On and off the Wagon for the Past Year

I live alone and no longer drive a car, and whilst I have the kindest and most generous neighbours imaginable, I just can’t call on them every single time I need some little thing. This necessitates me telephoning for a taxi once or twice a week to take me into town to collect the mail and purchase any essentials. I know all the taxi drivers by name – and they too are terrific – but for the most part, it just plain irks me waiting for and getting around in taxis.

I have horses and I have an old jinker (the two-wheeled horse-drawn equivalent of an open-top sports car), but you can’t stuff many bags of feed or eight-foot fence posts into the back of a jinker – well not without the horse sacrificing critical traction.

I also have workshops in which I can shape wood and forge metal, so last year I decided to build myself a three-spring wagon (the four-wheeled horse-drawn equivalent of a ute or pickup truck). Progress was predictably slow though inevitably thoroughly enjoyable.

I gleaned the primary dimensions of the wagon from nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicle manufacturers’ brochures and managed to fill in the blanks by scouring the internet for old wagon images. Most of the major components such as the rubber-tyred wooden wheels, brakes and turntable were purchased new from an Amish coachbuilder in North America.

I began by setting up the two axles on trestles – the appropriate distance apart, square and parallel with each other – and then measured up the lengths of the reaches (the two slim, flexible diagonals that connect the turntable/front axle with the rear axle). The axle caps and turntable block are made from hickory whilst the reaches are made of ash with 1/8″ thick steel straps bolted to their undersides (fig.1).

setting_up_fifth_wheel_02aFig. 1. Axles, turntable and reaches (AKA the ‘gear’).

The reaches are bolted to the turntable at the front and clipped to the rear axle using ‘reach ends’ (figs. 2 & 3). The reaches are also braced to the outer ends of the rear axle with 5/8″ round iron ‘wings’ whose ends I forged to suit their junctures with the reaches (fig. 4) and the rear spring chair mounting bolts (figs. 5 & 15).

reach_end_01aFig. 2. Embryotic reach ends.

reach_end_05aFig. 3. Ash reach and reach end clipped to rear axle.

forged_reach_wing_01aFig. 4. Forward end of nearside wing bolted to reach.

The gear and wheels were fitted up to check the fit (fig. 5) before stripping it all down for painting.

rolling_gear_01aFig. 5. Completed gear.

Some hex head bolts and hex nuts were used for ease and speed of fitting things up, but during final assembly, any hex fasteners were replaced with traditional square nuts and either square head bolts or coach bolts as appropriate.

The wagon body and seat are made of acetylated pine for lightness, stability and longevity. I tongued and grooved the floorboards and screwed the side and front boards to them. The raves (the angled side extensions), dashboard, tailboard, transoms and seat are also of acetylated pine (fig. 6).

waggon_body_01aFig. 6. Acetylated pine body and seat.

I have arc, MIG and TIG welding capability; however I didn’t want telltale electric welds spoiling the otherwise authentic looking ironwork, so any welds required were forge-welded. To that end, I also made a couple of simple dies so I could forge authentic tapered round-bar to flat-bar transitions from various diameters of bar (figs. 7, 8 & 9).

waggon_seat_04aFig. 7. Forged 3/8″ diameter round to 1/2″ wide flat end on armrest.

waggon_seat_05bFig. 8. Traditional style armrests.

waggon_body_03aFig. 9. Traditionally forged and draw-filed ironwork.

wing_nuts_02aFig. 10. Pair of traditional style 5/16″ wing nuts forged from 1/2″ round bar.

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century bolt heads typically bear manufacturers’ identification and tensile markings which are absent from nineteenth-century fasteners, so along with employing square nuts throughout, any bolt head markings were linished off (fig. 11).

bolted_hub_with_square_nuts_03aFig. 11. Smooth-headed coach bolts.

bolted_hub_with_square_nuts_01aFig. 12. Square nuts ‘on point’.

I spent many hours researching three-spring wagons before embarking on this project and one aspect that consumed a disproportionate amount of time was identifying traditional colour schemes. Heavier delivery wagons seem to have been painted virtually any colour the individual or company chose. British agricultural wagons (along with all manner of threshing machines and other agricultural implements) were traditionally painted in red lead and blue lead, whilst in Australia and North America, agricultural and light delivery wagons were painted in black and various shades of blue, green, red and yellow.

I found a number of images of locally built three-spring wagons in what appeared to be their original colours, and in particular, three wagons with a common livery of primrose yellow wheels, black gears and red/maroon bodies.

