yellowstonecoachesOne hundred years after they left service in Yellowstone National Park 17 coaches and wagons were gathered together this June in West Yellowstone, Montana for the National Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association conference, 1915: The Twilight of Stagecoaches in Yellowstone. This is thought to be the largest gathering of Yellowstone coaches and wagons since they went out of service a century ago.

The NSFWA, founded in 2008 dedicated to the preservation interpretation, education and preservation of the legacy of commercial stagecoaches and freight wagons which were integral to the development of the western United States in the 19th century.

For a quarter of a century, 1890-1915, tourists visiting Yellowstone National Park traveled by train to the park's gateway towns and then transferred to horse drawn wagons and coaches to tour the park. Many of these adventurous travelers completed the grand loop tour of the park over 5-6 days, traveling 20-25 miles per day by coach and overnighting in a different park hotel each night.

These early tourists were a hardy bunch traveling by coach over rough roads in all kinds of weather. The coaches had tops to help keep off the sun and rain, and some coaches had canvas sides that could be rolled down in stormy weather. Choking dust was a constant problem and the coach drivers were instructed to keep a minimum of 200 yards between coaches to provide some relief. In some heavily trafficked areas of the park water wagons were used to wet the roads and reduce the dust. One of these massive wagons, manufactured by Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company has been restored by the Yellowstone Historic Center in West Yellowstone and was displayed at the conference.

Most contactors providing transportation for tourists in the park used coaches made by Abbot and Downing of Concord New Hampshire. The largest of these vehicles, seating up to 20 people, were called Tally-Ho Coaches. These large coaches were pulled by six horse and used to move tourists and their luggage from the train stations in the park gateway towns to hotels just inside the park. Two of the large Tally-Ho coaches were on display at the conference. The most numerous of the Abbot and Downing Yellowstone coaches used in Yellowstone were the 11 passenger touring wagons. Seven of these vehicles, some with the original finish and others freshly restored were displayed at the conference. In a remarkable coincidence two 11 passenger touring coaches with consecutive serial numbers, 17460 and 17461, were reunited at the conference. The coaches were manufactured side by side at the Abbot and Downing works in Concord, New Hampshire in the 1890s. Just this winter during an extensive renovation of #17460 it was noted that one of the dozen or so serial number plates on the coach read not 17460 but 17461. After much crawling under the coaches and checking at the conference it was discovered that indeed one of the plates had been switched as the two coaches were manufactured over 100 years ago and each of the two coaches had one of the other's serial number plates on its running gear. Abbott and Downing also made smaller eight passenger coaches that were pulled by a pair and used in the park to transport private touring parties and for side trips. Both the 8 and 11 passenger coaches were known for swaying and rolling ride which must have been exaggerated by the primitive roads throughout Yellowstone Park. Rather than relying on springs to soften the ride these coach bodies are suspended above the running gear on layered leather straps know as thoroughbraces.

Other park vehicles shown at the conference were manufactured by the Winona Carriage Works. Many of the Winona carriages were 8 passenger roofed wagons used for transporting tourists. Other smaller Winona wagons were used by the management of the parks concessions while traveling from hotel to hotel. Usually pulled by a pair of horses the Winona wagons used conventional metal springs to ease their passage over Yellowstone's rough roads.

In addition to the display of the coaches and wagons the conference featured lectures on the history of horse-powered transportation in Yellowstone National Park.

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