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Conestoga wagon

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Anyone who's ever seen a western has seen one of these. They originated in the Conestoga Valley near Lancaster, PA (Amish country) in the mid 1700s. They were the "moving vans" of their day. They were shaped with angled front and rear ends and a curved floor to keep cargo from shifting when traveling over steep or rocky trails through the Appalachians on the way westward. Families piled everything they owned into one of these wagons and took off for parts unknown in the west, to lay claim to some land and start a new life. Here is a (restored) real one:

historical1.jpg

These wagons varied in detail from one maker to the other, but they all looked basically the same. Some were painted, some were bare wood... it was up to the owner. My model is a 1/12 scale version, again made up of laser-cut wooden parts, cast white metal details, photoetched brass, and hundreds of tiny pins, nuts and "bolts" (not threaded, for looks only). The parts breakdown pretty much copies the real thing... individual wooden planks, ironwork, all held together with hundreds of pins, nuts and bolts. It's a pretty big model, as you can see by the can of paint...

wagon3.jpg

Again, paint is acrylic craft paints, thinned down to give a weathered and worn appearance. The "canvas" top is cotton fabric, dyed to look like canvas, and painted with a watered-down white glue to give a realistic "sag" between the support hoops.

Out back hung a trough that was filled with food for the "engines"... these were big, heavy wagons that when fully loaded needed a team of anywhere from 4 to 12 horses to pull!

wagon5.jpg

In the photo above you can see the iron strap "tires." They are strips of cardboard painted with a dark metallic gray craft paint. I think they look exactly like real iron straps. The rest of the "ironwork" (both cast white metal and photoetched brass) was painted black...

wagon2.jpg

Also note the axe that was held by brackets up front. The settlers needed firewood every day for cooking (and for heat at night in the winter), so an axe was an essential part of the wagon:

wagon4.jpg

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Posted · Report post

Very nice.

Quite a range of subjects, each very interesting in its own right.

B)

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Posted · Report post

I'm digging these models of your's Harry. Very cool stuff.

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Posted · Report post

I'm digging these models of your's Harry. Very cool stuff.

I have more! :D

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Posted · Report post

This is really interesting. You did a wonderful job.

Tell us more about the kit!

G

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Posted · Report post

Keep 'em rollin', Harry. I would never have thought l would enjoy these so much ! Never been my idea of a "real" model, but after seeing the detail that has gone into them--and the history lessons-- l have a lot of respect for them.

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Posted · Report post

Great job on the wagon. A very important part of American history.

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Posted · Report post

Wow, that thing is beautifully done..I didn't see it talked about, but is it kit or a scratch build?

Either way, you did a fantastic job on it. Your skills are very diverse.

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Posted · Report post

This is really interesting. You did a wonderful job.

Tell us more about the kit!

G

It's mainly laser-cut wooden parts. The wagon builds up plank by plank, prettty much the same parts breakdown as the real thing. The "iron work" (brackets, straps, etc.) are either cast white metal or photoetched brass parts. There are tiny brass pins that simulate bolts, and tiny laser-cut cardboard square "nuts" (this was in the days when nuts were hand forged of iron and were square... six-sided nuts didn't exist yet).

The brass pins that simulate the bolts would have had square heads in real life... the instructions tell the builder to squeeze the pin heads into a square shape (fairly easy to do because the brass is fairly soft). The biggest problem is the time involved. There are hundreds of individual pins ("bolts") that you have to form a square head on if you want realism. And then the pins, along with any photoetched brass parts that represent strap iron, have to be either chemically "blackened" or painted a dark grayish black to simulate iron (not bright, shiny brass!).

Each wheel spoke has to be carved to a taper by hand... again, time consuming and very tedious, but necessary if you want the wheels to look "right" and not toy-like. And the "canvas" top covering has to be cut out of cotton material (they supply the material and patterns), then the pieces glued together (or sewn together) along the seams, then "lashed" to the wagon with thick thread that represents rope.

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Posted · Report post

Beautiful ! Thanks for including the paint can for size reference. That answers a question I asked in a different post. How long did it take to build something like this. If you ever said I must have missed it.

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Beautiful ! Thanks for including the paint can for size reference. That answers a question I asked in a different post. How long did it take to build something like this. If you ever said I must have missed it.

