Another Look At Keeping Wagon Tires Tight

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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First things first… I have a correctionto make in last week’s blog.  Incredibly,no one caught it as of this writing (or at least everyone was kind enough toturn a blind eye to my obvious oversight). Nonetheless, I clearly was in too much of a hurry and mistyped theincorporation date of the Star Wagon Company. As it’s shown on the period letterhead within the blog, the correct dateis 1870.  So, with that out of the way,we’ll move forward to this week’s subject.

I recently received an email from DougHansen of Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota.  Over the years, Doug and I have shared amutual appreciation for the technology employed in so many aspects of earlyhorse drawn vehicles.  Truth is, thereare few – if any – areas of early vehicle design that didn’t have someoneworking on improvements.  It’s just oneof the reasons why no two vehicles are ever the same and no period vehicle isever just a ‘simple’ design.  The closeryou look, the more there is to see – and learn.

Doug sees a lot of America’swood-wheeled history in his shops and sometimes passes along highlights of hiscurrent projects.  Not too long ago, hewas working on a wheel from a Winona brand wagon.  When he removed the tire, there was a groovein the top of the felloes.  In mostcircumstances, this part of the felloe is a smooth, flat surface shaped to fitflush and tight to the bottom of the tire. In this case, while most of the top of the felloe is flat, there is theaddition of an offset, cupped channel completely encircling the wheel.  Some of you may remember my December 3, 2014 blog talked about a matching tire/felloe groove technology engineered to helpkeep a tire on the wheel.  Well, thisWinona groove is designed differently but has a similar purpose.

This cupped channel was designed as an oil reservoir, helping preserve the wooden felloes while keeping the tire tight.
Knowing my enthusiasm for pointing outthese special features, Doug has kindly allowed me to pass along the photo abovewhile accompanying it with a little more info from our Archives.  I should mention that this is not a featureyou’ll find on every Winona brand wagon nor was Winona the only well-knownmaker to use this. 

Unlikethe December 3rd blog, where a ridged bead was designed to seat inside amatching groove in the backside of the tire; this carved out, hollow channel isactually a full-circle oil reservoir meant to help preserve the wooden felloesand keep the tire tight.  There were avariety of these designs in the marketplace, some being capped with a solidplug or even a screw.  It’s an innovationwith roots at least as early as 1875 when Charles Lea of California filed for apatent on the idea. 

These early patent images clearly show how the cupped channel is designed to circulate oil completely around the wheel.
AfterMr. Lea’s patent expired, another similar design was submitted in 1898.  While each concept, as well as several I’veseen in practical application, was similar, they also had subtle differences.  The primary purposes were to prevent undueshrinkage or swelling of the felloe while preserving the original shape andstrength.  The designs often allowed forspoke joints to also benefit from the oil. 

Ultimately,the advancements are another great example of how these builders continually workedto enhance the quality of their products and the satisfaction of theirowners.  Thanks again to Doug Hansen andhis team for sharing the photo.  It’sanother reminder that things are rarely as straightforward as they appear.  By the way, if you have an image you’d liketo pass along or vehicle subject you’d like to see more on, drop us aline.  We enjoy hearing from folks and lookforward to sharing even more in 2015.

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