The Farm & Bakery Wagon
by Erik Andrus of Vergennes, VT
In 2010 I completed a fun project that I’d had in mind for a while, a commercial horse-drawn van expressly designed to sell produce and bread. The intended purpose of the vehicle was to bring the working animal (back) to the streets of Vergennes and to show that living horsepower is an effective means of bringing local goods to market.
I believe we succeeded on both counts, but in the end I had to conclude that the day of the horsedrawn wagon has not yet come. I had enough near-misses in traffic to satisfy my adrenaline cravings for quite a while. Not through any fault of the horse, mind you. Bobby learned to ply the streets quite well! But the unpredictable behavior of motorists around our slow-moving rig was just too stressful. The bakery wagon will still hit the streets for special occasions, but will otherwise wait patiently for the time when horsedrawn transport of goods becomes a sane, safer, and economical option.
All this notwithstanding, the wagon itself is kind of nifty. Making it was a lot of fun, and allowed me to bring together my past working with wood and my present working with animals! This page will give you a little whirlwind tour of how we went about making it. If you are in the market for a commercial horsedrawn vehicle as awesome as this, give me a call. I would love to make another one!
Our wagon was based on a historic bakery wagon plan drawn by John Thompson. This fellow made scale drawings and built models of working vehicles in the 20’s and 30’s when cars and trucks were beginning to render them obsolete. The Thompson archives include all sorts of vehicles, passenger conveyances, furniture delivery vans, fire engines, hearses, water tankers, and so on. I liked this particular design because it seemed just the right size for the quantity of goods we would normally bring to a farmers market anyway, using our car.
The first step was to decide on an appropriate chassis, or “running gear.” Eventually I chose to go with the real deal, a wooden-wheeled gear with leaf springs rather than pneumatic tires. Wooden wheels last forever with care and are functional and look the part. I bought an antique delivery wagon that had been left outdoors as an ornament. I was able to reuse some of the wheels and wooden parts of the running gear. I ordered two new wheels from Witmer Coach Shop (very good and affordable) and rebuilt the running gear with many custom made wooden parts.
Above you can see the frame, upside down, that connects to the leaf springs and supports the wagon box. The box (upper part) of the wagon is only connected to the wheels via springs.
Above is a frame part in the vise, being tenoned for joining. I used traditional mortise and tenon joinery throughout the project for maximum strength. The frame members were all made of solid, locally cut and milled ash. I did, however, deviate from traditional methods by using plywood for the deck, sides, and roof, and for the panels. This made for a cheaper and stronger wagon. In total I used one sheet of 1/4” oak plywood for panels, four sheets of 3/8” AC fir plywood, and one sheet of 3/4” CDX for the deck.
The plywood floor and sides are bound in a hardwood frame so that all the ply edges are embedded in hardwood. The square opening is a little door behind the driver’s head. The piece of hardwood projecting toward you, top center of the picture above, suggest the future curve of the roof. The roofline has a compound curve over in the front, sloping forward and to each side, kind of difficult to execute with plywood, but not impossible!
You can also see in the back of the wagon a hole where the rear flashers will go. It is a very basic electrical system.
The woodwork for the footboards, bench, doors, and structural roof and wall members was all done in solid ash, planed smooth by hand planes and spokeshaves. Some of the decorative details in the frame are my own take on the original drawings. All together the design provides good headroom in the cargo area (ceiling just under 5 feet in the center) and strong resistance to racking, or coming out of square while lurching on the road.