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Wind Wagon of the 1890s

Using the wind as a source of power, including locomotive power, is hardly new. "Wind wagon" stories intermittently appear in the history of the Great Plains, especially in Kansas. Probably the best known such vehicle was that of Kansan Samuel Peppard, which was built in the summer of 1860 to carry a party of four to the Colorado goldfields. Nebraska, too, had a wind wagon, built in the 1880s by F. B. Cole, who was said to travel in it between his home in O'Neill and his homestead claim.

The Lincoln Daily Call on April 4, 1890, published another wind wagon tale, this one from western Nebraska: "DeCamp, one of Raymond Bros. & Co.'s traveling men who makes the western part of the state, tells a wonderful story of a remarkable adventure which was participated in by himself and two other traveling men about ten days ago. They were at Lemar [Lamar], on the Cheyenne and wanted to go to Venango, in the Frenchman Valley. There was a light spring wagon that could be hired, but not a horse could be had for love or money. DeCamp is an inventive genius, and his faculties played him and his friends a good part on this occasion. They secured the light spring wagon and loaded it with their grips and sample cases.

"They then improvised a sail out of some muslin purchased at one of the stores and fixing one of the guide ropes at each end of the front axle, they mounted their wind wagon and set sail for the south. The wind was blowing a gentle zephyr from the north, and as they had down grade before them, the way seemed fair, and as their friends bade them farewell they hoped that no danger might befall them on the way.

"Their journey for the most part was as pleasant as one could imagine, but when about two-thirds of the way had been traveled one of the boys said to DeCamp: 'See how the sage bushes cluster on the hill tops.' And DeCamp replied: 'That dark green marks the course of the Frenchman river, the sacred river of these chosen people.'

"But just as their carriage entered one of the narrow defiles which bordered onto the river bank, the hitherto gentle zephyr increased its energies and humped itself to do them proudly by carrying them over the river without a . . . warning. But it had overestimated its capacities and the wind wagon, samples, boys, and all went down to the bottom of the stream.

"Twenty minutes were spent in getting out of the tangle and re-mounting their vehicle, when they went on again, sailing as before. Notwithstanding their adventure, which delayed them twenty minutes, they arrived safely at Venango in just one hour and twenty minutes from the time of their starting.

"Twenty miles an hour is not bad traveling, even with so sprightly a steed as a Nebraska zephyr."

(October 2006)



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