Wagon train of the century rolls into S’thorne museum
SILVERTHORNE – Twenty-one wooden wagons have rolled into the Outlets at Silverthorne’s Green Village. They aren’t party to a second gold rush, nor were they drawn over the mountains by horses, oxen or mules. But they have endured an arduous and rewarding journey nonetheless. The collection is the product of a lifetime of passion, research and laborious attention to detail. The wagons are scale models of those used daily during Summit County’s formative years and are on display at the Silverthorne Historical Museum located next to Old Navy. They were handcrafted by Charles S. Hildebrandt, a longtime Breckenridge resident currently residing in Denver, and donated to the Summit Historical Society in July 2004.
Hildebrandt has led a model life, as displayed by his hobby and his generosity. His passion for building models began by constructing one for an older friend who had spent his life building wagons. He was very proud of an ox cart he once constructed and spoke of the cart constantly. So Hildebrandt made him a model using an old picture of the cart. This was only the beginning of his contributions.Hildebrandt, assisted by his daughter Claudia Willard, traveled to museums, libraries and towns photographing and measuring authentic wagons to ensure the reproductions were accurate. Proportions and details were painstakingly recorded and replicated.
Perhaps Hildebrandt’s most impressive achievement is overcoming macular degeneration – an age-related eye disease – to create these little masterpieces. The condition kept him from driving and reading, but not from his models, most of which he created by feel. The remarkable results illustrate their own story. The model Conestoga wagon tells of the difficulty of crossing the mountains. The model looms large over the other covered wagon reproductions. This discrepancy in size explains why the bulky Conestoga wagon was unable to trek across the Rockies. Thus, the prairie schooner and other lighter craft had to forge ahead. Those crafts are on display as well, with working brake systems and all.
A surrey is displayed which bore well-to-do families on velvety seats. And perhaps one of the most interesting tales told is that of the “True Grit” prison wagon. The original wagon is located in Ridgeway and was used in the John Wayne film of the same name. In addition to the legend-weaving wagon collection, Hildebrandt donated an assortment of functional machinery models. The devices are also on display and include a hoist, table saw, log cutter and teoning, or wheel-making, machine.
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