Day 16 was another day of travelling and catching up on correspondence, it’s surprised me how much organising it has taken between visits. The road to Mitchell from Marshall was near enough a continuous straight road, ideal for eating up the miles!
On day 17 I had arranged to visit the Hansen Wheel and wagon shop just north of Mitchell in South Dakota. This meeting was organised last minute after I was recommended to visit by a few other contacts from the project.
Upon arrival at the shop I was impressed by not only the beautiful setting but by the sheer size of the workshops. This place was massive! Doug Hansen Proprietor of Hansen Wheel and Wagon had been kind enough to offer me a tour of the shop, an opportunity I am very happy to have been offered. Within the shop there are several workers in various areas, as well as full time office staff, something I never expected to see in my lifetime. It’s great to see such a big wheelwrights shop thriving in our day and age.
The variety of work undertaken here was vast, not only wheels of course but also beautiful coaches and carriages, chuck wagons and alike. Watching the various professionals working away on various tasks was great, Coach building, Wainwrighting, Blacksmithing, brake assembly and of course Wheelwrighting all going on around the shop.
I have the feeling that not only the quality of the work is the reason the workshop is so busy (although the work I was seeing was top notch and a great selling point!) but it was also a testament to a good businessman. The range of on the shelf stock was breathtaking for a one man band Wheelwright like myself, everything from pots and pans for use on chuck wagons to basic wheels for chandeliers.
After meeting the rest of the team and a fantastic tour of the workshops I had the chance to talk to Tim Hoffman the Wheelwright. Working here as a Wheelwright for around 15 years he had a great wealth of knowledge about wheels and all the various styles, as did Doug. As I have found at previous Wheelwrights shops, here they find great satisfaction in making wheels! I’m happy it’s not just me, hopefully this passion for Wheelwrighting will ensure the future survival of the trade?
I found the production process here quite similar to the way I do things back home albeit much more efficient. I have finally found somewhere that has a hard time getting good timber, they have a good stock ahead of them but there is no local timber resource here. Trees in this area of South Dakota are few and far between so their timber has to be shipped in, similar to my situation back home.
After a great visit to the workshops Doug showed me to their gift shop… Yes a gift shop! I was so impressed, they had all sorts of books and memorabilia, my dreams of a working museum back home might not be particularly un realistic? This visit like all the visits before was inspirational and I would recommend visiting their site at www.hansenwheel.com
Next stop who knows?… I have a few days in the area to visit some amazing sites… keep an eye out for the next blog coming soon!…