Victoria Bylin: My Modern Day Conestoga Wagon

Vicki LogoIn a few more weeks, my husband and I will be leaving our home of ten years here in northern Virginia and moving to Lexington, Kentucky.  My in-laws live there, and my youngest son goes to UK (University of Kentucky). We’re stoked!  We’re also putting all our belongings in a “pod.”  Have you seen those onsite storage containers?  I don’t mean to do an advertisement here, but the company we’re using is “Personal On Demand Storage,” aka PODS.   You’ve probably seen them.

pod

This thing is huge.  We’re also in the middle of renovating our house. It’s a mess, so we joked about living in the Pod. A couple of cots and we’d be set . . . which got me thinking about pioneers, covered wagons, leaving home, and deciding what to do take.

I thought it would be fun to do a few comparisons.  Not all covered wagons were conestoga-smithsonian1Conestogas, but the Conestogas were the biggest. Just how big was a Conestoga wagon?   How much could it hold?  

Our Pod dimensions are 16 x 8 x 8, for a total of 6,785 cubic feet.  We got the biggest one. Conestogas came in different sizes, but the average one was nowhere close to the Pod size.  The wagon beds were 16 feet long, 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide and shaped like a boat.  That’s about 256 cubic feet of space.  By the way, Wikipedia gives much bigger dimensions for the Conestoga. (conestoga-wagon-bw24 x 11 x 4).  That has to be measuring from the ground up, and the length of the conveyance with the harness. 

In their heyday Conestogas were referred to as “the inland ship of commerce.”  They were like semi-trucks back in the early nineteenth century.  Each wagon had a tool box for repairs, which were frequent with the rutted roads and rough terrain. We picture them in long lines headed west, but they were first used in the mid 18th century in the Appalachia Valley.  

Another interesting link to modern times is the left-sided drive design.  Drivers walked or rode on the left side of the wagon.  They’d use their right hand to steer with the reins, and operate the brake with their left hand. Have you ever wondered why American cars have left sided steering and European cars don’t?  It goes back to the Conestoga.

Conestoga isn’t a generic term for “covered wagon.”  Conestogas have a specific design, i.e., the boat shape, and they were first made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and used to haul produce to Philadelphia.  The earliest reference to a “Conestoga” was in 1711.

How did it gets name?  The wagons got their name from the Conestoga Valley in Pennysylvia where they originated.

podzilla

How much could a Conestoga hold in terms of weight? A lot!  Wikipedia says it could hold 12,000 lbs. and was pulled by six horses.  I couldn’t find the weigh limit for PODS, but this is a picture of the device used to lift it on to the truck. “Podzilla” fits, don’t you think.

My husband guess-timates he loaded 4,000 lbs. of stuff. I jokingly said, “I bet 500 lbs. of that was books.”  He gave me a rather dry look and said it was more like a thousand pounds. Bless his good heart and strong back!  He didn’t complain once about the 20 boxes of paperbacks, research books and back list titles. 

 

mike-and-the-pod

Your turn! Have you moved using a POD?  Maybe you’ve rented a U-Haul and done the toting and lugging yourself.  Any military folks who’ve moved every two years?

What possessions do you take extra care of when you wrap and pack? And if you had to pack a Conestoga instead of a Pod, what would you take and what would you leave behind?

 

America is a mobile society and it has been from the very beginning.  We’ve gone from Conestogas to Pods, but the spirit of adventure is the same.  

Victoria Bylin
Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

36 Comments

  1. Thanks for your post, Victoria. I’ve always romanticized the covered wagon era, but this summer when we took the kids on a road trip from Texas to Oregon and back (going through 8 states and nearly 5000 miles on our circuitous path) I was so thankful that we could cover the distance in days, not months. Can you imagine how many “are we there yet”s those pioneer women must have heard?

    And when we hit Arizona with its 117 degree heat, I thanked the Lord for my air-conditioned minivan. I think I’ll stick to visiting the frontier in books.

  2. I just ran across your post and LOVE your comparison to the Conestoga Wagon! I actually work for ABF U-Pack Moving, we do containerized moving and storage as well, so this peaked my interest. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and a little bit of history!

