Wagon & Western Vehicle Categories

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Wagon & Western Vehicle Categories
I’ve been traveling a fair amount this week so this post is a little shorter than what I normally share.  Nonetheless, there’s some good info here and, hopefully, enough fodder to get us all to thinking about vehicle origins, provenance, purposes, and the like. So, without further ado, here ya go...  

Sometimes we overlook the obvious when we’re searching for things... kinda like hunting for a pair of glasses we forgot were propped up on our head or a set of keys left in a car ignition, or even a desperate attempt to find our cell phone as it’s ringing – Only to finally figure out it was with us the whole time in a hip pocket!  Yes, I actually had someone tell me that happened to them. 

Humans.  We’re funny creatures.  From mid-sentence, mind-wanderings to failed recall, it’s easy to forget or overlook the simplest of things.  (Don’t pretend it doesn’t happen to you)  As a kid, I would sometimes get frustrated when I faced situations where I had misplaced something.  With a smile, my mom would reassuringly encourage me to look “in the last place I left it.”  Yeah, yeah, mom.  Now where the devil IS the last place I left that whatchamacallit?

What do these trials have to do with this week’s blog?  Well, after writing hundreds of pieces related to America’s first transportation industry, I often wrestle with what to cover next.  Maybe it’s writer’s block, a weak mind, or maybe it’s just old age... nah, it couldn’t be any of those.  At any rate, as I pondered the topic for this week’s blog, I hit a wall for a moment.  My thoughts drifted - maybe I should cover this type of vehicle or perhaps this particular style or possibly folks would be interested in reading more about a certain design feature.  The more I questioned myself the more unsettled I became.  Time was ticking and I had a deadline to meet.  Then, it hit me.  One topic that I’ve never seen collectively discussed is the actual naming conventions of these old wheels.  In other words, what relevance is there to the way wagons and western vehicles were looked upon and referred to ‘back in the day?’  It’s such a basic and fundamental connection to these pieces that it’s almost too obvious of a subject.  As a result, it’s an easy message to overlook. Even so, it’s an important part of a vehicle’s personality and provenance.  As groups and individuals, we regularly reference many of the names – whether we’re commenting on a ‘farm’ wagon, military ‘escort’ wagon, or something business-minded like a salesman’s or ‘huckster’wagon.  Sometimes, it’s good to slow down and question the ‘whys’ of a topic.

As I ran through the makeup of America’s first transportation industry, I came up with at least a half-dozen categories that help define the farm, freight, ranch, coach, business, and military vehicles we review in this blog.  As I focused on the different pieces, it became clear that the labels they go by are often a derivative of what they do, where they go, how they’re made, what they haul, and even who occupies the vehicle.  Many times, a single vehicle can be lumped into several of these categories.  For instance, a ‘tobacco’ wagon and ‘crooked bed’ wagon can be the same thing.  In this case, the vehicle is not only defined by what it hauls but also by how it’s made/designed.  Take a look at the list below and see how many more wagons and western vehicle types you can come up with that fit into the various categories...

1)     What They Do – This category focuses on activities the vehicles are associated with.  Whether you’re looking at a Dump wagon, Escort wagon, Sprinkling wagon, Lunch wagon, Telegraph wagon, Chuck wagon, Round-up wagon, Ticket wagon, Stage wagon, Delivery wagon, or even a Patrol wagon, each bears a name that indicates occupations, pastimes, and pursuits that the old set of wheels was designed for.

Patents for horse-drawn dump wagons were granted as early as the 1840’s and continued well into the 1900’s.

2)     Where They Are Used (or came from)– This refers to any geographic connection including a relationship to a particular region or locale – It’s a category that includes work vehicles like a Road wagon, Mountain wagon (both types), Pacific wagon, Farm wagon, Conestoga wagon, Florida wagon, Concord coach,Yellowstone coach, Station wagon, Depot hack, Beach wagon, Santa Fe wagon, Mud wagon, Red River cart, and more.  A lot of early vehicle brand names also shared geographic ties; with labels mirroring the city or state of manufacture. Examples like Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Pekin, Tiffin, Troy, Florence, Stoughton, and Springfield were well-known all over the United States. 

The legendary Conestoga style of wagon takes its name from the Conestoga River/township region in Pennsylvania.

3)     How They’re Made – Vehicles in this category can be defined and referred to by mentioning a prominent design feature(s)– Some examples include Crooked bed wagons, Dead axle wagons, Spring wagons, Cut-under wagons, Rack bed wagons, Boot end bed wagons, Crane neck drays, Low-Down wagons, and even Double and Triple box wagons. 

Not to be confused with a Conestoga wagon, a ‘Crooked-bed’ wagon is considerably smaller and more lightly built.  

4)     What They Haul – Sometimes a particular set of wheels was called out by what it was designed to transport.  This category can be closely related to the first one mentioned above (What they do) since both are involved with a variety of occupations.  Vehicles included in this category were transports like a Tobacco wagon, Turpentine wagon, Potato wagon, Cotton wagon, Coal wagon, Tool wagon, Freight wagon, Water wagon, Grocery wagon, Milk wagon, Mail wagon, Ladder wagon, Popcorn wagon, Log wagon, Lumber wagon, Ore wagon, Ice wagon, whew! That’s just a start. 

This extraordinary example of a Harrington brand mail wagon retains almost all of its original paint and signage.  

5)     Who Occupies The Vehicle– A Huckster or Peddler’s wagon, Gypsy wagon, Sheep herder wagon, Contractor’s wagon, Pallbearers’ Coach, and Grocer’s wagon are just a few of the specialized designs that can be defined by the person or occupation using a set of wheels. 

Referred to as Sheep, Sheep Camp, or Sheepherder wagons, these vehicles were often highly customized by the user.  Even so, some time ago, we uncovered a pair of patents on these designs.

6)     Who originated the vehicle– Labels like Herdic coach, Hansom Cab, and McMaster Camping Car are all tied to their inventors.  Similarly, there are countless brands like Fish Bros., Studebaker, Peter Schuttler, Weber, Gestring, Espenschied, Luedinghaus, Nissen, Bain, Mitchell, Murphy, Mandt, Knapheide, and Cooper that were named for their founders. In fact, the practice of naming the transportation brand after an individual who either owned or was instrumental to the firm’s beginnings continues to be a part of modern day car companies.

Connecting vehicles to specific categories may seem like a tedious and trivial exercise. The truth is that the act of studying every vehicle a bit deeper almost always sheds greater light onto the provenance, personality, and potential of a vehicle.  It’s the start to every wagon and western vehicle story; it’s who it was, where it worked, what it did, the folks involved with it, businesses that needed it, and how it was engineered to accomplish its purposes.

Focusing on these details helps us develop a more thorough understanding of different vehicle types as well as a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the individual pieces.  It also helps us avoid lumping so many of these old workhorses into a generic perception that tends to over-simplify the significance of a set of wheels. Ultimately, it’s one more way to put America’s first transportation industry into greater perspective while increasing opportunities for more broad-scale interest.

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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