The Glorious Concord

There were different styles of staging vehicles in Gold Rush California; a fact now all but forgotten as the image of a full-bodied stagecoach—glorified in paintings, museum exhibits and big-screen westerns—has become this century’s standard of what a stagecoach looked like.  In the late 1820s skilled wheelwright Lewis Downing and experienced chaise builder J. Stephens Abbot began designing and manufacturing a masterpiece of construction in Concord, New Hampshire, that had no equal: the Concord stagecoach. The partners, each a superb craftsman, used only the finest seasoned ash and white oak for the body and wheels; the prime sections of a dozen ox hides per vehicle for the thoroughbrace suspension and other leather items, and hand-forged Norway iron for precision-fitted tires and railing around the roof to help secure piled luggage. Each piece of wood in the body was steamed into pliability, then hand-molded into precise curves. Wheel spokes were shaped by hand to the exact measurement and weight of the other spokes in the same wheel. Inside, the coach was upholstered in padded leather and damask and typically held six passengers, or nine with the addition of a center bench. The crowning touch was the paint job: two hand-rubbed coats finished with two or more coats of varnish and polished to a gleam. Exquisite hand-painted miniature landscapes graced the doors. Although several coachworks in California were manufacturing stagecoaches by the mid-1850s, the Concord remained the envy of every stage operator who couldn’t afford one. Read more in The Stagecoach in Northern California – Rough Rides, Gold Camps & Daring Drivers.

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