  3. My daughter drives up for the day with her baby and all the paraphenalia that goes with her and I say, “People set out across the unsettled west with less stuff than you’re bringing for the day.”

    Can you imagine packing your whole WORLD into that wagon?

    We really are spoiled aren’t we.

  4. Great post, Vicki! We’ve used UHaul more times than I care to remember. This last time it took their largest truck (I had 48 baoxes of books!). Dan drove the UHaul and towed my pickup truck, stuffed full of stuff, and I drove the car – stuffed full of stuff. We’d have never made it in a Conestoga. lol

  5. Vicki.

    What an interesting post. I can relate. I have never used a POD but I have used a U-Haul from AZ to TN. My husband, myself, teenage son, and baby daughter at the time and let me tell you I was ready to run off at times. Not enough room etc.

    Again interesting I love the covered wagons, but I would of rathered lived with the Indians in their tipis. Also please email me navajotrust@yahoo.com I am trying to do interviews on all the fillies and I would love to do one on you

    Thanks
    Melinda

  6. Hi Vicki,

    I just got through with a big move myself. This time I hired movers to load up my belongings and tote it 200 miles away. All I can is that I’m glad it’s over. I absolutely hate pulling up roots and moving to a new place. I only had a few minor breakages so I count myself lucky. I cannot imagine packing a covered wagon and heading into the great unknown. I wonder what those adventurous people did with all their belongings that didn’t fit in a covered wagon. There were no garage sales or storage units. Guess they had to give everything away. Deciding what to take and what to discard would’ve been extremely hard.

    Interesting subject. I’m just glad moving is behind me. Whew!

  7. Hi Vicki,
    Good luck on the move! I loved the tie in from conestoga wagons to today’s POD! I don’t move often – we don’t like change and we LOVE our neighborhood and neighbors. I have nightmares about moving, so no wagons or PODS for me right now.
    Wishing you an easy, stress-free move – well hoping anyway!!! Great blog today!

  8. Hi Vicki,
    Good luck on the move! I loved the tie in from conestoga wagons to today’s POD! I don’t move often – we don’t like change and we LOVE our neighborhood and neighbors. I have nightmares about moving, so no wagons or PODS for me right now.
    Wishing you an easy, stress-free move – well hoping anyway!!! Great blog today!

  9. Hi Vicki,

    May I be one of the first to say, Welcome to the great State of Kentucky. I’ve lived here now going on 7 years and I love it. The scenery reminds me of my time growing up in Virginia. Hope you have a safe and uneventful move. Have a great day.

  10. Honey and I haven’t moved in forty years and
    do not have any such activity planned for the
    near future. Our children have made several
    moves, all courtesy of U-Haul! Only DD2 has
    any plans for any future moves.

    Pat Cochran

  11. Hi Karen, I love air conditioning! As much as I’d like to think I have what it takes to travel cross-country in a covered wagon, I loading the Pod just about did me in.

    It must have been a wonderful trip for your kids. You see this country in a new way when you’re traveling by car. I loved our trip for California to Virginia, but 9 days was enough!

  12. Hi Becky, You’re doing people a wonderful service! I don’t know what we would have done without this kind of storage. We had to move out to redo the house, but we can’t split for KY until October 1st. Having our stuff in storage without having to repack in a truck has been a real blessing.

  13. Hi Mary, I think you’re right about traveling with baby stuff. Between diaper bags and car seats and toys, you can fill a mini-van.

    Hi Tracy, We’ve done U-Haul, too. We’ve also done it with movers. No matter what, it’s a HUGE amount of work!!!! You’ve got me beat on the number of boxes of books! I told my husband that’s one of the rigors of being married to a writer : )

  14. Hi Melinda, I hear you on the crowded travel with a teenager! When we came cross-country the first time, our oldest was 13 and the youngest was 8. They did pretty well, but there’s never enough elbow room for boys!

    Thank you for the interview invite : ) I’ll email in the next day or two!

  15. Hi Charlene, I love southern California. You can’t beat the weather and the beaches. No wonder you don’t want to move!

  16. Hi Linda,
    I thought of you and your recent move as I wrote the post. It’s a huge task, isn’t it? Here’s to staying put for a while for both of us!

  17. I haven’t moved in over 30 years and there’s no way I could pack up all the stuff that I have crammed into my house lol. Books, of course, being number one lol.

  18. Hi Roberta! I’m super excited about the move. California will always be home, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Lexington. Love the horse country and the people are so friendly. It’s been a great place for my inlaws for retirement, and Dave (my son) loves UK. I guess I’ll have to become a Wildcat fan.

  19. Love this, Vickie. Early in my then-marriage we moved so many times I lost track–all do-it-yourself packing and hauling. Have been in my little house almost 11 years, and I never want to move again. Great info about the conestoga.

  20. Howdy Pat, I envy you the stability of forty years in one place. It’s wonderful to have so much family history in one place. My parents were in the same house for 22 years, which was cool. My hubby and I have moved several times because of work. The longest we’ve been in one place is 10 years, and that’s in this house in Virginia.

  21. Hi Elizabeth, I hear you on never wanting to move again. Even when you strip everything down, which we’ve done, there’s still a lot of stuff that has to go in boxes and get hauled up or down stairs. We live in a 3-story townhouse here in Virginia, which means I went up or down at least 10,000 times. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but my legs are killing me today! And I’m a walker! I do 2 miles a day with hills!

  22. We moved 1200 miles last year an had a 26 foot uhaul my van that pulled a 12 foot tag a long omg goodness it was quite a ordeal,but we made it,im too old to move again!

  23. Hi Vickie, Sounds like quite a caravan! The Pod will be delivered in Lexington, but we may decide to rent a U-Haul for the last stuff in the house. We’ve got a couple of twin beds that will take up space, plus my husband has tools that should go. He has a little pick-up truck. We’ll see how it goes!

  24. hi Vicki, what a fantastic post and comparison! I always heard the Conestogas were called prairie schoolers because of covers reminded folks of sails.

    We haven’t moved in 24 years and don’t see it coming. But you never know. I have seen Pods, and I suspect we’d need several LOL. I never travel light. In fact we just got back last night from a week of traveling, and I’m still working on unpacking.

    What a great read today, Vicki. oxoxoxoxo

  25. hi Vicki, what a fantastic post and comparison! I always heard the Conestogas were called prairie schoolers because of covers reminded folks of sails.

    We haven’t moved in 24 years and don’t see it coming. But you never know. I have seen Pods, and I suspect we’d need several LOL. I never travel light. In fact we just got back last night from a week of traveling, and I’m still working on unpacking.

    What a great read today, Vicki. oxoxoxoxo

  26. hi Vicki, what a fantastic post and comparison! I always heard the Conestogas were called prairie schoolers because of covers reminded folks of sails.

    We haven’t moved in 24 years and don’t see it coming. But you never know. I have seen Pods, and I suspect we’d need several LOL. I never travel light. In fact we just got back last night from a week of traveling, and I’m still working on unpacking.

    What a great read today, Vicki. oxoxoxoxo

  27. I do not think that I will ever move but know that when we go camping in the mountains for two weeks I feel like I am moving. Like the pioneers, we take everything we may need because it is a long trip to the nearest town. thank goodness my husband understands my need for a book of books and the yarn and knitting needles needed to entertain me while he is out hunting. We have a small wooden two wheel trailer that has a kitchen in the back much like the old chuck wagons. We sleep in a tent and have figured out how to shower in the forest. All of our food we take with us and have figured out how to pack frozen meat so that it stays very cold for that length of time. Of course we go in September so it can be very cold and night and that helps to keep the food. We love it!

  28. Hi Tanya, You’d probably need at least two Pods. With both of our sons out of the house, we eliminated a lot of stuff, including furniture. It was liberating. The dog might miss the old chair he was allowed to sit on, but I won’t 🙂

    Hi Connie! Your camping trip sounds so peaceful! I’d love to be in the middle of nowhere with a box of books. Sounds like you and your husband are quite a team!

