|click to enlarge | Illustration by Mark D. Ruffner, 1973|
My blogging friend Gina of Gina Ceramics
recently posted a riveting story about a pioneer family and the scary maneuvering of their Conestoga Wagon. You can read about it here
. The story reminded me that I had done an illustration of a Conestoga for the Scott Paper Company, back in the 1970s.
I stained balsa wood blue and inset it into an illustration board, then drew around the sunken "implant" with colored pencils. Today, of course, I'd do it in half the time digitally.
Conestoga Wagons were made by the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Because the Pennsylvania Dutch cartwrights traditionally painted their wagons blue, and the Pennsylvania Dutch wheelwrights traditionally painted their wheels red, the Conestoga wagon is almost always seen in this color combination.
|Illustration by Robert Layport, 1973|
The toolboxes that hung on the side of the wagon had wrought iron hinges, and the hinge designs, also coming from Lancaster County, are evocative of German metalwork.
Quoting from the Scott Paper sample:
|Illustration by Paul Rendel or John Banks, 1973|
"Shoeing a wheel in a hot cloud of sweat, steam and smoke. Iron rims were cut a full ¾ inch smaller than the circumference of the wheel. They were heated red hot, sledged into place, then doused with water. The iron contracted violently, tightened all the wooden joints, and further emphasized the "dish" in the wheel."
|click to enlarge|
|click to enlarge | Scott Paper Company|
The Conestoga Wagon was used in the early 1700s when colonial settlements were established in the Appalachians, and into the late 1800s, as pioneers moved all the way to the West Coast.
Most interesting post Mark. Have learned so much about those Prairie Schooners that conquered the West. It is interesting that many people assume that Pennsylvania Dutch people are from Holland and speak Dutch. They are actually Germans speaking "Deutsch" . It is easy to see where the confusion stems from.ReplyDelete
I'm always so impressed with your artistic talents. Your drawing of the Conestoga Wagon is a gem.
I know that's true about the Pennsylvania Dutch misconception, though it's an easy mistake. As someone with a Swiss ancestry, I often have to contend with people who say, "Oh, your people were Swedish." (!!)Delete
Thank you for your compliment! One of the joys of being a commerial illustrator back when was that I was given so many assignments that required learning how things worked.
It is good to see someone who can make the difference between Dutch and Deutsche, I am German myself and hate how may ask if I speak 'Dutch', trying to use the word Deutsche, just ask if I speak German, I'd be a lot less offended
Dear Mark - your beautiful illustrations and the old black and white photo immediately transported me back to the film Paint your Wagon, and Lee Marvin's gruffy voice singing 'I was born under a Wandering Star' which became a big hit in the UK.ReplyDelete
As appealing as the wagons look, life must have been very hard for those early pioneers
I missed Gina's post - will pop over now and see it.
I don't think any Hollywood movie has fully captured the misery of the wagon trails (unless there's a movie out about the Donner Expedition), but even in their own time, wagoners (also called waggoners) were romanticized. Here's part of an old folk ballad called Jolly Waggoner:
When I first went a-waggoning, a-waggoning did I go,
I filled my parents' hearts with sorrow, trouble, grief and woe;
Sing, wo! my lads, sing wo!
Drive on, my lads, heigh ho!
Who would not live the life we jolly waggoners do?
Hello Mark, What a clever idea about the real wood inset. It lends the whole drawing a subtle vitality. It is furthermore amazing to consider the skills of the original constructors of these wagons. Despite being large, cumbersome and complex, they basically help up with heavy loads on long journeys on barely-existent roads. It is interesting to see the artistry and technology that went into the wheel making alone.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you enjoyed my wooden wagon. Incidentally, my friend Alan of Surface Fragments has done amazing marquetry with digital images of wood — it's well worth a visit to his site.
The Conestoga has, to my eye, a rather clumsy look, and yet when one understands all its design features, one can see that it is a marvelous piece of engineering. And one also has to believe that the design evolved after the ruin of many, many lesser wagons.
