Framed up and Street Legal – Southern Pines, NC

Woody taught me everything I needed to know about wagon design. Strength comes first followed closely by light weight.

Woody strength testing the Forest Service bulldozer he’s tied to. (Forest Service Station, Catherine Lake, NC, May 2004)

Occasionally, when he was tied up and couldn’t get to Maggie, he leaned into his halter with enough force to break the lead rope.

With Jack and Bill I thought it was different. After all, they were older than Woody and came from lethargic plowing stock.

Then one day while I had Jack and Bill tied up to my horse trailer, Bill escaped and Jack lost his mind. Remember, these guys have lived together 13 years. They’re mighty attached to one another.

As Bill strolled off, Jack plunged into his halter just braying his head off after his team mate. I swear he scooted my horse trailer over a few inches. I mean just drug it sideways.

Then, when I caught Bill and tied him back up next to Jack, Bill decided it was time for a roll. Before I could untie him, he buckled and started writhing on the ground, pitching his weight into the trailer, rocking it until it looked like it was going to topple onto him. Then, seeing his buddy on the ground, Jack got into the rolling act and now the trailer was getting jerked side to side by two twelve-hundred pound sand bathing mules.

It’s a steel trailer, though, so it survived with little more than another dent in the fender.

Had my mules been tied to a wood structure, they’d have torn it to bits (which is what they later did to a small barn but that’s another story.

The reason I mention wood is because many of the early wagons were lumber with only a bit of forged iron for support. Oak, preferably white oak, was used for the flooring and frame because it was strong. Lighter woods, like pine and poplar, were used for the sides and interior.

Had I been a traditionalist, I would have gone all wood.

Then I saw Jack and Bill’s little display of destruction and thought, “What if Jack pitches a fit in the middle of the Badlands, out back of beyond, and he’s tied to a nice wooden wagon? Man, he’d tear the corner posts right out of it.”

I love an adventure but not the kind where I spend nine months wandering through the desolate West looking for hammer, nails and another two by four.

So I went with a steel frame, even if it weighs a few more pounds than tradition.

I used 1/8th inch steel tubing (called, I think, 11 gauge in metal parlance) because that’s the lightest steel I could weld with my welder. Anything thinner, my metal welding buddies informed me, and I’ve have to go with exotic gases to keep from burning through the metal. The weight isn’t too bad; about three pounds per foot.

The wagon frame has about eighty feet of tubing in it so it’ll weigh about 250 pounds before painting. I haven’t done the calculations for a wooden frame but it wouldn’t have been less than 150 pounds.

After that, I get ruthless on cutting weight. The sides will be three-quarter inch closed cell foam (R – 4 for you engineers) sandwiched between two skins of 3/16th inch plywood. The floor will be 1/2 inch plywood over a grid of light steel supports. The ceiling and roof will be more closed cell foam encased between 1/8th and 3/16th inch plywood.

It took a week to weld up the frame and side posts.

The completed frame

It’s six feet wide and twelve feet long.

Finally, a place to put Bernie’s chair

After the frame was welded up, it was time to haul the frame to the sand blaster’s for blasting. I tracked down the orange triangle that used to hang on Maggie’s cart and screwed it to the back of my new rig. That would let me legally tow it behind my pickup.

Street legal even in the Arizona desert. (McGee Ranch, Continental, Arizona, January 2005)

My new license plate

Then I hit the road for Ken White’s.



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