Early Vehicle Maintenance, Mysteries, & Musings

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Early Vehicle Maintenance, Mysteries, & Musings
September has been an interesting month. We’ve both sold and purchased some early vehicles and have made headway into a number of research projects.  Here in the Ozarks, leaves are beginning to fall, tree colors are slowly turning and, as I’m told, the persimmons have ‘spoons’ in them.  For the uninitiated, that formation within the inner realms of persimmon tree fruit is purported to forecast a heavy dose of snow this winter; never mind the fact that the same thing occurred last year with minimal accumulations and extremely mild temperatures. We shall see, I guess.

In the meantime, as the seasons once again go through a change, it made me think of all the changes antique wooden vehicles go through.  As custodians of these pieces from yesterday, it’s up to each of us to help maintain and preserve them for future generations. With that in mind, I thought I’d run over a few tricks-of-the-trade, so-to-speak, and highlight some areas of maintenance that may prove helpful to others. 

Removing Dirt Dauber Nests...

If you’ve ever come across an old set of wheels that’s been stored away in a drafty barn, shed, or outbuilding, you know that dust isn’t the only thing that can accumulate on these rolling icons.  Animal droppings, rats’ nests, and mud dabber homes can overwhelm a piece if left unattended in the wrong environment.  While the first two issues can be addressed with a careful sweeping and light cleaning, the last point needs a little more attention.  After all, knocking off the earthen incubator of mud daubers might seem simple enough but, if done carelessly, there can be problems – chiefly, the loss of paint.  Oftentimes, these hollow huts can be so firmly affixed to the wood of a wagon that the simple act of taking them off can also destroy valuable paint and stenciling.  Once original paint is gone, there’s no such thing as a ‘do-over.’  So, it’s important to exercise caution.  One method I’ve found helpful is to take a spray bottle of water and lightly soak the entire mud dabber nest.  I allow time for the nest to become saturated yet still maintaining its original shape. This softening of the dirt allows a thin putty knife to be gently slid between the paint and the dabber nest.  The nest can then be pried off without creating a mess of mud or losing valuable original paint.

Knocking dry and hardened mud dauber nests off of antique vehicles (as was done here) can contribute to the permanent loss of original paint and stenciling.

Powder Post Beetles...

Period wagon makers faced a slew of challenges beyond the basic need to pay the bills and meet payroll.  One of the greatest threats to the trade was a tiny critter known as a powder post beetle. If you’ve looked at very many wagons over the years, you’ve likely seen evidence of just how much havoc these tiny insects can wreak.  Drawn to virtually every part of a wagon’s wooden structure, these wood-boring critters are not only known for riddling woodstock with countless circular holes but they can also reduce the infected wood to a fine powder.  Many times, when we see these peppered perforations, the bugs have long since departed.  However, at other times, the wood is beingcontinually re-infested and destroyed.  Youdefinitely don’t want to allow this problem to continue unabated.  While the insects are very small – typically 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch in length – you’ll instantly know you have a problem with live insects if you start noticing a fine layer of dust under a wagon or running gear.  The easiest way I’ve found to deal with this challenge is to spray on a coat of household bug spray.  Then keep a watchful eye outto make sure the powder-making has stopped. The chemicals in the spray seem to do an effective job without damaging the vehicle further.  You may want to try it on a small area before tackling large sections.    

As shown in these photos of an old wagon axle, insects can be merciless to antique wooden vehicles.  Proper treatment of the vehicle and environment can help to minimize damage.

Careful application of insecticide can help eliminate issues with powder post beetles.

Loosening Rusty Bolts...

Anyone that’s ever needed to repair or replace part of an early horse-drawn vehicle knows the challenge posed by frozen,rusty nuts and bolts.  Heat, oil, a hammer, cheater bar, and sometimes fits of rage are among the most commonly-employed ways we try to loosen what decades of neglect have sealed.  Several years ago, a good friend of mine, Gerald Creely, introduced me to a product called, “Aerokroil.”  The company’s tagline says this is the “oil that creeps.”  I’ll have to say that when coupled with a little patience, this fluid is absolutely amazing.  (Thanks Gerald!)  I’ve seen it loosen bolts that no other lubricant would touch.  Needless to say,I try to keep several cans of this stuff around the shop at all times.

Loosening age-old nuts and bolts can be simplified by allowing Aerokroil to soak into the frozen parts.

Mold& Mildew...

My blogs for August 17 and August 24 of 2016 focused on ways to both remove and prevent the blight of mold on antique, horse-drawn vehicles.  I’m not going to re-write that two-part series here but, I thought it might be helpful to include the links.

As for the ‘mysteries’ mentioned in today’s blog title, there are countless unknowns in any study of America’s first transportation industry.  I’ll be talking about some of these (and some recent discoveries) in my presentation to the Santa Fe Trail Association next week. Hope to see you there.  Oh, and one other thing.  I recently had the rare opportunity to conduct a bit more research into the legacy and legend of St.Louis wagon maker, Joseph Murphy.  What a privilege!  I hope to be sharing more on that in the near future.

Have a great week!

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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