Studebaker’s Frontier Wagons

When we hear the name Studebaker the first thing we may think of are those unique automobiles with the front end bullet shaped noses.

studebaker frontier wagon

Studebaker farm wagon

Those automobiles of the early 1950’s were produced by a company that started into business 100 years previously in South Bend Indiana from ancestors who had immigrated to America from Germany. The family’s name had been changed from Stutenbecker to Studebaker.

The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, began in business as horse drawn wagon makers and achieved a great deal of success. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, established in 1852, built horse drawn wagons for a population that was on the move.

Pioneers and Prospectors Head West

The 1850’s were a time of great western expansion and there were many of the Studebaker brother’s products that made the trek over the popular Overland Trail. In a big way the California Gold Rush and it’s demand for transportation launched to Studebaker brothers into the wagon building business.

studebaker horseless carriage

Studebaker Brothers wagon

The Studebakers just like many others realized there was a good deal of money to be made by supplying the needs of prospectors rather than searching for gold.

The story is that a Studebaker brother journeyed to California to search for gold. On his way he was fleeced by gamblers and arrived in California with no money to buy prospecting supplies. Instead, he built sturdy wheelbarrows to sell to prospectors. When he reported back to his brothers the demand for wagons the Studebaker wagon building soon commenced.

A another good example of these businessmen were the merchants of early Sacramento California who ended up establshing the Central Pacific Railroad.

The Studebaker’s who had also been involved in blacksmithing earlier on quickly achieved a reputation for building quality wagons that could take a lot of punishment. Their first covered wagon was built in 1857.

Studebaker wagon iron suspension

Wagons For The Union Army

At the time of the American Civil War the Studebaker brothers were operating the country’s leading horse drawn wagon manufacturer. They had actually supplied wagons to the Union in 1858 prior to the war. Their wagons were well known for their durability and as a result, and their location in the Union town of South Bend Indiana, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was called upon to supply wagons to the Union Army. The fact was, it took tens of thousands of wagons to keep an army on the move. This was a key event that helped solidify the company as America’s premiere wagon builder.

Expansion After the Civil War

When the Civil War came to an end, the brothers has a factory in South Bend and the capital necessary to expand further. The Studebaker’s were building all types of wagons from simple farm wagons to elaborately built closed carriages.Some of these wagon models were named the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham. Interestingly enough, these same model names were used by various automobile makers during the 1900’s.

As a side note, the tale of the first chuckwagon also has a Studebaker connection. The legendary Texas rancher and developer of the chuckwagon, Charles Goodnight, modified and used an old Studebaker military ambulance wagon in 1866 as the first chuckwagon for his cattle drives to the northern rail heads. These surplus wagons, and there were many after the war, had steel axles and iron springs and Goodnight felt comfortable they could handle the rigors of a trail drive.

In 1878 the Studebaker wagons won awards at the Paris Exposition and in 1888 President Harrison chose Studebaker wagons for the White House. The Studebaker name gained such a strong reputation for quality that sales continued to grow and they were the first to standardize production methods and build interchangeable parts. With standardized production, the Studebaker company was able to build 500 wagons in about a day and a half for the Spanish American War effort. When World War One began the Studebakers built thousands of wagons for England.

studebaker brothers

Five Studebaker Brothers of the Studebaker Corporation

The Automotive Business

Studebaker’s experiments on a horseless carriage had started as early as 1895.

The Studebaker Brothers Corporation entered the automotive business with electric powered horseless carriages from 1902 to 1911. .At the same time they were involved in body building for other upstart manufacturers. Studebaker manufactured it’s last automobile in December 1963.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are on the links below…

Santa Fe Trail Wagon Ruts Visible Today

The Chuckwagon

The Studebaker National Museum

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach / Photos and History

One of the most thorough books regarding Studebaker is Studebaker: The Complete History by author Patrick R. Foster.

Today there are several places to view models of Studebaker wagons.

