A hand-built hand cart is now available for viewing at the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma in Enid.
It’s also fully operational and can be ridden. The only catch? You’ve got to work the machine.
The hand cart is operated by a lever that must alternately be pushed and pulled to turn a large gear. That gear then makes the vintage rail wheels turn.
Stephen Case, president of the museum, said the cart historically is accurate right down to the oak slats and wooden brakes.
“We made these authentic as we could off old 1918 blueprints,” he said.
The brakes are shaped to match the curvature of the outside wheel housing. With a stomp on a pressure plate, the brakes are pushed away from each other and into the wheels, providing enough friction for the cart to stop.
“That’s what they used back then to stop them, and they do a good job,” Case said.
He said a hand cart was a “heck of a way to get around” before the turn of the century, and that it always was easier with four people instead of just two.
Case plans to let visitors ride the hand cart. On good days, he may be able to take it all the way to the U.S. 81 overpass.
Hand carts existed along rail lines as a cheap way to move people and goods. In fact, Case said, that’s the reason many of them were destroyed during the Civil War — because they were a strategic boon to the other side.
They prevailed in the early days before the industrial revolution, before small internal combustion engines were placed into them. Before the hand-operated machines, there were horse-drawn rail carriages.
“It was faster to ride a horse, but someone had to feed it and water it,” Case said.
The museum’s new hand cart is a mixture of old and new. The wood is new, but the wheels were made in about 1908.
It took about a month to put all of the pieces together, and Case thanked all those who contributed, either by materials or by labor.
“When everybody pitches in, it’s like the old saying ‘many hands make light work,’” he said.
Next is a bicycle cart, a three-wheeled invention that straddles the rails with the use of a counterweight.
Railroad Museum of Oklahoma is located at the old Santa Fe Depot at 702 N. Washington. It’s open weekday afternoons and select hours on the weekend. The museum is closed on Monday.
“We’ve got one of the best museums in the country. It’s kind of like a diamond in the rough,” Case said. “People don’t realize what we have right here in Enid, Okla.”