Consequently the gear and shafts received four coats of black whilst the wheels gleaned six coats of yellow due to its annoyingly not-totally-opaque properties (fig. 13).

painted_wheel_01aFig. 13. Black painted gear and yellow wheels.

Brakes are a necessity on a wagon for holding the vehicle steady and taking some of the load off the horse on long descents, but traditional mechanical brakes are bulky, heavy and not incredibly efficient. Braking is the one area where I conceded to twentieth-century technology and installed hydraulic brakes on the rear axle (figs. 14 & 15).

brake_back_plate_01aFig. 14. Rear hydraulic drum brake.

brake_drum_&_back_plate_01aFig. 15. Drum brake, spring chair and wing.

The body received six coats of red paint, again, due to its somewhat translucent character. When dry, the body was attached to the gear, at the front, via a forged 3/4″ diameter body hanger that is in turn clipped to the front transverse spring (fig. 16), and at the rear, to a pair of forged 1-1/2″ x 5/8″ body hangers that are clipped to the rear side springs (fig. 17).

waggon_17bFig. 16. Front body hanger.

waggon_11bFig. 17. Nearside rear body hanger.

Where possible, I employed salvaged parts in the wagon build including the malleable iron steps (fig. 18) and the swingletree clevis and coupling (fig. 19).

waggon_20aFig. 18. Nineteenth-century side step.

waggon_18aFig. 19. Old swingletree clevis and coupling.

waggon_07aFig. 20. Sprung seat with integral glove box beneath.

waggon_16aFig. 21. Dashboard and foot rail.

waggon_13aFig. 22. Raves and tailboard.

waggon_14aFig. 23. Shafts, step, rub iron, rope hook, body strap and staff.

waggon_17aFig. 24. Braced shafts and swingletree.

waggon_03aFig. 25. At last, I can purchase a few of those 96-roll bulk packs of lavatory paper.

waggon_02aFig. 26.

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Distractions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to On and off the Wagon for the Past Year

  1. Tim Shaw says:

    What a piece of work is a three-spring wagon! Well done, Jack Plane.


  2. FIG Woodworks says:

    You just need a filly to pull it Jack! There must be lots of stout fillies up your way!


  3. Eric R says:

    That is far and away one of the nicest projects I’ve seen in a very long time.
    Well done jack !
    Your usual attention to detail and obvious master craftsmanship shows throughout this three spring wagon.
    Bravo my friend. Bravo !


  4. D.B. Laney says:

    Sure, a man of many parts. Good on ye, friend.


  5. Paul Huckett says:

    Outstanding ! In a small country town near us , many an older horse-drawn vehicle as well as many modern examples are shown and driven at the annual agricultural show. They are great crowd favourites with everyone.


  6. Incredible work. What an absolute cracker.


  7. Coisas EM'adeira says:



  8. WOW – very interesting post. Another kind of woodworking – definitively an outstanding project. Any chance to see the coach in action?


  9. Amanda says:

    You’re amazing!


  10. Sylvain says:

    Splendid work (as usual).
    About the brakes:
    – Is there a parking brake? I have seen people putting a shutting valve on the pressure line to keep the brake under pressure. With such a system you must ensure that the valve will not shut while riding. But maybe the parking brake is a false problem as the wagon will not move if the horse doesn’t move. On the other side if you stop on a slope, the horse has to make efforts to keep the wagon immobile. There is always the good old triangular shaped block under the wheel as an alternative.
    – When transporting goods, take care that the goods don’t move under the pedal brake.
    – I guess you intend to ride only in day light with good visibility.


    • Jack Plane says:

      I bought a line lock (hydraulic valve) with the intention of fitting it in the brake line to use as a ‘handbrake’, but I haven’t fitted it yet and I’m not sure if I will. There will be a wheel chock hanging from the rope hook (as well as a goodly length of manila rope to effect a traditional wheel lock).

      I don’t intend to drive the wagon after dark (or even in inclement weather, so lights and reflectors aren’t required), partly because I don’t want to taint the wagon with a battery and wiring etc.

      On the other hand, there are some very good quality and reasonably priced reproduction candle-powered coach lamps available.



  11. jamie says:

    Functional and beautiful down to the smallest details. Thank you for taking the time to post. Inspirational!


  12. diceloader says:

    You are a man of many surprises and talents!
    Thanks for sharing.


