Bain Rack Bed Wagon in the West

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Some of the earliest examples ofpromotional literature in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives date to the 1860’s.  Among those pieces are a pair of hardbackcatalogs distributed during the Civil War era. They were originally published by a pair of well-known wagon andcarriage makers in the eastern United States. As rare as these sales books are, pre-1870 materials promoting legendarywestern wagon brands are even harder to come by.  It’s one of the reasons we feel fortunate tohave an 1869 flyer for the Bain Wagon Company in the collection. 

Established in 1852 by Ed Bain, the firmtook over the factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin that had previously been used byHenry Mitchell and the Mitchell Wagon Company. Launching from a strong foundation that Mitchell had laid in Kenosha,Bain made the most of a solid distribution system and quickly became a popularvehicle in the West.  Early productofferings went beyond farm, freight, ranch, and spring wagons and also includedcarriages and buggies.  According toresearch shared in Mark Gardner’s book, “Wagons for the Santa Fe Trade,” in the1880’s, Bain was considered to be one of the top 3 wagon brands in theWest.  The other two were Peter Schuttlerin Chicago and A. A. Cooper from Dubuque, Iowa (see our November 6, 2013 blog).

The Angels Camp Museum houses an impressive collection of historic artifacts and western vehicles.
Earlier this year, I had the privilegeof traveling through several remote areas of California.  One of them was the small and welcoming cityof Angels Camp.  A legendary mining townwith a history dating to 1848, the area is also well-known as the source of oneof Mark Twain’s writings, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of CalaverasCounty.”  Beyond those accolades, thetown is also home to one of the best collections of original western vehiclesI’ve ever had the privilege of reviewing. Sitting on a hill just above many of the historic town buildings is the Angels Camp Museum.  From the outside, it iswell-kept but somewhat unassuming in nature. So, a word of advice… if you find yourself in the area, do not judgethis book by its cover.  Like a pearl ofgreat price, most of what the facility holds is not visible from theoutside.  Once inside, though, thetreasures are almost innumerable.  I wasparticularly amazed at both the depth and the quality of the vehiclecollection.  Original stage coaches,freight wagons, logging wagons, business vehicles, and so much more are housedwithin the multi-building complex.   
This Downing & Sons Concord coach is a 9 passenger stage believed to date to between 1848 and 1858.
I spent hours photographing andanalyzing the vehicles in the Carriage & Wagon building.  I took so much time, that I almost overlookedthe Mining & Ranching building.  Ittoo holds its share of wooden wheels. One of the best is a yellow-geared Bain Rack Bed.  Wow! Beyond the brand itself, perhaps its most significant feature is itsremarkable condition.  Now, don’t get mewrong.  It isn’t perfect.  But, considering that these pieces were builtfor hard use in rugged terrain, the vast majority will not be found in thiskind of shape.   With limited wear to theoverall wagon, there is a fair amount of original paint still present on thegear along with some paint on the box. Even the round edge steel tires appeared to have plenty of miles still lefton them.
An extraordinary example of a surviving western rack bed, this wagon was built in Kenosha, Wisconsin by the legendary Bain Wagon Company.
Surviving in a rare, “last-used” condition the maker name stenciling on this wagon is still quite legible on the front and rear axles.
At this point, some may be saying, “Whatthe devil is a rack bed?”  Goodquestion.  A rack bed is a type ofmid-sized freight wagon often used in the West but could also have been used inregions throughout the U.S.  The box orbed can be the same length (10’ 6”) as most surviving farm wagons but it oftenmeasures another foot or more in length. It typically has a thicker floor and the box is equipped with a lowersill or sideboard that is shorter (perhaps as small as only 5”- 8” inheight).  The upper sideboard will beconsiderably taller than the lower and, because it’s usually removable, it willlikely not run the full length of the bed since the forward section provides afixed support for the seat risers. Elsewhere, vertical wooden stakes are attached to the upper sideboardand insert into heavy metal clips on the lower sideboard.  The spring seat is placed on a seat risermounted to the outside of the box.
This particular Bain is equipped withwheel heights of 52”/44” and a tire width of 2 ¼”.   All four wheels include both tire and spokerivets for added strength and durability. The box width is 44” and the length is 11’ 9”.  One notable trait on the metalwork – thestake pockets on the bed’s lower sideboard are a heavy cast design with B.W. C.lettering.

Our thanks go out to the wonderful staffat Angel’s Camp Museum.  They’re curatorsof some of America’s most amazing transportation history and deserve to berecognized for their commitment to preserving that western heritage.   

This light western mail stage saw duty in Angels Camp and the surrounding areas.
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