When it comes to collecting wagons, Ihave a penchant for perfection. Thatdoesn’t mean I insist on a flawless character for every vehicle. In fact, as I’ve written before, someblemishes are actually welcomed as they can help showcase the authenticity andprovenance in a set of wheels. In thiscase, being a perfectionist simply infers that, like most collectors, I have aspecific profile I’m looking to fill. Someof those traits were outlined in the “Borrowed Time” book we produced severalyears ago. In general, we’re looking forpieces that best tell the story of America’s first and largest transportationindustry – especially as each relates to westward travel. It’s another reason we continually work toacquire papers from these old makers as well.
One of the most common questions we’reasked is, “Where do you find these wagons?” It’s an inquiry with both a short and long answer. The short reply is that ‘we find them wherethey are.’ I recognize that quip cansound a bit evasive so, today, we’ll take the long way around the barn.
“Sometimes you have an instinct, Mae. You see somethin’ in a fighter.
You don’t even know if it’s real, you’re lookin’ for it so bad.”
The quote above is from a scene in“Cinderella Man,” a movie based on the Depression-era story of championheavyweight boxer, James J. Braddock. TheRon Howard film stars Russell Crowe as Braddock, RenéeZellweger as his wife, Mae, and Paul Giamatti as his manager, Joe Gould. Inthe script above, Gould is trying to convince Mae that James still has agift when it comes to boxing. He feelsthat he can see something in Braddock that is exceptionally special.
For serious collectors, I believe thereis a connection to this quote. Afterall, in much the same way, collectors can develop intuitions about certainvehicles. Don’t get me wrong... I’m notgetting all mystical, talking about some type of clairvoyant message. Rather, I’m referring to experience-basedsenses that can sometimes cause us to stop and take particular notice ofsomething we might otherwise pass by. Inother words, the more time we spend around early vehicles, the easier itbecomes to recognize traits that truly stand out from the crowd ofsurvivors. If you’ve been married for alength of time or are particularly close to someone, you know what I mean. It’s possible to become so familiar with anotherperson that we’re literally able to finish their sentences. The same thing happens as we spend countless yearswith these rolling works of wood-wheeled art. After a period of time, it becomes easier to recognize time-honored traitsin old friends (brands), that we’ve spent so much time studying.
Even so, as is the case with anydiscipline, there’s no substitute for sweat equity and time spent in thefield. Patience, persistence, and broadexperience will drive the process of recognition. Like most other subjects, we can’t learn allwe need to know from a book. While access to sufficient amounts of oldpromotional literature is crucial, practical encounters in the field are justas important. We have to spend time in theregions where these old vehicles were used. Not only does that exercise provide valuable knowledge of differentenvironments but it can also expose us to uncommon construction features. Some of those design distinctions may be drivenby the demands of the terrain while others can be indicative of a particularbrand style.
|This small stage wagon is set on thoroughbraces and includes a rear luggage rack. It's on display in Angels Camp, California.
So, back to the question... Where do wefind the vehicles we’ve been fortunate to add to our own collection? They’ve come from almost half of thecontiguous U.S. states... North Carolina, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Kentucky,Ohio, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas,Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee,Oklahoma, and Colorado. They, literally,are where you find them. The best onesaren’t typically sitting along a highway waiting for buyers. Networking, research, and visiting othercollections can help you set priorities and goals for your ownacquisitions.
One of our newest additions is a smallstage wagon from California. This samestyle of vehicle was referred to as a ‘Mail Jerky’ by M.P. Henderson inStockton. These custom vehicles were setup for shorter runs between communities; hauling lighter loads of mail,packages, and passengers. We’re pleasedto have Doug Hansen and his team of craftsmen helping to conserve this uniqueset of wheels. The small stage will addan even broader dimension to our collection and studies.
As with each ofour vehicles, one of the chief priorities is to preserve the survivingoriginality and history of the wagon. Ultimately,we want to pass along as much of the true nature of these pieces as possible tofuture generations. As a result, we’reworking with Doug to help keep the history intact while reinforcing the overallstructural integrity and presentation quality of the piece. We’ll share more in the coming weeks as thevehicle progresses through Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop.
|This California stage wagon was built with 1.5” steel axles, triple reach, rear boot, side springs, hand forged foot brake, and heavy brake beam with return spring.
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