Ihave a weakness for early St. Louis-built vehicles and have written about thaton several occasions. Some may recallthat Farm Collector magazine has published several of my articles about one of theSt. Louis firms… the Gestring Wagon Company. Over time, I’ve been surprised at how this brand in particularseems to keep cropping up. From callsand emails from individuals who own a Gestring to archaeologists with theMissouri Department of Transportation to museums looking for more informationon a particular vehicle, founder Caspar Gestring’s legacy is alive and well inthe 21st century. It’s been especiallyinteresting to me since I enjoy studying these 19th century makers from the“Gateway to the West.”
Withthat in mind, over a year ago, the good folks at the Santa Ynez HistoricalMuseum had asked me to be a speaker at their ‘Spirit of the West’ symposiumthis past April. I was pleased to obligeand equally enthused that they held an original Gestring wagon in theircollection. I’ve learned over the yearsthat every vehicle has a story to tell and I was anxious to see what more Imight learn from this wagon.
Arrivinga half day early, I took some time to go over the Gestring and see what I couldfind out. A few quick measurementsshowed the wagon to have the same general box size as every other Gestring I’veseen… 43” wide and 9’ 10” long (outside dimensions). Retaining a fair amount of original paintwith hand-lettering and striping on the box, the wagon was sold by BellevilleImplement & Motor Company of Belleville, Illinois. In our research, we discovered that thiscompany was apparently a dealer for Studebaker automobiles as well asInternational Harvester agricultural products at some point. More importantly, dealer details like thiscan be helpful in narrowing down a vehicle’s age.
Beginning with periodicals from theearly 20th century, we found Belleville Implement & MotorCompany listed on page 881 of the December 16, 1908 issue of The Horseless Age as one of almost fourdozen “New Agencies.” Other availableinformation leads us to believe the company was officially licensed forbusiness as early as March of 1907. Based on this information as well as a first-hand examination of thewagon along with previous research within our files, we believe this set ofwheels to have a circa 1910-12 date of manufacture.
Like most century-old vehicles, the gearhas lost the majority of its original paint. However, careful inspection shows that some of the initial orangecoloring still exists on the axles and other parts of the gear. While the tire widths measure 1 ½ inches, the broad wheel track stretches 62inches and wheel heights are 44/54 inches. One of the most interesting things about this vehicle, though, is thethird sideboard on the box. Not only isit diagonally cut to perfectly match a set of original Gestring-made St. Louisseat risers but, the uppermost sideboards are also trimmed to slope downwardfrom 6 5⁄8 inches in height at the front to only 2 ¾ inches at the back of thewagon. It’s a unique and seldom seendesign that was clearly built this way at the Gestring factory. Other notable elements include additionalcontouring to the outer ends of the seat bottom, a fingerlink clip to thecenter spreader chain, and a box brake system with a Geisler-style brakeratchet.
We’re pleased to be able to continuallyshare rare imagery and information on relevant early vehicle makers. Individually and collectively the detailshelp us all to continually learn and appreciate more of America’s earliestvehicle industry. In keeping with thoseopportunities, we’re working on another article for Farm Collector that should appear later this year and, if you’repartial to St. Louis vehicles like Joseph Murphy, Weber & Damme, Linstroth,Espenschied, and Luedinghaus, you won’t want to miss it.