As I’ve grown older, there’s more about my family I wish I would have asked before cherished members left for their heavenly reward. Some questions, no doubt, would have had more depth as I looked for greater understanding to my own heritage. Others, though, would have been elements of simpler curiosity and general conversation. Queries like… What’s the most acreage you ever plowed with your mule in a day? Or… How long would a container of milk stay fresh when placed in the cold spring? Or… How old were you when you started driving a team?
Being fascinated with early wagons, I would almost certainly have asked more about the horse drawn vehicles my ancestors drove. My dad has shared several stories, himself, and his dad once told me a particularly interesting account that I’ve never forgotten. Seems he was using his team and wagon to pull up some old fence posts. One, particularly stubborn post would not budge and as the team strained, the chain hooked between the wagon axle and post actually lifted the rear of the wagon up. Once the wheels left the ground, the entire gear and box flipped upside down in an instant. Making matters worse, one of my uncles – a youngster at the time – was in the bed of the wagon. As my granddad told the story, he was still amazed at how fast it all happened but, even more surprised that the adrenalin generated by the emergency allowed him to quickly lift the double box and gear off the ground and rescue his son, bright-eyed but unhurt.
I’ve recorded a few other old family accounts involving wagons – one involving a run-away team and another related to the echo of trace and stay chains as neighboring teams began work every morning. Unfortunately, all that remains of my granddad’s wagon, though, is a lone box rod (found near the old wagon shed by my grandmother and I one fall afternoon) and a single board spring seat; saved only by being stored and forgotten in the cellar for more than a half century. A few years ago, one of my mother’s sisters came across a photo of their uncle in a wagon. Knowing my enthusiasm for this subject, my aunt passed this aged photo along to me. As I peered through the magnifying loupe into the faces of family I never had the privilege of knowing, I found myself staring intently at the wagon as well. Scanning and enlarging the near century-old image helped to bring out more details. Almost instantly, the features of a Mandt brand wagon began to surface; the tubular bolster standards, hardware, faded paint and lettering all bore witness to this legendary maker.
In so many ways, the pace of life today can overlook the depth and fulfillment of simpler pleasures and family connections. I’ll likely never know what brand of wagon any of my grandparents owned. But, I now know, there was a great uncle that drove a well-worn legend on wheels. Its name was Mandt.