What Makes Antique Farm Wagons So Unique?

antique wooden wagon

Antique farm wagons conjure up images of bucolic country life, contented cows, and rounded haystacks scattered across the fields. While most people's interaction with these historic tools comes from film, literature, and art, some dedicated collectors and farmers have continued to keep the tradition alive.

Historic Uses for Farm Wagons

A major proportion of the American landscape during the 19th and early-20th centuries was farmland, with rural communities relying on mother nature and crop yields to provide for their families. Towards the latter years of the 19th century, mechanized machinery, like tractors, began being used en mass. However, the earliest types of the tools used by historic farmers have connections to the birth of agricultural settlement. Wagons, in one form or another, were a vital resource that farmers used to move crop and carry materials, and before the industrial age, every farm had at least one wagon.

Interestingly, these wagons were actually used into the 1950s in some regions of the country, meaning that there are a lot of extant examples of these older wagons that people have loving repaired over time. In fact, if you live in rural America, you might find remnants of a wagon or two tucked away in a friend's barn.

Antique Farm Wagon Types

Surprisingly, there wasn't just one type of wagon that people used, and the most famous wagon for the western region, the Conestoga, wasn't even used for agricultural purposes. The two most popular types of wagons that people used were grain boxes and hayracks. According to the Farm Collector, wooden grain box wagons were used "to haul loose grain, milk cans, cattle sacks, bales and boxes, fertilizer and lime, coal and firewood, lumber, and fencing." Hayracks were similarly useful because of the massive demand for hay products.

Fresh straw hay bales on a trailer in a field

Identifying Antique Farm Wagons

Thankfully, wagons have a pretty clear construction, with their rectangular wooden beds set upon large wooden spoke wheels and having bench or jockey seats. Take a look at some of the more specific characteristics associated with these farm wagons.

Colors

Black and white photos don't communicate the colorfulness of these antique farm wagons when they were first produced. Unlike what you may have been led to believe, you could find arresting bright primary colored wagons working their way up and down the crop fields across America during the 19th and 20th century. Most often these wagons were painted red, though green, orange, and yellow were also popular colors for various companies to use. The other accompanying parts, like wheel rims, axels, and reaches, were painted with contrasting colors and applied by hand. Due to being exposed to the outdoor elements for decades, the antique wagons that have lasted to today will probably have lost a significant amount of their paint, but remnants of it should be visible, if not just dulled.

Manufacturers' Marks

It was a common practice for farm equipment manufacturers to proudly emblazon their goods with their logo or trademarks so that they were easily identifiable from a distance. Unfortunately, as is the case with these wagons' paint, many of these marks have been worn away or highly damaged due to the effects of the labor they were involved in and mother nature. However, being able to use even a partial logo to discover what brand of farm wagon you have can be vital if you ever want to set about restoring it since each wagon wasn't built in a uniform way and has unique specifications that would need to be replicated.

Notable Manufacturers

While there are a number of online resources that discuss all of the many brands that produced farm wagons over the years, here is just a sprinkling of some of the most popular and more unusual brands you might come across:

  • Kramer Wagon Company
  • John Deere
  • Kentucky Wagon Co.
  • Beggs
  • Flint
  • Fish Bros.
  • The Fort Smith Wagon Company
  • Labelle Wagon Works
  • Luedinghaus Wagon Company
  • Weber
  • Owensboro
  • Peter Schuttler

Antique Farm Wagon Values

Given that old farm wagons are really large and can still be used today with little repair needed, they can be worth a significant amount of money even at their lowest estimates. Of course, wagons that're in pristine condition, have quality branding, and haven't gone through significant restorations are going to be worth the most amount of money. Things like new coats of paint and reproduction wheels are going to lower wagons' values by half or more. For instance, this original Mitchell wagon which still has the painted stencils intact is listed for nearly $11,000 by Hansen Wheel and Wagon while a similarly sized ad unrestored Buerkens wagon is listed for $5,500.

Rustic Wagon Beside Log Cabin

What To Do With Antique Farm Wagons

If you're not a farmer and don't have any practical need for an antique farm wagon, nor do you have the means to figure out how to ship one should you sell it online, here are a few different ideas for putting that farm wagon to use:

  • Donate to a Local Museum - Local museums and public history organizations focus on collecting items connected to the immediate area, and they might be interested in taking that farm wagon off of your hands.
  • Plant Some Flowers in It- A cool way to get some use out of these wagons is turning them into a massive planter by filling them with lots of colorful flowers.
  • Hold Annual Hayrides- Depending on its condition, you can use a wagon to hold an autumnal hayride every year for your community.

Acknowledge History in Your Backyard

It's difficult to romanticize the less glamorous aspects of historic life, like tilling the land and collecting hay to sell, but these people's lives deserve as much attention as those of the social elite. So, take a look around your backyard and see what hidden treasures you can find.

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What Makes Antique Farm Wagons So Unique?