Seldom Seen Survivors

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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From extraordinary barn finds to unexpectedresearch discoveries, the last quarter century has brought us a world ofinsights into America’s early vehicle makers. Through it all, we’ve been privileged to meet a lot of great peoplewhile helping bring more clarity to an often-misunderstood part of ourpast.  Even so, there are a lot of piecesfrom yesterday’s transportation industry that I’ve never seen.  The closest we seem to get to them might be an old drawing or printeddescription from a period trade publication.  At the end of the day, there are just some elements that remain elusive. Because the pieces I’m talkingabout are usually fairly small, they can be easily forgotten, overlooked, ortossed aside as junk.  Nonetheless, thesemodestly-sized artifacts can play a huge role in provenance while adding remarkableinterest and value to related vehicles. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting this week to goover a few seldom-seen-survivors from the nineteen and early twentiethcenturies... 

1.     Archibald Hub Wrench – From waterand ice wagons to express, beer, fire, and ore wagons, there were numerousearly vehicles that used Archibald hubs. These metal flanges encased the spokes and were designed to deliver numerousbenefits, including more secure wheels and lighter vehicle draft.  After testing the design in the 1870’s, theU.S. military ultimately adopted the Archibald hub for use in a number of transports,including the Army Escort wagon.  Centeringthe wheels, it’s an easy feature to recognize. Even so, there’s one element of the Archibald hub that is rarely seenand is one of the most crucial accessories for the design – the wheelwrench.  I’m not talking about a traditionalwrench of the style used on most thimble-skein farm wagons.  I’m referring to a specific design(s) createdparticularly for the Archibald hub.  Sometime ago, I was reviewing a special collection of wagons and came across one ofthese ultra-rare pieces.  One end of thisparticular wrench is sized for the center nut on the wheel while the other endfits the smaller nuts positioned on the backside of the wheel hub.  Since stumbling across that wrench, I’veactually located photographic evidence of yet another style the military also used onArchibald hubs.

The inclusion of raised letters on this Archibaldhub wrench may be indicative of a presentation piece.
2.     Advertising Print Blocks – Computers,copiers, and digital technology have so simplified the modern-day printingprocess that it’s easy to overlook the challenges faced in late nineteenth andearly twentieth century printing. Instead of a direct ‘computer-to-plate’ process, many advertisingmessages from those days were crafted by using movable type and print blockswith raised surfaces that transferred ink when pressed against paper.  While many early print ads and literature producedin this way can still be found, image-laden print blocks generated by the majorvehicle makers are much tougher to locate. Even so, they can add even more dimension to a particular vehicle,brand, and collection.

3.     Patent Models – In the early days of patentregistrations, inventors were required to submit a working miniature of their idea.  In 1790, the first Patent Act was established by then-President GeorgeWashington with functional patent models needed alongside the accompanying text descriptions and illustrations.  This prerequisite was part of the process from1790 through 1880.  Finding these pieces oftransportation history can be extremely tough in the twenty-first century.  One of the thousands of artifacts in ourarchives is a miniature model for a brake ratchet.  It was submitted to the U.S. Patent Office inJanuary of 1880 by Abner Fish, one of the brothers in the legendary Fish Bros.Wagon Company in Racine, Wisconsin.  Thepatent was granted in March of 1880. 

Thisone-of-a-kind brake ratchet model for Fish Bros. wagons was submittedin 1880.  It was the last year modelswould be required for patent submissions.
4.     Original Stencils – Vintage wagonmakers added logos, names, and numerals to a variety of locations on thevehicle.  Sometimes builders used printedtransfers (decalcomines) for the brand name while, in other instances, the signage was handpainted or stencils were employed.  Eventhough stencils were once a common sight in wagon shops, original examples arevery difficult to find today. 

This original stencil was used to paintthe brand name on the side of a Lamons wagon.  The Lamons Wagon Company of Greeneville,TN was established in 1868.
5.     State Fair / Exposition Awards – Year afteryear, numerous fairs as well as regional, national, and international Expositionsserved as new vehicle competitions. Manufacturers were judged on the merits of style, design, innovation,quality, and functional effectiveness.  Individualentries were awarded with medallions, ribbons, pins, cash, and other prizes.  Many of those awards have survived, yet,countless others are still unaccounted for. In one case, almost three dozen medallions survived because they wereembedded into a special show vehicle.  Intoday’s vernacular, we would call that particular set of wheels a conceptvehicle.  The medallions are part of thelegendary ‘Aluminum Wagon’ producedby Studebaker for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  The wagon has never been used, other than inpromotions.  It's located in the Studebaker National Museum in SouthBend, Indiana. 