  13. Paul Bouchard says:

    No cross-grain moulding? “Clocked” hardware?

    This is going to take some getting use to.


  14. Joe M says:

    As always beautiful work Jack. Details are outstanding. We all know you are a man of many talents, but this is surely unexpected. Just amazing. Did you make the wheels/rims also?


    • Jack Plane says:

      As mentioned in the post, the wheels were purchased.

      I have made/remade wooden- and Sarven (iron) hubbed wheels before. I was going to purchase just the four iron bolted hubs and then fashion the spokes and bend the rim halves myself. However, by the time I would have sent the finished wooden wheels off to have the rubber tyres fitted, they would have cost more than the price of these four ready-made wheels.



      • Joe M says:

        Yes Yes…I re-read the post…(4th or 5th time)……reading comprehension…..That’s why I did not do good at school. I just get carried away looking at pictures.
        Again..awesome work Jack.


  15. RobinWire says:

    Beyond impressed!


  16. I used to use words for a living, but I must say that I am utterly speechless!


  17. Tim Caveny says:

    Excellent work, Jack, just excellent. May you enjoy the driving of it!
    Back in the ‘seventies, I mowed my hayfield with a one horse mowing machine. Pleasantest job I ever had.


  18. Alan J Bishop says:

    My Great-grandfather published the Coach and Body Builder’s Journal. My Grandfather produced many of the drawings for the journal. After he died, the original drawings were given to the Beechworth Museum. The journal, and its drawings, were the means by which current (for the time) fashions and developments were promulgated. I remember seeing the originals in the 1960s, and I have seen one of the drawings republished in the Australian Woodworker magazine. If I’m lucky, I will get the opportunity to see the originals again…


    • Jack Plane says:

      What was your grandfather’s name? I would be very interested to see the journal, or at least some of the drawings. They could be very useful resources for future horse drawn vehicle projects.



  19. carter choate says:

    No one can keep Jack Plane “in the traces”.


  20. Bob Easton says:

    Fabulous and gorgeous too!
    One hopes you don’t have to pay the local authorities too hefty a homage to be allowed to use it.

    Beautifully done!


  21. Grant Walter says:

    Did I miss something? There was no mention of the wheels. Did you make them?


  22. bloksav says:

    What an incredibly fine wagon.
    Thank you for taking the time to blog about this project.

    I am curious about what type/breed of horse you have.
    Since the wagon seems very delicate I suppose that it could be pulled with little effort by a “regular” riding horse type, such as an Oldenburger. But I know very little of the types of horses usually found in Australia. (I think you have some wild ones called Brumbies?)
    A picture of the actual intended pulling horse would be greatly appreciated.



  23. michael filler says:

    Beautiful work!


  24. Annie Maher says:

    Just fabulous! Do you build carriages for a living? Where about do you live?


    • Jack Plane says:

      I’m not a carriage builder by trade, but I have restored/built several over the past forty plus years, beginning with the restoration of four horse-drawn hearses that belonged to a local publican back in Ireland.

      The next one I will be building will be a minimalist all-ash (including the ‘suspension’) four-wheeled single-seater runabout.

      I live in Victoria, Australia.



  25. Andrew Mortlock says:

    Hi, this book ‘
    Buggies and Horse-drawn Vehicles in Australia

    Cuffley, Peter

    Published by Pioneer Design Studio Pty Ltd (1981)

    ISBN 10: 0909674167 ISBN 13: 9780909674168
    has a section in the back on colour schemes and details on various parts.

    Good luck



  26. Mark Cass says:

    Superb stuff Jack, you are an absolute master


  27. Kinderhook88 says:

    Outstanding craftsmanship Jack, this post blew me away!


  28. apalmer180 says:

    You manage to put the lie to that old line ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. As a revision, I’m considering ‘jack of all trades, master of several’ but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I live near a place called ‘Horsepower Farm’ (for fairly obvious reasons). I suspect they could use someone of your particular talents.


  29. Pingback: Spring Cleaning | Pegs and 'Tails

  30. A wonderful job, Jack! The flat to round transitions, and the nice tidy work you did on rest of the iron wares is especially nice to see.

    Paint colours are very nice together.

    thank you for taking the time to post about this project.



  31. James Pallas says:

    Very well done. It is a good thing at times to build something that is for yourself to use for fun or convenience. Others can come along for the ride and you will enjoy every one of the trips. Big enough to deliver that wonderful furniture you build also.


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