Lost & Loose – More Transient Wagon Parts

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Last week, we featured some original parts of early wagons that are often missing from surviving vehicles today.  Whether they’ve inadvertently fallen off, been taken off, or have been replaced, putting the wrong piece back on can affect resale value, soundness, and the overall integrity of the wagon.  Below are a dozen more areas that are regularly affected by the issue of transient parts.

End gates – These are likely some of the most commonly misplaced pieces from an old wagon.  Like other parts, they were often removed and laid aside, only to never be put back with the wagon.

Rub Irons – Sometimes, these pieces have been used so much that the persistent wearing of the steel tire has cut the rub iron in half.  The result can be that some (or all) of the piece can eventually fall off and become lost. 

Due to the heavy pressure and constant wear placed on rub irons, they were often worn heavily – to the point of separation and loss.
Wagon Box – At first glance, it sounds a bit crazy to say the box of a wagon can go missing.  In truth, the box and gear were often separated from each other.  As a result, either can eventually be absent.  I have some great boxes that are missing their original gear.  Likewise, I have a number of gears that no longer have the original box.

Stay chains – As a collector, you’d probably have better luck herding cats than believing you’ll always find the original stay chains with every wagon you run across.  These chains were sometimes used for other purposes beyond those with the wagon.  Additionally, once folks started using wagons as trailers behind tractors, they no longer needed these chains (or doubletrees).  Today, you can sometimes find used stay chains or you can buy new replacements.

Rocking bolster – Here’s a transient part that often gets overlooked.  The forward rocking bolster is typically held to the gear by the king bolt.  Occasionally, a bolster was so heavily damaged that it needed to be replaced or, perhaps, it was removed when a gear was knocked down for storage, causing the parts to be separated.

Spring seats – If you’ve ever been to an auction where wagons are sold, you’re familiar with the practice of selling seats separately.  In fact, many seats show up to the sale already separated.  Families often sold the old wagon from their farm but kept the spring seat as a memory of earlier days.  My own family remembers the wagon my granddad owned but no one remembers what happened to it.  They did keep the spring seat and somehow one box rod remained at the old barn.  They’re two reminders of just how easy it is for these pieces to get broken up. 

Brake rods – These long connecting rods were bent and even broken from time to time.  Even so, the most likely reason for one of these to come up missing is the result of the box being removed from the running gear.  While this is not generally an issue when a wagon is fitted with box brakes, those mounted to the gear are a different story.  When a box is removed from a running gear fitted with brakes, the linkage or brake rod has to be partially disconnected, which can sometimes result in the rod getting misplaced.

Wheel wrenches – While spring seats and stay chains may seem hard to keep up with, they pale in comparison to the challenges of ensuring you have the right wrench for an early wagon.  They were so easy and necessary to move around that many wagons sold today do not have their original wrench.

Wheel wrenches for wagons were made in a number of sizes and shapes.
Reach/coupling pole – The most common reason for a period wagon to not have its original reach today is that it was broken or heavily damaged at some point.  The problem could have resulted from a wreck or severe stress created by the terrain being traveled.  I’ve even heard (multiple times) of folks breaking the reach with a forklift while trying to lift and move the wagon.

Box tighteners – Other frequently lost parts on early wagons are box tighteners.  These ‘sideboard clamps’ were designed to help keep flax and other small seeds from leaking through the sideboards and floor edges.  There were many different styles of box tighteners.  The most commonly lost types are the ones with steel rods extending over part or the entire height of a box. 

Latches – Folding endgate latches are often held in place by a single nut.  Should the nut ever fall off, the latch is quickly separated from the wagon.  I’ve even heard of these being stolen, undoubtedly, to replace another somewhere that’s missing. 

Sideboards – Most two-horse farm wagons were equipped with multiple sideboards.  These additional pieces could be removed if needed and stored in the barn, shed, or elsewhere.  From time to time, the separation took on more of a permanent nature.  Today, it’s not unusual to see these pieces listed as an isolated item in a sale.  

Over and over, I’ve had folks share thoughts that a particular pair of wagons were just alike.  Truth is, no two surviving wagons are ever exactly the same.  Part of the reason will almost always be due to the levels of originality remaining in each one.  Time and again, parts are removed or lost and the completeness of a vehicle suffers.  The lists I’ve shared here and last week are not all-inclusive but, they do give us an idea of how prevalent the losses can be.

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