Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop

Builder of Authentic Horse-Drawn
Stagecoaches, Wagons & Carriages
Phone: 605-996-8754

FAQs & Wagon History

 

FAQ’S-FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

 

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FAQ’S                               Frequently Asked Questions

WAGON HISTORY

 

Why are the front wheels smaller than the rear wheels on wagons?

As the diameter of the wheel increases, the draft size of the animal needed to pull the vehicle decreases, hence making it easier on the horses, mules, and oxen to pull the wagons and carriages. So, a wagon with 48" wheels will pull easier than a wagon with 24" wheels. Now for the second part of the answer; if all wagons had 48" wheels front and rear, we would have an engineering conflict. When we try to steer the wagon, the front wheel would strike the body and reduce the turning radius. Also, the assembly of the fifth wheel would lift the body high in the front. So, to overcome this conflict, we lower the height of the front wheel just enough to level the wagon and increase the turning radius. The results are a maneuverable, easy pulling vehicle.

How much is my farm wagon worth?

Prices vary greatly depending on many factors. But the most discerning factor is originality and authenticity. A wagon that has been untouched may be worth 1000's of dollars more than a wagon that is solid but repainted or altered by the well-intended repairman or farmer.

Can I buy wheels to “fit” my old wood hub farm wagon?

Yes, but each of several hundred manufactures had their own improved design, therefore wheels off one wagon likely will not fit another wagon. To find ones to interchange is very, very hit and miss - not to mention time consuming. We can rebuild from your hub or build new wheels to fit your wagon. We will need your old boxings. This boxing would have to be installed by us in your new wheel.

What is the Boxing & Skein?

The skeins (cast spindle on your wood axle) is a match to the boxing (the cast tapered sleeve in your wood hub). Boxing and skein sizes are numerous and sized accordingly to the capacity of the wagon.

The wheels on my wagon move back and forth on the axle when I shake them, is the axle worn out?

Not necessarily. Your wheel and axle assembly was manufactured with these loose tolerances. Many people today are familiar with a modern Timken bearing axle in which there is no slop, but the old time wagon axle is designed loose in order to create a grease reservoir within the fitting of the axle (skein) and wheel bushing (boxing). On a farm wagon gear the boxing was made approximately 1/8" oversize in diameter as well as length. Due to the design the wagon load is transferred from the wagon to the bottom side of the axle skein and this is carried by the bottom side of the wheel boxing. An old-timer once said that he could tell if his wagon was running with the minimum of drat if he could hear a chuckle of the axles sliding back and forth as he drove down the road, in other words the wagon was floating on the boxing of the wheel.

Should I put leather washers in my buggy wheels to tighten them up?

Yes. Most buggy wheels were designed to accept leather washer seals. We offer these washers supplied in the form of a coil much like a spring. The washers are installed on the nut side as well as the axle collar side, therefore forming 2 seals to capture the lubricant and keep the dirt out. To install them on the nut side, you cut a section of the coil to match the circumference of the nut flange and on the collar side you cut a section to match the ID of the collar flange of the boxing. During clean up of the assembly you will likely find the old dried out leather seals, remove and discard them. Wagon axles did not use leather washers, although we have found steel washers used to take up some end play. We do not offer wagon washers.

What type of grease should I use on my old style axles?

We sell 2 types of axle grease. Block grease, which is a blend of waxes and grease, is recommended for wagons axles. It is heavy grease in the consistency of cheese and is applied by slicing off a sliver and placing it on the axle. Black graphite grease is recommended for buggies and wagons and comes in a grease gun cartridge and is a stringy consistency. The old blackjack grease of our grandfather's days is no longer available.

Is it possible to put rubber tiring on my wagon wheels?

Yes. But if it does not already have rubber we will have to hot-set steel channel on your wheel and then install extruded (solid rubber) on this new channel. Rubber is available up to 2 ½" wide in round or flat top styles.

Should I repaint my old wagon?

