Wagon Identities Lost and Found

Persistence pays off

| April 2009

  • wagon wheel
    This wheel is part of a 150-year-old wagon uncovered from the steamboat Arabia in 1988.
    Wheels That Won The West® archives
  • steamboat

  • wagon wheel
  • steamboat

Even though we may never know the name brand and history of every old wagon, there’s always hope.

Two examples come to mind as proof that almost anything is possible. In my research and travels over the past few years, I happened upon two very different wagons. Each was well over 100 years in age. One had almost no paint and neither vehicle contained any numbers or names identifying the maker.

After extensive photography and note taking during a firsthand examination of one wagon, I spent months digging through 19th century catalogs and other period materials. I was finally able to confirm the wagon as an extremely rare Peter Schuttler brand. It had been unearthed in 1988 after being buried in 1856 when it sank on the steamboat Arabia in the Missouri River. After resting more than 130 years underground, the paint was almost non-existent but the wood and metal were remarkably well preserved, helping significantly in the evaluation process.

Another identity conundrum I came across pondered the question of who built a unique wagon shown in a one-of-a-kind Victorian-era photo. After two full years of determined research, I was finally able to positively identify Jacob Becker, Seymour, Ind., as the maker. Mr. Becker had built the wagon with numerous distinctive features and exhibited it in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Pennsylvania.

While the road to identifying these vehicles came with its own set of challenges, the initial amount of information available for both was minimal. To read more about the incredible search for answers and the ultimate revelation of each wagon’s identity, log on to www.wheelsthatwonthewest.com, click on the “Featured Vehicle” section and check out the “Archives” banner on the left-hand side of the web page. Clearly, these success stories are extreme examples, but they serve as encouragement for those working to identify other wagons with minimal maker clues.

To discover more details on availability of vintage catalog reprints, horse-drawn vehicle books, plans, illustrations and histories, check these resources:

For a guide about wagon identification, read: “Identifying Vintage Farm Wagon Brands.”


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