Resurrection of a Western Dump Wagon
from issue: 45-2
Resurrection of a Western Dump Wagon
by Rod Henderson of Johnstown, CO
In late August of 2011, my wife Doris and I were returning from a Vietnam USMC Tankers Reunion in San Diego. We took the scenic route back to Colorado, via the coast of California, through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Lodging and meals were provided by our visiting relatives and friends in these states! Our stop in Montana was in the Great Falls area with our wagon train friends, Nick Shrauger and his wife Betty McCoy. Nick and I had become good friends during our seven week adventure on a wagon train along the Bozeman Trail. Both of us being engineers, many might find us boring and communicating in a strange language! In addition, we are both Marines, love working in our workshops, enjoy the rural life style, and have an appreciation for historical matters. Both Nick and Betty have been very active in 4-H, draft horse events and projects with the living history aspect at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, National Historical Site, National Park Service in Deer Lodge, MT. My interests have always centered on a ‘hands on’ approach to engineering and a love of both wood working and metal working. It comes as no surprise that our paths would meet and we have enjoyed our times together, working on various projects. It was Nick that suggested I take a Wheelwright course from Dave Watkins, who lived in Deer Lodge at that time. That resulted in a second career for me and I have enjoyed it immensely.
No sooner had we arrived in Great Falls, and Nick put forth a wonderful idea – Grant-Kohrs needs a horse drawn dump wagon. Betty knows where a couple of them are, and we could restore one for the Ranch’s use. Grant-Kohrs will pay for any materials needed and we would donate the labor. Nick had brought his flatbed trailer and we could leave in the morning for Brady, MT, to meet Harvey & Marcia Hollandsworth. Out across the wheat lands of Montana we did go. Betty and Marcia had worked together for years with the 4-H clubs and Harvey, like Nick and me, is short on only one thing – TIME! We are never bored and we have way too many projects to complete in a normal lifetime. A good condition to have! One of the wagons was made by the Russell Co. and the other was made by the Western Wheeled Scraper Works located in Aurora, IL. Harvey thought that his grandfather had acquired both wagons from the E.C. Powell Construction Co. in Great Falls, decades ago, but does not remember ever seeing the wagons in use. Grant-Kohrs has a Western dump wagon, with a steel 5th wheel, in their museum that was used on the ranch. Museum pieces are not allowed to be used for ranch work or demonstrations. A donated restored wagon could be used for work and demonstrations.
The Western wagon was of special interest to me. I was raised on a farm just outside of Aurora, IL, and several relatives and friends worked at that plant. The Western Wheeled Scraper Works came into being in the late 1800s and in 1902 bought the F.C. Austin Mfg. Co. The companies continued selling their lines of equipment under their individual names until 1934, when the name became Austin-Western. However, the name Western-Austin was also used. With the end of WWII, changes were in the making. In 1951 Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, financially strapped, acquired Austin-Western. In 1965, Armour & Co. became the owners and sold it to the Greyhound Corp. in 1970. In 1971 the Clark Equipment Co. became the owners and set about phasing out the Austin-Western name. The Aurora plant was closed in 1978, with the grader line being moved to Lubbock, TX, and it was closed in 1981.
Our work on rebuilding the dump wagon began in early spring of 2012. Nick brought the Western wagon we got from Harvey as well as a 2nd Western wagon he had acquired from Harlan Olson of Bozeman to my shop in Johnstown, CO. Harlan’s wagon was in horrible shape, BUT, it had the steel 5th wheel, an almost complete set of ‘after-market’ brakes, the steel parts for the seat and would provide a source of other missing parts we would need.
Nick got in touch with Bernie Samson, a harness maker in Gilbert, MN, who had a Western wagon he had restored by Hanson Wheel & Wagon Shop in South Dakota. Bernie provided a wealth of information on the dump wagon, sending us a copy of the Western Wheeled Scraper Works advertising catalog along with pictures of his different dump wagons. I got to meet Bernie, on a return trip from a fishing trip to Canada, and could have spent hours visiting, but the gang was anxious to return home to Illinois.
