Part 2 - How Do I Identify The Maker of A Wagon?

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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As we shared in Part 1 of last week’sblog, America’s early transportation industry included thousands of heavyvehicle makers spread throughout the U.S. Several years ago, we produced a limited edition print showcasingmany who are often recognized as being among the most prominent brands seenon the western frontier.  Clearly, withsuch a large number of builders, the process of identifying wagons that have lost theirobvious markings can be tough.  While ahealthy dose of experience as well as period literature for comparisons can behelpful, that combination isn’t always available.  So, what do you do if you’re trying to getinformation on a wagon maker and don’t have access to sufficient catalogillustrations and photography? 

First… it’s important to remember that allparts of the vehicle can hold clues. Detail after detail, every element should receive close attention,including written and photographic documentation.  Second… particular care should be given tothe vehicle’s surface, avoiding any cleaning or treatment that couldpermanently alter original features. Third… it’s equally vital to avoid thetrap of assuming that similar designs on different wagons always translate intofeatures from the same maker.  Over andover, we run across circumstances where someone has inaccurately labeled avehicle because it appeared to look the same as another of known heritage.  It’s worth repeating here that “SIMILAR DOESNOT NECESSARILY MEAN ‘THE SAME’.” 
David Sneed on a historical ‘research and recovery’ trip near Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

In absence of a thorough knowledge ofthe most commonly known early builders, the best place to start theidentification process is to methodically comb the entire vehicle.  You should document any and all detailsrelated to part designs, construction designs, markings, colors, part placements,part sizes, and so forth.   It will alsobe important to note non-original elements of a wagon.  As such, the review may require theassistance of someone familiar with the authentication process.  The overall evaluation can be a tedious taskbut accuracy demands focus and attention to detail. 

Diving into the assessment, we typicallydivide these vehicles into three major areas – Wood, Paint, and Metal.  To that point, back in 2009, I wrote afirst-of-its-kind feature article in the April issue of Farm Collector magazine.  That piece served as a fundamental guide toidentifying wagons and other western vehicles. Below are some highlights from that introduction.
Both the metal and paint design of this bolster standard provide strong evidence of a Stoughton brand wagon.
When it comes to evaluating paint, it’simportant to look at all areas – including the tops of bolsters as they cansometimes hold additional information. Stenciling, logos, striping, colors, and even placement of colors areall important historical traits to document. Faded paint and hard-to-read lettering may create a seemingly impassableobstacle.  Careful application of small amounts of distilledwater, however, may be helpful in certain instances.  By temporarily wetting the wood, both signageand other paint markings can become more legible and clear.  This said, we'll also note that areas should be tested first to ensure that moisture will not harm the surviving surface paint.  Lighter pigmented or thin paint may be especially vulnerable to even small amounts of water.  Photographing all of your findings is equally helpfulas you compare and review potential identities.  Finally, if theoriginal paint is hidden beneath an old repaint job or perhaps a heavy coatingof linseed oil, you may wish to employ assistance with the careful removal ofthis material.  We know of a number ofrare vehicles whose values were saved –and increased – by the recovery of good paint beneath a non-original surfacecoating.
Wood features such as the single groove in this hub combined with notable metal distinctions such as rounded spoke bands and other details point to Studebaker as the maker.
The wood within every wagon can alsocontain vital information.  Here again,details make the difference.  Take yourtime and scour the vehicle top to bottom. I’ve found numerals, symbols, dates, and alpha characters stamped orpressed into the wood.  These elementsare not always easy to see.  In fact,most cursory reviews of a wagon can easily miss these brand indicators.  From the insides of the boxes to the floorboards and countless gear and wheel locations, it’s possible for details to beon almost any wooden surface.  Whilethese construction records may not immediately point to a maker, the collectivepower of all the clues can be helpful in narrowing down the list of possiblemanufacturers.
The shape, type, and contouring of thewood can also hold valuable evidence. Pay particular attention to the design of the sideboard cleats, crosssills, wheel hubs, hound designs, bolster stakes, and even the reach.  While the end gates can also be helpful,these pieces are often transitory – in other words, they may have been replacedat some point with a non-original substitute. It’s one more potential pitfall that requires careful scrutiny beforeassigning an identity.  
Both the paint and metal design of this front hound are typical of many twentieth-century-built Springfield wagons.


Similar to the examination of wood, theshape, design, and placement of original metal parts on a wagon can also holdimportant information.  Sometimes, metalparts include numerals and alpha characters. These may be part numbers, skein sizes, patent dates, company names,geographic locales, or other important details. Take clear, high resolution photos of all metal areas.  Locations like the reach plate, reach box,skeins, circle irons, and even rub irons can hold a treasure trove ofinformation.  Other metal parts – like abrake ratchet – may have important information cast into them but these detailsmay point more to the brake manufacturer and less to a specific vehicle maker. 
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes theidentification process is relatively simple based on known and more easilyrecognized features.  There are oftenconfusing similarities between brands, though. It’s why we’ve made it a practice to verify multiple traits – the morethe better – prior to confirming a maker.  Simple observations leaning only on one or two features are often notenough to support a proposed identification. All in all, it may take a little longer on the front end but it can save heartache and embarrassment from assumptions when these practicesare employed. 
As a note of encouragement to thosestumped by a wagon’s identity, we offer a complimentary initial review of thesevehicles.  If your set of wheels can beeasily identified through quick visual clues, we’re happy to assist at nocost.  Should the vehicle require moreresearch, we’re equally pleased to discuss the value of a more detailed review.  Ultimately, when it comes to determining the significanceand worth of any of these pieces, the presence of a known maker can have animportant impact.   After all, it’s where the vehicle’s story beginsand that heritage can make all the difference when it comes to resale value andcollector interest.  
The faded numbers and lettering shown here are references to this wagon’s skein size and track width.
Just as a reminder…  If you haven’tsigned up to receive this weekly blog via email, just type in your address inthe Follow By Email section above. You’ll receive a confirmation email that you’ll need to verify before you’reofficially on board.  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be ofassistance and we’ll look forward to sharing even more details on early wagonsand western vehicles each week.

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