Uncommon Wagon Patents

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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There are a number of earlyvehicle-related patents that were so well accepted that they became common incommercial use back in the day.  Thesuccesses of inventors with last names such as Sandage, Comstock, Burr, Archibald, Stoddard, and Sarven are well documented and were equallywell-known by vehicle builders in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  You may have heard of the ‘Sandage skein’ orthe ‘Archibald hub’ or even the ‘Comstock end gate’ as I had covered earlier thisyear.

There are countless other expired patentsthat most living souls have never heard of and, if it weren’t for this blog, theymight be completely forgotten.  That’snot to say that you’re missing much as many of those patents never got off theground.  Some failed completely whileothers saw only a glimmer of success.  As aresult, the odds of finding most of them today are in the neighborhood of ‘slimto none.’

That said, several years ago, I cameacross a device clamped to the hub and spokes of a wagon wheel.  It looked like a steel spider with the woodenwheel firmly in its grip.  To understandits purpose one needs to look no further than the weaknesses faced by woodenwheels.  No matter the end user – farmer,rancher, miner, business owner, freighter, etc. – many faced the eventualchallenge of loose spokes, felloes, and tires as well as shrinkage andunsoundness in the hubs.  As with themultitude of vehicle problems that can surface today, the issues often occurredwhen help was not close at hand.  Thisparticular spider-like clamp was engineered to stiffen and reinforce the entirebody of the wheel – hub, spokes, and felloes – while helping temporarily fix aserious concern.  Even though I’dstumbled upon the device in the 21st century, it’s an idea with roots over 130years old.  The following illustration outlinesthe concept.  It’s from a patent appliedfor in 1883.

Many issues can cause weakness in wooden wheels.  Sometimes a quick fix was needed before a more permanent repair could be made.
A few years earlier, in 1880, anothergentleman believed he had the answer for strengthening and stabilizing wagonbows.  This design called for framed slotsmade of cast metal that would contain the ends of a wagon bow, preventing itfrom over-flexing or slipping down on the box lower than it should.  Both scenarios could result in breakage andother problems.  The image shown below isfrom that patent.

As reflected in this 1880 wagon bow innovation, patents and special design innovations covered virtually every aspect of a wagon's construction. 
While patent applications related towagons did slow down after the introduction of the automobile, there continuedto be those willing to spend money to register their ideas well into the 20thcentury.  Below is an approved patent thatcombined box tighteners with rub irons – two features with totally differentfunctions.  Essentially, a box tightener isa large clamp that helped seal the side(s) of a wagon box equipped with multiplesideboards.  On the other hand, a rubiron is a metal shield designed to protect the lower box sides from being damaged when thefront wheel is turning.
This idea for a combined rub iron and box tightener was filed in 1919 – a bit late for any real commercial success with wooden wagons.
It’s always interesting to flip throughthe dusty pages of these old patent files. After all, we’re all connected to yesterday and many of those earlyinnovations are still being used in some way or another.  So, while you’re traveling through each day, keepyour eyes open for different-looking pieces and don’t be afraid to askquestions.  Luck happens a lot more oftenwhen you work at it. 

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