Huckster Wagons Carried the Load

Early vehicles, like the huckster wagon, defined rural life

A huckster's summer wagon

A huckster's summer wagon. Built for a Uniontown, Md., man in the late 1800s, the wagon could carry up to 1,500 pounds of produce and live poultry.

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When John Crowl sets foot in the wagon sheds at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, Md., he embarks on a journey down Memory Lane. 

John, 80, was born (and still lives) on a farm first developed by his great-grandfather in Westminster in 1884. He stopped active farming in 1986, but maintains a keen interest in preserving the memories and artifacts that relate to a way of life now fading into the past.

In one of the two wagon sheds are a pair of huckster's wagons. One is fitted out with runners for winter use and the other, which resembles a Conestoga wagon, is prepared for summer service. The wagons were built for William Henry Segafoose of Uniontown, Md., between 1870 and 1900, by Charles Sittig, also of Uniontown. They were owned by three generations of the family before being donated to the museum in 1966.

"I remember the huckster's wagon coming to the farm," John says. "It usually came once a week. They would pick up butter, eggs, chickens that were no longer producing, geese, ducks, turkeys ... whatever they had. In season, it was fresh fruit and vegetables. And pigeons. The children used to climb up in the barn at night with a flashlight and pull the birds from the rafters. Pigeons got to be a nuisance. They went for 10 cents a pair, and were used to make pigeon pot pie."

John recalls hucksters as an integral part of the rural community. They had different routes and schedules, depending on the weather and the season. They took the produce from the farms to the city, a journey that could take three days.

"They'd go back and forth to Baltimore," he says. "They'd bring back fresh fruit, molasses and sugar."

The summer huckster wagon, which is covered by a canvas top and fitted out with wooden cages for live poultry, carried a cargo that averaged 1,500 pounds and was drawn by two (or occasionally four) horses. On the return journey from Baltimore, Maryland's major port city, the cargo often included bolts of fabric for women, tools and parts needed by fanners, and other items used in everyday life on the farm.

A 19th century "universal wagon" (also called a hay carriage wagon or a stone bed wagon) was popular with local farmers between 1850 and 1900.

"It was used for all sorts of hauling," John says. "Stones and rocks from the fields, fodder for the animals, ear corn, sheaves of wheat, oats and rye at harvest time."

The wagon's design allows for boards to be added to the frame to make a container for whatever was to be transported. Because of its size, it needed four animals – horses or mules – to pull it.

The sheds also house an exhibit focusing on the ice industry of the 19th century. The exhibit includes an ice wagon, also used to haul wood, and a variety of ice cutting tools. There's even a 19th century horse-drawn ice plow used to cut ice blocks. For John Crowl, there are more memories.

"My grandfather had an ice cream business for 50 years," he says. "He always said you should fill the ice house before Christmas because the ice was best before it snowed. We don't have the ice or the snow 'round here like we used to."

A community ice cutting was usually held in January or February each year. Farmers met at a pond or lake with their sleighs and ice-cutting equipment. A hole was cut in the ice, and a wooden chute placed in the hole. Crosscut saws were used to cut ice blocks, some of which weighed up to 300 pounds. The blocks were pulled up the chute with ice picks or a line drawn by a horse, loaded into sleighs and delivered to the ice house. There the blocks were packed in sawdust layers a foot thick for insulation, providing a year's supply of ice. Sleighs and bobsleds are romanticized today, but a century ago, they played a critical role in winter transport. Necessity, as always, was the mother of invention: When the snow piled up, wagons were simply refitted.

"Bobs were used to convert wheeled vehicles to winter vehicles," John says. "They were made by people who had little education but a lot of intuition. This was when farmers didn't have the means. They just switched the running gears. The runners were broad so they didn't cut into the snow."

Another regular visitor to farms was the dead stock wagon that picked up dead farm animals for disposal. The one displayed at the museum is painted a soft blue-gray and fitted with mechanisms to winch the carcass into the back end of the wagon. Along the side is painted in black capitals "Leidy Dead Stock. Westminster Md. Phone 259." The wagon was custom built in Doylestown, Penn., about 1915, and was used by the Leidys until World War II.

"I remember that very buggy coming to our farm," John says. "I knew the Leidys real well. They had a rendering plant. They turned fat into tallow. They sold the hides for leather. The flesh solids would be cooked, ground into scraps called 'tankage', and used for chicken feed or hog feed."

A rural mail delivery wagon dating to the turn of the 19th century is a symbol of the end of rural isolation. Farms once cut off from the mainstream of life suddenly had regular access to news and goods. Once rural free delivery was implemented in 1899, the rural mail carrier quickly became an important part of farm life.

"I remember mail delivered by horse and buggy once a day, six days a week," John says. "They brought mail, newspapers, packages, baby chicks. Things moved along, and then it was a Model T. My brother carried mail for 40 years; in those days, mail carriers furnished their own vehicles."

A Dayton spring wagon built in Westminster in the 1890s by John Eckenrode provides an example of how farm families went visiting 100 years ago. Dayton wagons, sometimes referred to as "the poor man's surrey," were very popular because of their versatility. With the rear seat removed, they could be used to haul cargo. With the rear seat in place, they served as family transportation.

Eckenrode was born in Carroll County in 1847. He developed a carriage factory in Westminster. By the end of the century, he was producing more than 100 vehicles annually, which were sold to customers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Some of his vehicles won prizes at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

For John Crowl, the Carroll County Farm Museum represents a community's commitment to preservation of the area's farm heritage.

"We rely on volunteers," he says. "Without them, this museum could not operate. We do have personnel here who take care of restoration; we do as much as we can to save money. Things we can't handle we send out. Our goal is to preserve the history of the culture and heritage of this great country."

The museum hosts a variety of shows each year. One near and dear to John's heart is Fall Harvest Days, held the first weekend in October. The event includes demonstrations of skills and arts used commonly in rural areas a century ago.

"We do everything they did back then," he says. "We do threshing and baling, make apple butter and scrapple, make shingles, all those long-forgotten arts. It fascinates those who don't know about them. I'm deeply embedded in carrying that on. When it's gone, it's gone forever."

Living History Center Focuses on Rural Life

The Carroll County Farm Museum is a center for living history with emphasis on rural life in the 19th century.

The 142-acre complex (operated by the Carroll County Department of Recreation, Parks and Facilities) features original farm buildings dating to the 1850s. The site includes a blacksmith's shop, broom shop, spring house, one-room schoolhouse, and living history center. Historic artifacts, antique tools and machinery enhance the 19th century atmosphere.

The facility was originally built in 1852 as an almshouse to provide shelter for the homeless. Residents farmed to generate their own food.

John Crowl has been involved in development of the museum from its inception, and has served several terms on the board of directors. He credits longtime county Extension agent Landon Burns as the museum's driving force.

"Landon Burns dreamed of turning it into a farm museum and had a lot to do with getting it going," John says. "He was a great man. The idea was very well received, and people donated by the truckload. They wanted what they once used to be preserved for future generations."

In addition to permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a variety of events year-round, including a week-long 19th century living history summer camp for elementary age children, and the annual "Steam Show Days" in September. FC 

For more information: Carroll County Farm Museum, 500 South Center Street, Westminster, Md., 21157; phone (410) 386-3880; online at http://ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/farmmus/ 

Jill Teunis is a freelance writer living in Damascus, Md. She is interested in writing about communities, their people and history.