Friday, January 20, 2012

The Conastoga Wagon

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The Conestoga wagon was bigger. The top of a Conestoga wagon was 8 feet long. The ends were raked -- they slanted outward from the bottom. The covering then provided more protection from rain and the cargo space was slightly larger. The floor of the wagon was curved so that the load wouldnt shift. The Conestoga wagon could carry 5000 pounds.

Conestoga wagons were large, sturdy wagons usually pulled by six horses. Their strong, broad wheels made them capable of crossing rutted roads, muddy flats, and the non-roads of the prairie.

The Conestoga was used to carry any type of cargo. Before the Revolutionary War, some 10,000 of these wagons made the trip from the Dutch Country to Philadelphia, hauling farm produce, whiskey, iron ore and finished products, charcoal, and returning with items imported from Europe. After the Revolution, as settlements expanded westward, the Conestoga hauled freight to the new towns. These wagons, often traveling in large groups, were quite an impressive sight -- still evidenced by the remaining examples in museums.

The body of the wagon was painted light blue, the ironwork black and the white canvas top must have made some picture. Over the horses were hoops with bells attached to them, each carefully selected for its chime. The only horse without bells was the left wheel horse were the Waggoner rode, when not walking or riding the lazy board, a sliding board that could be pulled out from the left side of the wagon. The bells on the horses carry an interesting story. These bells were highly prized, not so much for their beauty or tone (even though they were selected by their tones). Nor were they so much for usefulness, even though they warned other travelers of the approach of the wagon. They were prized as proof of the Waggoner’s ability to take care of him. If a wagon got stuck in a ditch or mud and the driver was forced to appeal to other Waggoner for help, the bells were the price he paid for the assistance. To anyone as tough and independent as these men, it must have been a humiliating experience. The Waggoner’s kept mostly with their own kind.

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Even though we don’t use Conestoga wagons anymore….we use cares and other sorts of transportation we can still se different types of wagons that are at museums and on display. It would be an interesting place to check out.

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