Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wisconsin Wagon Company ... Handmade Vehicles!!

For CHILDREN that is, and those of us who still think we are kids!!  It's an old building next to the train tracks that caught our attention, with a very small sign that said Wisconsin Wagon Company.  Once Barbara checked it out on-line, she made reservations for a tour.  Turns out the tour was for just us three ... usually a tour consists of 40 or so!!!
This is what we saw when we walked in the back door, as we were met by a nice gentleman who appeared to work there.  Little did we know what we just walked in to!!  Originally Wisconsin Carriage Top Company,  they expanded into automobiles when business dropped in the early 1900's, but that didn't work out so well.  Eventually they began making sidewalk toys for children ... or children's vehicles as they called them, and changed their name to The Janesville Products Company.  That didn't last forever either, and in 1978 when Mr. Hough (known for his huge company that builds hotel conference room dividers) wanted to restore his antique Janesville wagon, he retired and began building the wagons again to the original specs.
Here are some of the oldies they have collected over the years.  The large one on the bottom is called an Islander.  In Long Island New York, they buy these wagons by the dozen to use as transport to and from their boat docks, instead of the plastic variety that immediately fall apart in the salt air.
At one time they were even advertised in the Saturday Evening Post.  They are now made of red oak, stainless steel parts and only use the original ball bearings for the wheels.  They were so fast, they needed a brake ... shown on the side of this one in the middle of the name Coaster.  Boy don't you know Tom was in 7th Heaven in this little shop.  Being a shop teacher for so many years, this was right up his alley.  I would't be surprised if he didn't go home and build one for himself!!
All of these wagons and toys are still made BY HAND by these TWO guys.  Only two ... talk about made with love!! They have most of the original 100 year old equipment they still use, but this band saw is new ... the old one just crashed and is not repairable.  Nate got tired of cutting the wood by hand, so just last year he devised these jigs for each piece required for every different toy.  Now, as he demonstrated for us, they are able to cut pieces MUCH faster.  He cuts every single piece, for every single "vehicle" ... by himself ... no one else ... just Nate.
All of the metal parts are hand forged and molded with these ancient machines by Nate himself.  This is HIS end of the building ... the manufacturing of parts and pieces.
All those parts are then sanded, lacquered and painted as required, by Kirk, who then stores them in this room for assembly.  Kirk does ALL the assembly and packaging for shipment ... no one else, just Kirk!!  That's it ... two guys keeping a one hundred year old tradition alive!!  How cool is THAT!!!
You can have them customized any way you want, but usually they silkscreen the name and designs on the side, with all the finish painting done by hand.  Yup ... by hand, with a tiny brush.
Here is Kirk who has put this Islander wagon together, screw by screw, bolt by bolt.  It has to be perfect he says, even fitting the handle to the wagon to be sure it fits, before strapping it to the bottom for shipment in large boxes.
Here's the company!!  Britten is the office manager, taking orders, and does some painting as well as her regular job.  Her family purchased this building and the company in order to keep it going!!  At this point in time, there is no one ... NO ONE ... who is learning this craft.  If you have a son or daughter who might be interested in moving to Janesville, a great little town by the way, just give them a call.  
Here's a sample of their product line, including doll beds, doll bunk beds, and other small toys not shown here.  Check out their website at WisconsinWagon.Com for a piece of history, handmade with love by these two great guys ... something that will last for generations.  Each wagon is numbered and it's original sales location kept on file.  If you find one in someones garage, give them a call for information on when it was made.  Believe me, it's a keeper!!
The small wheelbarrow in the middle is a wine rack ... the large one is an actual working wheelbarrow!!  The horses don't have their manes and tails, or saddle for that matter, but they will be complete for Christmas.  
You know I couldn't stand not having THIS piece of history in my house, so I ordered the second to largest to haul stuff around the ranch.  Kirk hand picks each piece of wood so the grains look good together, and they are putting COWGIRL on the back for me.  If you need a Christmas present for your grandkids (or yourself), now's the time to order.  Remember, they are all made by hand, one at a time, with extra special care.  Don't wait til one week before to place your order, because it won't happen.  Give them at LEAST a couple of months.  Tell them Nancy and the Westerfields ... those RV people from California ... sent you!!  They can always use some extra publicity ... maybe the Gypsy Journal can do a story, if they haven't already!!
From here we went to the Rotary Botanical Gardens ... it will make you SO jealous when you see those gorgeous flowers and beautiful landscaping, but that's for tomorrow!!


  1. Thanks for the tip, Nancy, we have never been there but now it's on our list.

    1. Janesville is a great little town Nick ... who knew?? Much more to see, several historic homes, Parker Pens started here, Pauline Pottery, Pickard China, GM Suburban Plant (closed recently) ... and really nice people!

  2. I have a Janesville Product Co wagon with the wooden wheels. It has the stamp on the wooden "axle bracket" piece. It does not have the brake or the sides to the box everything else is there and in good condition. If you would ever like to see pictures please ask.


    1. Dave, are you willing to sell it?

    2. Dave, I missed this post. Yes I WOULD like to see pictures!!!