A man whose occupation it is to make wheels and wheel-carriages, as carts and wagons. — Webster, 1882
Information Gratis! The Subscribers would inform their customers and the public at large that they are engaged in the Wheelwright and Blacksmith business in all its various branches, at the old stand formerly occupied by Daniel Brown, Esq. Having at great pains and expense procured a large stock of the Best Quality of Timber and the Best Workmen, they are now prepared to furnish new work or repair old work on the shortest notice and at most reasonable prices. Feeling sincerely thankful for the liberal patronage of the community for the last season, we solicit a continuance of the same. We have on hand a few cutters of the best of timber, workmanship and finish, which we will sell as cheap as any can be bought of like quality east or west. William Robb and Oren Cornish. – Malone Palladium, January 1868.
A wheelwright was a necessity in any pioneer community, and Malone censuses show that during the years the Wilders were in Franklin County, there were a number of wheelwrights in Malone and its environs. In Farmer Boy, fictional Almanzo Wilder had an opportunity to be apprenticed as a wheelwright under Mr. Paddock (see Chapter 29, “Farmer Boy”), but Almanzo is allowed to tell Father what he wants to do, and everybody knows what that was.
Just how fictional was this story? In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s handwritten Farmer Boy draft, the story is quite different. Almanzo finds the pocketbook full of money belonging to Mr. Thompson on the road as he and Father bring a load of hay into town, and after selling the hay, Father goes to Mr. Case’s store to shop, telling Almanzo to take the pocketbook next door to the cafe, where Mr. Thompson is probably eating lunch. It’s Mr. Babcock who comes to Almanzo’s aid in the manuscript as Mr. Paddock does in the published version. Mr. Paddock is a separate character in the manuscript; he’s the man who runs a rival hardware store to Mr. Case’s (where Mr. Wilder usually shops). On a different visit to town, Mr. Wilder has come to Mr. Paddock’s store to buy a new ax, and Almanzo goes to the back room to watch the tinsmith work. He is so intently focused on what the tinsmith is doing that Father has to come to the back room to find him. It was then that Mr. Paddock comments to Mr. Wilder what a smart boy Almanzo seems to be, and what about “letting [him] have [Almanzo] as an apprentice, to learn the tinsmith’s trade in a year or so when he’s older.” [Farmer Boy manuscript, pages 202-203]
The following description of the wheelwright’s job is from an early book used to tell young men about the various trades they could go into.
The Wheelwright. This artisan’s employment embraces the making of all sorts of wheels for carriages which are employed in husbandry, as well as for those adapted to the purposes of pleasure. Road wagons and other vehicles constructed for burden, are also the manufacture of the wheelwright.
The business is usually divided into two distinct branches of work; one of which being confined to the purpose of manufacturing wheels for carriages of pleasure, is an appendage to coach-making; the other to the making of the bodies, wheels, etc. of the different kinds of machines required for the transport of the various commodities for the purpose of trade, and the comfort and convenience of the people.
It will appear, by a very superficial examination, that such a business is of very great consideration, and must be undoubtedly of very great antiquity; as, from the earliest dawn of civilization, the transport of heavy bodies from one place to another, such as stones and timber, for the purposes of building, would suggest to man the use of rolling bodies for such conveyance, and, as improvement upon these, wheels for such purposes…
The tools necessary in this business are many of the same as those employed by the carpenter, and, indeed, the carpenter and the wheelwright, in many country places, are one and the same purpose.
The wheel is composed of several parts” as the nave, which is the center piece; the spokes, which are inserted at one end of the nave, and at the other, into the fellies, which make up the outside rim, or circumference of the wheel. These thre eparts constitute a heel, but, for the sake of giving strength to the whole, some iron work is used.
The nave is that short thick piece of wood in the center of each wheel, which receives the axle-tree, with holes ready to receive the spokes, which are made to fit accurately. When the spokes are fitted in the nave, the rim, or fellies, are next put on the spokes. Each felly is of sufficient length to receive two spokes, so that if there are twelve spokes in a wheel, the rim should consist of six pieces, or fellies.
The nave is bound at each end on the outside with strong iron hoops, called nave-bands: inside also, there is a ring of iron, called the wisher, or washer, to prevent the hole from wearing by the friction of the axle. To the outside rim, or fellies, is an iron tire, fastened with very strong nails, or spikes. The parts of the tire are made red hot before they are put on the wheels, in order that they may burn a small depth in the wheel, or at least, all roughness which might hinder it from lying flat with the wood; besides by being in this state, they may be easily bent, so as to conform most accurately to the curve of the wheel. Another advantage is, that iron, when hot, expands, and as it become cold it contracts into shorter length; and, as the tire of the wheel contracts, it must have a tendency to draw the several parts of the fellies closer together. To give the man power over his work, the wheel is places in a sort of pit, made in the floor, on the sides of which the nave may rest, so that little more than half of the wheel stands above the surface. The wheelwright puts the tire on the wheel and smoke is made to pour forth from the burning of the wood. Large pincers enable him to bring the red-hot iron from the fire, and place it on the wheel. An axe with a bent blade is used for hollowing out the fellies.
By scooping out the wood, the grain is often so much cut and injured as to weaken it to a great degree. To remedy this, a method has been invented of bending timber into a circular form by the application of steam, so that the whole rim of the wheel consists of not more than two pieces, which are covered with a tire in a single piece. By this mode of construction, the circumference of the wheel is every where equally strong, and much more durable than wheels made of more pieces.
Elm, which is sometimes employed by wheelwrights for axle-trees, is also much in use for chopping-blocks, not being liable to split. But Ash is much more commonly used for axle-trees than elm. The part of the axle-tree which is inserted into the wheel is either covered with two plates of iron, called a fore and hind clout, to prevent the wearing of the wood; or a more common practice now, is to have what is called an iron-arm, fitted to the iron-box, which is fixed tight in the nave of the wheel. The arms are screwed to the axle by stout screws. The wheel is secured by a pin, called a linch-pin.
Wheelwrights are makers also of carts, and a variety of other carriages. The business is a very laborious one, and requires that no boy should be brought up to it who does not possess a strong constitution. — The Young Tradesman (London: Whittaker & Co., 1839), 429-433.
wheelwright (FB 29)