One of the most exciting pieces in our collection is our Wells Fargo Stagecoach. The coach, made in the Concord style was crafted by Gronway Parry, whose restored wagons and farm equipment formed the bulk of our collection in 1973 when the museum opened. Parry built the stagecoach in the 1950’s and it has been used in parades, movies, and television.
The original Concord coach was made by the Abbott Downing Co. of Concord NH. The body was suspended on heavy leather through braces. Front, rear and center seats drop down to carry 9 passengers inside. On top it would carry the driver and 2 others. On a short run, it could carry 12 people on top. It weighed 2500 lbs. And cost $1200 to $1500 delivered.
The Front Boot was a storage compartment below the driver’s seat. It usually held the mail and the treasure box. The Rear Boot was storage for freight packages, express items and passengers’ baggage. Overflow packages went in the passenger compartment on the floor. The 1864 coach was just under 8 ft. long and 5 ft. wide. Each passenger had about 15 inches of space. It had leather curtains in lieu of glass. Curtains were less hazardous, absorbed the dust better as well as the wind, rain and snow.
The average speed was 8 MPH. About every 12-14 miles (about every 1.5 hours) they stopped at a relay or swing station to change the team. A suitable run for horses and mules was 12-13 miles at a time. About every 50 miles they would stop at a home station to change teams and drivers. The stops at a home station would last a little longer.
Passengers slept while riding, sitting up. If they slept at a home station, it would be on the floor. Women might be able to share the home station agent’s wife’s bed, if she was willing to give it up. Freight wagon trains would take 5 weeks from Atchison to Denver. A stagecoach would make the same distance in 6 days.
The stations between SLC and CA were difficult to supply. Water often had to be hauled great distances. At some stations there was no wood, which had to be cut and hauled in. Crops could not be grown—the land was arid with little rainfall. Meals at the home stations cost 50 cents. The price of such meals was not included in the price of the passage, but had to be paid for with good, hard cash. The fare from SLC to San Francisco was $200 per person. Passengers were allowed 25 lbs of baggage on their ticket cost. Each pound over that was charged an extra dollar.
There was a perpetual cloud of dust about the coach. It penetrated the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair and clothes. Mark Twain bathed once in his 1818 mile, 20 day trip from St. Joesph to Reno in 1861 and that was done in a stream. Most travelers did not bathe. An uneventful trip would leave passengers physically exhausted. One traveler said, “The hardest 2 weeks’ work I ever did.” And then he stumbled off to a solid 20 hours in bed.
The Parry coach is the only replica in our collection. We invite our visitors to climb about and imagine themselves on their own stage journey across the West.