The intention of this piece is to acquaint the 1632 aficionados with the types of wheeled and non-wheeled land transport available for moving heavy and bulky items. Considering that the up-timers will have a variety of old horse-drawn wagons and a few buggies, I have not limited the scope to things available in the 17th century. I have not covered specialized military transports such as artillery carriages.

Before delving into the subject we need a brief explanation of terms.

The frame is what supports the body, holds the axle(s), and to which the shafts or tongue are fastened. A frame can be as simple as three pieces of a sapling or as complex as the chassis on a car. There are some vehicles where the frame is integrated into the body and others where the body can be removed and the frame used separately.

The wheels can be single piece solid, multi-piece solid, spoked, or dished and spoked. They can turn on axle hubs or be fastened to an axle that turns with the wheel.

The body is the part that carries the load. It can be a couple of lengths of sapling lashed to the frame or some planks of wood, wicker baskets or elaborately carved and gilded wood. Bodies can have no sides, low sides, high sides, or completely enclose the load.

Axles are the means by which the wheels are attached to the frame. The axle may turn with the wheels or the wheels may turn on the axle.

Shafts and tongues (draught bar, pole, or beam) are used to hitch the draft animal to the vehicle.

Running gear consists of an assembly of the frame, axles, wheels, and tongue (or shafts).

Which brings up the terms hitched and yoked. The following definitions of hitched and yoked will be used. Yoked means that the animal(s), typically oxen, are directly attached to the shafts or tongue by a yoke. The yoke(s) may be permanently fastened to the tongue or may be removable. Hitched is used to indicate draft animal(s) that are harnessed, with the harness being attached to the shafts, singletree, and/or tongue by leather straps and/or chains.

The singletree (whippletree or whiffletree) is a short piece of shaped wood with three sets of iron rings and/or hooks that allow a draft animal in regular harness to be hitched to a cart, wagon, or carriage. The singletree allows the animal a better angle of draft (translation: more pulling power) than being directly attached to the tongue. Singletrees are not generally used with shafts.

Lastly there are the terms span, yoke, team, and hitch. A span of oxen consists of a pair of oxen. A span is also often called a yoke of oxen. Two horses or mules might be called a span but more commonly would be called a pair. Team and hitch often are used interchangeably. A team can be any number of draft animals from two upward. The number of draft animals in a team depends upon the job to be done, the size and condition of the animals and custom. The common team in seventeenth-century Europe was eight oxen, mules or horses, although six or ten animal teams were also used. Today the term hitch is most commonly applied to special teams of draft horses such as the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Draft animals

Everything from humans, dogs, goats, reindeer, donkeys, onangers, oxen, and horses has been used as draft animals. The 17th century would find nothing strange about dogs, goats, or even sheep pulling small carts and wagons. In the northern reaches of Sweden and Norway, the Sami still use reindeer to pull sleds. Donkeys and ponies have always been used and are still used for pulling carts and wagons. Oxen would be the preferred 17th century draft animals for heavy loads that did not require speed. Horses and mules move faster and can go longer distances under load than oxen, but cost more.

The price differences between horses, mules, and oxen continued to be a factor well up into the mid 1800s in the U.S. Reports for Santa Fe Trail have a team of six oxen costing two hundred dollars while a team of six horses or mules cost six hundred dollars.

Onangers were among the first draft animals. War chariots pulled by onangers propelled armies in Mesopotamia as early as 6,000 BPE. By the 17th century the use of onangers was long past.

Let's start with consideration of some non-wheeled forms of transportation.


This means of transporting loads is also called a sledge, slide car, or travois.

A drag consists of a frame made from two shafts hitched to one draft animal with the other ends resting on the ground. The load may rest on anything from a simple set of cross poles to a basket or a wooden body. In its simpler forms, it is readily and quickly made. When there is no body, the load is lashed directly to the frame.

The frame is generally either H-shaped (European drag) or A-shaped (American Indian travois). The H-shaped drag can be attached to the collar of a regular draft harness. The A-shaped drag can be strapped on with a bellyband and chest band or lashed to a saddle.

There are some varieties of drags that use more than one draft animal but the single draft animal version is the most common form.

The use of drags dates from the early Bronze Age and continues up through the twentieth century. Both H- and A-shaped versions were known and used in seventeenth-century Europe. It is possible that some of Grantville's hunters may have used a travois.

Sleds, Stoneboats, Skids, And Sleighs

Sleds differ from drags in that the frame is fastened to runners and no part of the frame rests on the ground. These runners may be crudely- or finely-carved wooden runners, cast iron or steel. The runners rest fully on the ground with the frame and body attached to the top. Sleighs and some sleds are designed to move efficiently over snow that would cause a wheeled vehicle to sink.

