Early SUVs Were a Lot More Primitive Than You Think

Sitting around the breakfast table this morning sparked a conversation about the pioneer days. It was a time when people were heading west to discover lands beyond the east coast. But the conversation then turned to the question, how did those pioneers get supplies once their original stash was depleted. That’s when we meandered into the topic of covered wagons and stagecoaches, the equivalent of today’s tractor-trailers and SUVs

Canestoga Wagon
Conestoga Wagon | Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Types of wagons

Conestoga Wagons, one of the most popular types of covered wagons, were used to carry goods and supplies to the west. They could carry up to five tons of cargo. So, they were the heavy lifters of their day and perfect for sending cargo long distances. These would be the equivalent of today’s tractor-trailers.

The Conestoga wagons spawned smaller Prairie Wagons. These were made to be pulled by fewer horses, mules, or oxen and commonly carried people, in addition to small goods. They were about the size of enclosed stagecoaches but had a canvas covering the open rear area. The prairie wagons were typically used within a town. These would be the equivalent of today’s SUVs.

Stagecoaches were made to carry people in the luxury of an upholstered cabin. Seating was made to ensure occupants could endure a ride in the cabin without severely aggravating the tailbone. They had space above and behind to carry goods. Stagecoaches were the equivalent of today’s SUV taxi. 

Wells Fargo Stagecoach
Wells Fargo horse-drawn carriage/stagecoach. June 2017 in New York City | Photo by Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

Wagons for sale today

Covered wagons and stagecoaches are still available for sale today. Depending on the condition and the type of the wagon, they can be purchased for anywhere from under six thousand dollars to $50,000. Oddly enough, that is also the price range for today’s new and used SUVs. There are some companies that make custom ones as well. 

Back then

Imagine being a child back in the pioneering days. Your family is moving west. Your parents have a covered wagon to carry their belongings and your siblings. There’s nothing but a hard wooden seat for you to sit on. There is no radio, no USB sockets to power handheld electronic devices, no electronic mapping, no rear air conditioning, and no heated or cooled seats. Covered wagons were as primitive as can be. Basically, they were big open wooden boxes pulled along on wooden wheels that had iron outer linings. The only things the covered wagons offered were seating and the ability to breathe the big, wide, open outdoor air.

Right now

We have things pretty good right now. SUV’s are well equipped for short trips, as well as cross country trips. Although car camping and #vanlife are growing in popularity, those experiences will never match the primitive harshness that came from living life on the road in a covered wagon. Thankfully, today we have the benefit of turning on the car for heat if it gets too cold, and the ability to power up a laptop to watch a movie under the stars. We also have seats to sit in that are a lot more comfortable than the wooden boards offered by covered wagons. But, we can still respect the SUVs primitive origins.