Historic Structures

Wagon & Woodworking Shop Ben Thresher's Mill, Barnet Vermont

At the turn of the century, automobiles were a rare sight on Vermont country roads. The horse and buggy was still the chief means of transportation. Wagons, buggies and sleds were factory-built and carriage making was a specialized trade. Wagon repair shops and wheelwrights were located in nearly every community. Judkins Wagon & Woodworking Shop was furnished with tools and machines to repair broken wheels, set new tires, rebuild wagon bodies, and mend an assortment of agricultural implements.

The Wagon & Woodworking Shop on the first floor of the main mill, contains the principal hand tools and water-powered machinery for wagon repair work. Alexander Jack operated a machine shop here from 1872 until 1887. Some of his hand tools have probably survived. It is likely that the wood lathe, grindstone and boring machine date from this period. Jack also had a portable forge for iron-working. J. Loren Judkins established a Wagon Shop here in 1893. It is likely that he brought the spoke lathe, belt sander and wood-framed table saw with him from South Peacham. The crane, wood bender, and paint grinder, located on the second floor, probably date from the early Judkins period. After 1900, Fenton Judkins added a small drill press, iron-framed table saw, band saw, jointer, planer, metal lathe, and power threader. After 1947, Ben Thresher added another drill press and the bench threader.

Repairing wheels was the most common task for the wheelwright. Wheelwrights chose woods that combined strength with the least weight and long life in the weather. Elm was preferred for wheel hubs, oak for spokes, and white ash for felloes. The flexible, wiry ash was easily steam bent to the curve of a wheel. The felloes and spokes were the parts of a wheel most likely to break. Fortunately the Vermont woods abounded in oak and ash. The life expectancy of a wheel depended on its being as tight as a drum. Each spoke had to fit the hub snugly and each of the felloes had to grip the end of the spoke like a vise. A good wheel, bound with an iron tire of just the right size, was as solid as a single disc of wood. Tire benders and shrinkers were used to adjust the correct length of iron tires of the wooden wheel. Great skill was given to making frames, bodies, and boxes for farm vehicles. Wagon repair work was not confined to the first floor. Iron tires, springs and other hardware were fashioned in the Blacksmith Shop. Tire setting was done outside in the drive way. This description of the Wagon & Woodworking Shop is primarily limited to power machinery, not to the numerous hand tools and devices used by wheelwrights.

The wood-framed spoke lathe in the northwest corner of the first floor is possibly the oldest tool in the Wagon Shop. The wheelwright turned wagon wheel spokes from wooden patterns. Irregular shapes of wood up to 3' long, including handles for all kinds of tools, could be turned on this lathe. Numerous examples of the machine's products are exhibited on the shelves hung from the ceiling. Spokes and handles were finished on the 6" belt sander wall-mounted next to the pattern lathe.

The large wood-turning lathe has a four and a half foot bed and is used principally for spindle and faceplate turning. The headstock and tailstock have each been raised so that a square block, up to 24" can be turned round. The headstock operates on a four step speed pulley. Driven from one step of the same pulley that drives the wood lathe is a grinding tool mounted on an iron table. The grinder is double-ended and can run two 12" emery wheels.

The wood-framed boring machine is an indispensable wheelwright's tool. It is used principally to drill holes in felloes and hubs. With hollow augers or cutters the machine can finish the round ends of spoke tenons. The drill bit is foot-operated when drilling. The height of the wooden stock being drilled is adjustable.

The wheelwright's frame, wheel-bench, or horse is a 3' high wooden cone strapped with iron bands. It is essentially a vise for repairing wagon wheels. Wheels to be repaired are laid flat on top of the frame. An iron bar is inserted through the hub and is tightened to an eyebolt, permanently mounted in the floor. In the vise, the wheel is held firmly while being dismantled and rebuilt.

The drill press is a "No. 16" manufactured by Canedy Otto of Chicago Heights, Illinois. It Is mounted to an upright beam and has a manual-feed operation. It was purchased by Ben Thresher c. 1950 because he preferred a manual-feed operation to the smaller Canedy Otto automatic-feed drill press previously used in the shop. The smaller Canedy Otto drill press is now located in the Cider Mill and is not in use.

