Last August, Ceil asked me if it would be possible to repair the Pine Run “Green Wagon”, a basically classical buckboard wagon historically used on farms in their fields and to transport produce to market. I think our wagon is between 100 to 130 years old.
I formed a team with Irv Thompson and Tom Swartz to see if we could possibly at least repair the platform box, which had rotted out over the years. We concluded that it could not be repaired, but we strongly felt that a new platform could be made exactly as the old one. The metal frame was in excellent condition and could be used. The real problem was not the platform but the wagon wheels. They had deteriorated to the point where they would have to be replaced. This became our main focus and our biggest problem. We explored the possibility of locating a replacement wagon. This became an impossible task and proved to be cost prohibitive. In all probability it would be in the range of $30,000 and up. We were not sure that one existed that would meet our requirements, even for that amount of money. So, back to the drawing board.
We removed the platform and used a piece of it as a paint sample. Irv decided to use one-half inch PVC instead of wood for the sides, front and back, and pressurized wood for the platform under-frame. The floor of the platform would be three-quarter inch PVC. PVC has an outdoor lifespan of 25 to 30 years so we do not anticipate it would create a near-term problem.
The Wheels. The wagon had four rubber tire-sealed bearing wheels, two 36 inch diameter wheels in the back and two 34 inch wheels in the front. The front wheels could be pivoted so the wagon could be steered, and the fact that they were smaller made turning a little easier. These deteriorated wheels had to be removed and replaced and because of the antiquity of the wagon and its wheels, this was a complicated and major effort. It took us a long time to realize that we had to knock off the end of the wheel hubs in order to get at the square nuts on the end axles holding the wheels on. It took a while to learn that the nuts were left handed on the right side and right handed on the left side. We were finally able to remove the wheels. The wheel axles were tapered and about 6 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. This made it complicated to find new wheels that would fit these dimensions.
There were no distributors or manufacturers in our area that had, or could get, wagon wheels that would fit our requirements. Searching the internet, we located a number of companies in the Mid- and Southwest who specialized in wagon wheels, but their prices, with freight and shipping costs, were prohibitive. I went to the Amish in Lancaster County and they had an outlet in Gordonville, PA, which sold their Ornamental Wagon Wheels and I felt that we could adapt these wheels to meet our requirements. At Gordonville, I saw the actual wheels and realized that some way – somehow – they could be adapted to our axles. No 34 inch wheels were available so we bought two 32 inch and two 36 inch wheels. Brandon, in Maintenance made two different-diameter copper tubes as a double axle sleeve, and with brass washers we were able to mount the wheels and secure them with the original nuts.
The next step was to paint each of these wheels with a primer coat and two coats of high quality outdoor house paint to provide maximum protection when the wagon was exposed to the weather. Painting the wheels was a time-consuming task because there were four wheels with 12 spokes per wheel. Using our samples, we purchased green paint for the platform and yellow for the wheels from Austin Briggs. The special striping for the platform and wheels was ordered from 3M.
We built a special painting jig to allow me to paint both sides at one time. Just finishing the wheels took about sixty man-hours! But, now, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and we were in a position to do the final assembly of the wagon. The platform was built, painted, striped and attached to the wooden mainframe. The wheels were painted, striped and the outer bands painted with a rust-resistant special paint. The final assembly took time, with a few small problems that were easily solved. We applied axle grease to the wheels and installed them. Irv, Tom and I finally put the wagon together and met our deadline of the October 2015 Fall Festival. It was a fun project and we learned a lot. We just hope that you like and enjoy the “new” wagon.
— Jack Venner