Early Vehicle Maintenance, Mysteries, & Musings

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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September has been an interestingmonth.  We’ve both sold and purchasedsome early vehicles and have made headway into a number of researchprojects.  Here in the Ozarks, leaves arebeginning to fall, tree colors are slowly turning and, as I’m told, thepersimmons have ‘spoons’ in them.  Forthe uninitiated, that formation within the inner realms of persimmon tree fruitis purported to forecast a heavy dose of snow this winter; never mind the factthat the same thing occurred last year with minimal accumulations and extremelymild temperatures.  We shall see, Iguess.

In the meantime, as the seasons onceagain go through a change, it made me think of all the changes antique woodenvehicles go through.  As custodians ofthese pieces from yesterday, it’s up to each of us to help maintain andpreserve 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 toothers. 

RemovingDirt Dauber Nests...

If you’ve ever come across an old set ofwheels that’s been stored away in a drafty barn, shed, or outbuilding, you knowthat dust isn’t the only thing that can accumulate on these rolling icons.  Animal droppings, rats’ nests, and mud dabberhomes can overwhelm a piece if left unattended in the wrong environment.  While the first two issues can be addressedwith a careful sweeping and light cleaning, the last point needs a little moreattention.  After all, knocking off theearthen incubator of mud daubers might seem simple enough but, if donecarelessly, there can be problems – chiefly, the loss of paint.  Oftentimes, these hollow huts can be so firmlyaffixed to the wood of a wagon that the simple act of taking them off can alsodestroy valuable paint and stenciling.  Onceoriginal 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 spraybottle of water and lightly soak the entire mud dabber nest.  I allow time for the nest to become saturatedyet still maintaining its original shape. This softening of the dirt allows a thin putty knife to be gently slid betweenthe paint and the dabber nest.  The nestcan then be pried off without creating a mess of mud or losing valuableoriginal paint.
Knocking dry and hardened mud daubernests off of antique vehicles (as was done here) can contribute to the permanent loss oforiginal paint and stenciling.
PowderPost Beetles...

Period wagon makers faced a slew ofchallenges beyond the basic need to pay the bills and meet payroll.  One of the greatest threats to the trade wasa tiny critter known as a powder post beetle. If you’ve looked at very many wagons over the years, you’ve likely seenevidence of just how much havoc these tiny insects can wreak.  Drawn to virtually every part of a wagon’s woodenstructure, these wood-boring critters are not only known for riddling woodstock with countless circular holes but they can also reduce the infected wood toa fine powder.  Many times, when we seethese 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 continueunabated.  While the insects are verysmall – typically 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch in length – you’ll instantly know you havea problem with live insects if you start noticing a fine layer of dustunder a wagon or running gear.  Theeasiest way I’ve found to deal with this challenge is to spray on a coat of householdbug 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 damagingthe vehicle further.  You may want to tryit on a small area before tackling large sections.    

As shown in these photos of an old wagonaxle, 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.
LooseningRusty Bolts...
Anyone that’s ever needed to repair orreplace part of an early horse-drawn vehicle knows the challenge posed by frozen,rusty nuts and bolts.  Heat, oil, ahammer, a cheater bar, and sometimes fits of rage are among the mostcommonly-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 “oilthat creeps.”  I’ll have to say that whencoupled with a little patience, this fluid is absolutely amazing.  (Thanks Gerald!)  I’ve seen it loosen bolts that no otherlubricant 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 besimplified by allowing Aerokroil to soak into the frozen parts.
Mold& Mildew...

My blogs for August 17 and August 24 of2016 focused on ways to both remove and prevent the blight of moldon antique, horse-drawn vehicles.  I’mnot going to re-write that two-part series here but, I thought it might behelpful to include the links.

As for the ‘mysteries’ mentioned intoday’s blog title, there are countless unknowns in any study of America’sfirst transportation industry.  I’ll betalking about some of these (and some recent discoveries) in my presentation tothe Santa Fe Trail Association next week. Hope to see you there.  Oh, and oneother thing.  I recently had the rareopportunity to conduct a bit more research into the legacy and legend of St.Louis wagon maker, Joseph Murphy.  What aprivilege!  I hope to be sharing more onthat 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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