Horse-Drawn Vehicle books from the Carriage Museum of America
book reviews by Lynn R. Miller
Springs For Horse-Drawn Vehicles
by Don Peloubet, Wheelwright & Susan Green, Librarian
published by the Carriage Museum of America, copyright 2005. Soft cover, 254 pages profusely illustrated.
Relying on fascinating reprints from years gone by, this book documents the development of the carriage and wagon spring with extra information about testing, engineering and patent histories. Intriguing stuff about the testing of spring suspensions systems for differing vehicles and road surfaces. Loaded with the esoterica of horse-drawn running gears. In the words of the author…
The rough roads in the early days of our nation, all but impassable by a horse-drawn four-wheeled vehicle, were one of the main reasons two-wheeled carts were widely used up to the mid 1800’s. Some of the roads were so bad that it really didn’t make much difference whether or not the vehicle had springs.
The presence of springs on a horse-drawn carriage seems to be of little importance when judged by purely essential criteria. They are not needed to start or stop the vehicle. The horse provides motive power and brakes will stop the carriage when necessary. A carriage without springs could still function, as springs do not serve any absolutely necessary task. They do not light the way at night like lanterns do, or keep occupants dry in a rainstorm like a top. But riding in a carriage minus springs would be most uncomfortable, especially over cobblestone streets or on a country lane, or on a long journey. So springs do perform a most important function, they provide a more comfortable ride.
Early carriages and coaches used thoroughbraces, a suspension system consisting of several layers of thick leather to cushion passengers against the constant jarring unwelcomely provided by the primitive roads, especially in the mountain areas. Freight and farm produce did not complain much, save for occasional bruising or breakage. Early accounts of stagecoach travel however, show that the opposite is true of human occupants. The length of time to reach a destination and the roughness of the tiresome exhausting trip, made anything but a short journey a dreaded but necessary evil.
With the introduction of the steel spring in the eighteenth century, travelers were given some welcome relief. But it was the promotion of the elliptical spring or double elbow spring in 1804, in common use ever since, which revolutionized travel in general and the carriage in particular. The wide bar wagon is thought to be the nearest to perfection in a horse-drawn wheeled vehicle. Indeed, a Brewster side-bar wagon is as prized a possession today as it was in its’ heyday.
If you are at all involved in the world of horsedrawn vehicles, you will want this book in your collection. LRM
Carriage and Wagon Axles for Horse-drawn Vehicles
compiled by the Carriage Museum of America and edited by Don Peloubet, Wheelwright.
published by the Carriage Museum of America, copyright 2002. Soft cover, 250 profusely illustrated pages.
This volume is a natural companion to the Springs book mentioned opposite. Again it is a compilation of historical information from the heydays of wagon and carriage building showcasing the transitions from wooden to steel axles, with the cojoined advances such as wheels and roller bearings. In the words of the editor…
The history of axle making in America closely followed that of wheel making, with the exception of the very early years. Since most travel in the early days of our country was by horseback or boat, axles for the few carriages that were being built were made by the blacksmith or imported.
While the wheelwright had the tools, skills and material to fashion excellent wooden wheels, metalworking had not reached the level of quality necessary for the construction of axles. As a result, axles for early wagons and carts were for the most part made of wood with metal bands on the axle arms, with bands also being fitted to the wheel hub. Axles for high quality carriages were mostly imported from England or France. The Mount Carmel Axle Works of New Haven, Connecticut was established in 1833, making it probably the earliest specialized axle maker in America. Around 1850, with the improvement of axle making technology, as well as the discovery of quality iron ore deposits in this country, axle factories were established in the larger cities, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Haven, which were already centers for the carriage industry.
In the middle-to-late 1800’s, (the buggy era) the city dweller would have a buggy for pleasure drives and to get around town. His cousin in the country on the other hand, would have a buggy to go to town for light errands, in addition to a farm wagon with removable seats. The wagon could be used for carrying passengers as well as farm work and hauling freight. The main distinction between a farm wagon and a pleasure vehicle is the absence of springs on the farm wagon, although some driver’s seats on wagons had springs. Some axle makers manufactured springs as well as axles because the technologies were similar.
This book is a treasure trove for anyone working with or interested in horsedrawn vehicles. LRM