The Berks-Mont News (

A Look Back in History:L Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles houses iconic Berks Conestoga Wagon

Bohn wagon is typical eight-bow wagon with nice curve to its bed and beautiful tool box

By Richard L.T. Orth, Columnist

Monday, February 19, 2018

The greatest fallacy ever contrived about the Conestoga wagon was that the Waggoner sat in the wagon buckboard-fashion as he drove his team. In driving the Conestoga, the Waggoner never sat in or on the wagon bed, but always on the near left wheel horse in a Waggoner’s saddle.

Of the five Berks County Conestogas known to have survived from the county, one is from the famous Oley Furnace (in Berks History Center), one from a store at Harlem (Snyder-Harlem wagon), two from farms in the Bernville area, and the fifth from the Rehrersburg Area (early 1803 wagon).

One of Bernville Conestogas, owned by the Berks History Center for a number of years, was deaccessioned a few years ago and now on permanent display at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles who had the Conestoga on loan. It is dated 1827 and bears the initials “A.B.” of which are assumed to be those of Adam Bohn, whose family owned the wagon as late as the 1920s. The Bohn wagon is a typical eight-bow wagon with a very nice curve to its bed and a beautiful tool box. Although most of the iron work on the wagon is conventional, the tool box has two tulip hinges with a tulip-decorated hasp-lock. The band of iron around the middle of the box has the following inscription cut into the metal--”18 A B 27.”

Along the top of both sides of the wagon are hooks to tie down the cover, and at the bottom of the middle bolster, are chains to lock the rear wheels when braking for steep inclines. The lynch pin running gear, which is probably not original, has a maker’s name on the front hound plate- G. H. Daubert 1850. Very few Conestoga wagons have survived with their original running gears due to the stress of early waggoning. Although the Daubert gear is dated 1850, it is possible that it was designed for the 1827 bed after the original had worn out.

Since there is no evidence that the wagon bed had a side brake, the rear brake on this gear, as well as its size, is appropriate. On the front left hound of the gear is an iron sheath to support the necessary axe. According to the Bohn family, this wagon was used to transport grain to Philadelphia, and on the return trip, to bring goods to stores in Reading. Judging from the embellishment on the tool box, and especially the chains for extra-duty braking, it would seem apparent that Adam Bohn was a Waggoner. This wagon was donated to the Historical Center by Dr. H.F. Rentschler in 1929.

Of the remaining four wagons, the Sternbergh Conestoga, dated 1803, is considered by Dr. George Shumway an outstanding example of the design of an early, possibly Colonial type, Conestoga. This wagon was discovered by Mr. David Sternbergh, outside of Rehrersburg in a hay loft. At one time, Mr. Sternbergh hired a six horse team, and complete with Conestoga bells, drove this wagon through the streets of Reading. This wagon is definitely a Conestoga with its sweeping curve, eight bows, and iron rings along the top rail to tie down the cover.

Unlike the later Conestogas, this bed can be completely disassembled, and the sides, tail gates, and floor boards easily collapsed to be floated on a barge or ferried across a river. There is no tool box on this bed and it does not have “raked” tail gates. It has hooks on the rear gate to support a feed box and very elegant iron fittings or an early period, and unfortunately, the bed is not accompanied by its original running gear. The Sternbergh wagon bed best typifies the kind of wagon many Colonial ancestors drove to the Philadelphia market from Berks County and in the Dutch Country, and has the earliest dated bed known.