A Collector’s Guide to More Wagon Brand Differences

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
Published on:
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
Share This Blog:
Over and over, I’m asked how to determine the identity of a wagon when the maker name is lost or worn away. Rarely is there a simple response, although I've often wished for one.  Answers can lie in a number of places with firsthand experience often landing at the top of the list.  During the last two decades, I’ve been privileged to examine thousands of pieces and those encounters can be a tremendous resource in any review.  An equally important asset is the amount of original builder literature we have in our Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  Done correctly, these assessments involve an overlay of the vehicle with numerous primary source materials,using them as a solid and supportable measure of individual vehicle features. 

Since time can result in adaptations to even the most seeminglycorrect pieces, the identification process requires that elements of the boxand gear be studied closely to help confirm a maker as well as levels ofauthenticity.  In a nutshell, there arethree areas that must be thoroughly evaluated in order to reach a supportableconclusion in any reliable evaluation. Those segments involve the original surviving portions of a wagon’spaint, wood, and metal work.  Each areacan offer numerous clues pointing to a possible maker.  Likewise, each area is suspect until theoriginality of the specific piece can be resolved.

This small section of a pre-1900 illustration provides well over a dozen accurate clues pointing to a particular maker.
I’ve written this blog as a reminder of the potential disappointmentswaiting when quick determinations are based solely on superficial details.  In particular, transitory pieces like endgates, spring seats, tongues, and doubletree/singletrees cannot be looked uponas singularly conclusive sources of a wagon’s identity.  Even the box should be reviewed to assure amatch to the running gear.  Thereason?  Over the years, these pieces canbecome separated with substitutions easily made.  While each of these parts can support makerdetails noted elsewhere on the wagon, no solitary part should ever by reliedupon as confirmation of an entire vehicle’s identity. 
As I’ve shared in previous writings and event presentations, there areliterally hundreds of differences that can be pointed out between differentbrands of farm, freight, and ranch wagons. From axle shapes and bed measurements to box rods, hound configurations,wheel designs, circle irons, and so much more, the amount of subtle but crucialdifferences can be staggering.  Over theyears, I’ve catalogued at least three dozen potential variations in just thespring seats alone.   Multipleconsiderations involving the seat hangers, spring designs, support blocks,bracing elements, and shape of the seat back go well beyond the basicmeasurements and are just a few points that help confirm whether a piece isboth correct for the maker as well as the era represented by the rest of thewagon.   

Period photos combined with early literature can prove invaluable when authenticating seats and other elements of surviving wagons.
Endgates are another constant source of contention.  Because they are easily removed and can bereplaced over time, it often requires the assistance from numerous primarysource materials to confirm everything from hardware and special features toposition and overall design.  Over andover, I’ve wished the subject were simpler but, the fact remains, these earlywagons were (and are) complex machines designed for even more challengingwork.  
Knowing the correct hardware and woodwork configurations for a particular brand (and particular era) is essential to the serious collector of early wagons.
From the beginnings of my own collecting, my desire has been to helppreserve the highest levels of originality in early wagons and westernvehicles.  Ultimately, it’s a service tofuture generations for each of us to help pass along the greatest truths ofthese wheeled workhorses.  Likewise, fora person desiring to collect truly original pieces, this information is vitallyimportant as it directly impacts the perceptions, integrity, and sustainableworth of a set of wheels.  
Go Top