Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Today I am going to tell you about covered wagons, because when people used to travel halfway across the country to Oregon and California, they went in wagons.  If SUVs and interstate highways had been invented, I'm sure people would have traveled that way instead.  But sadly, nobody had thought them up yet.

Anyway, at the convention, there was an entire covered wagon that came right in through the double doors of the hotel.  Mom was there when the wagon arrived, and she held one of the doors open, but she did not pull the wagon because she did not want to feel like an ox.  At first, the wagon wasn't covered, but then the lady who owns it set up the hoops and put the cover over them.  That's what people used to do, back in the old days.  They started out with an ordinary farm wagon, and then they put up hoops, and they covered the hoops with canvas.  And that was the recipe for making a covered wagon.

Some people slept in their wagons, but usually the wagons were all full of stuff like food and furniture. So most people slept in tents or just out in the open.  Here's a picture of some of the bedding that people might have had in their wagons, such as quilts and pillows.  In my opinion, it would not be good to travel with your bedding hanging out of the back of the wagon like this because it would get all dirty and wet.  But Mom told me the quilt was hanging out of the wagon like that for display purposes only.

You had to have a lot of food in your wagon in order to make it all the way to Oregon or California without starving to death.  Mostly, people ate beans and bacon and biscuits and stuff like that.  Also they drank a lot of coffee.  Mom took a picture of some stuff that might have been in covered wagons.  Of course, there would have been great big bags and barrels of it, and not just these tiny little sacks.  Mom thinks that what's in these bags is corn meal, oats, corn, coffee, and maybe some kind of beans.  But she could be wrong because she says she is a city girl who is used to buying her food at the grocery store.

In this next photo, you can see the sort of dress like pioneer women wore.  Also they wore sunbonnets because they didn't have any sunglasses or sunscreen.

And these are the kind of shoes that women wore back then.  I think these shoes would fall apart before you could walk all the way to Oregon in them, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

If you have ever read any diaries that people wrote when they were traveling west on the trails, you will notice that they usually say how many miles they went each day.  Mom used to wonder how they knew the distance, but then she finally learned that some wagons had odometers on them.  Of course, then she wondered what an odometer for a wagon would look like.  But guess what!  The wagon at the convention actually had one of these odometers, and here's a picture that Mom took of it.

In order to make my blog more interesting and educational, I did about 15 minutes of in-depth research on how odometers got invented, and here's what I learned:  The rear wheel of a regular-sized covered wagon, which was 10' long and 4' wide, turned 360 times to travel one mile.  Before odometers were invented, a rag or ribbon was tied to one spoke of the wheel, and somebody had to walk beside the wheel and count how many times it went around.  I think if I had to do this, I would always be losing count.  But since I'm a dog, nobody would expect me to be able to count to 360 anyway!

Well, in 1847, some very clever Mormans named William Clayton and Orson Pratt were on their way to Utah, and they got tired of counting how many times the red rag went around when the wheel turned.  So they designed a "roadometer" with a series of cogwheels that counted how many times a wagon wheel turned.  A carpenter named Appleton Milo Harmon built the device, and it was used for the first time on May 12, 1847.

The roadometer could count up to 10 miles, and then it started over.  So somebody had to keep track of each 10 miles.  But this was tons easier than having to count every single turn of the wheel.  Odometers were covered by a box so that they wouldn't get wet if it rained, and they were taken off completely if the wagon had to cross a river.

So now you know where odometers come from.  There have been a few improvements since 1847, which is good, because otherwise you would have to make a note every time your car went 10 miles!


  1. Dear Piper-

    I'm so glad you're back and I can read your blog.

    My mom has a caravan that looks a lot like that covered wagon. It also usually has food and (dog) bedding in it and I've gone all the way to Canada and to Oregon (2 different trips) in it. I don't know if we were on the Oregon trail or not. My brothers have gone all the way to FL and NC in the covered wagon, I mean caravan. That was before I was born. I don't know why they were doing stuff before I came along. Surely it wasn't any fun.

    Superstar in training

    1. Dear Zest!

      We have something called a subaru forester, so I think that means we can drive through the forest, like people did in their covered wagons in Oregon. Luckily, we don't have to cut down the trees before we can drive there because we stick to the paved roads. I have gone in the forester to Texas a couple of times, but Texas is not on the Oregon Trail.

      Your friend, Piper