What Was It Called?

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Some of the most often debated topics in horse-drawn vehicle circles can center on questions related to the names of vehicles and the associated parts thereof.  Getting a comfortable handle on what might seem to be simple nineteenth century jargon can easily turn into a confusing and frustrating experience; often because multiple reference names were sometimes used among the end users as well as the manufacturers.  These variations can occasionally be tracked to regions of the country but, as people moved throughout the U.S., they often carried their terminology with them, ultimately adding to the challenges of understanding all of the parts and the whole.   
I have a friend who has been chided for calling Sheep herder wagons – “Sheep wagons.”  He’s often told something like, “Those wagons weren’t used by the sheep,” and then corrected for a supposed misapplication of the vehicle name.  Truth is, the wagon-making industry, itself, referred to these vehicles in a number of ways.  Sheep Camp wagons, Sheep Herder wagons and, yes, even Sheep wagons were among the references given to these vehicles. 

There are numerous other examples where multiple names are given for different wagon parts… Bolster standards are sometimes referred to as bolster stakes; a reach is the same as a coupling pole; a singletree might have also been called a swingletree or whiffletree; a slider might be referenced as the upper sway bar; and clouts could be pointed out as upper and lower skeins.  America’s early wagons and western vehicles were anything but simple.  Yet, acquiring an understanding of all of the accurate part names is the first step in both communicating and understanding these rolling works of art.
When it comes to helping highlight specific wagon nomenclature, we created a call-out section within our “Making Tracks” print that covers some of the more common terminology typically referring to wagons built in the U.S.  You’ll see a bit more descriptive of that by clicking this link to our website.
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