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World's Largest Wagon at the Turn of the Century

by Sam Moore

Tags: 19th century, world's fair, correction, Sam Moore,

Sam Moore   
Sam Moore   

In the April issue of Farm Collector was my story about the 1893 Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus stumbling upon the New World in his quest for a shorter route to the riches of the Far East.

In the story was a reference to the “Peace Plow,” built for the exposition by Deere & Co., as well as to the “Largest Wagon in the World,” built and exhibited by the Moline Wagon Co. (At the time, although it had had close ties with Deere & Co. for years, Moline Wagon Co. was still an independent firm and not part of Deere.) The dimensions quoted for the wagon in the story were truly colossal – 42 feet long and 16 feet high with a capacity of 640 bushels of grain. The source for these figures was the May-June 2005 issue of Two Cylinder magazine, normally a reliable source for all things related to Deere & Co. history, as the magazine has access to the Deere archives.

Then, I received an e-mail from Ed Routh (address unknown) asking if the wagon and plow had been preserved. The Peace Plow is presently at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., but there’s no information about the whereabouts of the wagon.

While looking for clues as to what happened to the wagon, something else turned up – a short account published by Missouri State University about the exhibits at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Among other attractions, the story tells us that “the largest farm wagon ever made” was exhibited there – by the Moline Wagon Co.! The dimensions of the 1904 “largest” wagon are given as 21 feet long and 6-1/2 feet wide with a capacity of 320 bushels of corn. The 1904 wagon’s rear wheels were said to be 9 feet 1-1/2 inches tall, while the fronts were 7 feet 6 inches.

Now, one would think that Moline would have brought the same wagon it had exhibited 11 years before – surely such a curiosity hadn’t been scrapped in that short a time – and a 42-foot wagon would hardly have been sold. And both wagons were touted as being the largest wagon (or farm wagon) ever made.

As my mother used to say, “Something’s rotten in Denmark.”

There was a photo of the 1893 wagon included with the article in the Two Cylinder magazine that shows several men, presumably Moline Wagon Co. employees, posing proudly beside the wagon. One of them, a tall man in a brown suit and hat, stands beside the wagon’s rear wheel. He appears to be taller than the other men in the picture and I’d estimate that he’s probably at least 6 feet in height. He’s about two-thirds as tall as the wheel beside which he stands, making it about 9 feet, the same as the 1904 wagon. Also, if one turns the brown-clad gentleman on his side and sets him end to end along the length of the wagon bed, he goes three times with some left over, making the 1904 wagon length of 21 feet seem much more plausible. Height could be 16 feet, not to the top of the triple box – which is more like 12 feet – but to the top of the seat which is perched atop the box.

While the lengths of the wagon boxes are given, it’s unclear just how wide and deep they were, so it’s difficult to state the capacity of the “largest wagon” with accuracy. However, a formula published by the University of Nebraska for finding the number of bushels in a rectangular grain bin can be applied to wagons as well. The formula is:

Bushels = Width × Length × Height ÷ 1.25

Just for comparison, a standard wagon box is 10 feet 6 inches long and about 3 feet wide and, if it has triple box sides, about 3 feet deep, and would hold about 75.6 bushels of grain.

Applying this formula to the presumed dimensions as extrapolated from the box lengths given for the two wagons results in the following:

The 1904 wagon box, if 21 feet long, would be about twice the length as a standard box, therefore the width and depth should have been about 6 feet each. A box this size would hold 604.8 bushels, closer to the capacity claimed in the article for the 1893 wagon.

However, if one figures a 42-foot box, four times the standard length, the width and height would have to be about 12 feet each. A box that size would hold 4,838.4 bushels – way more than the 640 claimed in the Two Cylinder story. In addition, it seems the Missouri State University story that claimed the wagon held 320 bushels was incorrect as well.

So, all of these numbers tell me that the “largest wagon in the world” was really 21 feet long rather than 42 feet, and really held 640 bushels rather than 320.

My apologies to the readers of Farm Collector for quoting inaccurate facts. That’s what comes of relying on a single source for historical data, even if it’s considered to be reliable.