I would like to thank Mr. Todd Frey of Frey Carriage Company, for sharing some vehicle maintenance suggestions with us today!
In our world of carriage driving there are just about as many types and styles of carriages as drivers. Each requiring a little different level of effort and care in order to keep it rolling along smoothly. Here are a few basic tips to help you along that path.
Obviously this is the primary component to keeping you on a roll. Most modern carriages have steel wheels while traditional and antique carriages have wood wheels. Each require a little different level of maintenance. I’m not going to get into specifics of maintaining every type of wheel hub as there are many but bottom line they need lubrication and a seal. Antique carriage hubs most often did not have wheel bearings. They rotate with a sleeve on a spindle. The seal is most often a leather washer. So a coating of heavy grease and a fresh set of washers annually is good practice. Wood wheels are also vulnerable to climate. They can absorb humidity and/or dry out in arid conditions. Either of these situations may change the shape and rigidity of the wheel. Always do your best to maintain a constant humidity level during storage. When it comes to steel wheels the main concern lies in the hub and bearings. Most modern carriages have tapered automotive style bearings. What is unique to our sport is the hub of those wheels is often submerged in water hazards. So if you are in this group annual wheel bearing maintenance is good practice as well. Remove the wheel, clean or replace the bearings and seals and reinstall freshly packed with grease.
All four wheel carriages have some method of steering via a turntable at the front axle. Traditional and antique carriages have a pretty simple system of a large circular wear plate and a center bolt holding it together. The center bolt in that system is critical to holding the front axle in place. It can be a wear point so inspecting and lubricating the bolt from time to time is prudent. Some grease on the wear plates will keep your carriage turning smoothly. Modern competition carriages usually have a ball bearing turntable. They are sealed in a way that they do not come apart but they are not water tight. Most are equipped with a grease fitting. I recommend turning the wheels 90 degrees to the left and hit it with a few pumps of grease. Then turn the wheels 90 degrees to the right and repeat. Do this a couple times annually if you are driving in a lot of water, sand or dust.
Traditional carriages and carts are a combination of wood and steel components. Changes in temperature and humidity will cause the wood to expand or contract so it is good practice to check the nuts and bolts regularly on these vehicles. Most traditional carriages did not use a locking nuts on bolts so they can have a tendency to loosen occasionally. The same inspection is equally worthwhile on a modern carriage. Go over the vehicle top to bottom at least once a year just to make sure all nuts, bolts and fasteners are staying tight as they should.
Be it wood or steel it is prudent to do a visual inspection of the finish on your carriage on a regular basis. Regular touch ups can save you a more extensive repair down the road. Automotive touch up paint is the most effective and economical for minor chips and blemishes.
There are many variations of suspensions on carriages but bottom line keep an eye on the moving parts. Antique and many modern carriages have leaf springs. Years of use can wear down the pivot points being the bolts that hold the springs together. Some regular lubrication and annual inspection of those pivots is good practice. Air bags and shock absorbers are also used on carriages today. Either can eventually wear out or leak. Inspection or replacement of those components in the off season will keep you on the trail when the weather is fine.
Keeping your carriage clean is a good way to notice areas needing attention. A little soap and water doesn’t harm a wood vehicle but I do my best not to soak a traditional carriage. Hosing down a wood carriage can cause water to work it’s way between the wood and steel components. That can cause problems over time. Modern steel carriages on the other hand like a good bath. A self service car wash is a good option after an event to knock off any mud and dirt that came a long for the ride.
I hope a few of these simple tips can help keep you and your equine friends rolling happily down the dusty trail.