Ten Reasons to Chase History

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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There are all sorts of reasons peoplepursue different activities.  It may bean escape, a way to wind down, a means for staying mentally and physically fit, spendingtime with others, satisfying a craving for adrenaline, or a number of other factors.  For me, there’s no single draw thatcontinually pulls me into America’s early world of wheels.  The intrigue comes from a number of places.     

Maybe I’m feeling a bit nostalgic thisweek (my youngest daughter is getting married) or maybe today’s post is meantto remind us all of the rewards offered by a good sideline interest.  Whatever the inspiration for this week’stopic, there are a number of reasons that the study of America’s historic vehiclescan be infectious.  In order to open thewindow to that world a little more, I thought I’d share, in no particularorder, ten reasons I find myself continually involved in this subject. 

1)  The Thrill of the Chase – There’ssomething about the ever-present hope of making new discoveries.  It’s a mindset filled with anticipation andrewarded with the excitement of both recognizing and rescuing lost treasures.  Likewise, the expectation of uncovering anotherpiece of America’s transportation puzzle has a way of driving us forward throughthe next obstacle.  To that point, numeroushistorians have contributed countless details that can help us betterunderstand this part of our nation’s growth and development.  It’s a foundation of knowledge that’s easy tojumpstart by reinforcing your own library with published works; many of whichI’ve covered in previous blogs and articles.

2)  Meeting New People & Reconnecting with Old Friends – One of thegreatest thrills in chasing history is the opportunity to hear from others and sharein their stories.  Inevitably, folks fromall over our great country have questions and personal experiences of their own.  Those individual accounts are alwaysintriguing and go a long way in continually piquing my curiosity as well.  After all, each of us tends to work with alittle more enthusiasm when we see the same excitement in others.  Iron sharpens iron. 

3)  Traveling to New Places – Trekking across America in search of our country’s earliest wheels is an extraordinary experience.  The trips allow us to more fullyappreciate the challenges faced by period vehicle makers while also giving us afront row seat to the amazing geography, culture, and natural beauty evident inall parts of the U.S.  From thedesolation of Death Valley and the gurgling caldrons of Yellowstone to the breathtakingviews in America’s rivers, plains, mountains, and wooded cathedrals, the land is full of incredible wonders.  In fact, these are the places where the industry of transportation has consistently brought the countrytogether.  With that said, what betterway is there to connect with the past than to go where so much transportationhistory took place? 

Traveling has always been anexciting part of my pursuit of early vehicle history.  Even so, arrivingback home to familiar surroundings tends to be an even more welcome sight.

4)  Experiencing Other Collections – There arecountless public and private collections available for viewing all over theU.S.  Featuring not only some of the bestsurviving examples of America’s horse-drawn transportation, these compilationscan also highlight regional manufacturing distinctions, evolution of designsthrough different eras, and variations between individual brands. 

5)  New Historical Discoveries – This part ofthe search process plays a huge role in refueling my determination anddrive.  There can be long, dry spells inthe hunt for history.  The occasional‘finds’ have a way of re-energizing us and instilling hope that more lostartifacts and information can still be found. Lately, I’ve uncovered unpublished primary source details on some ofAmerica’s earliest wagon makers and freighters. Names like Hiram Young, Alexander Majors, Lewis Jones, Francois XavierAubry, and many more are part of this newest find.  It's already filling in gaps of history while providing a more detailed look of transportation in the mid-1800's.  Just this week, I’ve also discovered previouslyunreported details related to Abbot-Downing. Some of this material will be shared in the Santa Fe TrailAssociation meeting in September. Ultimately, we enjoy helping locate and preserve these all-but-forgottenparts of American history.

6)  Adding Provenance to Vehicles in Our Collection – Time andagain, our search and rescue efforts have uncovered important details relatedto brand histories as well as facts tied to individual vehicles in ourcollection.  It’s an exercise that alsohelps highlight the interest levels and values of vehicles all over thecountry.

