The stage coaches Ben Holladay used for the Overland Trail Stage Route were built by the Abbot-Downing Company in Concord, New Hampshire. At a cost of $1050 each, these one ton "Concord Coaches" were the finest road vehicle of its time--a supreme achievement of American stagecoach building. Without a doubt, it was the finest coach the world has ever known. In 1864, Holladay sent in a single order for twenty-nine Concord Coaches.
The wheels were made of seasoned white oak, well dried to withstand the heat and the cold, and were masterpieces themselves. Other coach wheels would shrink or warp in the changing weather conditions out West. But not the Concord wheels. The spokes were all hand made and fitted to the rim and the hub so carefully that one could not see where they joined.
The body of the coaches were solidly built, strengthened with iron bands and rested on robust three inch thick oxen-leather through-braces. The purpose of the through-braces, was not, as is often reported, to ease the ride of the passengers. They were installed to prevent injury to the horses, which were much more valuable to the stage line than any passenger. Even though the through-braces did act like a hammock to support the coach, many a passenger, after the long ride, described their travels as "Cruel and unusual punishment."
In 1861, Mark Twain and his brother traveled west by overland stagecoach. In Roughing It, Twain described the coach as "a cradle on wheels," as it rocked on its thoroughbraces instead of bouncing on steel springs. They rode "a-top of the flying coach, dangled our legs over the side and leveled an outlook over the world-wide carpet about us for things new and strange to gaze at. It thrills me to think of the life and the wild sense of freedom on those fine overland mornings!"
(See also a diagram of the undercarriage. 25k)
The coach had adjustable leather curtains that covered the windows of the coach but they definitely weren't capable of keeping out the dust and wind, let alone the snow or rain. When closed, they made the interior pitch dark and steam-heated. A coach came complete with leather boot, deck seat, brakes, lamps and ornamental sides so magnificent that small boys cheered with delight as the vehicle came charging through town. The "strong box," which carried the more valuable mail was kept under the driver's seat, which was unprotected, and only about eight inches lower than the roof. The coaches were also equipped with an ingenious apparatus for braking. Sand boxes were placed over the brake pads in such a way so that sand could be released when approaching the more rugged hills along the trail.
The inside of the Concord Coach was only a bit over four feet in width, and its height inside was about four and one-half feet. The interior, upholstered in padded leather and damask cloth, had three seats providing space for nine passengers. The seats, covered with leather-covered pads, were reported to be harder than the wood beneath them. The middle seat unfortunately was just a bench with no back support. Some had a leather strap across the back that was fastened to one side of the stage, and was hooked across to the other side. This seat was reserved for the late-comers who were subject to a tortuous, uncomfortable ride. On the outside one rider could sit alongside the driver. The body of the coach was so strong, that sometimes as many as ten or twelve adventurous passengers could be seen perched up on top.
The final touch for the Concord Coach, was its paint job. And, there were never any two exactly alike. It was a gloriously beautiful coach to look at with the favorite colors for the coaches being red for the body and yellow trim, with an exquisite landscape on the doors. The two coats of paint were hand rubbed, then finished with two more coats of spar varnish. Gold leaf scrollwork was artistically painted in the interior.
Mail sacks, often weighing as much as 250 pounds, were carried in the leather "boot" along with the passenger's luggage. Sometimes a passenger would even crawl into the boot to take a nap. The coaches were drawn by some of the finest and swiftest horses that Ben Holladay could provide. They were able to travel at about 15 miles per hour.
Concord Coach plans are now available! More information.
Ride an authentic Concord Coach from Missouri to Arizona:
The Journey...The Spirit Lives On! From 1888 to 2001 and beyond"
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