Delivery Wagon

Delivery Wagon

Wooden delivery wagon painted orange

Has name "Royal Mail 8" stencilled in black letters on front RP side. Yellow paint highlights some of the construction elements as trim. The wheels are constructed in quadrants and have 16 spokes, the rear wheels are larger in circumference than the front. The brake handle, also painted orange, is located on the LP side of the drivers bench at the front of the artifact. The back of the wagon, constructed of boards laid side by side, is surrounded on both sides and the rear by a yellow painted pipe railing. The axles and hubs are black. The driver's seat is mounted on springs.

The coach was used on Overland Trail for mail delivery. This Concord Stagecoach was imported from the Abbott Downing Company in Concord, New Hampshire. Most wagons were designed for more moderate use on well graded road in milder southern climates. The Yukon cold would cause the metal suspension to snap. Most wagons were not strong enough for hauling heavy loads on the long and rugged wilderness trails in temperatures that often dropped to 40 degrees below zero.

The Abbott Downing Company began to design and build stages and sleighs that were more suited to the primitive road conditions and sub-zero climate. One improvement was a unique spring designed for the undercarriage. The new springs were made of layers of leather straps, which were more durable than the metal leaf springs. The Concord Stagecoaches use of leather strap braces gave the coaches a swinging motion instead of the jolting impact offered by metal springs. Though leather strap braces made for a bumpier ride, they were easier to repair and replace. They were called 'thorough-braced' coaches and they could carry up to 14 passengers and up to a ton of baggage, mail and freight.

In the fall, wheeled stagecoaches were used before the snow was deep enough for sleighs. Due to the difficult terrain, there were plenty of mishaps with wheeled stagecoaches. Occasionally the coach's mechanics would become upset causing them to divert, sometimes rolling down the hillsides. To stop run away coaches, the wheeled stages had heavy brakes that could lock the rear wheels. Sleighs were equipped with chain rough locks, which when activated by the driver, swung under the runners and tightened. The weight of the sleigh on the chains brought it to a stop. Sleighs also had metal bars that, when released, dug into the roadbed for sudden stops.

At the turn of the 20th century the only way to Dawson City from Whitehorse was by land or by river. Sternwheelers were the easiest method of transportation but once the rivers froze the journey had to be undertaken by way of the over land trail. At the time transport was slow and costly and the extreme cold of the Yukon made the trip even slower. During the winter of 1899-1900 the Canadian Development Company used dog teams to carry mail and light freight along the river between Whitehorse and Dawson. In 1901, White Pass & Yukon Route bought the company to get its lucrative government mail contract for its sternwheelers. In 1902 the Territorial Government contracted the White Pass & Yukon Route to build the first winter road.

The winter road between Whitehorse and Dawson became known as the Overland Trail. The White Pass then inaugurated the Yukon Stage Line which because of the mail it carried was also called the Royal Mail Service. For the Dawson residents, it created a much needed winter link to civilization. The Overland Trail was not a single road but five sections of road divided by four major rivers: the Takhini, Yukon, Pelly and Stewart. After the close of the seasonal river navigation, the White Pass Stage Line ran its sleighs or stages three times a week between Whitehorse and Dawson. Daily service was frequently provided in March, when people were eager to get to Dawson before steamboat traffic began. When the water ways were still open people, luggage, freight and mail were paddled across the rivers in canoes. A coach and its horses waited on the other side in order to speed up transfers.

When the river was covered in a layer of ice a bridge was built by a technique developed by the White Pass and Yukon Route called booming. They would build a brush bridge out of branches and green brush from fresh cut spruce trees across the ice. Water would then be sprinkled on the branches. When the path froze, the solid mat would be strong enough to cross a horse. As soon as the snow was deep enough the wheeled stages were replaced by sleighs drawn by teams of four or six horses. Sleighs made better time then the stages because their runners would glide easily over the snow covered trail. As a result fares were considerably cheaper in the winter. A one way ticket cost would drop $50.00 to $75.00 in December until the end of the sleigh season. Roadhouse meals and beds cost extra. Passengers were allowed 25 lbs of luggage for free. Excess baggage of luggage was 30 cents a pound. In some cases if there was too much freight, passengers had to get out and walk or run behind the horse drawn stage.

The stage operated during the daytime only and at night passengers would board at one of the roadhouses along the trail. On average the trip took from three to ten days. Each day, three to four scheduled stops were made at outposts which were spaced 20 to 25 miles apart. At each stop passengers ate and rested while teams of horses were changed. Tired horses were rubbed down, blanketed, fed and put into log stables heated by wood stoves. Fresh horses were hitched to the sleigh for the next leg of the journey. On average, meals cost $1.50 and beds were a dollar a night. The company had 275 horses that worked to haul the stages and sleds. They could not be worked to hard, and the company took care to rest and feed them properly after each leg of the journey. The average trip required 15 teams of four horses in order to cover each of the legs. In extreme cold the horses wore chest protectors and bags over their noses to prevent lung 'burn', they had summers off to graze and fatten before the long hard winter.


Yukon Transportation Museum, Whitehorse

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