If your wagon has any original paint or even an original weathered look, painting will greatly devalue it by ½ or more. The only wagon I would recommend repainting is one that you know has been repainted in the past and has lost its original value due to this.

How can I identify the maker of my wagon?

Most manufactures proudly marked their wagons with a stenciled or decaled logo on the box side and center of the rear axle. Sometimes wetting this area will bring back remnants of the ID. If nothing is found, then the only hope of identifying the wagon is thorough study of similar wagons with exact matching of hardware and design. There are a few reprint catalogs and books that may help in this investigation, see our book department.

Is it possible to determine the age of my horse drawn vehicle?

Makers rarely marked the date of manufacture on their vehicles. Without a documented history of ownership, a vehicles age can be very hard to pinpoint. One should keep in mind the evolution of vehicle design to help determine the general era of construction. As vehicle manufacturers evolved from one man shops to mass production, and then the automobile era, you will notice the loss of complexity and design being replaced with simpler and faster methods of construction.

My wagon doesn't have brakes, can I install a kit?

Yes. We offer several styles of brake systems including:

The under carriage of my wagon was once painted orange and I see on your web site and other pictures of hauling wagons like mine that the under carriage is painted... is there a significance with the under carriage being painted? If so what is it?

Most all farm wagons were painted with bright colored gears, red, orange or yellow, while the wagon boxes were painted primarily a dark blue green, similar the hunter green we are familiar with today, the paint was an oil base consisting of pigments ground in linseed oil, providing protection and style. The bright colors of the gear and wheels hid dirt better than a dark color, and the style of the day was for work vehicles to be brightly colored. The brilliantly striped gears and bodies of the farm wagon seemed to be on the verge of gaudy or a competition amongst the many makers to produce the most marketable look.

I have inherited a buggy from my grandparent and I was wondering, how do I figure how much it is worth?

There are many factors in determining the value of any horse drawn vehicle including the maker,age and overall condition. If you would like a professional appraisal send the following to our email address at dwhansen@hansenwheel.com.

  • Eight photos with quarter views and detail views.
  • At least two photos to disclose any damaged areas.
  • Your brief description of the vehicle.

The cost of a single vehicle appraisal is $195.

Were the six sided nuts and bolts in existence during the cattle drives of the old west? I have six sided nuts and bolts on my wagon they look original but I'm not sure should I change to square ones?

They were in use in the horse drawn vehicle days, however, that had certain applications.

Also, they were of a unique style and size. In my 35 years of restoration, I have found original hex nuts in a few places such as:

Axle nuts

King bolts

Archibald hub bolts etc.

Most of these applications the hex nut enhances the appearance where a square nut would not look well on a wheel hub. A modern hex nut does not, however, match the original hex nuts which were heavily chamfered and extra heavy in size. If the hex nuts on your wagon look to be of modern variety , I would recommend changing to square nuts, but if they appear to be original I would definitely leave them as is.

My wheels are cracked and the bands loose. The hub also is split. Should these wheels be soaked in water to swell up?

Do not soak wheel in water!

All wood is hygroscopic, meaning that when exposed to air, it will release or pick up moisture until it is in equilibrium with the humidity and temperature of the air. Because of this, wood tends to expand as it gains moisture and to shrink as moisture is lost, and it does not shrink or swell equally in all directions. Any solid wood or wood component will expand or contract over time as moisture and climate conditions change, and this exchange of moisture is ongoing. In an uncontrolled environment, wood is a dimensionally unstable material.

Wheels made of wood change in size until they are acclimated. Once the wheels have acclimated they become more stable to that environment. The wheelwright being aware of this then tightens the wheel via means of setting the tire and hub components. This will resolve the problem of a loose wheel.

Water added to a wheel via (soaking) is very short term fix and can even damage the wheel, the wheel will swell and then dry to its former state.

What are some unique axle types?