It was clear that this was not going to be a ‘restoration’ project, but would be a ‘resurrection’ project. Not one piece of wood from the original wagon was usable. With two wagons to pick from, all the metal pieces were there. The Western Wheeled Scraper Works offered basically two types of 1½ cubic yard dump wagons – one with an all steel 5th wheel and one with a wood & steel 5th wheel. We had one of each and chose to go with the all steel 5th wheel, to match what had been used on the ranch. Removing the skeins from the axles revealed that someone had forgotten to grease the wheels and the skeins were worn thru to the wood axle. Once again, Harlan Olson was the ‘go-to’ source for replacements.
Wood for this project would be of three varieties – white oak for the felloes, spokes, front, back and bottom boards, while Douglas fir (or equivalent) was used for the side boards, and hickory would be used for the hubs. Not much white oak or hickory in Colorado, but it is available in the midwest and my owning a Timberking portable sawmill and having contacts in the Aurora area, solved that challenge. Jack Jenkins, a friend and board president of the Lyons Farm Historical Association in the Yorkville, IL area, calls on me to saw up trees that have been blown over by storms. The wood from these trees has been used on various projects of restoration in the Aurora area, as well as in Nebraska, Wyoming & Colorado. Larch, instead of Douglas fir, was used for the side boards. This lumber was provided by Dick Clemow of Missoula, MT. Dick also has a Timberking sawmill and provides a timber clearing of trees that have been killed by fire, using horses to drag the logs to his sawmill. I had never worked with larch and this was indeed a challenge! It may be classified as a ‘softwood’, but you had better pre-drill a hole if you intend to drive a nail into it. The lumber was knot free and as wide as we called for – one mighty big tree!
Nick worked part time for FEMA and part of the job involves training classes in the Denver area. This provided excellent opportunities for our working together on the week-ends and much was accomplished. We had set up a system of turning a section of a tree trunk into a round block for hubs with a table saw. From there, it could be set up in my big lathe and turned to the final shape, as well as bored for the axle boxing. I had made duplicating machines for both spokes and axles.
White oak blanks were cut for the felloes. Mike McGilvray, a wagon & carriage builder in Bird City, Kansas, steam bends felloes and supplied the bent felloes. With the hubs, spokes and felloes completed, the fun part of assembling the wheels began. As you can see by the picture, this wheel (the last one) was not completed until the end of January 2014 – almost two years from our start date. We’re good, but no one said we were fast! Two wheels were completed by the fall of 2013 and were to have had the steel tires put on them at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Sept 2013, as part of a demonstration. Weather conditions were such that this could not be accomplished. Instead, once again, Harlan Olson stepped in to help. He has a hydraulic cold shrinking machine for setting the tires and that is what we did. The tires for the wheels were 5/8” thick x 4” wide steel. It is amazing to see that size of steel being compressed to fit tight on the wood felloes and spokes. Enough pressure to collapse the wheel is possible.
The last two wheels were tired in the spring of 2014. For these wheels the standard heating an under size tire in a good fire and quenching method was used. Wagon train friends from the Casper, WY, area, Ben Kern, Bill & Jim Owens, provided the muscle, Doris, my Sgt. Major, handled the quenching and I sat around and directed traffic!
By April, the wheels, axles and bolsters were finished, primed and ready to head to Nick’s shop outside of Bozeman, MT. Dick Clemow delivered the larch lumber for the sides and I finished up the white oak lumber for the rest of the wagon. By August, we were ready to mate the lumber to the running gear of the wagon. Nick was just finishing up with his ‘new’ shop – a real beauty – 48’ x 48’ with a 12’ wide overhead door! He said he wanted to be able to back things into the building and he wasn’t that good at backing up wagons & trailers! Doris & I traveled to Nick & Betty’s place and the work to assemble & paint began. Two weeks later the wagon was painted and 75% assembled. Belly boards, seat, brakes and chains needed to be completed.
Things looked to be on course for a completion date by the summer of 2015. I would work on the brakes and seat, while Nick would finish up the belly boards and chains. However, and there is always a ‘however’ in life, 2015 would bring about some major changes. Nick would be busy with FEMA and I would be battling esophageal cancer.
