American Transportation – The Whole Story

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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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
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As an early vehicle collector and historian, I’ve had a number of people ask me what I gravitate toward when adding wood-wheeled transportation to our collection.  Many expect the answer to centeraround a popular make or type of vehicle – and I can easily provide a responselike that.  Beyond my intrigue with theheavier work and western-themed vehicles, though, perhaps the real questionshould be ‘why’ I collect what I do.  Inthat case, my response will touch (at least partially) on the selection ofpieces with the best investment potential. You’ll also probably hear me share some stories related to the thrill ofthe chase.  Even so, there’s still anotherdriving force behind what we do – the stories. For me, this is where the real rewards are.  The background behind each of thetransportation pieces we collect is full of drama, struggle, failure, andtriumph.  It’s real life adventure we canwatch unfold and learn from.  Growingthrough these discoveries is what really fuels our efforts.  As a result, our collecting isn’t limited tojust vehicles or brands but to almost everything that surrounds the uniquehistory of America’s first transportation industry.  After all, that’s essentially what givesanything intrigue – those feature-rich, back-stories highlighting interestingdetails we never knew.   

This small stage wagon once plied thetrails around California’s most lucrative gold mine – The Utica at AngelsCamp.  From the incredible rags to richesstory of the mine to the exceptional rarity of the vehicle, this mail stage isan extraordinary survivor from America’s Wild West.
It’s a focus that sounds simple enoughbut the truth is that, in roughly two hundred years of travel in the New World,there’s an extraordinary amount of depth and breadth to this topic – far beyondthe old vehicles, themselves.  The ‘extra’pieces I find myself searching for and stumbling across do more than tell theirown story, they help flesh out the overall accounts while reinforcing the vastnessand complexity of this old trade.
This traveler’s guide dates to 1836.  While it provides details of stage,steamboat, canal, and railroad routes in those days, we have other westernguidebooks that once supplied important information related to western overlandtrails.
So, while we have a few dozen vehiclesin our collection, the supporting elements that help profile the entireindustry will measure in the thousands. Original photos related to makers, patents, lifestyle activities,brands, vehicle types, and special events are among the countless black andwhite remnants we’ve salvaged and assembled. These pieces are complemented by several hundred period brochures andpromotional pieces.  Even multiple hardwarevariations within the categories of skeins, wrenches, drag shoes, brakeratchets, reaches, rub irons, springs, chains, maker tags, and the like caneach have stories associated with them.
This new, old stock sign was designed tobe applied to the inside of glass windows. It was made by Palm Bros. & Co. and was referred to as a translusign.
Other elements of our collection includevehicle-related patent documents, maker ledgers, manufacturing equipment,antique signs, hames bells, unique wrenches, and otherall-but-forgotten-but-once-important elements from yesterday.  It’s a collage of commerce that consistently helpsbring a prominent part of our past back to life.  We’ve even assembled some horse drawntransportation pieces as a result of their relevance to the beginnings of the autoindustry.  After all, this part ofhistory heavily relied on the wagon and carriage business to get themselvesestablished.  How so?  In some cases, as with Chevrolet/GeneralMotors, the motorized upstarts needed others who could help secure financialcapital and production insights.  In othercircumstances, brands like Ford and others, depended on the body-making skillsfrom craftsmen who had learned the trade from wagon and coach building.  Still others, leaned on the engineeringacumen from period machine builders, blacksmiths, and wheel makers.  The truth is, the American automobile storycan’t be completely told without sharing the foundation of the whole enterprise– the horse-drawn vehicle industry.  Inmany ways, it was a good news/bad news kind of relationship between thetwo.  It was an opportunity for someemployees and entrepreneurs to embrace the next generation of vehicles.  In the beginning, they each capitalized on theother, although one was destined to lose during the transition.
Many early innovators hired aphotographer to capture patented advancements while using the image withinsales promotions.  This image highlights a unique, folding step that could easily be attached to the sideboards of wagons.  
The criteria for inclusion within ourcollection often requires us to look beyond the individual value of the singlepiece.  If it’s a unique element thathelps tell the story in a more detailed and interesting way, there’s a fairchance we’ll try and include it with all of the other artifacts we house.  
As is so often the case, the historywe’ve assembled has a way of finding us as much as we find it.  It's a truth we discovered some thirty years ago when we purchased the acreage we live on.  The place is an old farm with rootsdating back hundreds of years.  A well-worn wagon road still runs alongside the original stone farmhouse on theproperty.  Over the years, we’ve found numeroustransportation-related artifacts along this road; a heavy, 56-inch steel tire(likely from an ore or freight wagon), an early-style rub iron, a brake lever, boxrod parts, brake shoe, and other similar parts. The truth is that wheeled transportation has always been a big part ofthis country’s history and only through continued research will we be able topass along the most accurate details about period vehicles.  Surely, we owe that much to futuregenerations.

An extraordinary find, we were pleasedto add this original catalog of Pabst Beer wagons to our collection years ago.
Period photos can be helpful torestoration professionals as well as historians by providing a clearerunderstanding of what a particular vehicle looked like during the differentseasons of its life.
Many will be traveling this week andnext, enjoying the blessing of a long Labor Day weekend.  We wish you safe journeys and encourage youto keep your eye out for unique parts of our wheeled past.  There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle stillout there but, it often takes intense focus to help locate and understand allof what we find.  Slowly and collectively,we’re putting everything back together, growing appreciation for a huge andimmensely complicated industry.  Goodluck in your own collecting endeavors and send us some shots of your ‘finds’ from time to time.  We’d enjoyseeing the fruits of your labors.  
Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, 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
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