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
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
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.