Complexities of Early Vehicle Design

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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We have a lot of historical elementshoused in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.  From early print blocks,catalogs, flyers, trade cards, correspondence, signs, and other advertisingmedia to original vehicles, parts, accessories, and technology, the compilationcovers a broad segment of our nation’s growth and development.  Individually and collectively, these pieceshelp us tell the real story of America’s first – and largest – transportationindustry.  With so many players acrossmultiple centuries, it’s a story that has yet to be fully sharedbut one we’re committed to pinning down and opening up more every day. 

With that as a bit of background, we’veregularly pointed out that every original part of a vintage wagon haspurpose.  It makes no difference how big,small, obvious, or unnoticed an element is; every piece has a roll to play inthe success of the whole.  As a result,these vehicles are far from being crude conveyances thrown together with nothought or focus.  Likewise, it’s no exaggerationto say that the survivors are rare monuments holding more history, science, math,art, engineering, and technology than most have ever imagined. 

This 1883 patent allowed round-shaped reaches to be incorporated into more ‘modern’ reach couplings.
Throughout the 18th, 19th, and early20th centuries, these wheels were continually tested, modified, and redesignedby their builders.  The process, itself,is a testimony to the American spirit and drive to excel.  With that in mind, this week, we’ll point outa particular style of reach plate designed by Alexander Barr of Louisville,Kentucky.  The idea was awarded a patentby the U.S. Patent Office in 1883.  Forthose unfamiliar with the term 'reach plate' – it’s the center metal sheet or cast iron piece(s) that connect to the reach and rear hounds, thereby linking the frontand back segments of the running gear. The design also allows the undercarriage to be shortened or lengthenedfor different use purposes.   

The heavy cast iron fabrication in Alexander Barr’s reach plate was another advantage of the design.  Note the curved contours on the bottom of the plate.  
Unlike other reach plates of the day,Mr. Barr’s design was meant to bridge the gap between styles with upper andlower plates sandwiching the coupling pole (reach) and earlier bandedreach styles.  The purpose was meant to allowthe use of traditional round poles (versus square edged) to serve as the reachwhile also enabling the rear hounds to be drawn farther forward when desired.  This made it easier to use the running gearin a greater diversity of purposes – from hay racks and wheat trucks to hauling lumberand other needs.  

Like so many seemingly ordinary elementsin a wooden vehicle’s construction, the complexity of this design goes farbeyond initial appearances.  It’s onemore reason every early heavy vehicle is worthy of a deeper look.  More often than not, these wooden warriorsare full of intriguing history and countless stories.  

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