Wagon End Boards

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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If you’ve followed this blog for anylength of time, you know we cover a wide variety of wagon-related subjects.  Clearly, the topic of early wood-wheeledwagons and western vehicles is one with surprising depth.  Over the years, we’ve tried to show thesecomplexities through numerous speaking engagements, magazine articles, books,videos, and this blog.

Even with hundreds of our articles andblogs written to date, one area that we haven’t focused on much is that of endgate designs.  A wagon’s end gate is theforerunner of a ‘tail gate’ on a contemporary pickup truck.  Just how important a particular end gate stylecould be is reflected in the seemingly endless number of patents granted for relatedparts and designs in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  While the forward and upper rear end gateswere usually a solid plank of wood, the lowermost rear board could be made the sameway or it might be configured with multiple segments engineered to drop, flip,slide, swing, or fold open.

Folding end gates became extremely popular due to the ease of unloading and accessing cargo on early farm, freight, and ranch wagons.
The folding design that so manysurviving wagons possess today can trace much of its lineage to a patent awardedto Charles Comstock in 1870.  Known asthe Comstock Patent End Gate, the arrangement was quickly adopted by numerouswagon makers.  The advantage of the hingeddesign was that it was able to be quickly and effortlessly detached from the bedwithout the need to remove box rods or dislodge the upper gate.  This was an important feature for unloadingcargo such as corn, vegetables, coal, and other loose materials.  It also allowed for easy carrying of lumberand other lengthy or awkwardly-sized items that might otherwise bepoorly-suited for the available box space. 

These images from the 1870 Comstock patent illustrate the simplicity, efficiency, and convenience of a folding end gate.
In 1879, the Mr. Comstock’s patent was reissued,extending him even more notoriety and financial gain.  Again and again, we see the impact oftechnology on America’s first transportation industry and, again and again,these details help us evaluate, define, and properly connect history with theappropriate timeframes and brands.  Whileconstruction methods and product traits can vary, there are some elementswithin wagon designs that share origins. With that in mind, the next time you see a folding end gate on anyvintage wagon you’ll know that it relies on an idea made popular almost acentury and a half ago.
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