The Wagon
Many of the wagons used in wagon trains in the mid 1800's were simply farm wagons, not at all like the heavy, sway-backed Consetoga wagons used in Pennsylvania at that time. Seldom, also, were they called "prairie schooners". Light but sturdy, they had three basic parts -the bed, the running gear, and the top. The bed was a wooden box about nine or ten feet long and four feet wide, with sides and ends about two or three feet high. The axles and tongues were made of well-seasoned hickory, ash, oak or other hardwood; many companies carried extras, for these parts were known to snap and give way at stream crossings and steep declines. The wheels had to be extremely tough, and the rims or tires were made of iron. The tops or covers, made of canvas or some other thick cloth that had been waterproofed with linseed or other oil, were stretched over five or six bows of hickory.

Inside the "covered wagon" an enclosed space about five feet high from bed to peak provided storage space and shelter. Because these simple wagons had no brakes (and, of course, no springs) the teamsters learned how to tie chains around the rear wheels to lock them, and thus provide a drag when the teams started down a steep slope.

A few of the wagons had a "roadometer" or "miledrometer" attached to a hind wheel. These devices were attached to a wheel of known circumference. With each turn acting on sets of cogs, the mileage was recorded with impressive accuracy. Some with such mechanism, homemade or purchased, was used by many wagon trains to determine their rate of advance.

The Team
Probably the most contentious issue for the California-bound emigrant was whether to pull his wagon with oxen, mules, or horses. Each had its advantages and disadvantages, and the arguments could, and did, grow as heated as the Chevy vs. Ford debates of today.







must be fed grain must be fed grain native vegetation sufficient
faster faster slower (approx. 15 more days to Calif.)
tolerate heat tolerate heat don’t do well in hot weather
most expensive (wide variation) expensive
($60 - $70 each)
($40 - $50 a pair)
desirable to Indians less desirable to Indians least desirable to Indians
require expensive harness require expensive harness only ox yoke, bows and chain
poor traction in sand & mud poor traction in sand & mud good traction in sand & mud
generally good temperament bad temperament good temperament
tend to run off tend to stray tend to stay around camp
strong not as strong strongest
most often used in later years most often used in early years