By Martie Thompson
About a year ago, some members of the Friends of Alpine Groves Park went to the old volunteer fire station across the street from the park and surveyed items that were stored there. According to Friends board member DeAnne Adams, they found a number of interesting items originally from Alpine Groves Park, including two wagons — and decided to restore one of them with the idea to move it back to the park as part of a public exhibit. The wagon picked for restoration measured five feet wide by nine feet long with sides on the bed, which Adams said likely was used to move boxes of oranges around the property.
“We didn’t know who to ask to do the restoration,” Adams said. “One day I was out in my neighborhood and my neighbor, George Gilmore, was walking his dog. I mentioned it to him and he said he would consider it.”
Ultimately, Gilmore, who has a workshop and woodworking tools behind his house, did agree to take on the restoration. Although Gilmore had some woodworking experience, mostly furniture making, this was his first attempt at the restoration of a vintage (circa early 1900s) wagon.
Gilmore said he was joined in the project by his son, David Gilmore and grandson, Davis Gilmore. The restoration took approximately four months and began with a lot of internet research, as the men were committed to restoring the wagon to as close to its original state as possible. The wagon had a lot of rotted wood that Gilmore used epoxy to repair and also oak boards obtained from North Carolina. Gilmore said the project involved a lot of sanding and basic cleaning up.
Of interest, Gilmore said, was that nuts used on the wagon were square instead of hexagonal like they are today. Also, boards on the wagon were a full one inch thick rather than today’s boards that, although they are called “one inch” are actually three-quarters of an inch thick.
“We kept all the parts we removed from the wagon tagged so that we could put it all back together again,” Gilmore said.
He said the most challenging part of the restoration was working on the wooden spokes on the wheels, some of which were rotted and broken off. Gilmore said he enjoyed what he learned about wagons during the process. For instance, this particular wagon is a one-horse wagon with a seat. Evidently, when riding, dirt was often thrown up on the driver, so the wagon contained a sloping board they called a “dashboard” to provide some protection to the driver.
“I thought it was interesting to learn where the word ‘dashboard’ came from,” Gilmore said. “We actually had to make a new dashboard for the wagon during the restoration.”
The men also found a seat among the items stored at the volunteer fire station. With some minor modifications, they were able to use it on the restored wagon.
Adams said the plan is to eventually put the restored wagon, along with another wagon that has not been restored, in the horse barn near the front of the Alpine Groves Park property. Officials with St. Johns County are planning to close off a section of the barn so that the two wagons can be secured there. There is no timeline yet for this.
“This restoration was a true community effort,” Adams said.
Photo courtesy DeAnne Adams
Dave Gilmore, Davis Gilmore and George Gilmore with the restored wagon.