Winona Wagon Co. Staked Reputation on Quality
(Page 3 of 5)
Standing out in a crowd
Joining the chorus of those parroting their brand to have the “lightest draft” and “wheels boiled in oil,” Winona also proclaimed the superiority of its “clipped” undercarriages as opposed to competitive wagon gears that were through-bolted and presumably weakened. Their grain-tight boxes were designed to keep flax and seed from spilling out of the wagons and double-riveted felloes provided even more strength to the wheels. Ultimately, though, those qualities were remarkably similar to those of other competitors. Fortunately, the company really did have features setting it apart. As it turns out, those features were some of the most visually different and promotionally significant traits on any wagon and they centered on the foundational soundness of axles and wheels.
Reinforcing the company’s commitment to quality construction, Winona built its heavier mountain wagons with a characteristic it called “outer bearing” axles. The term sounds like it referred to a roller bearing or outer seal on the axles. In fact, the feature was more simple, but equally ingenious. On many Winona wagons, a custom-formed block of iron was placed immediately beneath the bolster stake and allowed to rest on the shoulder of the skein.
The effect was similar to addition of structural supports to a suspension bridge. The iron blocks helped take more of the load off the center portion of the axle and transfer it to the wheel. The result was that the outer axle was tied to the upper bolster while also being reinforced by the skein (the metal thimble fitted over the wooden axle). It meant that both the axle beam and the bolster beam above it would have to break before the wagon could be rendered helpless. In an era when wagons were often used in remote, rugged regions, this was a dramatically important feature.
According to Winona, by shifting the load toward the wheels, the wagon could carry a greater load and was easier to pull. The company explained this by pointing out that an ordinary wagon with a very heavy load experiences a strain that pushes down on the axle, slightly springing it and throwing the wheels outward at the bottom. The net effect of the wheels being pushed out would cause them to bind against the nut on the outside and the axle on the inside, making the entire rig harder to maneuver and roll. By contrast, Winona claimed that its outer bearing axles actually relieved the strain beneath the hounds, kept the axle rigid, the bearings straight and the grease more evenly distributed. It all had a very technical and logical sound to it, helping reinforce Winona’s image as a leader.
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