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Conestoga Wagon : Fred Giles’ Prize Model

26 April, 2017 | David Webb

Fred Giles visited the American Museum in September 1975 and saw our Conestoga wagon. It sparked an idea, and many years later his superb scale model is complete and winning prizes. Here, Fred talks about how he constructed it.

Plans based on the museum’s Conestoga Wagon

Plans based on the museum’s Conestoga Wagon

In September 1975. We were on holiday in the UK and visited The American Museum where I purchase a set of scaled drawings by John Thompson of the Conestoga wagon. My thoughts were to at some point to make a model.

It was not until after I retired in 2011 that I found the time to start.

I started by building the wheels. I find that when making wheels it pays to make a jig to hold all the parts correctly, the hub upright & central with a flat area for the rim to sit on at the correct offset to the hub. Once you have made the spokes exactly the right length and assembled the rim you can then use a simple metal band with two holes & a bolt to pull the whole thing together and clamp the rim to the flat area while the glue sets. This way the wheel will be straight & true.

Making the wheels - Fred Giles Conestoga Wagon Model

Making the wheels – Fred Giles Conestoga Wagon Model

Once the wheels were finished and the steel rims shrunk onto them the rest of the wagon was made over the following months.

Miniature wagon

When I had finished the wagon I needed six horses. The way I did this was by getting a picture of a Conestoga horse from a book and photo copying it, then enlarging to the correct size. Then after cutting it out, I glued it to 12mm MDF sheet. When the basic shape was cut out I stuck more layers together adjusting them to make the contours into a horse shape. When all had been glued and clamped together I refined the shape using files and chisels. I used car body filler to complete the shape and paint aerosols for the finish. The hair I got from www.retrodolls.uk

Making the horses : Fred Giles Conestoga Wagon Model

Making the horses : Fred Giles Conestoga Wagon Model

I would recommend anyone thinking of making one of these wagons to purchase the book Conestoga Wagon 1750-1850 by George Shumway & Howard C Frey.

Fred Giles Conestoga Wagon Model

The finished model

This book gives so much detail that it will help in many ways, especially if you want to know the items that were used with the wagons and how they were driven etc. The other thing I found out was that not all the wagons were the same, as they were made by many different people over the 100 years manufacture each maker added or adjusted something to suit themselves & their customers needs.

Conestoga wagon

The museum’s Conestoga Wagon

Huge congratulations to Fred on this superb model which won the Jurat Arthur Dorey Cup in the 2017 Guernsey Eisteddfod. This cup has been awarded since 1922 for the most outstanding item in all classes in the exhibition.