A word of fair warning… this week’s blogis a little longer than most. Assometimes happens, I went from writer’s block to a rough subject idea to “howin the devil do I rein myself in?” IfI’ve done nothing else, though, maybe I’ve helped reinforce the tremendousscope of subject matter when talking about early North American vehicles. Enjoy…
America’s early vehicle industry wasfull of nomenclature that may sound strange today but was well known a centuryago. For contemporary audiences, a lackof familiarity with some terms can cause the subject to be even morecomplicated. It’s one of the reasons forthese weekly blogs as well as why we included a list of wagon part names in ourlimited edition, “Making Tracks”print.
So, how polished are you in your earlyvehicle terminology? Would you recognizea point band, buff-stick, or Booby-Hut if you saw one? One of the things that can sometimes behelpful in understanding vehicle labels or part names is to examine the history relatedto a particular set of wheels. Specifically, the origin of certain terms can be directly connected to amaker name, as it is with Sarven, Warner, or Archibald hubs, Sandage skeins,and Hurlbut brake ratchets. Each ofthese parts received their name from an innovator providing a different designto the marketplace.
At other times, the part name or vehicledesignation may be connected to its popularity within a geographic region ofthe country. Examples include… Bostonbackers, Chicago shafts, St. Louis seat risers, Oregon brakes, Colorado brakes,California tire rivets, Ohio boot end bed, California rack bed, Nevadafreighter, Arizona buckboard, Concord coach, Conestoga wagon, Pitt wagon,Virginia wagon, Kansas wagon, and more. Ofcourse, many of these names were never totally limited to specific regions butat least we know something about their prominence in those areas.
|The Archibald wheel patent was utilized on numerous wagon types within the military, industrial, and business trades.
Looking back a little more than acentury ago, the April 1904 issue of “The Carriage Monthly” featured a glossaryoutlining a few vehicle types from the 19th and early 20th centuries inAmerica. While not all of the terms theyshared will directly relate to western vehicles, in today’s world it’s notuncommon to find pieces scattered all over this country and beyond. As a result, it’s often helpful to have ageneral, if not specific, familiarity with as many vehicle types aspossible. With that as a bit ofbackground, below are several selections from the 1904 article…
Booby-Hut – Booby-Hut isa New England term applied to a chariot or coach body swung by thoroughbraceson a sleigh running part. (As a sidenote, I happened to be at Doug Hansen’sshop in Letcher, South Dakota several years ago and he was restoring one ofthese.)
California – TheCalifornia wood-spring wagon is a variety of the coal-box buggy, hung on woodensprings and thoroughbraces and was introduced by the Kimball Mfg. Co., of SanFrancisco.
Jagger Wagon – The JaggerWagon was for a while used in New York. It was a square-boxed buggy or light business wagon, hung on bolsterswithout springs.
Go-Cart – The Go-Cartis a form of cabriolet, and was an old chariot submitted to numeroustransformations. It is used as a sort oftwo-wheeled cart and has a deep, cranked axle.
Rig – The Rig is anAmerican slang term, and is evidently a contraction of the word, “rigging,” andis often applied to vehicles which are provided with special appurtenances orriggings. It is also applied incorrectlyto light or dilapidated vehicles.
Shebang – “Shebang” isa slang term formerly applied to a carriage and horse in certain parts of theWest, in which the carriage did not represent very much skill or style and thehorse did not show a very intimate acquaintance with oats and hay.
Whiskey – The Whiskeywas an early form of the chaise, and was a light two-wheeled vehicle, hung ongrasshopper springs, without hood or top, and similar to our modern sulky ingeneral appearance. It was so calledbecause of its ability to whisk or turn around easily.
Prairie Yacht – …The PrairieYacht was invented by Dr. Wheeler, Grand Forks, N.D. and was built to skim overthe snow-covered plains by the aid of the wind. It was modeled after the Ice Yacht.
|This historical dictionary of horse drawn vehicle terms is extensive and belongs in every enthusiast’s library.
It would have been nice if the article mentionedabove had included images for especially rare vehicles like the “Prairie Yacht”but, no such luck. If you enjoy Americansleigh history, though, you’ll be glad to know that, with a little more effort,I was able to uncover an obscure report that outlines this near-forgottenvehicle in surprising detail. Take alook at the following description of a Prairie Yacht as I found it in the March12, 1887 issue of the “London American Register.”
A PRAIRIE YACHT. This yacht is the invention of Dr. H. M. Wheeler, of GrandForks, Dakota. It is a novel craft thatsails over the snow on the prairies at the rate of from thirteen to sixteenmiles an hour, and even faster when there is a good hard crust on thesnow. The yacht is 32 feet in length,width abeam 14 feet, mast 20 feet, main boom 32 feet, gaff 12 feet, jibboom 11feet. The runners are strong toboggansnine feet long, the front ones being one foot, and the rear ones six incheswide. The front runners have a centralshoe two feet long, projecting one and a quarter inches to prevent “drifting.” The body of the boat is raised above therunners one foot. The framework is threefeet across the stem, and the tiller is attached directly to the rearrunner. Dr. Wheeler says in his letter, “Ourcountry is a vast table land, and with the exceptions of ravines and watercourses, is apparently as level as the floor. We have no fences, except small enclosures for stock, hence we haveplenty of ‘sea room.’ My mast is as highas will go under telegraph wires, and even now sometimes encounters them, onwhich account I have rigged an iron fender shaped like an old-fashioned figure4, with a line running from front angle to bowsprit. When the front face ofthis 4 strikes a telegraph wire, the wire bounds up and over it, and the yachtpasses along.”
To catch up on more early vehicle jargon,locate the book, “Carriage Terminology,” by Don Berkebile. It doesn’t include every vehicle term but, atnearly 500 pages, there is a lot to digest. To me, it’s a must for any serious horse drawn vehicle library.
Clearly, from pole cap to rear axle,there’s a lot to cover on any wood-wheeled conveyance. Only by continually broadening ourunderstanding of the industry’s language can we fully appreciate the design,history, and purposes of a set of wheels. That said, if all else fails, thenext time someone tells you to ‘Move your Shebang’, ‘Step into their BoobyHut’, or ‘Check out their Whiskey’, you may want to clarify exactly whatthey’re referring too!
Have a good week! Please Note: As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted and may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.