The restored belly dump wagon.
Consider the belly dump wagon of, say, a century ago. In the world of early wagons, it was worked hard and put away wet. The belly dump wagon hauled the load and dumped the load – heavy loads, at that – and that’s it. Like the linebacker on the football team, like the flagman on the road project, like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it gets no respect at all.
Currently treasurer of the museum, Dick is a longtime Ag Museum volunteer who enjoys tackling projects that hold little appeal for others. “A lot of guys like to work on tractors and engines,” he says. “I like to rebuild wood pieces.” Working with a crew of volunteers, he spearheaded the project, which got underway in 2013.
The wagon before restoration: still standing, but not exactly ready to work.
Built like a tank
The wagon was donated to the museum in the early 1980s and that is the entirety of its known history today. Several wagon builders constructed belly dump wagons. This one had no tag, original paint or decals. Dick’s best guess is that the wagon was built about 1910.
Belly dump wagons were designed to haul dirt, gravel, rock and construction materials. Metal-lined doors on the wagon bed were opened and closed by a chain mechanism, allowing easy release of the contents. Such wagons are typically found in poor condition, the result of heavy and difficult work. This one, for instance, might have been used in construction of nearby Tieton Dam, built in 1925 on Rimrock Lake in Yakima County.
With a capacity of 1-1/2 yards, the wagon was exceptionally heavy. Built of lumber 1-1/2 inches thick, it could shoulder heavy loads. “And that wood was clear grain,” Dick says. “There were no knots in lumber in those days.” The front wheels measured 3 feet in diameter; the rear wheels measured 4 feet.
Although the remaining wood on the wagon was useful in creating patterns, all of it needed to be replaced. The extra heavy 1-1/2-inch-thick boards were not available commercially in the dimensions needed, so Dick and his crew cut and planed their own, using the museum’s 1930s-vintage sawmill.
Volunteers put finishing touches on the restored wagon wheel. Left to right: Kent Blomgren, Gary Cole, Dick Drew and Lowell Romfo.
The art and science of wheel construction
The metal band (or rim) is heated in a fire, causing it to expand enough that it can be placed on the wooden wheel.
Dick Drew with the restored wagon.
In preparing this article, Farm Collector is grateful for assistance provided by Jeanene Sutton at Union Gap Tourism/Central Washington Ag Museum. For more information: Central Washington Ag Museum, 4508 Main St., Union Gap, WA 98903; phone (509) 457-8735.