Conestoga Wagon

Covered Wagon

Conestoga Wagon

Long before tractor trailers or a railroad system (especially during the period from about 1750 to 1855), Conestoga wagons were the primary vehicles for hauling freight (such as flour and other farm products) from the country to the cities, returning with supplies and commodities for the farmers and their families.

The name "Conestoga" has been attributed to an early Indian group, to a river, to a valley, to a trail and road, to a manor, and to a now-extinct breed of horses. The one common thread is that all of these are affiliated with Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was on the road connecting Lancaster to Philadelphia that the massive four-wheeled wagons, generally drawn by four to six Conestoga horses, first appeared.

About 1770, Lancaster boasted 5 wheelwrights, 13 blacksmiths, 7 turners, and 20 woodworkers. Except for a saw and a turning lathe, Conestoga wagons were crafted with hand tools. The bed was usually made out of white oak for the frame and poplar for the boards, sloping upward from the middle. Flooring and side boards were 1/2 to 5/8 of an inch thick (if the wagon was to be used for carrying ore, the boards would be cut even thicker). Many parts of the wagon bed were braced with iron, and handmade rivets secured the boards to the frame.

There was little uniformity in the dimensions, but generally a Conestoga wagon bed measured 16 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and 4 feet in depth. A dip toward the center took the weight of the load off the end gates in case the cargo shifted as the wagon made its way up and down hilly country. The end gates were held in position by a chain and staple that allowed the gate to be dropped for loading and unloading. The western chuck wagon (the Texas state vehicle) was based on Conestoga Wagon design.