Thursday, August 29, 2013

WAGON HAMMERS

When researching the Almanac Trial I came across a term which intrigued me. One of the witnesses talked about an "old fashioned wagon hammer." As it turned out, this old fashioned wagon hammer figured prominently in the witness's testimony, but no other witness even so much as mentioned an old fashioned wagon hammer. I assumed that the term referred to some sort of a hammer used in connection with repairing a wagon. Being something of a connoisseur of hand tools, I was interested in finding out what an old fashioned wagon hammer looked like. Nobody I knew had ever heard of a wagon hammer. No tool catalog I referred to mentioned a wagon hammer. No reference book I referred to mentioned a wagon hammer. I searched flea markets and antique stores for wagon hammers. I could not find a new fangled wagon hammer, much less an old fashioned one. I could not eve find anyone who knew what I was talking about. I was stymied.

I went on the internet in search of wainwrights. The first wainwright I came across was Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, South Dakota.  I called the shop. Doug Hansen, the owner, was very helpful. Mr. Hansen told me that a wagon hammer was not really a hammer at all. It was a pin used to attach the doubletree (part of the harness) to the wagon. Not only was a wagon hammer not a hammer, but it didn't even look like a hammer. It was actually a dual purpose wrench. In addition to connecting the horses' harness to the wagon, it was also used to tighten the nuts on wagon wheels. Mr. Hansen said that although a wagon hammer was certainly heavy enough to drive nails, it was more properly called a wagon wrench. He described the wagon hammer as the 1800's answer to the modern tire tool. Mr. Hansen even had some for sale, and they looked like this:

Wagon Wrench or Wagon Hammer
 

Although we didn't discuss the possibility that there might be a difference between old fashioned wagon hammers and new fangled wagon hammers, I decided Mr. Hansen had educated me on new fangled wagon hammers. I wanted to know about old fashioned wagon hammers. I looked further and found what I was looking for on the Internet Archive, a website devoted to preserving public domain books, recordings, and artwork. On the Archive I found a book entitled Conestoga Wagons in Braddock's Campaign, 1755. This book taught me that in the mid-1700's a wagon hammer actually looked like a hammer. Its full and proper name was "hammer-headed double tree pin." It seems that between the mid-1700's and the mid-1800's the wagon hammer had evolved into a wagon wrench.

By this time in my search I had developed a burning desire to have an old fashioned wagon hammer, so I went looking for one. I knew Hansen Wheel and Wagon Works didn't have one, so I looked for other wainwrights. I struck pay dirt with Texas Wagon Works in Gonzales, Texas. When I spoke to the owner, Terry Moore, he knew exactly what I was talking about. Did he have one? No. Did he know where I could get one? No, but he could make one for me. (He was a blacksmith). He quoted a price that I thought was reasonable, and that's how I became the proud owner of a genuine replica of an old fashioned wagon hammer.

If you're still reading this post, you must be as curious as I was about what an old fashioned wagon hammer looks like. Here it is:


Old Fashioned Wagon Hammer


Why was I so determined to find out about something as arcane as an old fashioned wagon hammer? I thought it was important to the story of the Almanac Trial.  Some scholars with whom I consulted thought that wagon hammers had little or no significance to the case. Were wagon hammers important? Why would I think they were? What, if anything, did they have to do with the case? You'll find the answers in the book.


11 comments:

  1. Hey Bob,

    I work at the Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska. We have a bunch of wagon pin hammers, and I was poking around for a diagram of how they were used. You don't happen to know where one might exist, do you?

    Thanks for the info!

    -Rachel

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  2. You can find a diagram of how the wagon hammer was used by going to the article on vehicle hitches in the Human Development Library at http://www.nzdl.org/gsdlmod?e=d-00000-00---off-0hdl--00-0----0-10-0---0---0direct-10---4-------0-1l--11-en-50---20-about---00-0-1-00-0-0-11-1-0utfZz-8-10&a=d&cl=CL1.1&d=HASH0113c7507f62288f1860ce3b.9.3. You will find a picture of two mules hitched to a wagon. The wagon hammer is the upright pin that runs through the doubletree into the tongue of the wagon. It doesn't look much like a hammer in the picture, but later style wagon hammers looked more like wrenches anyway. Hope you find this helpful.

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  3. I need this hammer!! how to get ?? How much cost is this??folding sport wagon

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    1. Old fashioned wagon hammers are hard to find. Texas Wagon Works forged one fore at a modest price. Email wagonman@texaswagonworks.com

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    2. Hi Bob,
      You've saved me a lot of leg work. I have a Nessan wagon that was mfg. in NC. It is a Conestoga with the dimensions of that mentioned in Conestoga Wagons in Braddock's Campaign, 1755. I do demos of an F&I wagon for school kids, teachers, etc. Do you have any pictures and dimensions for the hammer you had fabricated? I have a blacksmith that could make one for me for my wagon. Thanks again for your research and help. Ron

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    3. The best picture I have of the wagon hammer is posted with the blog entry. The wagon hammer weighs approximately 1.6 pounds. It has a head which is 3 3/4 inches long by 1 inch wide by 1 inch high. The cylindrical pin, which tapers at the end to a blunted wedge shape, is 8 1/4 inches long. It looks like the head and pin were forged separately and the pin fitted into the head. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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    4. Thank you, Bob. Do you suppose that the old wagon hammer served the same purpose of loosening the wheel nut that the later wagon hammer that Mr. Hansen wrote about?

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    5. Sorry to be so tardy in responding. I don't see how the old fashioned wagon hammer could be used to loosen wheel nuts. From its configuration, however, it appears that it could be used as a makeshift hammer. Or possibly a murder weapon?

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  4. Piecu.nd one of the sale a couple years ago, really cool looking Piece

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