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Of Stogies, Hogsheads, and Studebakers

Talk about an 'undying' thirst. But did you ever get a craving for a really good cigar? You know, one with all the superlatives: crafted from fine, perfectly aged leaves, slow burning, mellow (?) taste, classic Cuban aroma, individually wrapped and humidor fresh. None of today's upscale 'cigar bars' available? What to do?

But maybe your thing is wine or one of the more potent spirits, but not in those sissy 0.750 liter bottles at the local tasting rooms. You like the grape and you want it in the volumes available to your great-great-great granddaddy, i.e. by the (very) large barrel. Where to go - kegs of beer yes, but wine by the barrel?

Or perhaps the situation is very dire: you have a cigar fetish on the order of Ulysses S. Grant. You require a (huge) continuing supply of stogies, each handcrafted by one of those Caribbean masters. Again, not sure what to tell you, except perhaps to refer you to the thrilling days of yesteryear when cigars with a capital 'C' were available in hogshead quantities. (FYI: a hogshead tobacco barrel was 48 inches long by about 30 inches in diameter and could hold approximately 1000 pounds of tobacco. Wine and spirits could also be had in hogsheads; the liquid variations of the containers could hold from 60-140 gallons, later settling at around 54 gallons. Nice choice - the exact size of a full keg at a modern frat party, if you can lift it.) 'Twould seem therefore that, regardless of the preferred diameter of your smokes or the size of your thirst, one of these barrels could keep you stocked for a considerable period.

These days, PC may necessitate that you hide your vice(s) from your neighbors. But back in the late seventeen to mid-eighteen hundreds, many (most) of your neighbors may have shared your tastes, tossing PC to the wind. Lots of folks in those days required hogsheads of goodies, cigars and wine included. But how to move these monster barrels around - no tractor-trailers then folks (or railroad boxcars either, before the 1830s)?

Schooner size

This brings us to wagons. No, not the Red Rider you pedaled around as a kid. We're talking industrial strength vehicles able to move all those hogsheads about. When we think of wagons from the 1800s, the image likely to arise is that of a train of Prairie Schooners headed through Monument Valley, Arizona with Ward Bond as wagon master. Ward's wagons were but puny little brothers of the ones necessary to move our barrels however. What we need is a genuine Conestoga wagon!

Developed in the 1700s by Germans near Conestoga, PA, these behemoths were the '18 wheelers' of their day. Approximately 25 feet long, 11 ft high, and weighing around 3500 pounds, the Conestoga was especially suited for hogshead transport. The wagon bed was lower in the middle than at the ends so that shifting loads would not fall out or put undo strain on the front or tailgates. This resulted in a profile something like a boat and the wagon was sometimes referred to as the 'ship of inland commerce'. The white canvas forming the roof of the wagon was known as the 'bonnet' due to its resemblance to a woman's hat. The canvas was sometimes also likened to a sail - hence the term Prairie Schooner later applied to smaller derivatives of the original wagons.

The load capacity of these babies was staggering for the time, up to 8 tons; that's one heck of a lot of cigars, Groucho! In fact so much cigar 'tobaccy' was transported in Conestogas that the smokes acquired the famous nickname 'stogies'. Teams of six to eight horses were used to haul the great wagons. The 'driver' did not ordinarily sit on the wagon. Instead, he rode one of the team-horses or walked along the left side to direct the team.

The list of skills necessary to produce one of these vehicles was impressive as well: wheelwright, blacksmith, (wood) turner and woodworker. So too was the original time for construction, approximately 2-3 weeks. And without a formal design, each wagon was essentially a one-of-a-kind. Approximate cost of a finished wagon was $250 in the early 1800s. Interestingly, each horse in the wagon team could cost $200; even then, 'energy cost' was a big consideration.

Operating one of these wagons does appear to have been good business back when a dollar was a dollar. Freight charges were about $1 per 100 pounds per 100 miles in 1820. Speeds averaged about 15 miles per day. That works out to around $80 for a week's trip (100 miles) for an 8-ton load.

Source: Rappahannock News