Old wagons — the kind used by settlers in the days when people were expanding American territories -- were invaluable to the traditional farm. Although the going in these "vehicles" was slow, the farm wagon was the SUV of pioneers, carrying both people and supplies. These wagons, which serve as the basis for modern farm wagons and which people still use to represent the pioneer period, had seven major parts of wood or metal.
The box was the main part of the old farm wagon. The size of the box determined how much you could haul; most could carry about a ton. General farm wagons usually had sides only one board high, but wagons for hauling crops or other equipment sometimes were "double" or even "triple" boxes, meaning that the sides were two or three boards high.
Axles and Frame
The box of a wagon sat on top of a primary frame. The strength of the frame was important, as it supported all of the weight of the box plus the box contents. The frame also had to be durable enough to withstand the jostles of the road. The axles, which were part of the frame, provided a means by which to attach wheels to the wagon. One axle usually was under the front of the box under the seat, while the second axle was at the back.
The seat was a raised platform at the front of the wagon box on which the driver could sit. Some had spring mechanisms to make the ride more comfortable, but many wagons had seats that were little more than bolted planks. Seats usually could hold at least two people. When a family traveled, usually the parents sat in the seat, while the children rode in the box.
Wheels on farm wagons were large -- they easily came up to a man's waist. Made of wood, these wheels were somewhat problematic because they could not absorb the shock of the road as easily as modern tires do. Broken wagon wheels were a common problem, although farmers and settlers were adept at fixing or replacing the wheels to continue their journey.
Tongue and Gears
The tongue was the part of the wagon that jutted out from the front of the wagon so that the farmer could hitch a team of horses to the wagon. The tongue had to be able to turn as the horses did. They thus attached to gears housed under the box with the frame.
Farmers had to maintain control of their wagons at all times. When their horses refused to slow, or when they wanted to come down a steep hill, they relied on the wagon break. This was a foot- or hand- controlled mechanism that put resistance on the wagon wheels, making it harder for the horses to pull and the wagon to move.
Bow and Canopy
When a family wanted to travel over a long distance and needed some protection from the elements, they would attach bows to the wagon box. These arched over the wagon box and served as a frame for the canopy. The canopy was a large piece of material -- often canvas -- that spread over the bows.