The stoneboat is a type of sled that consists of a frame and a pair of thick wooden runners with a low wooden body on top. One or two draft animals may be hitched to the stoneboat by a singletree, or doubletree and two singletrees. Stoneboats do not usually have shafts or a tongue. Before plowing and planting the farmer takes his draft animal(s) and stoneboat into the fields and picks up any large rocks and stones that have come to the surface, hence the name. Stoneboats can be used to move any awkward, heavy load over short distances, but are not intended for long distance haulage or use in snow.

A skid can be an alternate name for a stoneboat or a special purpose version such as is used to pull a single large log. Skids, like stoneboats, are not intended for long distance use.

Because of the heavy loads handled by stoneboats and skids, the draft animals are usually horses, mules, or oxen. The most common arrangements are a single animal or a pair of draft animals.

Sleds are intended to convey lighter loads over greater distances and to move their loads over snow and ice. The runners hold the body of the sled higher off the ground. Sled bodies often include sides and front and back panels to hold their cargo in place. Sleds range in size from small (approximately one foot wide by two or three feet long) to large (approximately five feet wide by ten or more feet long).

Sleds have been used to transport nearly everything and have carried loads over distances from the width of a farmyard to thousands of miles of tundra. One example of a sled everyone is familiar with is a dog sled.

Some wagons had structures that allowed the wheels to be removed and replaced with runners when the snow came. There is evidence that suggests this switching of wheels for runners may have been done as far back as the eighth or ninth century. Sleds of all sizes and types would be common in the 17th century and Grantvillers will also be familiar with many of them.

Sleighs are generally for human transportation. They may carry any number of people in bodies ranging from simple planks on runners to elaborate, ornate constructions. They usually have shafts or a tongue for use with single or multiple draft animals.

Sleighs are generally associated with rapid movement. Most sleighs are pulled by the faster forms of draft animals such as dogs, reindeer, or horses, but there is no reason that any type of draft animal cannot be used to pull a sleigh.

Many different versions of sleds, stoneboats, skids, and sleighs have existed from the Bronze Age up into the twenty-first century. The likelihood that a few up-time versions are in Grantville is very good.

Drags and sleds are considered to be the first means of transporting loads not easily carried by humans or animals.


A cart consists of a frame that supports the axle, a body, two wheels, and some means of attaching the preferred draft animal. That might be a pair of shafts for a single animal or a tongue for two or more. It may have poles and a crossbar for human or dog power. The frame may be as simple as lashed together saplings or much more ornate. The body may consist of anything from a few planks fastened to the frame to an open construction of light poles or a solidly built box. Some of the simplest carts may not have frames; instead they use the axle to support the body and attach the tongue or shafts.

Generally, carts have sides but may or may not have a fixed front or back. Until the 19th century, only the most elaborate or special purpose carts would have a seat. Carts are intended to carry their loads at slow walking speeds. Considering that most carts don't have brakes, slow speeds are good. Stopping a cart depends upon the backward pull of the draft animals hitched or yoked to the tongue.

Carts may have single piece solid, multi-piece solid, or spoked wheels. The axle may be fixed with the wheels turning on it or it may be held in place by two pegs (or a U-shaped bracket) on each side and turn with the wheels. Modern carts often have salvaged car axles, wheels, and tires.

Carts can range in size from small dogcarts about the size of a child's toy wagon to four to five feet wide by six or seven feet long. During the early 19th century, a cart (or wain) was developed in Cornwall, England that had a 6 foot wide by 13 foot long body.

The smallest carts, pulled by dogs or people, may have corner supports that keep the cart level when not in use. Some, such as vendor carts, may have four wheels but are still considered carts. These smaller carts usually have large back wheels and small, independently pivoting front wheels.

Carts can be found in art and archaeological sites dating back well before 3500 BPE. They arose worldwide, save for the Americas. Throughout the Americas, drags and pack animals were the methods of transport until the Spanish introduced horses, donkeys and wheeled vehicles in the 16th century.

Carts are used everywhere and are endlessly useful but they do have limits. Because they have only two wheels, a cart can be tilted and the load dumped with relative ease. Two wheels also means that the cart follows the draft animals through a turn with little resistance, pivoting on the inside wheel.

Carts can tilt when not hitched or supported, making it hard to load. Also, storing a loaded cart requires either a very well-fastened load or some means of propping the cart in a level position. This teeter-totter aspect of carts also means that the weight of the draft animals is used to counterbalance the weight of the cart and its load. If not carefully loaded and balanced, the cart and load exert an upward and backward pull on the draft animals. This can cause sores where the harness moves and rubs. In the case of carts needing more than one or two draft animals, this lift is experienced only by the animal(s) attached to the shafts or tongue. The use of singletrees and a doubletree to hitch additional animals to the cart eliminates any upward forces on these additional animals.

