One of the most-often mentionedhorse-drawn vehicle brands is Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing of South Bend,Indiana. Of course, this is the samecompany that eventually transitioned into building automobiles. Their involvement in the transportation industrylasted well over a century. From thefirst wagon to the last car, it’s a legacy permanently woven into the verygrowth and development of America. Aprolific manufacturer and marketer, many original promotional materials fromStudebaker’s horse-drawn days are still relatively easy to find. For collectors of these wooden vehicles,though, it’s not quite the same story. Inspite of the fact that the company is believed to have built millions of wagonsand carriages, these wooden sets of wheels have become increasingly harder tocome by. (One million Studebakervehicles are purported to have been manufactured between 1897 and 1907†).
Just over a decade ago, I wrote anarticle for Farm Collector magazine about a special type of Studebaker that is equallydifficult to find. It’s called aStudebaker Model and, while it was built to the Studebaker specs, it wasn’t madein South Bend. Okay. That’s my teaser. Below is the article. It’s a bit longer than most of my blogs but Ithought you might like to have it in its entirety. So, find a comfortable spot, grab a cup ofcoffee, and immerse yourself in another chapter on the legendary Studebakerbrand…
I enjoy researching old farm and freightwagon companies. So much so, that no matter where I travel, I usuallyfind myself scanning the roadside farms, homes, and businesses looking fortelltale signs of vintage wheels. Maybe the passion comes from the thrillof chasing a good mystery or perhaps it’s simply a kinship toward anall-but-forgotten way of life. Whatever the reason, the search keeps meyoung and, like any near forgotten art, there’s always something new toexperience and learn.
|Anearly Studebaker Wagons sign
Knowing my fetish for old wagons, anAmish friend had been telling me about a Studebaker he felt I needed to see inKentucky. With my day job keeping me tied down, it seemed that I justnever had the few days it would take to explore the eastern part of that state. When I finally did take some time off, I was surprised at what I found. Sitting inside a barn, covered by a thin gray tarp, was a piece of yesterday… aworkhorse on wheels that had long since been retired. Lifting off thecanvas, the early morning sun lit up the faded and well-worn green paint ofwhat had once been an American farmer’s pride and joy. Yellow pinstripesran the length of the box and showed significant weathering from age anduse. But, it was the unmistakable flowing curves of the Studebakeremblems that really got my attention. Resting on an original Studebakergear, the wagon still boasted bright logos on both sides of the box as well asthe folding end gate. Conspicuously positioned below each logo, though,was the word ‘Model’. It was painted in the same yellow and black tonesas the Studebaker name, but used a smaller block style of lettering. Hmmm. I’d never seen a farm wagon or even a vintage advertisementcarrying the label of “Studebaker Model”. Other than the painted stencilingidentifying the selling dealer, I could find no other markings that might helpshed some light on the puzzle. The extension to the Studebaker name was adifference that nagged at me. The owner couldn’t explain it. Whywas it there? Was it a variation of a Studebaker design? Was it anoriginal piece? Where did it come from? Dozens of questions beggedto be answered and so began my research into another chapter of the, mostlyuncharted, history of America’s wagon makers.
Back home and in my own element, I wasconfident I could find some answers. I dug through a number of Studebakercatalogs, flyers, trade cards, print ads, and associated correspondence. I talked to wagon collectors and traders and even re-read some early Studebakerarticles and book chapters. No luck. A month passed and, as fortunewould have it, I happened across an old dealer price list from the KentuckyWagon Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The flyer included prices andspecifications on several brands of wagons and gears that Kentucky made. One of the brands featured was… you guessed it - the “Studebaker Model”. I had found my first piece of the puzzle. As it turns out, it was a verybig piece.
I knew that Kentucky had purchasedconstruction patterns and some parts from Studebaker after they officiallyclosed the wagon business in 1920. But, that’s about all I had ever seenwritten about that relationship. Did Kentucky have an agreement allowingthem to use the Studebaker name? To find out, I wrote the StudebakerNational Museum in South Bend and asked for any help they could provide. According to their archivist, this facet of Studebaker’s history had never beenexplored in detail. However, with a little searching, they uncovered exactlywhat I was looking for… evidence of an old contract between the StudebakerCorporation and Kentucky Wagon Company. In the minutes of a near-century-oldset of executive meeting notes, Studebaker not only resolved to sell theremaining wagons, wagon parts, patterns, blueprints, business records, andadvertising materials, but also licensed Kentucky to use the Studebaker name onwagons built from the authentic Studebaker patterns. The resolution wasdated January 5, 1921 and it authorized Kentucky to use the Studebaker nameuntil June 30, 1923. Even though the Studebaker Company hadended their production of wagons, it seems there was still a great deal of life-and profit- in the Studebaker name.
The agreement with Studebaker came nonetoo soon. By the end of the twentieth century’s second decade, the autoindustry had staked its claim on the future and was running with a strong headof competitive steam. For wagon and carriage makers, it was a businessenvironment that required a serious look at current strategies and goals. The purchase of Studebaker’s blueprints and patterns allowed Kentucky to easesome of the pressure by reinforcing their image as a trustworthy brand withstrong name recognition and the highest quality construction. Thearrangement opened them up to an even broader customer base and, by aligningthemselves with the sterling reputation and design features of Studebaker, it’sa safe bet they added some of the country’s best wagon dealers to their distributionsystem. Beyond the profits from the sale of the wagon division, thetransition also benefited Studebaker by providing a quality outlet whereexisting Studebaker wagon owners could obtain original replacement parts andmaintenance support… thereby continuing Studebaker’s good will with its familyof wagon owners.
While Kentucky continued to build wagonsunder the well-known names of Old Hickory, Kentucky, and Tennessee, this newacquisition allowed them to add another powerful brand to their lineup. Labeledas “The Studebaker Model,” these wagons sported the same logo and proven designthat the original wagons from South Bend had carried for almost three quartersof a century. According to early sales literature, the Studebaker Modelwas sold as both a one and two-horse wagon. Light, medium, and heavygrades were offered. Wheel sizes varied, with the one horse wagonfeaturing 40” front and 44” rear wheels. Two-horse versions wereavailable in a broader range of 36/40”, 40/44”, or 44/48” wheel heights. Additionally, tire sizes varied from 1 3/8” to 4” widths for two-horse wagonswhile the one-horse models were offered in 1 1/8” to 3” sizes.
|Theaddition of the word 'Model' makes this an unmistakable product of the KentuckyWagon Co.
When it comes to collecting these oldvehicles, the Studebaker name naturally attracts a lot of attention. Aswith any major brand, Studebaker will likely always have a solid core offans. So, how does the Kentucky Studebaker fit into the list of vehiclessought by collectors, historians, and others? Time will tell. Butwith only a decade or so of production, it’s clear that these are not only thelast of the Studebaker wagons, but they’re also among the rarest.
†According to original Studebaker literature in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives