The evolution of the wooden station wagon has its beginnings
directly linked to the early Railroad depot hacks of the early
1900s. As the Railroads spread across the nation, linking
city to city and state to state, it became the main mode of transportation
for people who had to travel any measurable distance. Hotels
and resorts soon found the need to provide transportation for
their customers. The depot hack was created to carry
passengers and their baggage to and from the Railway depots.
The very first depot hacks were nothing more than horse-drawn
wagons, with multiple seats or benches for the passengers to
sit on, and a canvas covering to help protect them from the elements.
As the Automobile Age developed, the horse was soon replaced
by gasoline, steam and even electric powered vehicles. These
early mechanically propelled vehicles were merely horse-drawn
wagons converted to mechanical power. The need for a lighter
wagon design soon became apparent as the horse powered
wagons still had an advantage over the new mechanical
monsters in pulling power.
One of the earliest motorized depot hacks on record is the 1899
Rapid, which featured three padded seats set one behind the other
on a low buckboard type chassis with a fringed top. The driver
sat exposed except for the fringe roof covering, similar to
the horse-drawn Surrey.
Wagon and coach builders began producing many variations of the
Depot Hack wagon using a myriad of chassis available
at the time. Among the chassis used were; Autocar, Buick, Columbia,
Duryea, Ford, Logan, Maxwell, Oldsmobile, Pierce Arrow and White.
These new body designs were referred to by many names including;
Depot Wagon, Wagonette, Express Wagon as well as Depot Hack.
Most of the wagons featured multiple seats arranged in front
of one another, but some body manufacturers converted cargo Express
Delivery wagons by placing bench seats opposite each other in
the rear. These opposed seating depot hacks were referred to
During this early period passenger comfort was minimal, however,
fixed roofs were being added with roll-down canvas coverings
to help protect the passengers. A few enclosed passenger compartment
bodies were made at this time built on chassis by Autocar, Buick,
Logan and Maxwell. These fully enclosed bodies were much more
expensive to produce and were built as special orders only.
The open bodied depot hack style was still the most popular and
easiest to produce. With the introduction of Fords mass-produced
Model T in 1908, the availability of a low cost chassis was
By 1910, a new depot hack body style had emerged, featuring
thin cross-ribbing members over thin horizontal body panels.
Buick depot hack models of 1910 and 1911 featured this new style
as well as Champion Electric of 1911. By the mid-Teens this body
style would become more prevalent throughout the industry.
Production of depot hack bodies was still being done by independent
wagon and wood body coach builders as well as furniture manufacturers.
Major automobile manufacturers were not producing their own depot
hacks and delivery wagons at this time, instead, they contracted
with the independent body builders. Buick, however, is probably
the first manufacturer to offer either type of vehicle in their
product catalog. In 1912, Buick offered a Standard Express delivery
wagon with open rear cargo area and a Wagonette with Jitney style
seats and roll-up side curtains.
As the first decade of the 1900s drew to a close, the automobile
industry blossomed. The whole nation was expanding and every
facet of industry along with it. Small towns soon became large
cities and Railroad depots became Railway Stations. The earliest
reference to a Station Wagon depot hack can be traced
to the 1911 Pierce Arrow. This model wagon was merely a metal
touring body with a wooden box attached to the rear section.
Jitney type opposing bench seats were used in the rear and a
canvas top with roll-down side curtains was featured. The styling
of the Pierce-Arrow was a little more advanced than the other
auto manufacturers offered at this time though.
By the late Teens, several wood body manufacturers became prominent.
Among these were; J.T. Cantrell & Brother, Columbia Body
Corp., Hercules Manufacturing Co., Hoover Body Co., Martin
Truck & Body Co., Mifflinburg Body Co., J.H.Mount Co., Parry
Manufacturing Co., Seaman Body Co., and York Body Corp. The
venerable Ford Model T was the prevalent chassis to which depot
hacks were assembled, but other makes such as Buick, Chevrolet,
Hudson, Studebaker, White and others were used.
By the early 1920s the station wagon had grown in popularity,
due in part, by the increased demand for such a utilitarian vehicle,
but also because the body manufacturers had refined the station
wagon into a more stylish mode of transportation. There were
now quite a number of manufacturers solely committed to station
wagon and depot hack production. Many auto manufacturers offered
these wagons as special order, and contracted with independent
body builders to manufacture the assemblies. Some bodies were
manufactured in a knockdown form to be assembled at the auto
dealer, while others were assembled by the body builder on chassis
supplied by the auto dealer.
As more body manufacturers entered the market the quality and
craftsmanship of the wagons improved. Names such as Cotton, Hatfields,
Hercules-Campbell, Post, Stoughton, Waterloo and Wildanger were
added to the growing list of Wagon body builders. It should
be noted here that the Hercules-Campbell Body Corp. was an association
between Hercules Mfg. Co. of Evansville, IN and Robert Campbell's
Tarrytown, NY assembly plant. Commercial truck bodies were shipped
knocked-down in crates and the suburban wagon bodies were shipped
complete in rail cars to the Tarrytown facilities by Hercules.
The styling of all these station wagon builders was very similar.
The narrow cross-ribbing over thin horizontal panels continued
to be the norm. Heavier uprights supported the roof and door
openings. Local hardwoods were used for the body construction,
usually ash, maple or oak for the main framework with basswood,
birch, cherry and mahogany used for the panels and trim.
The exception to this style of body building was the station
wagons being produced by the Jos. Wildanger Company of Red Bank,
New Jersey. Wildanger bodies featured sheetmetal covered plywood
paneling with structural wood confined to the outside edges
of the doors and quarter panels. The sheetmetal covered panels
were then painted to match the rest of the vehicles sheetmetal
color, presumably to create a more durable exterior. Quite a
contrast to the styling of most other body builders. Joseph Wildanger
opened his own shop in 1922 after working as a shop foreman for
the J.H. Mount Co., building special order carriages and wagons.
As with most other body builders, Wildanger wagons were made
to order and custom built on large sedan chassis.
New names were coined in an attempt to separate the new wagons
from their commercial truck counterparts. Country Club and Suburban
were new names used to promote the new line of station wagons
being offered. Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Essex, Ford, Franklin
and Studebaker were the main chassis used by the various body
manufacturers. The major auto manufacturers were too busy trying
to compete with Ford in supplying the increasing demand for cars,
to worry about manufacturing their own wagons. Also, the wagons
were more expensive to build due to their custom configurations,
and so fewer units were sold.
Although Chevrolet offered a Light Delivery/Depot Hack model
in their commercial catalog in 1920-21, it wasnt until
1923 that the first noncommercial station wagon was advertised
and produced by an auto manufacturer. The Durant Motor Company
purchased the Star Motor Company and produced their own Station
Wagon model. Based on the Star chassis, Durant contracted with
the Stoughton Wagon Company of Stoughton, WI and later with Martin-Parry
to supply finished bodies. These bodies were then assembled onto
the chassis at the Star manufacturing plant.
Buick also contracted with Martin-Parry as well as with Cantrell
to build their wagons and offered three different models later
that same year. The Buick models differed from the Star model
by featuring higher profile doors and quarter panels as well
as heavier upright posts. Despite these offerings, the Depot
Hack/ Station Wagon was still considered a commercial vehicle
and didnt command the sales of other automobile models.
Bigger, more luxurious sedans were what the public wanted.
-Excerpt from Woodies & Wagons by Richard Bloechl