A proud finish

Steed and crew finish Kane school wagon restoration

By David Peck

The Kane school wagon is finished and ready to roll.

Local craftsman Pat Steed and a band of volunteers undertook a project over the winter to completely restore the wagon that took students in the Kane-Ionia area to school in the 1920s. The primary restoration began on November 14, 2021, and wrapped up February 14, after which the project only awaited the arrival of the wheels, which were constructed by Jem Blueher of Livingston, Montana.

The wheels arrived in mid-April, were finished with staining and the installation of “leathers” – essentially washers – and installed.

With major restoration work performed at the Pat and JLee Steed residence, once finished (except for the final touches like painting, staining, a few final components and the wheels), the wagon was stored at Chad Petrich’s shop in Byron for several weeks.

The wagon was donated to the Lovell-Kane Museum in July of 2020 by Brad and Colleen Tippetts after resting at the Tippetts farm east of Lovell for many years. It was one of two wagons that took kids to the Kane School, which in the 1920s sat at the Kane-Ionia crossroad on the highway (now U.S. 14A) just west of the Big Horn River.

The wagon was run by Daniel Beal for many years, and after being retired, it sat at the Beal residence at Ionia until the land was purchased by the federal government in the 1960s to create the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The wagon was moved to the Tippetts farm and sat outside for many years, gradually deteriorating over the decades.

Though in rough shape, the wagon was quite a find for the museum board when told about it, and board members expressed interest in the museum acquiring the historic wagon for the museum’s collection.

Brad and Colleen Tippetts were more than happy to donate the wagon to the museum, and in July of 2020, members of the Beal family joined forces to move the wagon to the museum, assisted by others. The wagon then sat behind the museum for more than a year.

After acquiring the wagon, museum board president Karen Spragg became aware that Pat Steed had experience restoring and/or rebuilding wagons. He offered to tackle the restoration.

Spragg said Daniel Beal no doubt used the wagon for a variety of tasks since, at the time, school wagon or school bus drivers provided their own wagons or vehicles for their routes.

Indeed, Steed confirmed that the wagon was likely constructed in the early 1900s as a freight wagon, having a heavy-duty frame and robust undercarriage built by the Studebaker Company. It was later modified as a school wagon.

During a December 2021 interview after restoration was underway, Steed called the wagon a “double sprung freight wagon” and noted that it was made for road travel, not off-road travel, having a fixed tongue.

Spragg added that the wagon appears to have been originally made to be drawn by one horse and later modified for horses. On May 1, after bringing the wagon back to his place from Byron, Steed hitched the wagon to his pair of draft horses to measure and adjust the tongue, planning to pull the wagon in the Mustang Days Rose Parade on June 25.

Continuing work

When the Chronicle last checked in on the project in mid-December, Steed and company had been working on the wagon for about a month, fitting original wood into new wood, where possible, and calling on a number of friends to craft or
find various components, saying at the time, “I just made a few calls to see how much interest there was in doing it. Everyone was in support.”

The wagon has been restored based on photographs of the wagon, with Steed calling on his own experience as a young man working on the wagon and carriage collection owned by Dee Lewis. Nearly all of the metal in the wagon has been able to be reused, and original wood has been fit in, where possible, for instance the rear step, a sideboard and a roof board.

Over the winter, Steed completed the work as volunteers fashioned various components such as the doors, roof, tongue and double trees, sideboards, roof uprights and the roof bows. Staining and painting was done at the Petrich shop, along with the installation of the stove and side canvas. All of the metal was coated with polyurethane for preservation and shine.

Meanwhile, Blueher’s Anvil Wagon Works in Livingston was working on the wheels, using the original iron rims and the metal components of the hubs, and as promised, finished the wheels in time for the wagon to be displayed during Mustang Days.

Petrich pointed out that the wagon wheel spokes are not straight up and down, they are concave.

After Wayne and Karen Spragg picked up the wheels in Livingston in April, they were stained, installed and adjusted in Byron. The wagon was brought back to Steed’s place May 1 and taken to storage on Monday.

Showing off the finished product on May 1, Steed noted with pride in the restoration, “It’s as close to original as we could get…Everybody that said they’d do something on this wagon did it. That’s pretty cool.

“I’m glad it’s done,” he added with a smile.

Editor’s note: A complete history of the Kane school wagon will be presented in the Chronicle’s annual Mustang Days Historical Edition, where a final list of all the project volunteers and wagon details will be presented.