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wagon and rain question

Trigger Mike

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I am guessing that in real life wagons and traveling across the country was nothing like in the movies. Grandkids used to have an old computer game about going west in a wagon. I believe it was called Oregon Trail. Anyway IIRC there were lots of times the wagon had to be unloaded so that it could go up or down a steep grade. Fording creeks and rivers usually called for lightening the load and making multiple trips etc. Take too many risks and you would loose the game. Same for being overly cautious.


Better half and I were discussing this weekend about how TV and movies of the 50s and 60s shaped our opinions of so many events and life in the old west. We both agreed 99% of how Hollywood depicted life in the west was flat out wrong.

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Another thing to think about is in the movies and tv shows, they show old beat up wagons.

Most than likely they were rather new.

Just like you see old gun leather when it would have been just a couple of years old at best.


I cringe when I hear someone ask, "How do I make my guns look old?"

Back then they were not old.

Maybe weathered a little but not old.

And I would bet the guns were well taken care of due to he fact it was how they feed the family and protected themselves.


My guns now look a little worn.

They earned it from use.


I have read diaries that make the point of unloading the wagons to make them lighter to cross rivers and go up and down hills.


Was reading the other thread about Conestoga Wagons being big.

Here is something I found that may answer the water issue.


"the average Conestoga wagon was 18 feet long, 11 feet high, and 4 feet in width. It could carry up to 12,000 pounds of cargo. The seams in the body of the wagon were stuffed with tar to protect them from leaking while crossing rivers."

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Conestoga Wagon



It is a popular misconception that the Conestoga wagon played a role in the great westward migration towards territories like Oregon and California during the 19th century. Conestogas were too heavy to be pulled such long distances, and west-bound travelers turned instead to the sturdy covered wagons known as prairie schooners or “Western wagons.” These had flat bodies and lower sides than the Conestoga; their white canvas covers made the wagons look like sailing ships from the distance, earning them the “schooner” name.

Designed for hauling heavy loads over rough roads, the covered wagons could carry as much as six tons of freight; each one was handcrafted from wood (including oak and poplar). The floor of the Conestoga wagon curved upwards at each end to prevent the wagon’s contents from shifting or falling out when it was in motion, while gates at the end were held in place by a chain and could be dropped for loading and unloading purposes.


Prairie Schooner


Nothing contributed more to the success or failure of a Western wagon trek than the wagons that carried the pioneers across 2,000 miles of jolting wilderness. Pioneers needed wagons strong enough to haul people and supplies for five months or more. To outlast the rugged trail and months of wear, the wagon needed to be constructed of seasoned hardwood. Most pioneers used the typical farm wagon with a canvas cover stretched over hooped frames. A family of four could manage with a single wagon. It would be very tight on space since supplies would take up almost the entire space within the wagon. If they could afford it, many families took more than one wagon Most emigrants on the trail went West in their farm wagons, modified to take the punishment, while others bought rigs specifically built for the one-way journey.

A wagon had to be light enough to not over tax the mules or oxen that pulled it and strong enough not to break down under loads of as much as 2,500 pounds. For these reasons wagons were constructed of such hardwoods as maple, hickory and oak. Iron was used only to reinforce parts that took the greatest beating such as tires, axles and hounds. An emigrant wagon was not comfortable to ride in, since wagons lacked springs and there was little room to sit inside the wagon because most space was taken up with cargo.

Lots of good info on this website


The National Oregon/California Trail Center


OREGON/CALIFORNIA TRAILS Click on the links on the right to read how it was done in more detail.

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I wonder whether it was ever actually a "popular misconception" that Conestoga wagons were used in the transcontinental wagon trains. Maybe, but I remember hearing over 50 years ago that this was a "popular misconception". Makes me wonder how long ago the misconception was actually popular.....

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