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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

The Farm & Bakery Wagon
The Farm & Bakery Wagon

One of the hardest things about farmers market duty for an active horse is remaining “parked” for such a length of time, when that’s not part of your regular routine. We brought our own hitching post into town and locked the wheels with straps (you can see one underneath the wagon).

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 Farm & Bakery Wagon

Here is the antique running gear we used for the wagon. It came from an antique open-bed market wagon in New Hampshire, and was already set up for shafts and had the long “market wagon” style springs you can see here. The box was shot, but despite having been used as a business ornament for years, about half of the wooden parts and three out of four of the wheels were still in good shape.

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.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The principal frame members for the van box are laid upside-down on the workbench. It is important to have the proper amount of height on the side rails to ensure that the box has proper clearance from the wheels.

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.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

This project gave me a chance to indulge in my favorite kind of joinery, and to use some old and treasured tools.

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 Farm & Bakery Wagon

The front of the wagon is coming together. The construction is basically a series of strong frames. The two front most feature cabinet-like panels. The driver’s bench seat has not yet been added. You can see the arc of the top side rail that will define the shape of the roof.

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 Farm & Bakery Wagon

Up on sawhorses, the frame is coming together. All these pieces are made of solid ash. The rectangular opening is a little cargo window that was a feature of the original historical design.

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.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

Above, you can see that the roof plywood over the driver’s head has been cut into “fingers.” Using some high school geometry we were able to get a satisfactory compound curve, as you can see.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

One twist I gave to the original design was to use 1/2″ AC plywood panels in lieu of tongue and groove boards. For the side panels, the design uses all the width and most of the length of a piece of ply. We sanded and coated with about five coats of oil-base paint before installing them.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The box is now fully assembled and ready to be attached to the running gear. The roof is covered with canvas that has been saturated with many coats of oil paint.

The box is now assembled. The yellow side panels have five coats of enamel, and the ash and oak members have about the same number of coats of varnish. The roof plywood has been covered with canvas which is then impregnated with many coats of oil paint, rendering it waterproof. The bench seat is hinged and allows for quite a bit of storage inside. The car battery that powers the flasher lights is strapped in there too. It’s easy to flip up the lid and recharge as necessary.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

Apprentice Tristan Fulford attaches the running gear to the frame with some stout lag bolts. The wooden clamps are compressing the springs together to facilitate attachment to the frame.

Altogether the box weighs maybe 500 lbs now and is getting less fun to move around. You can see, above, apprentice Tristan Fulford (2010) installing the running gear onto the bottom of the wagon, which we have flipped up onto its back for the purpose. The wheels are left off of the running gear for now to make it lighter. Once we had the running gear secure we attached the wheels and it was just about ready to roll.

We noticed early on that the springs were insufficient for the weight of the van box, which tended to list excessively with the weight of cargo in the back or passengers in the front. Bailey Spring and Chassis made us up four new leaves which stiffened the suspension quite well, and lifted the box to about the height at which it was designed to ride.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

We hand-lettered the side of the wagon with brushes. The result is not as crisp as a printed letter but it is fitting. My brother-in-law Adam Hurwitz designed the graphic.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

We made a system of crates and shelves to make the most of the cargo area. Two big coolers can fit in the remaining space. We had a local welder make a nice steel step for the cargo door. Our basic electrical system powers rear flashers and a cargo dome light.

Above, you can see the interior storage system, which allows us to transport 150 pastries, 80 loaves, and several boxes of produce, and two coolers of frozen meat to market. We can’t fit as much stuff in the car! Unlike a station wagon, which is all curves and wheel wells in the back, a horsedrawn van is a perfect match for the cargo it carries. The pine crates are even held on the shelves with a lip, so they do not dislodge on even the bumpiest ride. Every crate has good clearance and ventilation, as well.

You can also see the dome light lit up inside and one of the flasher taillights. The footman loop to the left of the door is reforged from the antique wagon from which the running gear came.

A wagon like this can be set up with either a pole (for two horses or sometimes more) or shafts (for a single horse). Wanting to keep things as simple as possible in traffic, I went with shafts. Last photo, you can see the wagon returning to the farm with my Dante the Dog running escort, and me, my brother-in-law Adam Hurwitz, and my son Julien riding in the cab. With the mirrors, the driver has good visibility both over the horse and to the rear of the vehicle, yet is still pretty well protected from the elements.

Once he’d gotten the hang of it, Bobby the Horse found it easy enough to trot all the way to the Vergennes green (1.5 miles) with a full load. Over time he was able to deal with his apprehension about two weird things he never encounters on-farm: pedestrian crosswalks and railroad tracks.

We had many admiring and appreciative comments from friends and neighbors. The project took many hours and cost about $2000 in materials. If I were to build a similar one on commission, it would probably cost around $4500.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

After a visit to town, the bakery wagon returns to the farm. Dante, our English Shepherd, escorts us in.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Plowing with the Single Horse

Plowing with the Single Horse

All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Woodstove Cookery at Home on the Range

An Illustrated Guide To The Wood Fired Cookstove

Illustrated guide to the wood stove and it’s accoutrements.

A Quiet Stand

A Quiet Stand

Burnout is common to idealists who invest deeply in their dreams. It is easy to overreach, and promise more than you have to give. Then too there is that tempered hidden anchor called hope, the mountain climber’s friend driven into cracks to belay and secure him as he goes, which still may fail first or last. So following the story that underlies these essays it is not hard to see how, as Kingsnorth says, finding himself increasingly mired in endless meetings with corporate spokesmen paid to resist him, enough futile effort might lead to despair.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.

Old Man Farming

Spinning Ladders

You die off by passing away. You live on by passing on. I want to pass the culture of my life on slowly, over the ripening time of my best years.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Why Farm

Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

McCormick-Deering No 7 Mower Manual in English & French

McCormick-Deering No. 7 Mower Manual in English & French

Instructions for Setting Up and Operating the McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 VERTICAL LIFT TWO-HORSE MOWERS — Instructions pour le Montage et le Fonctionnement des FAUCHEUSES A DEUX CHEVAUX McCORMICK-DEERING No. 7 À RELEVAGE VERTICAL

Apples of North America

Freedom has been called the ugly duckling of disease-resistant apple varieties. But that shouldn’t detract from its many merits. These include the freedom from apple-scab infection for which it was named, a high rate of productivity, and an ability to serve as a good pollinator for its more attractive sibling, Liberty.

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT