Freight wagon tires

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Last week we shared some details related to thelegendary 20 Mule Team freight wagons. These freighters are as big as the terrain they traveled and, because oftheir legendary status, may often be perceived as typical of large westernfreighters.  I say ‘perceived’ becausefreight wagons differed in many respects.

For instance, the Borax wagons have tire widths of 8inches.  That’s huge and far fromtypical.  The reasons for the size gobeyond the weight being hauled and also take into account the softer desertterrain.  Several years ago, I wrote anarticle about the wheel sizes of early chuck wagons and the factors that helpdetermine the tire widths on these and other wagons. Click here for more details.  
The sheer amount of early catalogs and literature inthe Wheels That Won The West® collection gives us an advantage in researchingthese types of questions.  In fact,during one of our recent presentations, we took 8 of the most dominant and wellknown wagon makers and profiled their standard freight wagon offerings duringthe 15 year timeframe between 1875 and 1889. Without exception, from Peter Schuttler, Mitchell, LaBelle, and Bain tothe Studebaker, Jackson, Weber, and Fish Bros. brands, the hauling capacitieswere less affected by tire size and more related to the skein size and type aswell as the axle design and geography of the region (sandy, rocky, etc.)  In fact, one of the most common carryingcapacities of period freight wagons (often referred to as 60 hundred pounds - 3tons) was regularly listed within period catalogs with 2 inch tires.  Four and five ton capacities were equallywell known with tires measuring only 2 ½ inches in width. 
I’ve often said that these wagons talk.  Looking closely at the individualconstruction features of specific wagons can tell you a lot about thevehicle.  It’s another reason that no twovehicles are exactly the same and learning to notice those variations can makeall the difference in “hearing” what a set of wheels is saying.  From the design of the box to the size of thetires and everything in between, nothing is insignificant when it comes tounderstanding the way life rolled in the early days of the American West.
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