Our research ofan intriguing wagon shown at the 1876 Centennial Exposition (First World’sFair) turned up another medallion awarded in 1875 to the maker of that wagon,Jacob Becker, Jr.  We came across anadditional medallion from a smaller maker in Peoria, Illinois a few yearsago.  Awarded to Geo. Pfieffer &Company, the honor was bestowed upon the firm for having the Best Spring Wagonjudged by the Illinois State Board of Agriculture in 1882.  Mr. Pfieffer was also recognized in 1874 forhaving the Best 2-horse wagon as judged by the Iowa State Agricultural Society.  Like many local builders, it’s difficult tofind a great deal of information on the Pfieffer firm.  We did uncover an 1880 historical account ofPeoria where Mr. Pfieffer is credited with being the largest manufacturer ofwagons and buggies in the city.  Whilehis business began in 1868, we haven’t found any trace of it surviving past themid-1880’s.

This legendary Studebaker ‘aluminum’wagon is embedded with 35 medals awarded to the company in its first 40 yearsof business.
These images were graciously provided byBrian Howard & Associates who did exceptional conservation work on thisone-of-a-kind ‘aluminum’ wagon from 1893.
6.     Early Warranties - Similar tovehicle promotions today, early wagon makers often used warranties to help sealthe deal with buyers.  The most common lengthof these pledges was for a period of one year although some can be found for alittle longer.  The contracts were tiedby serial number to specific wagons, dates, buyers, and sellers.  While some of the art-embellished warrantiescan still occasionally be found, typically, the wagons they refer to are longgone. 

7.     Salesman Samples – The‘salesman’s sample’ term gets thrown around a lot these days but, finding anactual promotional sample from America’s earliest vehicles can be tough.  Like virtually all marketing-purposed mock-upsfrom the era, the pieces were built for a single function – to sell the productand/or feature of a set of wheels.  Oncethe usefulness of a particular ‘sample’ was over, it tended to be tossedaway.  The farther we travel from thetime when they were used, the fewer pieces remain to be found.

This original sales model was used byagents of the Milburn Wagon Company to promote the added strength of a steeltruss embedded into wooden axles.
8.     Factory-related trinkets – Manufacturerswithin America’s first transportation industry were savvy marketers.  Beyond the more involved details of eventmarketing, outdoor signage, competitor challenges, and print ad campaigns,there were many other tools in our ancestors’ advertising arsenal.  Among those were a host of promotionaltrinkets.  Things like buttons, pins, paperweights, rulers, cups, match strikers, puzzles, cards, tokens, watch fobs, fans,mirrors, whetstones, and many other items that would attract attention were distributed.  One of the rarest and most creativeideas that I’ve come across is a factory tour “Pass” for prospectivedealers.  It was issued by Studebaker somewherearound 1877 or ’78 to help grow their distribution network while reinforcingtheir vehicles as a preeminent and affordable brand.  Not only did the two-sided card grant a freetour of the South Bend facilities but, it included a promise that if the bearerdid not feel Studebaker’s prices were lower than anyone else’s for the samequality of work, the company would pay the pass-holder’s way to and from SouthBend.  That’s real confidence.  It also shows how astute the company was intheir efforts to build a strong sales network while reinforcing impressivebrand loyalty.  

This ‘pass’ for a factory tour is anextremely scarce survivor from Studebaker’s early wagon manufacturing days.
9.     Original Decalcomines – Thesepre-printed transfers were used by both small and large horse-drawn vehiclemakers.  The technology was useful inmany ways including the ability to keep all logos/brands consistent with highquality, cost-effective results.  Evenso, the purpose-driven designs weren’t meant to last forever.  So, finding unused, new old stock examples of these piecesis always a surprise.  Years ago, we werefortunate to run across a few for the Swab wagon brand.  These particular transfers were used on thebox sides and rear end gates.  The Swab Wagon Company is one of the fewfirms with nineteenth-century transportation roots that are still in existencetoday.  Located in Elizabethville,Pennsylvania, the brand is a well-known producer of police, fire, rescue, andanimal transports.  The company willcelebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2018. 

10.  Original Blueprints / Technical Drawings– These are virtually non-existent parts of America’s past.  While most builders tended to use hard-copy patternsfor their established and successful designs, there are some surviving examplesof blueprints being used.  Our persistentdigging has managed to locate a few sets of blueprints along with sometechnical drawings for U.S. military vehicles like escorts, tool wagons, andwater wagons.

Week in and week out, it’s a pleasure toshare bits and pieces from our research, collection, and travels.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if we’re coveringall the subjects you’d like to know more about? To that point, if you have a specific brand, topic, or question relatedto America’s early wagons and western vehicles, drop us a line.  We’d enjoy hearing from you and look forwardto helping highlight even more history in the coming months.  

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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