Transporting Antique Wagons

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Not long ago, one of our neighbors stopped by the shop.  He’d never seen our vehicle collection and the first question he asked was, “Where do you find these pieces?”  The answer is simple – They can be anywhere. I never stop looking and researching brands – and – I take a fair number of road trips.  Eventually, the right original pieces have a way of popping up.  Even after making arrangements to purchase a piece, though, the most critical step is still to come – getting the wagon safely home. 

Moving anything of value from one partof the country to another can be stressful. If you’re doing it yourself, there’s no substitute for awell-thought-out plan.  Of course, it’stough to predict every situation on the road but proper preparation can helpavoid many unnecessary challenges. It’s timeless counsel that numerous travelers in the 1800’s AmericanWest likely wished they’d heeded. Throughout the Old West landscape, many rutted trails were strewn withpriceless possessions as pioneers discovered the results of poor timing andplanning.  Today, it’s a legacy of lossthat no one wants to repeat.  As aresult, many antique wagon collectors have developed meticulous ways for moving their wheeled treasures.  Ithought I’d pass along a few related tips in this week’s blog.

The Trailer...

From driveway to highway and back, thereare a number of things that can help reduce tensions while traveling withantique wooden vehicles.  When haulingthese rolling works of art, I generally prefer to use an enclosed trailer.  There are several reasons for this.  First... security is always a factor.  Original, century-plus-old pieces are not replaceableand advertising that vulnerability by carrying them on an open trailer has thepotential of inviting the attention of thieves and vandals, or evenunintentional damage from curious onlookers. Second... an enclosed trailer helps prevent the loss of smaller partsthat might be rattled loose from the wagon over long distances.  Third... directly subjecting an antiquewooden vehicle to highway speeds accompanied by excessive wind, weather, bugs,birds, road debris, and other elements can cause irreversible damage to apiece.  Pulling a wagon on an opentrailer with a tarp or plastic wrap is also not a good idea in my opinion.  It will be difficult, if not impossible, tokeep the cover from wearing away paint or leaving permanent scuff marks on thevehicle.  Fourth... tie-down straps andropes can, and sometimes do, break.  Ifthe antique vehicle is inside of a trailer instead of riding atop an opentrailer, the enclosed box gives you a safety net.  So, even if a crucial tie-down does happen tobreak, having the vehicle within a fully enclosed space can help keep it fromrolling out onto the road and into Splinterville.

The Padding...
Before traveling with an antique wagon,take the extra time and attention to make sure everything is secure.  Loose and easily removable items such as thespring seat, bows, doubletree, tongue, and so forth should be taken off,padded, and fastened down separate from the wagon.  You'll also want to make sure there are noloose, weakened, or broken pieces that may dislodge during the trip.  Using old bed comforters, towels, or eveninexpensive moving blankets can save a lot of fretting and regrets.  It’s always a good idea to test the clothwraps first to make sure they don’t bleed color onto your wagon should anymoisture happen to get on them.  Anotherarea that deserves extra attention is the surface condition of thevehicle.  Most of my readers know I’m nota huge fan of linseed oil on these old pieces. There are a number of reasons for this and we don’t have room in thisweek’s blog to cover them all.  Even so,if you happen to purchase a wagon with linseed oil on it – and the oil is stilltacky in places – be advised that your cloth padding may stick to the wood andmetal parts, leaving innumerable hairy fibers behind when the protective wrapis removed.  It’s no fun trying to cleanup that type of mess. 

The Tie-Down...

Beyond the steps above, you'll need tosecure the wagon firmly to the trailer. I typically use heavy duty, 2 to 3 inch wide ratchet straps (withappropriate load limits) on both the front and rear wagon axles.  Be careful not to overtighten or position thestraps in a way that subjects weaker parts of the wagon to unnecessarystress.  Securing the wheeled history so it willnot move can help prevent a world of distress later on.

I typically pad the straps where theymay come in contact with the wagon.  Thishelps guard against damage to the vehicle as well as shielding the straps fromchafing.  You may even want to place acouple straps over the box and tie it down – especially if you’re hauling on anopen trailer.  In all cases, you’llwant to select safe places to stop regularly and check the condition of yourtie-down straps and the wagon. Invariably, things have a way of settling, working loose, weakening, andeven breaking during travel.  It's alwaysbetter to find problems before they occur. 

The Preparation...

I'm a planner and like to have multipleback-ups/contingency plans for a variety of encounters on the road.  In many cases, it can be helpful to visualizeand actually anticipate potential problems so you can be better preparedbeforehand.  To that point, I’d recommendthat you develop a checklist of things to carry along.  Among the items on the list, make sure youhave a low profile jack that will fit beneath your trailer, even if it is lowerto the ground as the result of uneven terrain or a tire losing pressure.  If the ground is wet or muddy, a few short2 x 6's can be especially handy should you need something solid to sitthe jack on.  Do you have chocks for thewheels?  How about all the right tools tochange a flat?  Do you have a good sparetire?  How about emergency roadreflectors?  Have you checked the wheelbearings and lights on the trailer?  Howabout a stash of extra fuses for blinkers, brake lights, and the like? 

You probably already keep the proof ofinsurance handy for your tow vehicle.  Doyou have it for the trailer as well?  Howabout the wagon?  Is it insured whiletraveling?  Other helpful items to takealong include a GPS, cell phone and chargers, quality flashlights with freshbatteries, a tire patching and inflating kit, basic hand tools, and maybe evenan old-fashioned printed atlas in case the GPS acts up or the cell service isweak.  Occasionally, I’ve been in situationswhere it was important to out-maneuver an approaching storm. By keeping abreast of weather forecasts, road construction delays, andalternate paths, some of these headaches can easily be avoided.  Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to carry appropriate foul weather gearand a dry change of clothes.  Yep, I was once soaked to the bone while loading a John Deere wagon in a deluge.  Thankfully, I had remembered the extra clothes!
Having someone to go along with you is alsoa plus.  A spouse, partner, or buddy notonly can help reduce the fatigue of a trip by helping with driving, loading,and other chores but can be good company. After all, memories are always more fun when they're shared.  Finally, before leaving on an extended trip, make sure your tow vehicleand trailer are properly serviced, all tires are in good condition, and youhave contact info for emergency services.  It's also good to make sure your tow vehicle mirrors are wide enough to see around the trailer.  All of this may sound like a lot to takein but good, advance preparation is well worth your time.  Likewise, the support gear I mentioned may seem liketoo much to carry.  For me, most of itfits in an inexpensive, plastic locker I keep inside my trailer.  It takes up minimal space and I have the confidence of knowing I'm well stocked and ready to roll.  Ultimately, every traveler should assess eachtrip and prepare accordingly.The Experience…
At the end of the day, this blog was notwritten as a one-size-fits-all approach to cross-country hauling but rather asa basic primer to help jump-start an evaluation for a towing trip.  Certainly, nothing takes the place of properpreparation, common sense, and careful attention to detail.  Making safety and good judgement a prioritycan go a long way in helping ensure you get there and back with no regrets andplenty of smiles.  Have a great week!By the way, if you haven’t signed up to receive this weekly blog via e-mail, just type your address in the "Follow By E-mail" section above.  You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll need to verify before you're officially on board.  Once that's done, you'll receive an email every time we update the blog.  Please don't hesitate to let us know if we can be of assistance.  We appreciate your continued feedback and look forward to sharing even more wooden vehicle info in the coming weeks. 
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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