What's in a Name?

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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One of the great aspects of research is the process of discovery itself.  I love learning new things and studying early heavy vehicles is an area full of opportunity and ‘aha’ moments.  On the flip side of that same coin are the countless details we have yet to learn.

That said, personal growth in any subject requires a solid foundation in the basics.  Unfortunately, when it comes to early wagons, locating authoritative details in every circumstance can sometimes be difficult.  When I began my research nearly 20 years ago, determining specific vehicle part names seemed all but impossible.  Only after years of collecting vehicles, original sales literature and countless period images was I able to start dissecting the what, why’s and wherefore’s of heavy vehicle nomenclature. 

Knowing that this area of study can still be confusing, from time to time in this blog we’ll cover some of the vehicle parts, discussing correct period terminology, meanings and what a particular feature is designed to do.  To get things started, let’s isolate a part on the gear (undercarriage) of wagons that were built with a square front hound. 
Looking under the wagon box and just behind the front wheels… The lowermost, transverse wooden part connecting both sides of the forward hound is most often referred to by early wagon makers as the “sway bar.”  It runs below the reach or coupling pole and is designed to help stabilize the front axle, tongue and entire forward gear assembly.  Without this feature, the front axle can roll under the stress of the tongue, terrain and overall vehicle movement - ultimately creating severe stability and structural dependability challenges.

Sometimes (as shown in this photo) there is another upper transverse section of wood located just above the reach as well.  That piece is generally called the “slider” or “top sway bar.”  As common as these part names once were to the American populace, they are equally obscure today.  Knowing these labels is essential to effective communication as well as understanding the complexity of the wagon’s design.
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