The oldest type of axle is the wooden axle with clouted iron shoes covering the top and bottom wear area of the wood axle arm. The wheel as retained via a lynch pin. This was most common on Conestoga’s, schooners, freight wagons. The lynch pin was also incorporated on steel axles most commonly military vehicles. The thimble skein axle is a method replacing the clouted axle with a thimble of iron on the wood axle, this is what you find on most all farm wagons of the late 19th century. The most sophisticated is the collinge axle which was an oil bath axles with brass locking nuts to retain the wheel. Another odd axle you will find on some European carriages is the mail axle having the wheel retained via 3 bolts passing through the hub and fastened to an inner captured plate.

How do I remove the wheels on my antique vehicle?

The majority of axles utilized a directional threaded nut to retain the wheel. What I mean by directional threaded is; the axle was threaded with corresponding threads left on the left, right on the right. The principle is that when the carriage is traveling forward the rotation of the wheels bears a tightening force on the nut. If you have ever pushed a buggy backwards across the yard and lost a nut this is why. When removing the nuts turn it in the direction of the wheel going in reverse.

 

 

WAGON HISTORY

 

Stagecoaches and Mudwagons

Stagecoach is a term used for a variety of different horse-drawn, public transportation coaches.

The heavy Concord Stagecoach was first manufactured in Concord, NH, by the Abbot Downing Co. in 1827. The key to the Concord’s success was its ‘thorough- braces’ or multiple leather straps, on which the body of the coach rocked.

The Concord Coach was the finest road vehicle of its time – a supreme achievement of American stage building. The Coach was frequently painted a brilliant red with elaborate ornamentation and scenic paintings on the doors. The undercarriage and wheels were usually a straw yellow, which made road dust less visible.

Nothing is more typical of the history of the settlement of the West than the Concord Stagecoach. The Concord Coach epitomizes the glory of that era, and came to be the true romantic symbol of the Old West.

 

Western Concord Mail Coach

TRADITIONAL STYLE COACH - SYMBOL OF THE WEST

The Western style stagecoaches were used by Wells Fargo to transport gold, mail, and passengers throughout the rugged Western Territory. The nine-passenger body was more heavily ironed than the Eastern model, with leather roll-down curtains, leather front boot, and a fully enclosed leather rear boot.

 

Touring Concord Coach

LARGE CAPACITY, MAXIMUM COMFORT AND STYLE

The Concord Coach, as built by the original maker, was known for its sturdy construction and long service. We build our coaches with the same quality materials and methods of construction to insure the highest level of quality, for durability and style.

 

Eastern Concord Coach

WOODEN FRONT BOOT, OPEN LUGGAGE RACK

The difference in style on the boots and the coach gear color are some of the distinguishing features that separate the Eastern Coach from its Western cousin. Many of the Eastern Coaches carried the yellow straw color through from the body to the undercarriage as well.

 

Mudwagon Coach

While the Concord Coach was considered the ‘Star of the Road’, the Passenger Wagon was the true work horse. The advantage of the passenger wagon and the origin of its nickname, Mudwagon, was the lightness that enabled it to pass over frequently poor roads, through mud holes, or up steep mountainous slopes.

The Mudwagon with its outside framing and square body is less expensive to build and durable in service. The body of these wagons is bolted to iron rockers that, in turn, rest on leather thoroughbraces. These light semi-enclosed carriers are equipped with canvas or enameled leather storm curtains, and brakes for mountain travel.

 

Hack-Passenger Wagon

The Hack or Passenger Wagon was the coach builder’s smaller, less-embellished version of the late nineteenth-century public transportation vehicles used for short distance travel in rural areas. The vehicle is characterized by a square body

and seating for six to nine passengers.

 

Touring and Yellowstone Coaches

Another coach style was the sightseeing coach used in National Parks to carry visitors and hotel guests on leisurely tours through the mountains. The open sides provided easy access and viewing, while the flat canopy top provided shade and some shelter from rain.

