Identifying Vintage Wagon Manufacturers
An introductory guide to determining vintage wagon manufacturers
Vintage wagons like this 1924 Peter Schuttler with triple box and spring seat are difficult to find with this much original paint still intact.
Wheels That Won The West® archive
“Psst! Hey buddy, wanna buy a watch?”
That dubious phrase conjures up visions of a shifty-eyed street peddler hawking a host of inexpensive, brand name timepieces. The picture also highlights a common risk for collectors.
While a “good deal” might be the holy grail for many, locating a truly great find is much more difficult. Chief among the challenges for vintage farm wagon enthusiasts is the need to know and authenticate wagon manufacturers. Brand name is important because it can greatly affect sentimental, historical and resale values.
With a heritage firmly tied to settlement of the West and the great cattle drives of the 1800s, wood-wheeled farm wagons have been prominent fixtures on the American landscape for centuries. It’s a legacy and viability so strong that some brands were still being built into the 1950s and ’60s. Today, their period look and connection to America’s early history have made quality, original wagons increasingly coveted. Certain brand names have taken on particular significance; a provenance (documented history for a particular collectible) can also benefit values.
Wagon identity crisis
A vintage wagon, like nearly anyone or anything today, is susceptible to lost, mistaken and even stolen identities. The ravages of time, weather and neglect have taken a heavy toll on the majority of these retired workhorses. With most relegated to the outdoors and other poorly controlled environments, natural deterioration of recognizable marks only adds to the number of lost and easily mistaken characteristics.
As quality wagons become harder to find, unscrupulous opportunists and a general lack of accurate, published information can also hamper the ability to positively identify a maker. Further complicating the puzzles are the thousands upon thousands of wagon manufacturers that hung out a shingle during the 19th and early 20th centuries. With every builder came a different set of design and construction standards, and standards often changed from year to year with the same maker. Even if a name is still evident on an old gear (undercarriage) or box, there may be little or no information readily available on the brand’s history.
Another confusing obstacle is that builders routinely assigned a multitude of different brand names to their wagons; names that may not clearly point to a specific manufacturer. Identification of every surviving vehicle can be very difficult – if not impossible. However, if you’re partial to whodunit mysteries or a well-scripted detective show, the pursuit itself can be just as enjoyable as actually finding the ideal wagon.
The maker almost always left clues. Approaching the task with the attention of an archaeologist and the patience of Job can yield surprising results. To help find residual clues, we’ll start by breaking the vehicle into three sections: metalwork, paint and woodwork.
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