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A Conestoga wagon is a heavily covered, reliable form of transportation to carry heavy loads in large numbers.
Resembling closely to prairie schooners, the Conestoga wagon was comparatively bigger, heavier, and carried more products than prairie schooners. In addition, the Conestoga wagon required more than half a dozen horses or big oxen to pull the wagon, whereas prairie schooners easily worked with two to four horses.
A Conestoga wagon was a significant addition to the transportation world, extending a vehicle large enough to carry heavy goods from one place to another. The Conestoga wagon is one of the many designs from the range of covered wagons, prominently used back in pre-industrialized America. Covered wagons were usually made of frail beds, with and often without white canvas cover, which closely resembled Conestoga wagon but was not as reliable.
The Conestoga wagon was one of its kind. It was supposedly used for the American westward expansion, but those covered wagons were not Conestoga wagons. Instead, it was the perfect transportation medium to cover muddy, rutted, and narrow roads full of pebbles and branches. Let's dive deep into American history and learn more about this fascinating transport.
The Conestoga wagon was an American covered wagon model created to carry heavy freight overland through uneven paths. Contrary to usually covered wagons being widely used in America, the Conestoga wagon was built to contain a greater load of around 12,000 lb (5443 kg). The wagon was not made to be ridden initially. Its primary function was to carry weights across places as the driver would walk beside the wagon or use rear horses to keep an eye on goods. Specially trained horses pulled a Conestoga wagon.
The freight carrier found its name from the Conestoga River near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The wagon was primarily designed to transport goods safely to its destinations. However, uneven roads would often disrupt goods on the wagon due to the movement. Therefore, the Conestoga wagon added canvas to keep goods secure to the vehicle and deliver them safely. As created with the influence of German settlers, the wagon was painted blue, drawing inspiration from folk German-American art.
The earliest recorded usage of the term 'Conestoga wagon' was done back in 1717. This wagon was supposedly created by Pennsylvania-based German settlers and Swiss wagon builders, useful to assist with the southward migration along the Great Migration Road. The wagon is named after its original location, Conestoga River, located near the Conestoga region of Pennsylvania.
Its popularity in colonial times opened an easier route for everyone looking to change places with loaded freight. Their usage was most prominent near areas such as Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania among settlers. Once, the Conestoga wagon was the primary cargo vehicle to be used across the Appalachian Mountains until railroads stepped into American history.
The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw both the rise and gradual decline of the history of the Conestoga wagon. The eastern United States and Canada were the leading locations for these vehicles to run. The freight-carrying vehicle brilliantly included its idea of cover with canvas to make it weather-resistant, a significant factor other covered wagons lacked back then.
Conestoga was a descendent of a typical American covered wagon used back in the western expedition. Conestoga's build was similar to any other covered wagon of that time, but additional changes were done to improve its functionality.
The wagon body was created out of wood, with features such as a wagon bed acting as a boat for the wagon in waters, a feed box in the back to store food for horses, water barrels for longer routes, and a toolbox to keep tools for wagon repair. In addition, the wagon floor was curved to keep goods from sliding off the wagon.
The most significant aspect of the Conestoga wagon was its white canvas covers. Canvas cover offered protection to cargo from harsh weather conditions. The canvas was a robust material, coated with linseed oil to make the wagon waterproof for longer journeys. More than four to six horses were used to pull the wagon, and at times when horses were incapable of pulling the wagon, mules and oxen were also used to pull the vehicle. Horses hired to pull these heavy wagons were special horses called Conestoga horses, trained specifically to pull the wagon. Rear wheels were made strong to survive heavy bumps, while front wheels were small and easy to turn.
Conestoga wagons were improved, robust versions of the pre-existing famous covered wagons of 18th century America. Previously, wagons did not have sturdy covers to keep goods protected from weather or the wagon movement. Yet, the Conestoga wagon changed this with its revolutionary design, helping millions of travelers to safely make their way to and from America along with cargo. The Conestoga wagon is said to have introduced the custom of driving on the right side of the road.
The wagon had an average speed of 15 mi (24 km) per day to carry luggage safely across overland. Instead of making frequent trips to carry loads from time to time, Conestoga wagons were pulled by trained horses to transport many goods at once. They also assisted the Continental Army in the American Revolution to carry armed goods. These wagons were known to be 'ships of the inland commerce' for a very long time until their end came due to the invention of railroads. Conestoga wagon's contribution to American history was significant.
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