The wagon shown in this article is exhibited at the Pioneer Museum in Corsicana Texas just south of Dallas. Another venue you may want to add to your trip planner is the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend Indiana. For those in northern California, the museum at the Empire Mine State Historic Park exhibits several Studebaker wagons used during the Gold Rush era. This park is located in Grass Valley California, east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

(Article and photos of Studebaker wagon copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Studebaker Brothers photo from the public domain)


The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

California stagecoach history is filled with colorful characters. The infamous stagecoach robber Black Bart and the famous stagecoach driver, commonly referred to as whip, Charley Parkhurst are but two. Stagecoaches transported people and cargo and appeared with the California Gold Rush and California’s statehood.

wells fargo concord stage

Concord Stagecoach model at Wells Fargo Museum

California was no different than other regions of the country. The stagecoach was replaced little by little by the expanding railroad. The iron horse offered much more speed and comfort than even the rugged and handsome Concord coach.

San Juan Bautista, the Last Great Stagecoach Hub

South of San Francisco and about 40 miles north of Monterey California is the settlement of San Juan Bautista, during Spanish times called simply San Juan. The site of Mission San Juan Bautista, the fifteenth of the twenty-one Spanish missions, and located along the El Camino Real, San Juan was a busy hub of stagecoach activity just prior to the time when the Southern Pacific Railroad began expanding further down the coast toward Los Angeles and San Diego.

An interesting fact about the old mission is that when you visit it today you’ll hear the toll of the original mission bells from the late 1700’s.

mission san juan bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista was the site where a passenger might arrive by train and transfer to a stagecoach to continue his or her journey further south.

The busiest places in San Juan Bautista were the Plaza Hotel and the Plaza Stables directly on the town plaza. An interesting side note if you travel to San Juan Bautista is that the plaza is the only remaining Spanish plaza in California. The plaza is just where it was when the town was built by the Spaniards. Other California plazas have been long gone and paved over or plowed over. It’s a real treat to visit.

The plaza area and several of the surrounding structures are now a part of the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. The 1859 hotel, built over old Spanish barracks, and the livery stable are a part of the state park.

plaza hotel san juan bautista

The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel in San Juan Bautista California was opened in 1859 by an Italian immigrant named Angelo Zanetta. The structure was built by the Spanish in 1814 and Zanetta turned it into a hotle in 1859.  It was opened as a one story hotel and later a second story was added. The Plaza Hotel was well known for it’s fine food and it’s list of guests came from around the world.

The Livery Stables

Up to eleven stagecoaches left San Juan Bautista each day and the livery stable was a busy place. The livery stable also served as the blacksmith shop.

You can just imagine the activity around the livery stables during the 1860’s and early 1870’s with these many teams of horses being harnessed and unharnessed daily.

Today, the tourist to San Juan Bautista can see the exhibits of old wagons and stagecoaches.

livery stable san juan bautista california

Exhibits at old San Juan Bautista Livery Stables

Bypassed By The Railroad

The fate of San Juan Bautista as a growing settlement was at the hands of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The town’s fortunes were dealt a severe blow when the railroad bypassed the town beginning in 1876 and through Hollister instead, about ten miles to the east.

The Stagelines Slowly Vanish

Stagecoach travel along the California coast receded at about the same rate that the Southern Pacific completed rail lines to the south. By the year 1877 the Southern Pacific controlled about 85% of all California rail traffic. At the same time the Southern Pacific was engaged in a project to extend a transcontinental route eastward from Yuma. Competitors who also wanted to take advantage of this southern route across the country included the Texas & Pacific Railroad out of going west out of Dallas and the Santa Fe Railroad. As it turned out, the Southern Pacific prevailed.

