Identifying Vintage Wagon Manufacturers
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Start with metalwork
One of the quickest ways to begin narrowing the field of makers is close examination of metalwork. Markings are often cast into axle skeins (rhymes with stains), bolster and sandboard plates, box rod plates, front hound hardware, reach plate and other areas. The reach plate is the flat piece of iron about midway along the coupling pole with a pin slot for connecting the front and rear sections of a wagon gear. A maker’s name or initials, as well as a number indicating the skein size of the wagon, is often found on the reach plate. Patent information is even cast into some reach plates.
Skeins are the thick, metal thimbles fitted over the ends of the axles and serve as the smooth surface upon which the wagon wheel rests and rolls. Numbers, initials, logos and even names may be cast into the shoulders of a skein. This information can be helpful for identification but is not always conclusive. Some larger companies, like Studebaker, had their own foundry and sold skeins to other makers and repairers. Consequently, different wagon brands might have skeins with a Studebaker Brothers (SB) mark but have no other affiliation with the company.
Unique designs, logos and numbers may be found on bolster/sandboard plates (fifth wheel) and box rod hardware. Prominent brands regularly touted the differences and advantages of their fifth wheels since that was a component that sustained a lot of stress and could weaken over time. Elsewhere, the style of metalwork on standards, circle irons, reach boxes and overall bracing can also contain information but usually must be compared to period catalogs for complete authentication.
Names are sometimes cast into brake ratchets, the serrated, latching section of the hand- or foot-operated wagon brake. Typically, this is not the wagon maker’s name but simply that of the maker of the brake part. Since brake manufacturers sold to many vehicle builders, this data is usually of minimal benefit. However, there are always exceptions and it’s still a good idea to document any markings found here.
Even when the brand is known, it’s important to pay attention to subtle construction features. Several years ago, I watched a very nice triple box Weber wagon sell at auction. It still had a significant amount of paint and, as might be imagined, it brought spirited bidding and a healthy price. Close inspection of the iron and woodwork, though, revealed that the entire front rocking bolster did not match the rear and was not from a Weber wagon.
Details in paint
The topic of paint includes all references to the overall shape, style, location and color of pinstripes, base colors, logo application, stenciled serial numbers, maker and dealer names, wheel and skein sizes, and other pigment-based marks. Many times, the wagon box and even the rear axle or bolsters will retain the name of a hardware store, implement company or other business establishment. This is typically not the wagon maker but the retailer of the vehicle. The practice of applying the dealer’s name goes back to the 1800s and is a marketing tradition still alive in today’s automobile industry.
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