It’s been over two and a half yearssince I’ve reported any new findings on the huge, double-sized wagon unveiledby the Moline Wagon Company in 1904. Asmany know, the head-turning piece was designed as an unforgettable display forthe St. Louis World’s Fair that year. Back in 2013 and 14, it was encouraging to discover more previouslyunknown details about this huge promotional piece. Those particulars can be seen in twodifferent blog posts from January 2014and February 2014. For decades, collectors and history seekershave scoured the country in search of this famous set of wheels. I’ve certainly spent my share of time lookingfor clues as to where this iconic piece of transportation and agriculturalhistory ended up. The trek has taken upcountless hours of research and plenty of conversation. Still, it’s managed to hang onto a certainamount of intrigue while remaining an elusive beast of burden.
|This 1906 photo from the Lincoln, Nebraska Fairis one of only two surviving images known to have captured the giant Moline wagon at thatevent.
Again and again, folks familiar with thestory of this giant ask the same question… “What happened to it?” From our own research and archives, I’ve repeatedlybeen fortunate to find significant and largely unknown information. One of the more interesting revelations hasbeen that the wagon was used within multi-state promotional tours by the Molinecompany and its dealers years after the first showings at the World’s Fair. Still, the trail has been cold for sometime. The last glimpse we were able toget of the wagon was at a fair in Nebraska during 1906. Since then, nothing. No trade reports. No newspaper clippings. No photos. No other details have come to light. It’s as if the wagon just disappeared. But, as I mentioned in my February 12, 2014 blog, details on mysterieslike this can sometimes come right out of the blue.
That’s just what happened last week whenI was canvassing an April 1909 issue of “The Hub.” Positioned just below a short story about theAbbot-Downing Company falling into receivership was an equally brief write-upsharing the whereabouts of the colossal Moline wagon. Finally, after more than 100 years in hiding,the secret of what happened to this magnificent piece of history was beingrevealed!
As the story points out, five yearsafter first being shown at the St. Louis World’s Fair, the wagon was being given apermanent home. The article reiterated thatthe show-stopping attraction had been publicized extensively in state andnational fairs during the previous years. As of the 1909 writing, though, the big wagon was in the process of being placedon top of four, concrete pillars at the east end of Moline Wagon Company’slumber yard. The pillars were nine feetin height, meaning that the entire structure with the wagon would stand atleast twenty-five feet tall! It was intendedto be the final tribute to the legendary set of wheels (and brand), standingwhere it would be a continuous topic of conversation to all passers-by.
The enormous concrete platform was afitting display, visibly reinforcing the power, reputation, and legacy of thehistoric brand. Nonetheless, afterreading this report, it’s not hard to imagine what ultimately happened to thehuge wagon. After a few years atop theconcrete pedestal, the effects of a continual barrage of sun, snow, ice, andraw elements would have surely taken their toll; leaving the wooden titan in a deterioratedcondition. Also, knowing that just ayear later, John Deere would buy the firm and two years after that change thename from Moline to John Deere; it’seasy to understand that the hulking wagon would have ultimately been dismantledand disposed of. It had served a strongpurpose for many years but, as the Moline brand disappeared from daily life so wasthe fate of the equally colossal wagon. Both appear to have vanished at the same time and, even with their onceprominent fame, are merely a pale curiosity today.
|This graphic from an 1870 company letter iseasily among the oldest survivors from the legendary Moline Wagon Company. It’s just one of numerous rare artifactshoused in the Wheels That Won The West®Archives.
It would be interesting to know if anyphotos may yet be found of the old promotional icon mounted on its concrete-columnthrone. Even if none were taken or havesurvived, I can now finally put this legend to rest. No longer do I expect to come across anactual piece of this three-dimensional superstar. Like so many other notable wheels pointingto another time, this five-ton monster was likely allowed to wither intooblivion.
Used throughout the West as farm,freight, military, emigrant, and chuck wagons, Moline was among the most competitiveand revered brands inside America’s first transportation industry. By the time John Deere purchased the firm, Molinewas building 30,000 wagons per year. It’s a rate that translated into 600 completed wagons per week (10 perhour – 100 per day). Even with so manyproduced, original Moline wagons with respectable amounts of factory paint are stillamong the rarer finds today.
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