The links below will take you to additional articles you may enjoy…

 Juan Bautista de Anza and the Founding of San Francisco

California and the Old Spanish Missions

Some excellent books regarding the famous California stagecoach routes include Stagecoaching on the California Coast: The Coastline Stage from Los Angeles to San Juan by Maury Hoag…The Golden Road: The Story of California’s Mission Trail by Felix Riesenberg…Cockeyed Charley Parkhurst: The West’s Most Unusual Stagewhip by Craig McDonald.

The Last Stagecoach Line

In 1901 the rail line was completed between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This marked the end of the California coastal stagecoach service.

plaza hotel california

View of Plaza Hotel across the San Juan Bautista plaza

Today, several communities have made the effort to commemorate the stage routes with markers. One good example of this are the signs placed between Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. This is a forty mile stretch of the old stagecoach trail. One of the remaining stagecoach stops you can visit today in this section is the Cold Springs Tavern. The address is 5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara.

The stagecoach route north to south generally followed the El Camino Real, the old Spanish highway of which San Juan Bautista was located. Parts of U.S. Hwy 101 today still follow this path and others do not.

Another section of the old stagecoach route you can explore today is the  Old Santa Susana Stage Road located at the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. Take a hike today and you may still be able to see the wagon ruts on the Devil’s Slide section of the trail. This area is also included on the National Register of Historic Places. The park is located in Los Angeles County where the Santa Susana Mountains join the Simi Hills.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)




A Visit to F. Scott Fitzgerald in Historic St. Paul

Trips Into History had the opportunity to visit the St. Paul Academy in St. Paul Minnesota, well known as being a school attended by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a famous American writer of short stories and novels.

st paul academy minnesota

St. Paul Academy

In all, Fitzgerald finished four novels. These included This Side of paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby. His fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon was published after his death in 1940.

Today’s generation might recognize several of Fitzgerald’s works as they have been made into popular films.

Visiting St. Paul Academy and Historic Summit Hill

The St. Paul Academy is an interesting stop to make if your travels take you to the Minneapolis / St. Paul area.

In addition to visiting the school where Fitzgerald attended, you may be able to take a unique walking tour which includes the house where he was born (481 Laurel Ave.) in 1896 and the site where he wrote his first novel. Fitzgerald was born at this address in a third floor apartment. On this tour you’ll also be able to take in Summit Avenue which dates back to the 1850’s with it’s historic houses and churches. Summit Avenue is both a National Historic District and a City of St. Paul Heritage Preservation District.

f scott fitzgerald school

St. Paul Academy site

For more information regarding tours of St. Paul’s historic Summit Avenue you may want to visit the website

The James J. Hill House is located at 240 Summit Avenue and was the home of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway.

F. Scott Fitzgerald of St. Paul Minnesota

F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose formal name was F. Scott Key Fitzgerald, attended St. Paul Academy from 1908 to 1911 after his father had moved from Buffalo New York to St. Paul Minnesota. Fitzgerald’s father tried manufacturing wicker furniture in upstate New York without success. He did find a job as a salesman for Proctor and Gamble in Minnesota and this necessitated the family’s move to St. Paul.

Interestingly enough, Fitzgerald’s first published writing came at the age of thirteen when he wrote a detective story for the St. Paul Academy newspaper. His stay in St. Paul at this early period of his life was short. Fitzgerald was actually expelled from St. paul Academy in 1911 for what was said poor grades. Aside from his writing, the future author apparently didn’t give the effort required for the rest of his studies.

st paul academy st paul minnesota

St. Paul Academy entrance

The family moved to New Jersey in 1913 where the young Fitzgerald attended the Newman School from 1911 to 1913 and then it was Princeton University from 1913 to 1917. F. Scott Fitzgerald ended up dropping out of Princeton and joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

Writing Style of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Many claim that F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of America’s greatest writers. Describing the writing style of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes many elements. It certainly cannot be described in one word. You have to consider the time period of which his writings took place. Some may consider his work of “drawing room” style. His sentences tended to be complex. This would be different from Hemingway’s more down to earth writing. Some might call Fitzgerald’s writing a bit pompous and at times judgmental. His characters were not always heroes.

