Building His Own Hitch Wagon For Clydesdales Develops Into Business Making And Restoring Horse Vehicles And Wood Wheels

Draft horses are meant to work; that’s where the word horsepower originated.

To do their work, horses must have appropriate vehicles for tasks at hand.

Building and restoring wood wheels and horse drawn carriages is a family business for McGilvray Farms at Bird City. Ben and Mike McGilvray are on a Sheep Camp (wagon), one of the popular projects they restore and build new.

Mike McGilvray was raising Clydesdale draft horses, and wanted a hitch wagon to work and show them with.

“I decided I could surely build one cheaper than buy one,” McGilvray reflected.

That the Bird City farmer-horseman did. “The wagon fits our needs just right and the horse vehicle building and restoration business went from there. Twenty-years now,” he counted.

Customers from throughout the country seek McGilvray Farms to build or restore all kinds of horse vehicles.

“Wood wheels are a major part of what we do, too, restoring and building new spoke wagon wheels,” McGilvray added.

It’s a family operation with McGilvray’s wife Dona and their children Ben, Megan, and Meredith. “This is a fulltime job for Ben and me, but everybody is involved,” the senior partner said.

While featuring construction and restoration of horse drawn vehicles and wood wheels, it’s important to quickly review McGilvray Farms’ history.

Colorado was still being settled as a state when J.A. McGilvray came there from Chicago, Illinois, in 1906. He was forced to live in a cave before homesteading a farm in 1907, becoming owner in 1913.

A couple of years later, J.A. McGilvray built a store, one of the first businesses in Woodrow, Colorado. In 1944, Bill McGilvray took over his dad’s diversified farm with reins handed to third generation Mike 30 years later.

“I’ve pretty much always had horses for working with cattle,” Mike said. “Then we got a team of Belgian mares which really started changing our farming operations. We farmed 40-50 years, now we’re building horse vehicles for a living.”

Clydesdale characteristics appealed to the farm family, and soon draft horse population expanded.

“Its way down now from 22-23 head when we were raising four to five Clydesdale foals a year,” McGilvray said. “About the time we moved to Cheyenne County from northeast Colorado, hay was $200 a ton, horse numbers went down.”

Constructing two stagecoaches from scratch were big projects for McGilvray Farms using blueprints from the Smithsonian Institute.

McGilvray Farms Clydesdales were shown collecting top awards and working earning their keep.

 “We fed cattle with a team for 15-20 years. We’ve been in parades, done a few funerals and provided teams for corn husking contests,” Mike noted. “Now we only keep three Clydesdales. They don’t get much work, but the horses are hitched to test out every vehicle we build or restore.”

Obviously wood and steel construction minded, Mike said building and restoring horse vehicles and wheels requires lots of tools. “We have quite a shop full of equipment,” he noted.

There are wood benders, several lathes, including a copy lathe, a forge, and more. “A lot of big standing power equipment,” McGilvray insisted. “It’s come from all over the country. We got a wood bender from Kentucky 10-15 years ago.”

A Roof Seat Break is just one of many elaborate horse drawn vehicles built by McGilvray Farms at Bird City.

Building and restoration efforts have pretty much run the gamut, but it’s far from limited to horse equipment. “We’ve restored a couple of old trucks that we’re pretty proud of, too” McGilvray said.

Other projects include corporate signs, wooden washing machines, horse drawn water well augers, yard benches, ornate handles-fixtures and more. “We’ll try to build or restore about whatever somebody asks us to do,” McGilvray declared

One of the biggest projects for McGilvray Farms has been constructing stagecoaches. “We’ve built two now, ones at Fort Wallace, and the other at Fort Larned,” he said.

Stagecoaches were prominent mode of transportation from the 1800s through the early 1900s. “Cars replaced them, so there aren’t many originals around,” Mike said. “Those stagecoaches were used in the old Western movies and often beat up from crashes and falling over cliffs.”

To find a stagecoach blueprint, McGilvray went to the Smithsonian Institute. “They are really a technical project. There is absolutely nothing straight on a stagecoach,” he said. “Everything is curved, so we had to bend the wood. It takes a long time. More than 1,000 hours to build one stagecoach.”

Chuck wagons and Sheep Camps have been popular projects, too, both restoration and new construction.

“Some of them are still used in cattle and sheep operations, because they are complete ready to work. There are cook stoves in the Sheep Camps for the shepherds,” McGilvray said.

An outsider probably couldn’t envision how technical wood wheels are, but McGilvray Farms is expert in building and restoring them.

Others go to dude ranches and the like to be pulled by horses. Most are just for public display, campgrounds, museums. “Certain people just like the horse drawn wagons out on their lawn,” he added.

A variety of carriages, buggies and wagons have been restored and built from scratch. There are box wagons, freight wagons, covered wagons, surreys, and doctor’s buggies.

A Roof Seat Break, a Fort Riley Army Escort Wagon, and a Cinderella Carriage are unique projects of McGilvray Farms.

“One woman asked us to make a vehicle she’d designed. The driver’s seat is set up high, but the passenger area is built low for the riders to get in. That was sure an interesting project,” McGilvray conceded.

We can make new wagons to meet almost every need, or we can restore any wagon,” McGilvray reiterated. “Only the greatest care and craftsmanship go into our wagons.”

Wheels are an important part of every construction and restoration with equal appeal for decoration.

“We’ve really learned a lot about wagon wheels,” McGilvray said. “We have a full line of wheel building equipment and can do about whatever anybody wants.

“One fellow came in with a box of bearings and rings. He asked us to make four wheels and we did,” McGilvray smiled.

“We use only the top grade of material in the wheels,” McGilvray assured. “Our wheels can be tailor made to meet most specifications to get wagons rolling.”

Additionally, McGilvray Farms offers a full line of horse vehicle hardware, tongues, yokes, single trees, eveners, whip holders, and more.

About anything to do with draft horses and their vehicles, McGilvray Farms has had connections serving and for advice reference.

Building and restoring wood wheels and horse drawn vehicles is a business McGilvray Farms forefathers likely would not have envisioned. “It’s actually been quite a success, and we hope and intend to keep expanding,” Mike McGilvray summarized.