Practical and social issues often controlled use of the cart. Many societies considered the cruder carts fit only for use by peasants. That very crudeness translates into an easy-to-build, easy-to-repair vehicle, which helps explain their continued popularity. Upper levels of society used other styles of vehicles to showcase their wealth and position.

Highly elaborate carts have existed for millennium. Some are intended to carry religious icons or the highest-ranking authorities in ceremonies. War chariots are another special form of cart. In the U.S., farm carts were manufactured by many of the major wagon builders.

The first cartwheels from prehistory were single piece, solid wheels and were followed by multiple piece solid wheels. Spoked wheels appear very early on, especially on light carts and war chariots. By the 17th century, several types of cartwheels were commonly used. In the Americas, the crude and fragile single-piece solid wheel appears to have continued in general use longer than in Europe. In art, carts with multi-part solid wheels appear almost as often as carts with spoked wheels from the Middle Ages on, but the solid wheel seems to have disappeared from general use in Europe by the mid-17th century. However, it should be noted that the solid cartwheel has never completely disappeared. All varieties of cartwheels can be found in use across the OTL world.

A common type of light cart was the hay cart. The body of a common hay cart consists of planks fastened to the frame and sides made of dowels or crudely shaped saplings about two to four inches in diameter. This type of hay cart was often open ended to allow for dumping the loose hay at the base of a haystack. Another version of the hay cart had no sides but did have high, angled ends that allowed the loose hay to be piled between them. Most hay carts had tongues to allow for two draft animals. This cart was useful for bringing sheaves of grain in from the fields and carrying loads of firewood. The high sides or ends were often removable, allowing the cart to be used for other purposes.

A hay cart might have multi-part solid wooden wheels or spoked wheels, depending upon the location and wealth of the owner. Other common carts had bodies made of planked bottom, sides, and front with the back often left open for dumping the load.

The "creaking cart" was a form of cart with multi-part solid wooden wheels fixed to a square axle that rotated with the wheels. The axle was held in place between wooden pegs on the underside of the frame. This type of cart was found worldwide and was very common throughout Europe. Laszlo Tarr, in The History of the Carriage, reports that the squealing noise made by the axle rubbing against the pegs and frame could be heard for over a mile. Tarr relates that some Spanish towns forbade driving this noisy cart through town unless the carters used grease on the axle. Apparently, the Spanish carters enjoyed their cart's "singing" because, once they were outside the city limits, they removed the grease so that their carts would again "sing."

In the 1800s it was noted that such a cart needed six oxen if the ground was muddy, but four oxen were common when pulling over dry ground. The "creaking cart" remained common in Portugal and Spain throughout the 19th century. For those contemplating military stories, the Spanish style creaking cart appears to be the most common means of transporting the armies' freight and baggage.

If you plan to write about things going on in England, please note that farm carts were used there well into the twentieth century. The use of farm wagons came late to England—many areas didn't see wagons until the late 18th century.


A wagon consists of a frame that supports two axles, a body, four wheels, and some means of attaching the draft animal. A wagon may have a pair of shafts for a single animal or a tongue for two or more. The frame may be simple or ornate. The body may consist of a few crude planks fastened to the frame, an open construction of light poles or a solidly-built box. Most wagons have sides, but may or may not have a fixed front or back. By the Middle Ages, wagons had some means of pivoting the front wheels.

Prior to the 19th century, few wagons, save for ceremonial ones, had a seat. Anyone riding in the wagon just used a convenient part of the load to sit on. A driver, riding one of the draft animals or walking alongside, controlled the team. Most types of wagons are intended for carrying heavy loads at slow walking speeds.

A new innovation, brakes, aided the draft animals in slowing and stopping the wagon and in going downhill. The brakes generally consist of blocks of wood that are forced against the wheel rim by means of a lever. The brakes might have leather pads as brake shoes. The evidence for brake pads in the first half of the 17th century is very murky.

Even with brakes, going downhill is chancy as braking power depends upon the strength of the driver. Aside from the brakes, controlling a wagon's downhill speed depends upon the draft animals' ability to exert a backward force on the wagon. With oxen, this backward force is transmitted via the neck yoke(s) into the tongue or shafts and thus to the wagon frame. With horses, the harness (specifically the breeching) transmits the backward force via a shaped wooden or steel piece called a neck yoke. One end of the neck yoke is attached to the tongue by hook or chain, and the other end is attached to the horse collars by leather straps or chains.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff