Anachron-Cart-art - 9/14/17
"An Anachronistic Cart" by Sargent Boldewyn Rhienholt.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
An Anachronistic Cart
by Sargent Boldewyn Rhienholt
My Lady has an excellent cart horse that she uses in the SCA. The main problem was the modern cart that she had for him. It was light, easy to transport and very usable, but just looked out of place at a SCA event. So we decided to buy or make one. Of course I am an early period Goth (Rome) and she portrays a 14th century Scott. So a Roman chariot was the obvious choice. Well, at least in my mind...
Photo courtesy of Brian Mahocker
Knowing my current knowledge and ability limits, we started by looking for a basic cart to modify. We were primarily after the wheels and axles. When looking on line for these, we found that wheels were crazy expensive (and after working with the wheels, they are incredibly labor intensive). We found that there are generally three generation of wheels; solid (earlier period), star (mid-period) and spoked (later period). In general terms, technological advances allowed wheels to be made with interlocking components and lighter, while maintaining strength and increasing trueness. I don't think you should get hung up on using wheels to determine age. Early period wheels are easier to make and show up on later period stuff too.
We found an Amish cart that was a "basket case". It was not road worthy, but it had the parts on it to get us on our way. Plus, through this process, I could learn the idiosyncrasies of cart making. And there are many more than most would believe! But it had the basics...wheels, axles, shafts, and all still connected enough to figure out how carts are designed.
For those that don't know me, I am a mechanical man stuck in an electronic world. I have built several things in the SCA (and a multitude of products in my real world job and life). I have skills and I know a lot and can figure out even more. However I feel my best asset is that I can recognize when I am at my limit of experience and knowledge. So that is why I could have started from scratch, but didn't. The next one I may do so.
There were searches, conversations, poorly done drawings, calculations, staring at a partially disassembled carcass, and planning instead of going to sleep. Through the discussions, my Lady made it clear that the modern suspension should stay. So I had to incorporate somewhat hiding it into a cart design. That pretty much determined the cart could not be a chariot, as I could not make it round front and hide the long springs at the same time. More importantly, the wheels were just too big for a chariot. Well, I could make a square front and big wheeled chariot, but that would be too far away from the desired look. So a 14th Century cart to match her persona was decided upon.
Figuring things out.
The carts represented in period have a multitude of designs, but some common features. Single horse, big wheels, a square box with a tapered side design and can be driven inside, as well as, beside the cart.
I also had to try to hide the modern aspects, so I had to decide to what level. From 30' away level or 10' away level or "oh-crap-a-Laurel-is-looking-at-it" level. I decided to go with the 30' rule since it has to have the suspension, be a size and weight that can be transported and be "modern" safe.
There would be a lot of work just to get to this level of period look. I also learned a lot about the art of wheel wrights and cart making. All of it by what was in front of me. Funny thing, for all the "Amish- made" stuff you can buy on line, there is nothing on how they actually make their stuff.
One wheel had a broken spoke. This was the most daunting thing for me, as I didn't know if the spoke came off from the center or the outer rim. Thankfully, it came off from the center and pressed into the rim, so I didn't have to do a steel ring peel and steamed wood repair. A piece of hardwood, a lot of patience and I made a spoke that matched the others. I did get lucky as these wheels have bearings and not "leather and grease" packing.
As you can see, I was dealing with rotted wood, okay wood and good wood, all at different spacing. So it was basically a mess. I decided to build an entire new base. I also added a angle crosspiece on the back as I see many carts with sides that flair out with use. It is important to note that the shafts that go up to the horse move with everything you do. 1⁄4" variance in the back will move the shafts up to 1" out of parallel with each other. I found out through this build that the metal rods that angle in the front adjust the shaft heights when tightened.
I kept the front boards and shafts as I like to keep a bit of the old with the new. I had to work hard at keeping things squared up on a totally hand made item. Switching over to giving it a period look, I wanted to give the wagon the angled sides that I saw on so many examples. Now whether the angles on the sides were due to failure when loading or purposeful (as you could get more crop in the cart), I do not know. I imagine it could be both. This took more figuring out that the final look implies as you are working with multiple angles. I finished up by putting cedar on the sides to enclose it a bit without adding much weight. Also I had to somewhat cover the mechanicals a bit. I had to go vertical as the axle free floats 1" horizontally and 4" vertically.
Other mechanical considerations
I had to remake or repair nearly all of the metal bits. I didn't make any of the perfect as that belies the handmade aspect of the period piece. Additionally, I had to cut 6" of width off the axle. Obviously, the Amish do not concern themselves with getting a cart in the back of a truck, but we do. I had to make sure the overall width did not exceed 60" This caused some final contact and adjustments, but we got it sorted out. Also, the springs float a lot and hit everything, so I had to hand hewn some clearances. I chose not to cover the springs on the inside as it would have added another 30 lbs to the cart without much payback.
As you can tell, I have a lot of different woods in different colors here. If not for the painted shafts and wheels, I would have attempted a stain. But we had to do a faux stain finish with paint. It's a two-part process that yields a reasonable result at 30' and 10'. Using semi-gloss black on all the metal helps the look also.
The Final Outcome
Finally, we added some items for SCA show, usability and occupant safety.
Copyright 2017 by Dan Denney. <boldensback at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.