More Early Vehicle Discoveries

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Last week, I shared a little aboutauthenticity in early horse-drawn vehicles as well as the importance of tying thosewheels to the correct time period. Little did I know that I was about to come face-to-face with severalexceptional examples of that message.  Eachpiece was another reminder of the importance to keep our eyes open as we travel.  With all that’s been found over the decades, Ibelieve there’s still a lot to be uncovered – and, as you’ll see – among themare some great pieces to study.

This past month, I’ve been on the road afair amount and, in that time, I’ve had an opportunity to stop by Doug Hansen’s shop in Letcher, South Dakota twice. Even so, my average span between visits there is more along the lines ofonce every five or six years.  One of themost impressive parts of a trip like this is that there is always a host ofhistory to take in.  You never know whatyou’ll run across in the shop or, for that matter, during any trip away from home. 
This Weber Damme wagon will date to the 1860’s and offers a truly rare look into farm style wagons from that era.
While I was in South Dakota, I had theprivilege of seeing an extremely early Weber & Damme brandwagon.  Established in 1861, Weber &Damme (W/D) is one of a number of legendary St. Louis makers with lengthyhistories.  In fact, the W/D shops werelocated just a short distance from both the Luedinghaus/Espenschied and Gestring wagon factories. 

The condition of the W/D wagon was farfrom exceptional but it was understandable since the vehicle will easily dateto the very early 1870’s and more likely be from the 1860’s.  Yes, that is a very objective and supportabletimeframe.  In fact, the iron andwoodwork have so many clues pointing to this period that this could actually beone of the first wagons the company built. I doubt there is an earlier survivor from this firm.  The through-bolted construction includes extrahound irons on a banded reach, 54 inch rear wheels with a 1 ½ inch tire width,extra wide floor and lower sideboards, wider point bands on the hubs as well asheavily worn fore sections to the circle irons. The more I looked at this rolling artifact, the more it seemed the piececould have been built during or just after the Civil War.  While it was not originally equipped with bowstaples (those on it had been added later), the overall wagon is largely reminiscentof many that would have traveled overland with pioneer families looking for afresh start in the West.  Even though it wasn’tin the best of shape, it was still standing and functioning – a remarkable reminderof everyday transportation 150 years ago.

This NOS Stoughton sideboard shows the power of color and art in attracting early wagon buyers to the brand.
Pristine designs and vibrant colors dominate this hand painted, century-old piece of transportation history.
As amazing as it was to see such a rare,early piece, I was also intrigued to see elements from a wagon that was a halfcentury newer than the Weber-Damme.  Manyreaders of this blog share a passion for collecting anything related to oldwagons and will understand the term ‘New Old Stock’ (NOS).  Finding period pieces that were never used,whether it be a set of wheels, a doubletree, spring seat, or even sideboards isa rare treat for any collector.  Evenbefore I had arrived at Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop, Doug told me in a phonecall that he had a “little” find he wanted to share with me.  In my mind, I figured he had found a specialbuggy tag or maybe even an old sign.  Isoon found out that my expectations were too small.  When I rolled onto the shop grounds, there wereNOS sideboards for not one but, TWO different Stoughton wagons sitting just outside the office.  Wow! They were beautiful.  Stoughtondated their beginnings to 1865 when the Stoughton, Wisconsin factory wasactually home to the T.G. Mandt wagon. When Mandt decided to take his patents and name elsewhere, the Stoughtonshops began producing the “Stoughton” brand. The sideboards were treasures that Doug had just acquired and they were quitea study in originality.  Yes, I’ll admitto shamelessly coveting the sideboards and ‘No’ they aren’t for sale – Ialready checked! 

As incredible as it may seem to find NOS sideboards for a two-horse Stoughton wagon, this set for a one-horse Stoughton is truly an all-but-impossible find.
Even though these sideboards are backlit by the sun in this photo, it’s still easy to see the impressive nature of such a connection to our past.
While in Letcher, I also had theopportunity to tour Dvonne Hansen’s leather works and antique saddlecollection.  What a treat!  Both areas show extraordinary depth andcreative ingenuity.  In fact, with alifetime of leather-working experience, Dvonne is a true artisan.  Her schooled hands and keen sense of designare seen in countless pieces throughout the buildings on her grounds.  Not only is her work widely sought-after but,Doug (son), often calls on her expertise with special coach, carriage, andwagon projects.  We were privileged tohave her help securing period leather for use within the conservation work doneon our stage wagon earlier this year.  Aspecial thanks to Dvonne for taking time out of her day to educate thisArkansan on so much history.

Dvonne Hansen stands in the doorway of an early school house on her property.  It houses dozens of period saddles and other western artifacts she’s meticulously curated.
On the trip home from South Dakota, Imade a few more stops and ran across still another amazing find... a complete, newold stock Columbus brand wagon.  Columbusis an International Harvester (IHC) brand that many will recognize as the mid-pricedalternative to a Weber wagon.  Like Weber, the Columbus brand also pre-datesIHC’s ownership of the company.  Staringat the crisp edges on the wood, the bright, unworn paint, and stenciling thatlooked like it had just been applied, I was taken aback.  From Doug Hansen’s shop to other stops alongthe road, it’s been quite a while since I took a trip and saw this muchoriginal history just waiting to share its secrets.

Unlike the painted New Stoughton logo, this NOS Columbus wagon uses a pre-printed transfer, called a decalcomine.
This image of the Columbus wagon gives a good idea of the paint condition.  I would estimate that the wagon still has 99.9% of its original paint.
With all that I’ve reported here, therewere even more finds on the trip after I left South Dakota... including an1880’s-era Studebaker Mountain Wagon and an early 1900’s Peter Schuttlerlogging wagon.  It was a lot to take inbut, again, a powerful reminder that there are still a number of discoverieswaiting to be made.  The study of eachhelps us better understand transportation history and pass along properinterpretation of each part. 

While I was traveling, I receivedseveral emails and hope to pass along even more wagon-related happenings in thecoming weeks.  In the meantime, thanksagain for your visits.  It’s always goodto hear from you.    
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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