  29. Avatar

    24 years as a military family. We didn’t move every 2 years, but moved often enough. I’m a pack rat and don’t do well parting with things. I generally didn’t have much time to sort through things anyway. Our biggest problem is what we own. My husband has lots of shop equipment, most of our furniture is antique oak (not light) and I have tons of books. Add in all the other stuff and we have way too much. We filled a large moving van, plus a U-haul truck, plus our vehicles. We retired in 1992 and have even more stuff (especially books). Wouldn’t even want to think about moving now. Always was very careful packing glassware and breakables. One move, the movers used very little paper and an I lost an antique washbowl that was part of a 10 piece set. Haven’t been able to replace it. We’ve had good movers and some really poor ones. Our first move, My grandmother’s antique cradle came out in three separate crates. Luckily my husband was able to repair it.
    It would really hurt to leave much because we have so many family antiques. I’d take family pictures, kitchen necessities, good dishes wrapped in the linens, our bed/dresser set, the cradle, my husband’s tools, and my books. We would need clothes, bedding, and washing supplies. Would like to bring our table and chairs, but now we are getting into a second wagon.

  30. Hi Patricia, Your home sounds warm and welcoming! My favorite piece of furniture is an antique desk that belonged to my grandmother. Somehow it’s survived all of our moves. I’m also attached to my mother’s old maple hutch. It’s vintage 1950s, though I’m not sure if 1950 is “vintage” or just old!

  31. I can still remember my grandmother telling us how she came to Kansas from Shenandoah Iowa in a covered wagon. I always thought that was the greatest story. Hard to imagine in this day and age.

  32. Recently rewatched The Quick and the Dead for the hundredth time. Remember Kate Capshaw leaving her bed and bureau and things out in the middle of nowhere?

    Occasiioannly it strikes me what an encumbered people we are. We move around entire homes and Pods full of possessions with us everywhere we go.

    And I probably have more than most!

  33. There is a modern day wagon-making business. They have a Conestoga wagon, I believe. They use the old way of making them, and they are really good at it. These look really good, and are sturdy. I’ll look up the company. If anyone has the answers, they would.

    Tianca

  34. http://www.hansenwheel.com/products/custom_wagons/covered_wagons.html

    This is the place that makes and sells wagons. They don’t have one in stock now, but I’m sure they can answer all your questions. There is one pictures, but has sold. Big!!!

    Imagine, the first station wagon! LOL!!!

    Not the same horsepower. In fact, I’m sure they used oxen to pull these things!!! They were strong enough to handle it.

    The territories were littered with all kinds of stuff families wanted to take out west. They soon found out that they could not handle the weight, and the wagon masters made people unload. It isn’t well known, but most who headed out west had to walk. They didn’t use the wagons for people, that was for goods. People walked, even pregnant women! They did what they had to do to get out west.

    I’ll bet half who headed out west died trying to get there, either from ignorance, the elements or the bad people who also went out there. To survive, you had to be tough. You had to do things most wouldn’t dream of doing. Like eating bugs, killing bears and mountain lions and wolves. Like crossing rivers when few could swim. Forget swimming, some don’t understand rivers. Exposure killed many, and not just in winter!

    It was damn hard to get there, and even harder to survive once you got there. People in the west are strong. No doubt about it

    Tianca

  35. I’m retired now but make things for the six grandchildren. I made a five foot model of a conestoga after much research, you can see it on google images under Conestoga covered wagon, I used the Hagely museums pics for my model and the book Conestoga wagon 1750-1850, which shows the construction in great detail, come to find out my ancestors made these wagons in the 18th century, they were pennsylvania Dutch on my mothers side. Have a pic of them in their yard with one. The wagons mostly used on the Oregon trail were smaller versions of the big freight wagons of 1750-1850 and were made in Pittsburgh, not of white oak or so I hear but the undercarriage was much the same design though they had a seat and no lazy board. Those made in Missouri were of much inferior quality and of course less expensive but did not hold up well on the trail, though they were lighter and quicker and less strain on the stock. The conestoga technology was brought to this country from Europe and like several popular wagons there it became the workhorse of transportation here, have fun with it, I’ll sell you my five footer,your friend

    Phi

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