 

Chuck Wagons

The Chuck Wagon was a folk invention of the Post-Civil War era developed by Charles Goodnight, a Texas cattleman. Frustrated by the inefficiency of hauling supplies for trail crews, he obtained a surplus Army Wagon and transformed it into a mobile kitchen. The

Chuck wagon came to epitomize the hub of life for the western cowboy. Besides serving as the cook’s traveling kitchen and the cowboys’ home on long trail drives, it carried provisions for the trail hands, plus bedrolls and tools.

In the mid-1880’s, when cattle ranching reached the vast open range of the Great Plains, Studebaker Bros. introduced their ‘Round-up Wagon’, especially designed for feeding large crews. This wagon was heavier and less mobile than the light trail models. Because of its usefulness and practical design, the chuck wagon has changed very little

from its original design in 1866 and remained an integral part of American ranching for nearly a century. Still a useful part of the ranching industry today, the chuck wagon is a sentimental symbol of the western legacy of a bygone era.

 

Trail Pup

When a single chuck wagon could not carry all of the outfit’s gear, ranches added a second wagon, known as a ‘bed wagon’ or ‘hoodlum wagon’. Generally they were lighter than the standard chuck wagon, and also carried extra wood, water and cooking equipment. Two-wheeled hoodlum wagons, pulled behind the chuck wagon, came to be known as ‘trail pups’.

 

Farm Wagon

Few vehicles were of greater significance than the Farm Wagon, in an era when small farms played an important role in America’s economy. Its design was both simple and utilitarian, making it sturdy enough for heavy loads over rural roads, and dependable enough for everyday use.

 

Freight Wagon

Freight wagons, piled high with food and supplies, provided the life-blood for forts, pioneers and settlers. Teams from ten to twenty mules or horses pulled them across the desert and mountains. These outfits, with a load capacity of ten tons each, were usually operated by two men; the driver, riding the wheel horse would control the teams with a ‘jerk line’ to the lead horse, and the swamper, who would clamber from wagon to wagon, setting brakes.

 

Covered Wagons

In the 1880’s, many settlers were still ‘going West’ and fashioned their wood farm wagons into ‘covered wagons’ by outfitting them with protective covers stitched out of heavy, cotton duck material. The covered wagon comes from a simpler and less hectic time of more than a century ago – a time before motorized forms of transportation were available or affordable.

 

Immigrant’s Wagon

Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop does museum quality restoration work such as this Danish Immigrant’s Wagon completely outfitted with settler’s items and supplies. The settler’s wagon was often an adapted smaller version of the Prairie Schooner.

 

Conestoga Wagon

LARGE CAPACITY WITH THE TRADITIONAL CONESTOGA STYLING

One of the most perfect vehicles ever produced in America, the Conestoga wagon was named for Pennsylvania’s Conestoga Valley, where it was first built. These freighter wagons were used between the 1750’s and 1840’s and could haul 5 tons of goods. Considering the size of most of these wagons, the lightest yet strongest woods are used for the heavier construction of the long bed and heavy bolsters. The bowed construction kept the freight towards the center of the wagon, and thus evenly distributed. Hand-forged irons are an important part of the overall design of the wagon, consisting of ornate tool box hardware, hound plates, axe carriers, and stay chains.

 

Prairie Schooner

The Prairie Schooner that transported many pioneers and their possessions across the country was the result of adaptations to the heavier Conestoga, which proved to be too heavy for immigrants to take across the mountains as they moved westward.

 

Sheep Wagon

A MARVEL OF PRACTICALITY AND EFFICIENCY

A home on wheels with an interesting history, the traditional design for this wagon came into use in the 1880’s with the rapid expansion of the sheep business throughout the West. Compact, efficient living space with well-designed storage areas, built-in benches, retractable table, wood stove, and a sleeping berth were common to all sheep wagons. However, the design variations are such that no two sheep wagons seem to be exactly alike. Although still used by herders on some ranges, the most popular use for today’s sheep wagon is as an interesting and unique guest cabin.

