Skate Wheel Wagons in Pacolet Mills   

There is a possibility that the skate wheel wagon might be unique to Pacolet Mills. A “Google” search does not reveal a single use of the term.

The name “Skate Wheel Wagon” does not seem to fit exactly but that is what it was always called. The term “wagon” implies that it was used for hauling something. I think “Skate Wheel Car” might be a more accurate description.

By whatever name you call it, they were numerous back in the 1940’s and early 50’s. It seems that almost every boy in the mill village had one. 

They weren’t very complicated but they worked very well. The driver sat on a board about 10 inches wide and about 4 feet long. There was another board about 2 inches wide and 2 feet long attached in the back at right angles to the main seat board. Underneath this board was fastened a length of steel rod about a half inch in diameter. A wheel off of a roller skate was fastened to each end of the rod which served as the rear axle of the wagon. There was a similar board, axle and wheels at the front of the wagon but this one was made so that it could swivel so the wagon could be steered.

The steering mechanism was simple but effective. A steering wheel of some sort was fastened to a short length of broomstick. Then a mill band was wrapped around the broomstick and fastened to one end of the front board and axle. Turning the steering wheel wrapped the band tight around the stick and moved the board/axle. There was a big screen door spring fastened to the other end of the axle. The spring would try to pull the axle one way and it was resisted by the pull of the band on the steering assembly. (A mill band was like a tiny rope about a ¼ inch in diameter. They were used in the mill by the thousands for some purpose and there was a special area in the mill where they were made. They always seemed to be available for home projects.)

The skate wheels were only about 2 inches in diameter. This meant that the driver sat very close to the ground. Pacolet Mills had 2 wonderful resources that helped spread the popularity of the skate wheel wagon - hills and concrete sidewalks. A skate wheel wagon would fly when coming down a steep hill on a concrete sidewalk. The skate wheel was really a ball bearing and had almost no frictional resistance. Sometimes, real ball or roller bearings from the mill would be used in place of skate wheels.

There is one story about someone using a skate wheel wagon and having an unexpected event. I don’t know if the story is really true or not but I have heard if from several sources when I was growing up. It seems like some brave soul had gotten up enough courage to ride his skate wheel wagon down the steep Hotel Hill. Considering that the wagons generally did not have brakes this was a dangerous venture. When a driver wanted to stop he just drug his feet. This was more or less effective depending on how steep the hill was. It certainly did not lead to an instant stop. 

There are several sharp curves in the sidewalk coming down Hotel Hill and on most of them you cannot see what is just around the bend.

According to the story, our fearless skate wheel wagon driver was coming down the hill and had attained a considerable speed when he entered one of the sharp curves. Unbeknownst to him, a plump lady was walking down the sidewalk in the same direction he was going. He was going so fast he did not have a chance to scream a warning. He ran right into the back of the lady. She was not hurt but fell backwards right into the lap of the driver who still could not stop. Even impeded by his shocked and stunned passenger, he made his way still at high speed to the bottom of the hill near the cloth room. Nothing but the lady’s dignity was damaged. The tongue lashing the driver probably got was not recorded.

If videos had existed to record this exciting event, it would surely qualify for America’s Funniest Videos. I do not know anyone that still has a skate wheel wagon today. There is something a little similar in the Pacolet Museum. However, instead of having 2 inch smooth skate wheels, the museum wagon has wheels made of 6 or 8 inch gears. The gear teeth would give a loud and rough ride.

The city of Akron, Ohio has had a very successful Soap Box Derby race for over 80 years. It seems to me that Pacolet could do them one better, certainly with more excitement, if it promoted skate wheel wagon races down Hotel Hill.

If you have a skate wheel wagon, a photograph of one or just a story about one please let me know and I will put it on the Pacolet Memories website.

 

This web site has been started as a public service to share the story of Pacolet. The web master and person to contact about putting information on the web site is me, Gerald Teaster.  Contact me at:
gteaster@pacoletmemories.com or by telephone at (843) 873-8117.  My regular mail adress is:
1311 Jahnz Ave.
Summerville, SC 29485

See more information about my Pacolet connection at Gerald Teaster.