Saturday, September 24, 2022

Glorywagon - Part II

I recently wrote the story of "The Glorywagon", the 1920's ranch cook shack turned bachelor's home that has been in the Russell family since 1962, and commented on the task of bringing it to our place in 2000, but did not give proper acknowledgement and thanks to Bill Hilgenberg and his son Steven for their role in loading and hauling it the ten miles or so from Doyle Russell's place to ours. 



The main axle beneath the body of the wagon is broken and has been for many years. I asked Bob Russell how he and his dad were able to tow it behind their farm truck the thirteen miles from Nunn to Doyle's place north of Wellington in 1962 with the axle broken and he said "we cobbled something up." But when it came time to bring it south about ten miles to our place on Highway 1 in 2000 he asked Bill Hilgenberg to load it on one of his trailers and deliver it to us.


Bill has had lots of experience loading heavy equipment on trailers. He owned his own backhoe business for fifty years or so in Larimer County and knows how to load, tie down, and unload as efficiently as can be done. Watching Bill and Steven load the Glorywagon was fascinating. 

The trailer was just barely wide enough, or maybe I should say the wagon was almost too wide and too long to fit on the trailer. In the photo one wheel is hanging over the edge a few inches.

And the weight of the wagon required some careful tugging and shoving by Bill's heavy equipment to get it up on the trailer. I remember watching Steven assist his dad in this operation, throwing chains, cinching them down, laying beneath the wagon as he worked, and I appreciated his skill with his hands and willingness to get dirty, do the hard stuff. His dad taught him well.

Bill and Bob inspected the loaded wagon and found it road ready.

Twenty minutes later the guys arrived with the Glorywagon, backed the trailer into place, and started the process of removing the chains and offloading the wagon. Frankly, I don't remember how they did that! They rolled it off and positioned it exactly where Bob wanted it placed.

Job well done! Thank you Hilgenberg and Sons for bringing the Glorywagon to us. Delivering it to us is not the only project Bill Hilgenberg has done for us over the years. He's hauled gravel for our driveway, moved broken concrete slabs into a heap and covered them with soil, breaking off large cottonwood branches with his backhoe, all in an effort to create a place to sit and watch Bob train his horses out back. Bill has dug water lines, installed hydrants, and more. The most exciting project was when he tore down our silo! I took photos that day and movie film and when the silo finally collapsed my movie captured a few of the blocks as they flew through the air headed right for me and the camera! And the most recent project, one I requested of Bill, was the creation of a seating area beneath some trees using stone slabs that came from Doyle's place. Only, by then, it was Bill's place, for Bill Hilgenberg bought Doyle's property from the Russell family after Doyle died in 2000. Thank you, Bill, for all you've done for us over the years. Bob and I appreciated it greatly.

And there she is, all ready for renovation. I thought it would be so simple. After all, it's only 8'x18'. Ha! It took many years and untold man hours to restore this small wooden wagon on wheels.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


In our yard sits an old cook shack on wheels, a hundred-year-old mobile cabin of sorts. We've had it for over twenty years now, and Bob, with help from his friends, has restored it and saved it from falling apart. His mother, who saw the thing as a dirty, dilapidated wagon, sarcastically dubbed it "The Glory Wagon". The name stuck.

Before I show the process of restoration I want to tell the history of this interesting little building. In the 1920s it was a cook shack that was hauled out into hay fields of eastern Colorado at harvest time each fall by a steam tractor, for it was too heavy to be pulled by horses. Local farm wives who did most of the cooking and meal preparation at home brought the warm food to this cook shack for distribution to the haying crew at mealtime. There was a small woodburning stove inside for keeping the food warm and making hot coffee.

This photo of a typical cook shack of that time is from a cook shack museum in Kansas. Our wagon has big iron wheels that were once part of a stationary steam engine, used with a threshing machine. It's hard to know how old the wheels and undercarriage are. We think the wagon was built about 1910. When the U.S entered WWII in 1941, and the harvest crew men went off to war, this cook shack was retired from use. A 78-yr-old old bachelor named Albert Bisworm moved into it and made it his home in Nunn, Colorado for the next ten years.