 

Canons and Military Wagons

Army Escort Wagon

THE HEAVY-DUTY ESCORT WAGON

The Army wagon or Escort wagon was usually pulled by 4-6 mules and had a load capacity of 3000 pounds. Perfected and standardized during the Spanish- American War, the Army-Escort Wagon carried military troops, rations and baggage. This heavy wagon is characterized by the flare boards, the extensive hand-forged hardware on the box, and the California-style seat risers on the seat.

 

Army Ambulance Wagon

The Ambulance wagon was designed for the transport of the military’s sick and wounded. Each wagon could carry four wounded men on upper & lower cots used as mats or stretchers. When not in use, the mats served as cushion backs for the bench seats along each side. The brown duck curtains on the sides and rear of the body could be let down in unfavorable weather.

 

Hitch Wagons

Hitch wagons, sometimes called express wagons or show wagons, were widely used for light trucking. Companies took great pride in the hitch wagons bearing their business name and in the magnificent team of horses that pulled them. Show wagons were pulled in parades and exhibitions to advertise companies and their products. Today, an astounding number of companies, breeders and draft-horse owners continue this tradition.

Hitch wagons are one of the most carefully designed and practical, yet beautiful wagons ever built. The spring system, fifth-wheel assembly and ‘cut-under’ front wheels facilitate tight turns and give this wagon flexibility making it ideally suited to the driving conditions of the horse-drawn era.

Rack-Bed Wagon

The rack-bed was a unique style for delivery wagons – providing for easier access and retention of goods. This body design typically had the California seat on risers and front tool box. Many of these vehicles were used on more mountainous terrain and required brakes.

 

Commercial Vehicles

Delivery Wagon

The Delivery Wagon formed the largest group of commercial wagons, being built in many sizes and styles for all types of delivery work. These attractive, platform-spring wagons were able to be pulled by one or two horses, making them adaptable to any type of light or medium work.

 

Mountain Wagons

The popular style, open passenger wagon is basically an extra-long spring wagon with three or four seats under a canopy top, and a rear luggage rack. Though rarely used for long trips, this wagon serves well as a sort of station wagon, originally carrying passengers from rail or depot stops, to towns nearby. Variations were used for public transportation or could be hired at livery stables for group functions. This style stage is very versatile and durable. A wide variety of options are available, making this wagon a very economical alternative for carrying a number of passengers without sacrificing comfort or style.

 

Spring Wagons

The spring wagon was an important vehicle in the late horse-drawn era. Built with two removable seats, its practicality made it popular both in rural areas and in cities and towns where, with a single seat, it served as a business wagon, or light weight delivery wagon.

 

Buckboards

Buckboards are distinctively American vehicles, born on the homesteads of the mountainous regions of the East, then moved West with the pioneers to become a useful vehicle for work and pleasure. The buckboard has no metal springs (other than those on the seat), its suspension comes from the springy ‘buckboards’ that make up the floor and body. Much of the charm of this ruggedly constructed vehicle is that it is versatile and functional.

 

Carriages

American Buggy

The American Buggy, whose design was taken from earlier pleasure wagons, fast became one of the most popular carriages of all time, used widely in town and country, for business and pleasure.

 

Surrey

The Surrey was an American built family carriage that borrowed its name from a cart used in the county of Surrey, England. It probably did more to unite scattered communities into a great nation than any other horse-drawn vehicle of its time. The surrey was popular in the early 1890’s.

 

Sleighs

 The sleigh construction allowed vehicle builders to be at their best. Without wheels to constrict their fancy, they could execute the design in a harmony of gracefully flowing lines. The type of sleigh pictured at right, is a four-passenger variation of the Portland (or Kimball) cutter, first developed in the mid-19th century by Peter Kimball & Sons, of Portland Maine. Lower right is a single-seat Albany cutter with the distinctive swell body design.

 

Display Wagons & Vending Carts