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Wheelwright Shop: 1862

Wheelwright Shop: 1862

March 1862. "Washington, District of Columbia. Government repair shops -- wheelwright shop." Annotation from plate: "3/13/62 Mr. Marshall, Shop No 1." Wet plate negative, Library of Congress Civil War Collection. View full size.


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No OBDII port?

As a mechanic who cut his teeth on carburetors, points and water pump gland nuts, looking at this scene shows how far we have come in 150 years. The type of tools switched from hand saws, hammers and adjustable wrenches to scanners, online manuals, experience and a lot less grease.


I see two chaps brandishing monkey wrenches. It occurs to me that in our world today they are nearly useless, with the possible exception of their hammer face.


If this was a US Army facility, it was succeeded somewhere in the 20th century by an area called a "Motor Pool".

Behind the men in uniform

Unlike today, the US government did not have fleets of buggies and wagons for conducting official business. The Senators, Representatives, bureaucrats and clerks provided their own transportation. This shop was indeed part of the war effort. The armies in the field did have traveling blacksmith forges and mechanics--part of the Quartermaster and Commissary Departments of the US Army. Artillery commands also had the same. Washington City was the overall army headquarters and hence the need for shops here as well as other major depots. The number of wheeled vehicles--wagons mostly for transporting ammunition food, clothing and arms--was huge.

Speaking of wheels...

This reminds me of a question I've had in my mind, and if anyone would know, Shorpyites would.

I read at one time that the invention of the wheel wasn't the real trick for early civilization. Wheels were easy; but wheels didn't because practical until the invention of... the axle. It's really tricky to design an axle that doesn't quickly wear out, break, or otherwise have issues under load.

That made sense. But then I thought, well, how the heck DID they make axles in the mid-1800s when the settlers were going over 1000s of miles and broken wagons meant death? These days, of course, we have bearings, but they didn't have that back then.

So exactly how were wagon wheels connected to the axles so they didn't wear out? This picture actually has a pretty good shot of the axle coming through a wheel, and it looks like there's a little lubrication notch.

So did they put animal fat or some other lubricant in the notch?

Did they use iron linings? That would last longer, but it seems like it would get really hot from the friction.

Any info on exactly how this was reliably solved would finally help settle this issue in my mind once and for all.

Before Goodyear tires

When I first looked at this photo, I thought it might have something to do with the war effort. But now I suspect it was a repair shop for local government vehicles. I would think a field army would have its own wheelwrights and spare "tires" to effect repairs in the field.

The hand tools are easily recognizable to those in use today. I wonder what was used to lubricate the hubs?

Oh, you're a real funny man

You want it WHEN? No can do. Can't you see I'm understaffed?
Besides, we're getting ready to go to a, uh, transportation conference in Hawaii.

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