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From The Historian's Desk
Wagons of the Past; Autos of Today

By Edith Schoell, State Historian

  AUGUST 2, 2011 --

Here are a few facts found in this article from the Connecticut Granger in October 1981 written by Sperry New Holland:

Who would ever think that today’s modern automobile could be linked to a unique farm wagon that was the ship of inland commerce up to the mid-1800’s.

But there’s evidence pointing in that direction, according to Sperry New Holland, whose worldwide farm equipment manufacturing headquarters is located in Lancaster County, PA, birthplace of the famed Conestoga wagon.

Even the way we drive may have its origins with the Conestoga.  These boat-shaped, homespun covered wagons were driven from the left by a walking wagoner.  The lead horse was on the left and passing also was done on the left.

Our autos are equipped with brakeshoes.  Conestoga drivers often nailed an old shoe sole to their wagon’s braking mechanism to slow their heavily laden vehicles on hilly terrain.

The running boards of vintage autos have long since disappeared from modern design.  Many Conestogas had a board that slipped from beneath the wagon bed to provide respite for a weary driver.  Then it was called a lazy board.

The roads the wagons traveled were either dusty or muddy.  Metal covers, hub caps, were fastened to wheels to protect axles.  When a wagoner had to grease an axle, he used a wagon jack, the forerunner of the tool found in every trunk today.

“Come home with your bells on” is still a parting comment for someone taking a trip.  In the days of the Conestoga, it meant the returning horse hitch would still have its melodic harness bells, which did not need to be surrendered for help along the way.


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