Rolling History Lessons

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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From my earliest days of studying America’speriod wagons and western vehicles, the subject really took me to school.  In fact, these rolling works of art have donemore than just grow my western transportation repertoire.  They’ve sent me to the proverbial woodshed anumber of times for discipline.  Thoseexperiences have taught me to slow down, look close, and not jump so easily toconclusions. 

It’s one of the reasons I’m always a bitcautious when pushed to quickly identify a vehicle builder.  While we live in an age where fast food andinstant gratification are strong expectations, offering answers too quickly cangenerate a whole new set of problems. About now, someone may be saying, “What the devil are you getting to,David?”  Just this… There are countlessareas in vehicle evaluations where non-supported assumptions can leave us highand dry.

One of those places lies in thesimilarity of many brand names.  Whenlooking at the different makes, it’s important to remember that what we see isnot always as it appears.  For instance,some of our readers are likely aware that Montgomery Ward once marketed a wagonby the name of Whitewater. Unfortunately, if you run across a Whitewater wagon, the name, alone, isnot sufficient evidence to prove it is a Montgomery Ward brand.  In fact, there were at least threemanufacturers that promoted a ‘Whitewater’ wagon. In similar fashion, other companies also had duplicates.  For instance, while their histories wereintertwined, Fish Bros. wagons built in Clinton, Iowa and Fond du Lac,Wisconsin were not the same as those built in Racine, Wisconsin.  Along the same lines, the Winona WagonCompany was a separate entity from the Winona Carriage Company.  There were multiple manufacturers ofNissen-branded wagons in North Carolina and the Star Wagon Company and StarBuggy Company were totally different firms in separate states.
Competing against a number of different ‘Smith’ wagons, this firm in Pekin, Illinois promoted themselves as the oldest and only vehicle worthy of the name.

If that’s not convincing enough, therewere various builders of ‘Smith’ wagons as well.  While many enthusiasts may be familiar with T& H Smith from Pekin, Illinois, fewer are likely aware of Smith Wagonsfrom Minneapolis, Minnesota or LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  Even more egregious is when two prominentbrands are confused with each other.  As an example, not long ago, I came upon a Moline Mandt branderroneously referred to as a Moline wagon. Each of these companies have different factories, owners, designs, andhistories.

Other complexities include countlessbrands that aren’t well known on the national scene but had a strong localinfluence.  It’s important to be awarethat these pieces aren’t always found close to their original homes thesedays.  With collectors, traders, andenthusiasts scanning every nook and cranny of the U.S. for the best vehicles, quitea few of these sets of wheels have been transported well outside of theirprimary trade areas.  To that point, howmany folks today are familiar with brands like Bement, Dean, Gale, Ottawa,Case, Cherokee, Pioneer, or Reitig?  Theseare names of well-promoted local and regional pieces that could bemisidentified because they’re relatively unknown among the masses. 

Why does all of this matter?  Because, accuracy and proper identity alwaysmatter.  It matters to vehicle integrity,history, education, and even resale values. Ultimately, it’s a big world inside America’s first transportationindustry.  So, dive in, hold on, and goodluck with your research.  There’s not aroller coaster on the planet with more dips, dives, twists, turns, andsurprises.

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.
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