Monday, December 3, 2012

Red River Cart Wheels

In an earlier post, I talked about why the wheels of the Red River oxcarts were so squeaky.

In this post, I'd like to tell you a few more cool things about them. Here's a picture of the wheel of an actual Red River oxcart. This particular oxcart is only one of four known to still exist intact. It's located at the Kandiyohi History Center Museum in Willmar, MN.

Notice how it's all made of wood? (The chain you see is just to keep people from climbing on the thing.) I think the band that is holding that hub together may be metal, but originally, it would've been of animal hide. The hide would've been soaked in water, wrapped around the wood, and allowed to dry. When it dries, it shrinks and tightens up. The axle was often made of strong oak, while the rest of the cart was typically pine. However, any wood would do in a pinch.

Now here is what's really unique about the Red River cart's wheels:

See how the spokes and wheel form sort of a bowl shape? It allowed for better movement across the marshy land of the Red River Valley. Again, animal hide would've been used where the metal strip is now circling the wheel rim.

Another thing about this wheel shape is that when the cart and its driver came to a river they had to cross, the wheels could be taken off, wrapped in buffalo hide, and used to float the cart across the river. The two wheels would be placed beneath the cart in order to accomplish this.

I've seen a couple replicas of these Red River carts, and they often get the bowl shape of the wheel wrong. They usually just put on wheels that are almost flat up against the wagon, more like a regular cart.

If you're ever near Willmar, MN, I recommend heading into their museum to see one of the only authentic carts remaining up close and personal!

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