Whidbey Examiner


Island County museum hitches program to Coupeville High School senior’s wooden wagon

Whidbey Examiner Staff
June 10, 2013 · Updated 1:42 PM

Members of the Coupeville Lions Club examine a wagon during a recent meeting constructed by Coupeville High School senior Ben Carlson for his senior project. The wagon will be used for educational purposes by the Island County Museum. / Nathan Whalen photo

One high school student’s senior project is going to help the Island County Museum.

Senior Ben Carlson spent most of his senior year designing and building a wooden wagon that is one-fifth scale of one that was used by settlers in the 19th century when they made their journey west on the Oregon Trail. That wagon will be donated to the museum, which will be used for education and outreach efforts.

Members of the Coupeville Lions Club got a chance to see the wagon during their May 29  meeting at the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Once the meeting was finished, it was taken across the street and into the museum.

Tom Eller, woodworking teacher at Coupeville High School, noted that Carlson built a scale-version of a Conestoga Wagon, which was typically 17 feet in length and was first produced in 1841. He said Carlson logged 250 hours building the wagon, which is constructed of alder and has functioning brakes.

Carlson and Eller were quick to point out the challenges that were encountered throughout the design and building process.

Eller said that the designs they found for the wagon weren’t accurate.

Carlson said the wheels and brakes were tough to assemble. The wheel’s hub had to be in the center or it wouldn’t turn, the break shaft was difficult to accurately measure and the trim proved difficult too.

The wagon was displayed during the Lions Club meeting, which had a farm theme where members dressed in overalls and played Bingo.

Gordon Grant with the Island County Historical Society said he contacted Coupeville High School to see if any student would be willing to produce the wagon. He said the museum is busy producing new exhibits and the wagon will be used for a display about pioneers coming to the Pacific Northwest.

Rick Castellano, executive director of the Island County Museum, is happy the museum will show an item that looks like a 19th century prairie schooner.

He pointed out that Carlson’s model lacked a driver’s seat, which is common for wagons and pioneers typically walked alongside during their journey.

“Ben just did an amazing job,” Castellano said.

Carlson built the wagon for his senior project, which is a requirement all public school students need to complete in order to graduate. Once he finishes with high school, he plans to work for his dad and travel to Alaska.


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