7)  New Vehicle Finds – Superficial searches forhistoric vehicles can quickly deliver the impression that the most significantsurvivors have already been found. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are still a number waiting to be recognized, recovered, and havetheir stories told.  How many?  Who knows? If I learned nothing more from the past twelve to fourteen months, it’sclear that diligent pursuit has a way of increasing the amount of luck we canexperience.  Throughout that timeframe,we were fortunate to come across several previously unknown pieces dating to justafter, during, or immediately preceding the Civil War.

8)  Understanding More – With tens of thousands ofreported vehicle builders, America’s first transportation industry was amassive institution that we may never fully understand.  Nonetheless, every part of the puzzle thatcan be put back in place helps us paint a more complete picture of a very complex and competitive industry.  Theindustry was so deeply tied to banking, agriculture, forestry, mining,government services, and countless other facets of trade, that it was far fromthe primitive levels of business savvy that some have wrongly assumed itoccupied.

9)  Reminders of Opportunity – Quite a few emigrantsand others looking for a fresh start in America took up a trade in the field oftransportation.  Many were alreadytrained in the art of vehicle manufacture but others, recognizing the economicdemand, made preparations to learn and benefit from the experience.  Just as today, everyone had a need to travelor move goods from one place to another. The early industry was one of tremendous growth (especially in the mid-to-late1800’s) and quality work was rewarded with even more business.  As such, it’s another reminder of theopportunity freedom affords as well as the responsibilities those pursuits carry. 

10)  Memories – Over the years, we’ve traveled to countlessplaces, meeting so many amazing folks with great stories.  It’s a lot to take in and reflect upon. WhenI started this journey, our kids were young. Through the different seasons, we’ve had our share of family trips, manycentered around places where I could see more vehicles.  That said, it wasn't exactly a sacrifice for the family to agree to these trips.  Believe it or not, there arecountless wooden wheels near Disney Land, Washington D.C., St. Louis, Yosemite,Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and so on. I’ve truly had the privilege of having my cake and eating it too.  Along the way, the memories have become a treasured part of our family legacy.  Specialget-togethers invariably have a way of re-sharing those times together.  Even instances much closer to home can bringsmiles and fond recollections.  I’llforever remember the looks on my young girls’ faces when I would tell them weneeded to move some wagons to make room for another.  They hated that because, in truth, it was achore.  In typical parental style,though, I always assured them it wouldn’t take long.  It was a statement based solely within the guiseof wishful thinking with no reality to back it up – and they knew it!  Nonetheless, we have memories of doing thingstogether and enjoying the time, wherever we were. 

A few years ago, against the backdrop ofwhat I tried to convey as a manly, yet tear-stained face, our oldest daughterwas married.  This weekend will mark thesame occasion for our youngest daughter. She’s no longer a little girl.  Wheredoes time go?  Wasn’t it just yesterdaythat these creatures after my own heart were here, standing at the ready, excitedto fly kites, ride horses, go fishing, catch June bugs, lizards, and fireflies,play ball, go sledding, share a movie, and still find time to ride in an oldwagon?  It’s a bitter-sweet momentmarking time in so many families; a time of reflection and reminder that the decisionswe make and pursuits we follow are impacting others as well.    

To that point, there are a lot ofreasons that I’ve studied America’s earliest wheels for so long.  Not the least of which has been theopportunity for our family to share even more memories together.  Unfortunately, like the early transportationindustry, life moves on and new directions take hold.  Through it all, I’m thankful for the gifts offriends, freedom, and family that God has given.  And, yes, I will probably need to carry ahandkerchief to this wedding as well.  Afterall, this girl is more than a bride, she’s a product of my past and, like hersister, she’s something good I’m thankful to be part of.  That kind of history is the hardest to letgo. 

Twenty years ago, ouryoungest was a regular threat to the barn cats.  My wife and I havelaughed until we cried as we watched those felines see her coming and scatterto places just out of reach.  From her view, though, all those chokeholds were done purely in the name of love.

Growing up on a farm, ourgirls found beauty and intrigue in even the simplest things.  Note the‘treasure’ of a shed snake skin held in our oldest daughter’s left-hand grip.
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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