The decade of the 1920’s was especially influential to Fitzgerald. You can readily see this in The Great Gatsby which was published in 1925. This was one of his shorter stories. Three of his works were published during the 1920’s. During this period he also built a relationship with Ernest Hemingway.

f scott fitzgerald saturday evening post

F. Scott Fitzgerald on Saturday Evening Post

Fitzgerald used class differences in his writings. The difference between the lives of the high social class as opposed to that of the poor. You certainly see this same theme in later writings such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died suddenly in 1940 of a heart attack in Hollywood California.

You may also enjoy two articles on our Western Trips site on the links below…

The John Steinbeck Center in Salinas CA

Jack London State Historic Park

For those wanting more insight into the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I have to mention an ebook publication entitled Who Was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy? The character Daisy was the leading lady in The Great Gatsby. In this book local author Andrea Olmstead identifies the real life woman and her relationship with Fitzgerald. Olmstead explains how this woman influenced characters in This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Saturday Evening Post image is from the public domain)

The Early 48er’s of the California Gold Rush

One of the most publicized stories concerning the California Gold Rush was the fascinating story of the 49er’s and their flooding of northern California by land and by sea. Likewise, one of the not so publicized stories has to do with the very first Gold Rush prospectors, the 48er’s, the hordes who stampeded to the Sierra Nevada foothills before the legendary 49er’s ever arrived.

What occurred in late 1848 was in many respects the opening salvo of the great gold rush of California.

gold rush water cannon

Mining Water Cannon exhibit at Nevada City California

A Timely Speech and a Gold Rush

The exodus to the California gold fields began with a speech in San Francisco’s Plymouth Square.

The gold in California was discovered at a John Sutter’s sawmill in January of 1848 by James Marshall who was working for Sutter. Sutter wanted badly to keep the news secret and directed his employees to do so. Firstly, Sutter thought that this gold could help pay off his debts which were many. Secondly, a rush of prospectors to the area would jeopardize his land holdings and farming operations. Obviously something like this wouldn’t remain a secret for long. San Francisco newspapers reported on the finding in March but not much came of it. Finally it all came to a head in May of 1848 and with “proof” by way of a man named Sam Brannan, a storekeeper in Sutter’s Creek.

Sam Brannon became aware of the discovery at John Sutter’s sawmill from Mormans who lived in the area of the American River. Brannon obtained a bottle filled with gold dust and proceeded, when he felt the time was right and his stores along the American River fully stocked, to make a speech in Plymouth Square where he declared to the crowd…”Gold! Gold! Gold from American River!” While rumors about the gold discovery were known by many, albeit without seeing the gold itself, Brannon’s declaration and exciting exhibit offered proof to the rumors. This was enough to stir things up.

stamp mill gold rush

Ten Stamp Mill exhibit, Nevada City California

There wasn’t an instant stampede and the local papers at first treated this newest story mildly. That also didn’t last long. In a few days time there began a tremendous exodus out of San Francisco and other coastal settlements.

The newspapers actually closed down because the owners and employees felt more money could be made along the American River. Ships that arrived in San Francisco found crews deserting and heading east into the Sierra Nevada foothills. Stores closed when owners abandoned them. These were the 48er’s. These were the people residing in California at the time and they had the first pickings.

New York newspapers reported on the discovery in August 1848 but it would be months before the eastern population could make it all the way to northern California. Their choices included a journey overland, sailing around Cape Horn and up the coast or sailing to Panama and across a malarial jungle to a port on the Pacific coast. Any of these choices meant months of travel.

sutters fort exhibits

Exhibit inside Sutter’s Fort, Sacramento California

The Early Pickings for Gold

It is a fact that the earliest prospecting for California gold was by far the easiest. In some cases there was very little work involved finding the mineral. Some described it as being everywhere. It was said that out of the ten thousand prospectors in the gold fields during the fall of 1848 it was hard to find anyone who didn’t find $20 worth of gold each day. Five prospectors using picks and shovels uncovered $75,000 worth of gold in a three month period. Gold was found using only crow bars and a knives. Businessmen hired workers to hunt for gold thus increasing their profits. One person was known to promise local Indians relatively cheap gifts if they would bring him gold.