That passage about the making of the wheels conjures strong images, doesn't it? I imagine that it must have been quite noisy.
Part of the engineering of the Conestoga was the use of a variety of woods for their different qualities. Oak was used for its strength, black gum because it was unsplittable, and poplar for its flexibility.
Mark, Oh my your last paragraph reminds me of Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "The Deacon's Masterpiece" "or the Wonderful one-hoss-Sha"., one of my most favorites.Delete
I don't remember "The Deacon's Masterpiece," but I will go look it up!Delete
Such an interesting post, Mark! I think those wrought iron hinges on the toolboxes are fabulous! I particularly like the ones that look like snakes.ReplyDelete
Hi, Loi — and that's exactly what they were meant to represent. You can see one of the "snake" toolboxes in the photo at the end of the posting.Delete
What a fascinating post-- your illustration is wonderful. Although I'm sure a digital one would be great too, the craft involved in staining and setting the wood into the drawing is so much more interesting as a process-- maybe because it is more rare nowadays???! I love seeing how things are designed and learning why they are as they are-- this wagon is a perfect example. I'm sure all of your research into the engineering of these amazing vehicles had a great deal of influence on you as you worked on the drawing... I missed Gina's post too-- I'm on my way there now to learn more... Following the lines of thought inspired by your posts is such fun-- who would have imagined a foray into Conestoga wagon design today? And yet, here we go... Thanks so much Mark!
Thanks for liking the illustration. While this was the only time that I sunk wood into an illustration board, I did get adept at patching illustrations so that one would never notice when they were reproduced. Many a time I felt like a plastic surgeon!
As I look at the illustration and photograph, I notice that the front wheels are so much smaller. I'm guessing this helped when going up and down grades.
Dang. My High School year book, the Conestoga was printed in 1974. Actually ,I was on staff '72-74. I can't remember if any of the staff brought the ad in to share. I would imagine, Mrs Grant noticed it. It is a peach of an illustration. Of course the mascot was the Pioneer. Love it-- we were Everyman. If only I was listening to Jackson Browne back then I would have been, well ahead of the game I suppose.ReplyDelete
My highschool was named after a naval hero, so of course there was a U.S. Navy theme throughout. I worked on the school newspaper, which was the Salvo.Delete
It's doubtful that you or Mrs. Grant would have seen these illustrations because they were part of a brochure that was distributed only to Scott Paper Company clients, like advertising agencies and printers.
What an interesting post! Being a 'furriner', my only contact with wagons used for immigration was through a serialized version of 'The Oregon Trail', in a magazine I used to read as a child. The actual dynamics of the wagon itself were lost on me. This post has awoken my interest.
The way they made the wheels interests me, along with the thought that different wheels must have been tried and tested before the final masterpiece was constructed.
I do like your artwork!
Bye for now,
I may have said this elsewhere on this blog, but years ago I visited family in Nebraska, and we picnicked in a spot along the Oregon Trail. Many. many Conestogas went along that trail, and I was amazed and touched that the ruts those wagons made can still be seen today. I have flown across this huge continent several times, and always been aware how incredulous those pioneers would be to see how travel has changed. And that really wasn't too long ago.
We had a distant relative who sailed from Hull to New Orleans and then went by wagon, first to somewhere in Michigan and eventually to Salt Lake City in Utah. I can't imagine what he thought of it all, going from the City of Hull (where the ran a bakery) to traveling in a wagon train across America, and being attacked by Native American warriors en route!Delete
Not a way I'd want to travel, Mark. But I admire those who did in the long ago. What perilous journeys. What grit. What stamina. What nerve. What cunning and courage. These must have been truly hearty goal oriented people. I can hardly imagine it. But I did enjoy watching fictional accounts in the movies and on television where the wagons always looked a little larger than they probably were. Thanks for a very interesting post.ReplyDelete
I mentioned in the answer to the comment before yours that this was not that long ago, and I remember that my mother had a friend whose grandmother traveled by Conestoga. We are less than six degrees from all the drama of the Wild West. And I agree with you — it's not a journey I'd want to make!