Photograph - Photo
They�re among the last visible icons of a dramatic bygone era. They stocked the shelves of America�s early merchants and traders, kept communication flowing into many of the most remote reaches of the frontier, and helped open the West with the new-found wealth of the nation. These were the Freight Wagons. Built for a single profit-driven purpose, they were designed to take a literal beating while carrying massive amounts of goods, supplies, equipment and raw ore. But, creating these designs was just the first step in a long line of business logistics and challenges. Before the goods and raw materials could arrive at their destinations, they had to overcome the demands of poor and non-existing roads.
Even considering all of the frustrations involved with delivering goods on an international scale today, nothing comes close to the adversity that met America�s early western freighting industry. Poorly maintained, steep, narrow dirt paths with axle deep mud, washed out chasms, and an endless array of unforeseen problems were matched only by scenic routes with stomach-curdling drop-offs overlooking deep, mountainous ravines. Crossing mile after mile of secluded country, these slow-moving, heavy wagons were constantly twisted, racked, and pounded along the trails. Adding to the pressure, there were no emergency roadside services to call for help, no regularly-spaced convenience stores to replenish themselves and their teams with food and water, and no protection from bandits and renegades looking to take full advantage of an isolated caravan. It was not an occupation for the faint of heart or the indecisive. Here, strong men with even stronger resolves wore hardened faces and the added savvy of a backcountry survivor. When confronted with cantankerous mules, their vernacular could be explosive and unashamedly colorful. However, they also had a softer side � especially when it came to caring for the animals they spent so much time around. Their livestock and equipment were their primary means of sustenance and that fact was never far from any of the day�s thoughts. Averaging about 15 miles per day in hill country and 25 a day in the flatlands, the first of these western freighters is usually traced to 1821 and the efforts of William Becknell to open the Santa Fe Trail for increased commerce with the New Mexico region.
December 18th, 2012
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