Selling to the Prospectors

Another way to make a fortune during the historic winter of 1848-1849 was to sell to the prospectors. It was said that $40 could be charged for a single meal. Horses could be sold for $300 that prior to the gold rush might have cost $6. Eggs could sell for $3 each and butter $6 per pound. If you were able to obtain the merchandise to sell, as Sam Brannon did, a fortune could be made without even leaving your store. Some smart prospectors invested their new found gold wealth into enterprises bringing goods via ship up from Mexico to sell to the miners. Shovels and picks would fetch $100 as did boots and a gallon of whiskey.

gold miners statue auburn california

Gold Miners statue, Auburn California

The First of the Forty-Niners

The first of the Forty-Niners were actually seen in southern California as early as August 1848. These were the people too anxious to get to California to wait for spring.

Knowing about the tragedy that the Donner Party met attempting to cross the Sierra Nevada range in the winter, these first arrivals to California took the southern Texas to San Diego route. This took them across the deserts of the southwest and over the Yuma Crossing to California. From San Diego it was north over the El Camino Real to northern California.

After the initial group of Forty-Niners reached the California gold fields thousands would follow and not only from the U.S. People from Europe, South America and Asia arrived in droves.

The Earliest Pickings Were the Best

By the third and fourth year of the Gold Rush the largest part of the precious metal was mined. Compared to the bonanza found by the first miners, especially those from 1848, there were people who arrived later and left disappointed. Nevertheless, fortunes were still made but the pickings were nothing like what was seen during that first winter of 1848-1849.

Below are links to two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

The Steamboat and Sacramento

A Six Month Voyage Chasing For Gold

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

old town sacramento firehouse

Structure in Old Town Sacramento California

Visit California’s Gold Rush Museums and Parks

North Star Mining Museum–   The museum located in Grass Valley California, just north of Auburn, is housed in the former North Star Mine powerhouse. The mining displays include machinery, handcrafted tools, a 20-stamp mill, Cornish Pump and a 30-foot Pelton Wheel.

Sacramento History Museum– Located in historic Old Town Sacramento, the museum will give you a lesson in everything gold rush. John Sutter, riverboat traffic, old mine replicas, Portuguese and Chinese exhibits, and the history of Sacramento’s first fifty years are all a part of this fascinating museum.

Columbia State Historic Park–   Gold was discovered here at Columbia California in 1850. Columbia yielded $87 million in gold at 1860s prices and was known as “The Queen of the Southern Mines”.

gold rush exhibits nevada city

Mine Ore Car exhibit, Nevada City California

Gold Bug Park-  The main feature of the park located in Placerville is the Gold Bug Mine, a small hard rock gold mine. Featured ar two lighted shafts of the Gold Bug Mine, one is 362 feet in length and the other 147 feet long. These are open to the public for self guided tours.

Chew Kee Store-   Constructed in the early 1850s, this rammed earth adobe located in Fiddletown served as an herb shop during the Gold Rush and is the only remnant of the once thriving Fiddletown Chinese Community. The building is now a museum operated by the Fiddletown Preservation Society.

Kennedy Mine-   The Kennedy Mine Foundation offers guided and self guided surface tours of the historic Kennedy Mine located in Jackson. View the 125 foot high head frame, mine buildings, restored mine office, the remnants of the largest stamp mill in the Mother Lode and more.

Three excellent books about the California Gold Rush, the Forty-Eighters and the Forty-Niners include The Golden Road by author Felix Riesenberg Jr., … They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by author JoAnn Levy and Bret Harte’s Gold Rush by author Bret Harte.


(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)