The Future of History: Preserving Horse-Drawn Vehicles

South Dakota craftsmen work to reproduce, restore and preserve horse-drawn vehicles and a part of America’s heritage.

| August 2015

  • Trail drive
    As part of their commitment to fully engaging the early horse-drawn vehicle industry, the Hansens participate in a number of trail drives and reenactment events.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • An original Mountain Wagon
    This original condition, spring-hung Mountain Wagon is part of Doug Hansen’s personal collection.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Studebaker freighter
    This huge, tall-sided Studebaker freighter is more than 12 feet tall.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Fish Bros. wagon
    This rare Fish Bros. wagon was completely restored using authentic logos, stenciling details and dealer information from the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Stagecoach test-drive
    Doug, test-driving a completed reproduction of a legendary M.P. Henderson stagecoach.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Yosemite touring coach
    This restored coach sits on leather thorough braces and was once part of a fleet of touring coaches in Yosemite National Park.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Western freight wagon
    This original, tall-sided western freight wagon provides an impressive perspective when compared to a full-size Concord coach.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Scroll work
    Reminiscent of the early days of wagon and coach building, period-correct lettering and elaborate scroll work is applied by hand.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Wagon axle
    The schooled hands of a skilled craftsman work out period-correct contours on a vintage wagon axle.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Tire shrinker
    This original period tire shrinker uses hydraulics to securely tighten the steel tire on the wheel.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Reproduction Concord coach
    Craftsmen frame up a reproduction Concord coach that will follow original 19th century specifications throughout the design.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Hand-forging iron supports
    Iron supports and reinforcements are hand-forged to closely mirror original designs and authenticity levels.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Custom blacksmithing
    Custom blacksmithing is essential for replicating metalwork on early vehicles.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Hot drifting a pivot slot
    This group of craftsmen is hot drifting (punching) a pivot slot in a hitch wagon brake arm.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Turnkey services
    The Hansens offer turnkey services, including year-round availability of authentic vehicles and parts.
    Photo courtesy Doug Hansen
  • Restored mud coach
    Part of Doug’s personal collection, this restored mud coach once traveled the legendary Black Hills of South Dakota.
    Photo by David Sneed

  • Trail drive
  • An original Mountain Wagon
  • Studebaker freighter
  • Fish Bros. wagon
  • Stagecoach test-drive
  • Yosemite touring coach
  • Western freight wagon
  • Scroll work
  • Wagon axle
  • Tire shrinker
  • Reproduction Concord coach
  • Hand-forging iron supports
  • Custom blacksmithing
  • Hot drifting a pivot slot
  • Turnkey services
  • Restored mud coach

In 1887, Clement Studebaker, president of the legendary Studebaker Bros. Mfg. Co., conservatively estimated that America was home to at least 80,000 wagon and carriage builders. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had begun to fall sharply. Even so, industry directories still counted close to 40,000 of these firms in 1904.

Despite the huge numbers, an even larger and more sobering transition was in the works. Technological advancements in agriculture and personal transportation were in the process of plowing under a way of life that had endured for centuries. The impact was so dramatic that, over the next dozen years, trade publications regularly reported the steady demise of wagon and carriage makers.

After generations of horseflesh ruling the road, the entire industry suddenly found itself scrambling to understand the changing business climate. Of the horse-drawn vehicle companies that survived the growing popularity of automobiles, most were thoroughly devastated by the Great Depression. Incredibly, several dozen wagon builders lasted into the 1940s; a few even hung on into the 1960s.

For all intents and purposes, that would seem to be the end of the story for America’s first and largest transportation industry. While wood-wheeled wagons, coaches and carriages had dominated the U.S. landscape for more than 200 years, the age of rockets, space exploration, early computers and advancements in farm equipment clearly spelled the end for such antiquated wheels – or, at least it appeared to be an industry whose day had come and gone.



Driven by a continual fascination with the Old West as well as America’s agricultural heritage and the transportation industry as a whole, individuals from all walks of life have consistently held fast to our most fundamental roots as a nation. In the process, antique wooden wagons and western vehicles have become increasingly popular with collectors, businesses, communities, reenactors and entertainment venues. It’s a trend that was anticipated some 37 years ago, when a young man heeded the advice of his blacksmith grandfather and went into the business of making, repairing and restoring horse-drawn vehicles.

Today, that venture has not only succeeded where countless others failed, but has set a gold standard for quality and serious attention to detail. In fact, this company’s commitment is so strong that it has likely helped save and showcase more historic vehicles than any other source in the U.S. Reinforcing that point, these folks have worked on thousands of authentic, wood-wheeled vehicles during the last four decades.