The Power of Imperfections

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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We live in day and age where pressures to achieve ‘perceived’ perfection can easily create challenges.  Certainly, it’s a level of expectation that can overlook important considerations when it comes to collecting early, wood-wheeled vehicles.  To that point, I believe one of the greatest inhibitors in the early days of my own collecting may have come from the first wagon I purchased.  It had such vibrant, original paint that I (wrongly) assumed finding more like it would be as easy as the first one.  Years went by and I found myself focusing so closely on the single surface aspect of paint that I’m now convinced I likely overlooked some equally good finds – perhaps much more important – with less than stellar paint.  Ultimately, the lesson has been a valuable reminder to continually look closer at the entire vehicle as there are many other factors beyond paint that help create the total worth of these rolling western icons.   
Clearly, for collector quality vehicles, not all imperfections are desirable.  Some may require professional repair or conservative efforts.  However, even in those cases, great care should be taken before wiping a slate clean and totally eliminating every perceived flaw, as there are benefits to some deficiencies, especially those related to certain manufacturing and use blemishes.  More specifically, stress and wear marks are not only helpful in ascertaining originality but, likewise, contribute to numerous elements of character, authenticity and provenance.
A good case in point… some earlier vehicle designs have inconsistencies in the cast metal parts – a product of the times as well as the processes employed.  Unlike the refined and repeatable methods of assembly line production, original hand forged or cut metal within the makeup of early vehicles may also show variations of angles and shapes.  These early-era vehicles are increasingly scarce and preservation of these finds for future generations is just one of the intriguing responsibilities we share as 21st century stewards of history.   

Elsewhere, some elements of damaged metal can help share what stresses the parts were subjected to – all part of the important and personal story belonging to a set of wheels.  Likewise, striping and paint on many of these vehicles was often done by hand and the less-than-perfect lines will be part of the vehicle’s personality.  It’s likely that these hand created lines won’t match perfectly from one side to the other.  In many ways, they are one-of-a-kind works of art deserving appropriate respect.  Later brand marks were often more consistent as pre-formed stencils and pre-printed logo transfers were used.   

Ultimately, when gauging the best approach between preservation, conservation and restoration efforts, it can be helpful to obtain assistance from those who specialize in these evaluations.  With any new collector-quality ‘find’ it’s very possible that some work may need to be performed.   However, there is a growing recognition from many that measured caution and careful assessments should prevail prior to changing original elements of a vehicle.

With that, we’ll conclude by admitting that there isn’t enough room in this blog to fully discuss every circumstance a person may encounter.  Ultimately, that fact brings us back to where we started…The Power of Imperfections… Beyond the opportunity to retain important historical connections and details, surviving features themselves can play a valuable role in reinforcing the individuality of the vehicle while significantly adding to overall intrigue and interest.  
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