The lowly wheel gets little respect, except in the eyes of collector Denis Schrank. Denis — whose wheel collection is featured in this edition of Farm Collector, is absolutely head over heels in love with wheels. After you get a look at his collection, and consider the wheel’s enormous functionality, you may start looking at wheels in a new light.
As utilitarian as the sole of a shoe, the wheel gets little attention until (sorry!) it squeaks. But what’s made more of a difference to the early farmer? Imagine transporting materials before a wheelbarrow or wheeled cart existed. You’d be limited to what you could carry, or what could be lashed to an animal.
Before the wheel, most people pretty well stayed put. After the wheel, crop production began to rise, markets drew from bigger areas and travel expanded. I am reminded of the old timers who’d speak wistfully of “the good old days” before wide availability of the car in the 1930s and ‘40s changed everything. Just think of the societal change that resulted from the debut of the wheel!
Today, we tend to take wheels for granted. There was a time, though, when people had a keen appreciation for the simple object. The fact that so many strays survived is evidence of that. Wheels left around an old farmstead were not abandoned as much as they were saved, the wheel being one of those things that is pretty hard for the layman to make from scratch.
That said, check out the blacksmith-made wheel in Denis’ collection, and another handmade specimen with spokes formed from one long rod. Admire the artistry of early industrial design that’s showcased in others and puzzle over one with spring-like spokes. Today’s spinners feel a bit gaudy in comparison.
As is the case with so many relics from the past, this one is full of surprises. Enjoy this new perspective on the lowly wheel! FC