new nation determined to grow and defend its territories. Over the years, these and other military vehicles were built by a number of government-approved contractors like Studebaker, Kentucky, Thornhill, International Harvester and other well-known brands. Each of the pieces was designed for rapid deployment, exceptional strength, ease of maintenance and specific tasks.

As our current “Featured Vehicle,” this military Escort wagon dates to the early 1900’s. The army patterned design was built to transport troops and equipment and was drawn
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by either 2 or 4 horses/mules. While some Civil War configurations were slightly different, many of the features and overall design elements remained the same throughout the early 1900’s. Military wagons, like other wartime vehicles, were approved by the Secretary of War and built to standardized specifications that allowed for easier interchangeability of components and fewer stocked parts. Because there were a number of government-approved suppliers, these wagons are often found with maker’s marks from a variety of builders. Wheels, in particular, are frequently labeled with different maker names. This wagon is stenciled with the International Harvester Company moniker on the front toolbox. While International’s roots in the agricultural industry stretch back to the early 1800’s, the company, itself, was created as a result of a merger between McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and Deering Harvester Company in 1902. Soon afterward, International purchased the Weber Wagon Company of Chicago and added the production of heavier horse drawn wagons to their manufacturing inventory.
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Clearly, International Harvester made this Escort wagon box. However, closer inspection reveals that the wheels and portions of the gear were made by a number of other companies. An impressive display of their own, the wheels of this wagon are made with sixteen spokes each, bent felloes, riveted spokes and army-approved Archibald hubs. During the 1880’s, the Studebaker Wagon Company highly recommended Archibald wheels for their added strength and reliability. The Archibald design was also used on a variety of other vehicle types including Freight wagons, Heavy Express wagons, Ore Wagons, and Ice Wagons.

Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop of Letcher, South Dakota was chosen for the exacting preservation work done to this vintage vehicle. Long craftsmanship and period-authentic attention to detail, Doug Hansen and crew have spent decades specializing in building and restoring early western vehicles. Prior to its arrival at Hansen’s, this wagon had been coated with linseed oil. Unfortunately, the oil application created a darker finish than would have typically been present. The Hansen team was able to remove some of the darker stain, but parts of the treatment were too deeply set to be totally eliminated.
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Because historic wooden wheeled vehicles in such original, near-pristine condition are so rare today, the owner of this Escort preferred the wagon to be preserved and not restored. The differences between restoration and preservation can be significant with the former resulting in a loss of highly sought-after originality and overall value. It’s a subject of debate much larger than space permits here, but suffice it to say that it is an increasing rarity to find a truly “original” vehicle from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. That fact alone has the ability to significantly affect values as well as desirability of these rare finds.

Combined with its original finish and the historical wear and tear evidence of early use, this Military Escort stands as an exceptional example of a vintage U.S. army wagon. The California-style seat riser, flare boards, footboard, front-mounted equipment/jockey box and heavy riveted construction are typical features of these military machines. Displaying an authentic period-designed cover, restored brake blocks and repaired hound, this rare military design currently resides in a private collection in Oklahoma.
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As we continue to review these vintage vehicles, we’re regularly reminded that the long-held fascination of the American West consistently reinforces the popularity of western vehicles. According to Doug Hansen, there has been an increasing interest in collecting and displaying these vintage wheels. “In the last several years, the demand for quality original vehicles has increased significantly. While the demand has been growing exponentially, the supply of quality, original pieces has also been dwindling,” says Hansen. “It’s a recipe that’s creating escalating costs along with considerably more intrigue and interest. As a result, we’ve found ourselves not only shipping vehicles to customers coast to coast, but literally around the world.”

For decades, most of the interest surrounding America’s early western heritage has centered on Native American Indians, the cowboys, pioneers, gold seekers, and even the West’s ruggedly beautiful terrain. With the increasing interest in western-style vehicles, it seems these vintage wheels and the brands they represent are finally gaining a broader recognition for the key roles they’ve played in virtually every aspect of the Old West.
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