2016 would also be a year of challenge – Nick turned 80 and discovered he needed replacement body parts, plus FEMA needed his assistance. Nick was able to finish the dump box, with the help of his neighbor Larry Thomas and a super-size gantry crane that Dave Watkins just knew Nick needed! I was doing a whole lot better and was able to finish the seat and the patterns for casting the missing brake parts. This was my first time of making casting patterns, so some reading up on how this is done was required. I’m a slow reader and usually wait for the movie version to hit the theaters. In this case, we now have youtube.com! What a wonderful invention. Nick contacted the Anaconda Foundry Fabrication Co. in Anaconda, MT, to do the cast iron castings and we were off and running! The patterns finished, the castings were made and shipped. Just one problem – AFFCO made a one piece casting instead of a two piece. As an engineer, one must take problems and turn them into challenges – a simple redesign of the brake lever was all that was required and no one will know the difference, in looks or in performance! That is, no one except those of you reading this write-up will know the difference.
Doris and I traveled, once more, to Nick and Betty’s in June of 2017 for a week to finish up the dump wagon. Nick’s shop was totally completed, with facilities for every kind of working one might want to do. His gantry crane is big enough to pick up a M4 Sherman tank, if he had one! Snacks & bottled water were available, with fold up lounge chairs to relax in after a hard hour of work! His old shop (a two car garage size) has been converted into Betty’s studio for her weaving looms and sewing projects. The only problem, Betty’s been too busy to spend any time there. Her cats have found a home there and you know what cats like to do with yarn!
Dave Watkins had been down to inspect the wagon in early June and pointed out some details that needed our attention, and they were corrected. The completed wagon finally sees the light of day, on August 8, 2017.
Nick hooked up his team to try it out before delivery to Grant-Kohrs Ranch – just to make sure everything would stay together. I think he was also a little anxious to try out the project that took us 6 years to complete!
August 9, 2017 – delivery day at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch. National Historical Site, National Park Service, Deer Lodge, MT
Official acceptance of the Western dump wagon by the National Park Service. From L to R; Grant-Kohrs National Park Supt. Jacquie LaVall, Nick, Larry Thomas, Kim, Marcia & Harvey Hollandsworth, and Kai Christensen on the lines.
Our 6 year project has come to an end. It has been a joy working on it and certainly a joy to have finished the project! Nick & I want nothing more than to see it put to good use and for the public to enjoy seeing something from the 1913 era that demonstrates what people had available to work with. This project could not have been accomplished without the sharing of knowledge and items, the efforts, talents and skills of many people. Although many are mentioned in this article, I want to list the contributors to this project.
- Harvey & Marcia Hollandsworth, Hollandsworth Ranch, Brady, MT – Donation of the wagon.
- Harlan & Joel Olson, High Country Horse Drawn, Bozeman, MT – The 2nd Western wagon, skeins and hydraulic tire setting.
- Bernie Samson, Samson Harness Shop, Inc., Gilbert, MN – Western Wheeled Scraper Works catalog, pictures and advice.
- Dave Watkins, Wagon & Wheel Works, Manning, ND – Advice, historical info and final inspection.
- Dick Clemow, Forest Forever, Missoula, MT – Larch lumber, sawn & planed to size.
- Mike & Ben McGilvray, McGilvray Farms, Bird City, KS – Steam bent wheel felloes.
- Anaconda Foundry Fabrication Co., Dave Hebert, Foundry Manager, Anaconda, MT – Cast iron castings of brake parts.
- Lyons Farm Historical Association, Jack Jenkins, 1st Vice President/Farm Manager, Yorkville, IL – White oak and hickory logs.
- Larry Thomas, Ron Rassley, Bill Bunker, Ben Kern, Bill & Mike Owens, Brad Henderson, Brian Leigh, our wagon train friends Jeannie Voldseth, Mishelle Barnett, Mary Quillen and Carol Baker, and especially our Sgt. Majors, Doris and Betty – Laborers all!
Information for Paint & Hardware for Western Wheeled Scraper Works Dump Wagon
Primer: VanSickle Flat Dark Grey 405-7 Orange: VanSickle Gloss A.C. Orange 453-74
Green: VanSickle Gloss Medium Green (pre ’52 Oliver) 45671
Black: Rust-Oleum spray can 7777 Satin Black, paint can 7777502 Satin Black
Bolts & Square Nuts: Blacksmith Bolt & Rivet Supply, www.BlacksmithBolt.com