The Wells Fargo Stagecoaches
courtesy of Wells Fargo
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Carriage builder J. Stephens Abbot and master wheelwright Lewis Downing built the famed stagecoaches of Wells Fargo & Co. At their factory in Concord, New Hampshire, they perfected the design of this classic American vehicle. It was built high and wide to handle the rough, rutted roads of a new country. The curved frame of the body gave it strength, and allowed a touch more elbow room. The perfectly formed, fitted and balanced wheels stood up to decades of drenching mountain storms and parching desert heat.
The unique feature of these coaches was the suspension. Instead of steel springs, the coach body rested on leather “thoroughbraces,” made of strips of thick bullhide. This feature spared the horses from jarring and gave the stagecoach a (sometimes) gentle rocking motion, leading Mark Twain to call it “An imposing cradle on wheels.” (Roughing It, 1870)
Concord Coaches weighed about 2500 pounds, and cost $1100 each, including leather and damask cloth interior.
Since 1852 Wells Fargo had rushed customers’ important business by any means –
steamship, railroad, and, where the railroads ended, by stagecoach. At first
Wells Fargo contracted with independent stageline owners. Then in the great
enterprise of building reliable transcontinental transportation, Wells Fargo
came to own and operate the largest stagecoach empire in the world.
then, Wells Fargo is forever linked with the six-horse Concord Coach charging
across the vast plains and high mountains of the West.
In 1861 the Civil War forced overland staging to a central route across the Great Plains, through the Rocky Mountains, into the Great Basin, and over the Sierra.
Along this route mail, passengers and Wells Fargo’s express rode the stages of the Pioneer Stage Line from California to Virginia City, Nevada. The Overland Mail Company, by now under Wells Fargo’s control, ran coaches from Virginia City to Salt Lake City, Utah. There mail and passengers connected with Ben Holladay’s Overland Express running through Denver, Colorado, and eastward to the Mississipi.
The Pony Express was established to prove that the nation’s mail could be
carried across the west swiftly on the central route. From April 1860 to October
1861, young riders relayed mail across almost 2,000 miles from St. Joseph,
Missouri to Sacramento, California in only 10 days. In its final months, the
Pony Express became part of the stagelines’ U.S. Mail contracts. TheWells Fargo
run Overland Mail Company operated the Pony from California to Salt Lake City.
In 1866, Wells Fargo bought out Ben Holladay's expanding network and combined it with the Pioneer and the Overland Mail stagelines to create the largest stagecoach empire in the world. Stagecoaches carrying the Wells, Fargo & Co. name rolled from Nebraska to California via Denver and Salt Lake City. From Denver, coaches served the mining towns of the Rockies, and from Salt Lake City, they carried mail and passengers to Montana and Idaho. Overland via Stagecoach
Gold brought miners to the mountains of Montana and Idaho, and Wells Fargo's stagecoaches carried it out. W. H. "Shotgun" Taylor supervised the stage operations, and hired drivers who could handle a team of horses around mountain roads with calm grace.
In 1869 at Promontory, Utah, dignitaries hammered in a Golden Spike which joined
the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad–and ended Wells Fargo’s overland
Wells Fargo is fortunate to be able to display original Abbot-Downing Concord Coaches in the Wells Fargo History Museums and Exhibits. Each coach was given a number by the Abbot-Downing factory, and has its own story.
However, stagecoaches continued rolling wherever the railroads did
not. Wells Fargo contracted with independent stageline operators to carry
treasure boxes and express, even into the early 20th Century.
The Historical Services of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., is providing these images and the history text for information purposes only, and does not imply any official endorsement of CarrageMart.com.
This article was provided courtesy of Wells Fargo.