The placement of the machines in the shop is not haphazard. The wood-framed table saw measures 4' square. To cut wood planks longer than 12', the operator must open a window on the north wall. The window and the front door must be opened to cut wood over 16'. A one-inch arbor operates on a two-step speed pulley and drives a blade up to 18" in diameter. The table saw can also be used as a dado or groove-cutting device. The iron-framed table saw was possibly manufactured by L.D. Howard of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. This table saw can run up to a 14" diameter blade. The blade can be angled for cutting the edges of wheel spokes. Half of the iron table slides back and forth and allows wood stock to pass by the blade easily.

The iron-framed band saw is patent dated 1883, 84, and 86 by F.H. Clement of Rochester, New York. The iron frame is a pitch-back design common to 19th century band saws. This style allows a 34" circle to be cut on the 32" square table. The band saw can be adjusted to cut wood stock up to 10" thick.

The surface planer is patent dated May 21, 1878 by the Baxter Machine Company of Lebanon, New Hampshire. It is located in the middle of the shop opposite two windows. They can be opened to accommodate the planing of boards in excess of 16'. The planer is belt-driven with a two-step pulley. A main pulley drives two 24" steel knives. A two-speed corrugated roller on the front automatically feeds the boards into the knives and through the planer. To adjust the planing height, the operator can turn a small wheel to raise and lower the bed. Boards up to 8" thick can be planed on this machine.

The wood jointer "No. 1609" is patent dated January 25, 1870 and was reissued in 1874 and 1875 by W.W. Carey of Lowell, Massachusetts. The jointer has one pulley for driving two 16" knives used principally to cut chamfers, bevels, tapers and rabbets. Wood over 10' is extended out a hole cut in the north wall of the Wagon Shop. The jointer is painted red and has an elaborate yellow hand-scroll trim.

The hand-operated bench threader is used principally in tap and die work. The threader is possibly a Champion and the bench is custom made. The power threader was manufactured by Lucius W. Pond of Worchester, Massachusetts. Fenton Judkins moved the machine here from East Barnet when the Roy Mill was destroyed in the flood of 1927. The power threader is located on the north wall and is driven from a separate jack shaft mounted on the ceiling. It is commonly used for threading pipe for silo hoops, water tub hoops and spring clamps. When 20' silo hoops are threaded, they are extended out a hole in the east wall of the Wagon Shop. This machine dates between 1875 and 1888. Pond's machine tool company was incorporated in Worchester in 1875 and in 1888, Pond joined Niles and Bement in Plainfield, New Jersey.

The metal lathe was manufactured by Gage, Warner and Whitney of Nashua, New Hampshire. Their shop was established in 1837. The lathe is located on the north wall and is driven from a separate jack shaft on the ceiling. It has a three-step cone pulley, a 3' bed and a 12" swing. The metal lathe is used principally in turning down metal rods, facing, drilling, boring and cutting threads.

Bending wood with steam was an important part of a wheelwright's job. Prior to c. 1915, Fenton Judkins used a wood stove in the cellar of the Blacksmith Shop to heat large pans of water for steam. Judkins acquired a steam boiler c. 1915 and installed it in the cellar of the main mill. The boiler was manufactured by Ames Iron Works of Oswego, New York. The wood-fired boiler generated steam for bending wood in the steam box located on the roof of the Cider Mill.

The second floor of the Wagon Shop was an area where wagons were repaired and painted. The large wood bender forced steamed wood into desired shapes. Judkins used the machine mostly for sled runners for traverse sleds. The crane, or hoist with wood pulley blocks, is still in place near the door on the second floor. Wagons and sleds were carefully raised and lowered by hand. There are numerous paint cans on the work bench along the north wall in the paint room. The paint grinder was used to mix old and new paint or to add pigment to new paint. There are wagon manufacturers labels nailed to the frame of the door leading into the storage room.

The Lumber Shed, now demolished, stood at the southwest corner of the mill. The two story shed (23' x 45') held seasoned wood and protected wagons and tools from rain and snow.