Man builds horse-drawn vehicles, big and small
September 19, 2005
FALLON – Kurt Barnes won’t paint your wagon, but he’ll build it by hand from the ground up.
Barnes, owner of KG Enterprises south of Fallon, is carrying on a family tradition of manufacturing and restoring horse-drawn vehicles. A row of glimmering two-wheel carts, wagonettes and buckboards stand outside his residence, the result of Barnes’ craftsmanship and many hours of work in the shop.
“People are always looking,” said Barnes, who occasionally hitches up his own horse and takes a piece of his work for a spin. “It’s nice to see something like that going down the road.”
The base of every horse-drawn item is quality lumber. Hickory is the wood of choice for the wheels and spokes, while the seat and panels can be made of oak, as or even poplar.
Barnes makes trips to the East once or twice a year to buy lumber because of the price. He’ll often come back with 3,000 to 4,000 board feet of lumber at a time.
Nevada’s parching climate is a bit unforgiving to the hardwoods. Barnes lets his lumber dry in a barn for three or four months before forming it into various wagon or cart components. A hickory wheel spoke will shrink one-sixteenth of an inch in Nevada’s dry air, but will expand and tighten up the joints in a moister climate, he said.
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Barnes does all of the work himself except for the upholstery and metal powdercoating. All wood is coated with a marine-grade varnish which flexes with the wood to prevent cracking, Barnes said. The wheels have roller-bearing hubs.
His grandpa, a blacksmith, was living in Michigan and wanted to pass on the craft of building horse-drawn vehicles. Barnes, who grew up in Colorado, was already working with his hands doing cabinetry work.
“Grandpa was disappointed that none of the kids wanted to learn the trade,” Barnes said. “I’m not dissing cabinetry, but I got tired of building boxes.”
He spent more than a year with his grandfather in Michigan learning to shape the wood and hand-form metal necessary for horse-drawn vehicles.
The result is the satisfaction of supporting your own business by the work of your own hands, Barnes said.
“The main thing is I don’t have to have anyone help me,” he said.
Price ranges for Barnes’ products range from $1,800 for a basic cart to $7,000 for a six-passenger wagonette. Each vehicle requires four to eight weeks of labor, depending on the model and detail.
Barnes also produces miniature, one-eighth models of carriages and wagons.
While buggy and wagon making may be an antiquated pursuit, Barnes said horse-drawn vehicles are making a nostalgic comeback. He visits half a dozen shows and auctions a year and sees continued business from his Web site.
Many customers are leisure riders, but some prefer Barnes’ hand-built quality as an accessory for show horses.
“A lot of them are baby boomers that can’t get up on their horses anymore but still want to do something with their horses,” he said.
KG Enterprises, located at 3812 Boyer Road, is open from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday by appointment.
Call (775) 867-4476 or visit http://www.kgenterprises.net.