Early Vehicle Provenance – The Reach Plate Connection

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Researching ancestral histories andinvesting in DNA testing to determine an individual’s genetic composition arepopular pursuits these days.  It seemsthat more and more people want to know about the personal history that’s partof their makeup.  Similarly, it’srewarding to know as much as possible about the history (provenance) of anantique horse-drawn vehicle. 

If you ever want to learn how much isnot known (and objectively substantiated) about a piece, start visually dissectingthe vehicle and ask what can be confirmed about each part of the whole.  Where did a specific part come from? – Didthe builder make the part or buy it?  Was the design ever patented?  Why was that particular part used?  How is itdifferent from other forms of construction? Is it original to the time of manufacture?  Has a particular part ever been replaced? – If so, when and why?  What, if any,features on the vehicle help define a particular region or purpose for which itwas built?  Clearly, asking specificquestions about a set of wheels can highlight just how much more there is toknow.  Likewise, every piece of an earlyvehicle has a story to tell. 

Further highlighting the search forinformation on these functional works of art, let’s look at one of America’smost popular, mass-produced vehicles.  Spanning the 1800’s and early 1900’s timeframes, millions of farm wagons wereproduced.  Yet, most have largelydisappeared and only a small percentage of the brands that were created in the U.S. have survived.  Looking at those that are still here, thereare literally hundreds of individual components to review on any given vehicle.  Even if two wagons are of the same make, theywill not carry the same provenance since they had different users, usepatterns, environmental exposures, and so forth.  As a result, it’s doubtful that most of us willever know everything there is to know about the history of a particular set of wheels.

This snapshot shows a variety of reach plate designsdating from the 1860’s through the early 1900’s.
One area within farm wagon construction that can beinteresting to examine is the reach plate. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a reach plate is the metalpiece surrounding the mid-portion of the reach or coupling pole.  Looking under the wagon, the center sectionof the running gear (undercarriage) often includes a reach plate with a drop-inpin that connects the front and rear portions of the running gear.  Of course, not all early wagons wereconstructed with reach plates.  However,many were and it can be a good place to find clues related to the history of anold wagon; assuming that it hasn’t been replaced and is still original to thewagon gear/box. 
Over the years, we’ve gathered up anumber of unique plates, including some of the first ones ever made by aparticular brand.  The efforts have beenpart of our efforts to preserve the countless stories and unique history withinAmerica’s first transportation industry. Oftentimes, original reach plate housings can hold information helpfulin determining a vehicle’s timeframe of manufacture, general carryingcapacities, design standards, maker name, factory location, and, in some instances, patent records.To that point, I thought I'd share a few details that can be quickly gleaned from a half-dozen pieces in our collection...Funck& Hertzler – Burlington, Iowa
Funck & Hertzler (F&H) was thepredecessor to the Orchard City Wagon Company. Both firms built the Orchard City brand wagon.  The company’s factory was originallyestablished in 1856 by John Funck.  Likemany early wagon makers, the firm built and repaired other farm implements aswell.  Within the first few decades of itsexistence, F & H was making as many as 1600 wagons per year, almost as manyplows, and about 800 cultivators.  By1882, they employed 90 folks producing 4,000 wagons per year as well as 3,000plows, and another 4,000 cultivators and harrows.

The company was reorganized in 1893 and,at that point, the firm name was changed to “Orchard City Wagon Company.”  This particular builder closed its doorsaround 1912.  While these details arebrief, they can be combined with addition information on the city’s growth aswell as obituaries, genealogical histories, and other points of interest fromlocal libraries and historical societies. Every element can add intrigue to the provenance of a surviving OrchardCity wagon.


This rare Funck & Hertzler plate will likelydate to the 1870’s or 1880’s.  
EdBain - Kenosha, Wisconsin
I shared a fair number of detailsrelated to the background of the Bain Wagon Company in my January 11th blog post a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, it seemed appropriate to includea mention of the same, very early “E. Bain” reach plate here.  As I’d stated earlier, knowing the history ofa particular company can help us recognize rare survivors while gleaningimportant provenance and passing on the details to future generations.Ultimately, if we don’t do it now, this incredible part of our past will likelybe lost.
BallBros. - Bushnell, Illinois  

One of the earliest wagon and carriagebuilders in Bushnell, Illinois and the immediate predecessor to Ball Bros. wasBall & Sons.  The company was launched near theclose of the Civil War and remained in business for almost a halfcentury.  It closed down in 1914. Perhaps as a sign of the times, after selling its assets, the building that the business had occupied became a dealership for the Packardautomobile.  The reach plate in ourcollection will likely date to around 1910.   

This rare reach plate for a regional maker inBushnell, Illinois once belonged to a Ball Bros. wagon likely built around1910.
Studebaker - South Bend, Indiana

Some of the more interesting reachplates from Studebaker are those dating to the nineteenth century.  Many of these have five-digit numerals castinto them and I’ve yet to run across two plates with the same numbers.  As of this writing, I don’t have any concreteevidence but have wondered if these might correspond to serial numbers attachedto the earlier wagons?  I do know thatthe serial numbers attached to the wagons tended to be five digits.  If any reader has details on thissupposition, I’d be interested in hearing from you. 

PhillipMiller & Sons – Edina, MO

The Miller Wagon Company in Edina,Missouri is profiled on our Wheels That Won The West® limited editionprint.  It was established by Germanemigrant, Philip Miller in 1867.  Whilethe firm may be best known for its farm wagons, they also made buggies andspring wagons.  The P M & Sons reachplate (seen in the group photo above) was a rare, earlier find for our collection.

In the 1877 patent submission for this reach plate,Targe Mandt referred to it as a reach brake-plate since it also served as amount for the brake beam.
T.G.Mandt - Stoughton, Wisconsin

One of the most proficient and prolificinventors within the world of early wagons was Targe (T.G.) Mandt.  His innovations covered everything fromwheels, tongues, and brakes to running gears, standards, box tighteners, axles,end gates, spring seats, and more.  Hestarted his company in Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1865.  There’s a fair amount written on the companyand original T.G. Mandt wagons in good condition remain popular withcollectors.

Targe Mandt passed away in 1902.  While the factory remained in Stoughton,Wisconsin, by 1906, the brand and its innovations were acquired by the MolinePlow Company in Moline, Illinois. Digging a little deeper, Mandt’s history gets even more interesting asit eventually became a sister brand to the Stevens automobile as well asWillys-Overland. 

One last observation related to theMandt brand wagon.  Today, some confusethe Moline-Mandt brand with the Moline brand. The two are as different as the sun and moon.  The Moline-Mandt is directly related to theoriginal Mandt wagons (due to rights purchased after T.G. Mandt’s death in1902).  The other Moline is a legendarycompany with roots pre-dating the Civil War. It is a completely separate firm, eventually purchased by John Deere in1910.     
There you have it... a brief look at just one part of many early wagons that can hold valuable information and clues to even more history of a piece.  Again and again, information cast into the stamped and cast metal reach plates of wagons can be extremely helpful.  Not only did these innovative pieces serve their initial purpose by connecting the front and rear running gear sections but, today, they can re-connect us to the vehicle’s past as well as showcase what technologies were availablewhen.  It’s one more reminder that we canlearn something from every part of an old wagon.  Sometimes, it requires time and patience toglean the information but, if we listen close, these wooden warriors alwayshave something to say.  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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