I never keep track of how long I spend building a model. I never could figure out why some people do that. I mean, in the end, it takes as much time as it takes, right? So what does it matter how long it took? It has no relevance to anything (unless somebody is paying you by the hour to build a model for them!)

Anyway, that's why I don't keep track of time... it's irrelevant to me. Plus, I rarely sit down and work on any one model start to finish. I'll work on a model a few hours today... another one a few hours tomorrow... then not do anything for a week... then go crazy and work several days in a row... then nothing for months, etc. So that makes it even harder for me to guess how long it took me to build any particular model. I'm not complaining about you asking me... just explaining why I don't keep track.

But to answer your question, if I had to guess, I'd say this one probably took me 60-80 hours or so. Somewhere in there. About 7-10 eight hour work days (if I actually worked that way! :D )

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Here's an interesting bit of information (at least it's interesting to me!)... :D

The way the wheels on these wagons (and on the stagecoach I posted in another thread) were made is ingenious. First they cut a hub on a belt-driven lathe, usually out of oak or some other hardwood (ash, hickory, etc... remember, back in the 1700 and 1800s forests were much more plentiful and various species of tree much more common than they are now)... then each individual spoke was shaped (the spokes are never "straight" but have a taper to them, and often they change shape from square at the hub end to circular at the rim end as they also taper... shaping the spokes was a job for only an experienced wheelwright).

Anyway... the individual spokes were then placed into the hub, spaced radially, and the rim sections, called "felloes," (usually six sections per wheel with holes bored into them to receive the spoke ends) were placed onto the spoke ends. This was all done on a jig with the wheel being assembled in a horizontal position.

But what actually held the felloes and the rest of the wheel together was the iron "tire." A blacksmith would form a strip of iron into a hoop, and "forge weld" the ends together to form a continuous, round iron strap. (Forge welding is the process of heating the metal on the forge to close to melting, then literally hammering the pieces together and actually fusing them together until they become one. Forge welding, or "hammer welding," was the earliest known method of welding).

The hoop was then heated to expand it, and then placed over the wooden "felloes" that made up the rim... then water was poured onto the hot iron "tire" so that it contracted and literally shrank and formed itself tightly around the wheel's circumference, holding everything together. The trick was knowing exactly how large to make the tire hoop, and knowing exactly how much it would shrink when it was doused with water, so that it would tightly hold the wheel assembly together when cool.

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Posted · Report post

I watch Wagon Train on Encore Westerns.

And I have to laugh when today's people complain

about the city falling behind on pot hole repair.

Or long wait times at the Doctors office..

Those pioneers were Tough with a capital "T".

They either made due or do without.

BTW..Studebaker made some fine wagons too.

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Posted · Report post

BTW..Studebaker made some fine wagons too.

Right! Studebaker actually began as a wagon maker in the 1850s, I think... then later switched to cars.

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I used to own a Studebaker Conestoga Wagon. A 1954 V8 Commander Conestoga 2 door wagon.

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Posted · Report post

Very interesting and great work Harry !! Am a big western fan. Just watched a movie not long ago about a family of wheelwrights. Cool stuff !!

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Very interesting and great work Harry !! Am a big western fan. Just watched a movie not long ago about a family of wheelwrights. Cool stuff !!

It was a pretty specialized skill back in the day. Not just anyone had the skill to build wheels, you really had to know your craft.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

Very nice Harry, the info on the wheels is really interesting. There was a company back in the '60s that made wooden kits of various wagons. My dad made several of them, they still look good 45 + years later. Wish I could remember the name of the kit manufacturer. Have you ever seen one of those things in person ? They are huge ! Must have weighed a couple tons empty.

Edited by jas1957

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Posted · Report post

Very nice Harry, the info on the wheels is really interesting. There was a company back in the '60s that made wooden kits of various wagons. My dad made several of them, they still look good 45 + years later. Wish I could remember the name of the kit manufacturer. Have you ever seen one of those things in person ? They are huge ! Must have weighed a couple tons empty.

I've never seen one in person, but you're right that they're heavy even when empty. Imagine trying to pull that thing up a steep dirt path or gravel road fully loaded. I feel sorry for the horses!

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Posted · Report post

Some more great stuff Harry and great history lesson. :)

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Absolutely great stuff Harry. I love all of it.

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