Ten year-old Bobby Russell poked his head into the doorway of the wagon in January 1953. He remembers that date because while in Nunn that day he and his family heard the sad news that Hank Williams had died. Bisworm had just moved out and gone to Greeley to a nursing home. Bob says the inside of the wagon was so dark with soot that there was no way to know how big it was inside. No light came in from the four windows. A 2-burner kerosene stove toward the back had sooted up the place terribly. Alec Keenan, an 80-year-old resident of Nunn, hauled the wagon to his property and there it sat another ten years. This photo shows how these retired wagons became small homes.

Doyle Russell, Bob's dad, acquired the Glorywagon in the early 1960s from Alec Keenan and towed it behind his farm truck the thirteen miles to his place north of Wellington. I don't know what Doyle's plans were for it at that time but he filled it up with purchases from the local auctions and the first time I peeked inside, about 1980, there were many old vacuum cleaners stored there. At some point sparks from a passing Burlington Northern train set the dry prairie grass on fire and it burned the "backporch" of the wagon.

Bob told his dad he would surely like to bring the Glorywagon down to our place and clean it up. Doyle agreed to that plan but said he wanted to empty it out first. Years passed. After Doyle died in 2000 a friend of Bob's loaded the wagon onto his flatbed trailer and brought it to our place, placing it just where we wanted it, west of our house, in the area where we park our cars. Inside we found two items that dated back to Bisworm's occupancy, a pair of longjohns stuffed in a crack, used to keep out the cold wind, and a wire run up to the roof that served as a radio antenna. 

Bob started restoration with the removal of the newspapers that covered the interior walls. Although soot had damaged the first layer, the inner layers were readable and interesting, complete with the "funny papers." He mailed them to his brother, Ken, who shared his love of cartoon strips. Then Bob removed all the roofing and discarded it saving only the crossbeams.


Using 1x6 pine boards he bent them over those crossbeams and nailed them in place creating a clean, strong ceiling and roof. 

After the pine boards were in place Bob and Bill West covered them with dark green rolled roofing.


Pam, taking photos from inside as Bob creates the new roof.







This shows the completed ceiling, taken at an angle. That's the door at the far end.

On the exterior he secured all the vertical siding with screws. Bill West made new windows using old mullions to look compatible with the siding. Bill also surprised us with a custom stained glass window for the front of the wagon, with an "R" for Russell in the design.


This window is actually in the front of the wagon, the front being where the tow bar connected to the steam tractor which hauled it out to the hay fields. The back of the wagon is where the door leads out to the porch on which the meals were served.






On the inside Bob covered the old walls with new 1x6 pine boards to give a fresh, clean surface that the Glorywagon hadn't seen in decades.






That "back porch" that was burned had to be removed and rebuilt. Back in the days when it was a cook shack this is where the food was set out on platters so that the haying crew could walk by and fill up their plates, then find a place to sit and eat their suppers. Rebuilding it was one of the most challenging tasks Bob faced during the restoration. He wanted it to be as close to the original construction as possible complete with the wide, flat surfaces on top. It turned out really well!

To finish up the exterior Bill West made a beautiful door complete with hardware and they hung it together. Later a screen door was installed inside so the solid door could be open to allow air flow. And a set of stairs with handrails completed the project of making the Glorywagon accessible and secure. I love the look of it. Great job!

As for the inside, as soon as the roof was on I started making the inside "liveable". The front of the wagon has a raised flat area with two storage compartments below. I put custom mattresses over that, a pretty quilt, and lots of pillows. We added a small table with a couple of chairs and then decorated with old collectibles we like looking at.

There is a pedal sewing machine, enamelware, cigar boxes, old dolls, and more.

Mostly the Glorywagon has become a cozy backdrop for photos of visiting family and friends. It has a good feel to it, this little cabin, if you like things rustic, and are nostalgic for years gone by, like I am.

Our friends Cathy and Pete Safiran gifted us with one of their custom license plate signs "StageStop58" to link the Glorywagon to my ebay presence. 

In today's world with the advent of Tiny Houses to solve the problem of affordable housing this tiny 144 square foot structure (8'x18') has been there, done that. Albert Bisworm had a small stove, chamber pot, and a radio - all the comforts of home. I know if Frances Russell could see the old Glorywagon today, how her son Bobby gave it new life, she would exclaim, "Oh, my Gawd!"