blog History for Fantasy Writers: Wagons, Carts and Trucks

Discussion in 'Research' started by Black Dragon, Dec 17, 2017.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Skip Knox submitted a new blog post:

    History for Fantasy Writers: Wagons, Carts and Trucks
    by E.L. Skip Knox

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    It should be simple: you want to describe a scene of people coming into a town for market. Or maybe it's just a chance encounter on a road with some merchants. Or maybe it’s peasants on their way to market, loaded down with hay or squash. What are they carrying it in?

    Answering the question isn't a matter of a few minutes or even a few hours. There are whole books on this topic of wagons and transport, and the answers are complicated. Eh, oh well. Welcome to the Middle Ages, right? Everything here is complicated.

    But for the writer, complicated is where the fun is.

    Overview

    Carts came first, then wagons, then trucks.

    Even that simple statement is tricky, for "truck" is a verb that goes way back, at least to the early 17th century, but it was not used in the sense of a vehicle for carrying heavy loads until the late 18th century. So that part is easy: no trucks in the Middle Ages.

    Carts are the oldest form of man-made transport. They appear with the earliest traces of cities, pulled by all sorts of animals from dogs to humans, and from goats to horses. A handcart is probably the oldest form, since all other types of carts require some sort of harness for the animal. They're also the cheapest, so if your characters are poor (and if your world is quasi-medieval, then 80% or more of your characters are in fact poor), then they're likely to be using a handcart. A...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
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  2. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    Very interesting information. I'd hoped for more 19th century stuff, since that's my area of interest. Still, I have some knowledge of my own in that area if anyone is curious.

    Another important thing to understand is that public transport as we understand it did not exist prior to the 18th century. Before then, you either walked, rode or drove yourself, or hitched a ride with someone going in the same direction. Vehicular transportation was heavily freight-oriented, and carrying people other than the crew was an afterthought at best. There wasn't much call for passenger transport since people rarely traveled far from their home unless their job required it. Given the dangers and ordeals they had to face, can you really blame them? The coach was the first vehicle (that I am aware of) that was specifically designed to carry passengers. Then, somebody in 18th century England had the bright idea to let people ride a coach for a fee. These coaches that anyone (with enough money) could use, and which went to fixed destinations and arrived and departed (ideally) at fixed times was a thing unheard of before then. Combined with better suspension and Macadamized roads (a method still used to build unpaved roads to this day), this ushered in a revolution in transport that came to full flower in the 19th century. A lot of modern-day vehicles such as taxis, buses, trucks (as mentioned above), and even trains got their start with horse-drawn predecessors.

    Also, when it comes to stagecoaches at least, a high-speed chase is not out of the question. Speed was important to the stagecoach companies, and coaches from rival companies would sometimes race each other, even though they weren't supposed to, and these horse-drawn drag races often ended badly. Of course, this requires a setting that has stagecoaches or something similar.
     
  3. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Lore Master

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    No mention of chariots? I guess not very medieval, but neither is any mention of Romans, da Vinci, or Michaelangelo.
    No mention of the chinese one wheeled carts, and how they fair better on rough roads, or of the evolution of the wheelbarrow from the barrow, or of leather tires? No mention of the importance of where the center of gravity is in relation to the axle/axles, or of different types of harnesses or yokes. I see you put in a picture of both a cart pushed from the front and from behind and of a wagon with a sail, and mentioned neither, in spite of the fact that both where commonly used. Also no mention of horse drawn railroads, or of the smoothness of Roman roads - many are still good, smooth, serviceable, paved roads, even now, 500 years after the period you are writing about.
    Just so I don't sound hypercritical: I really like this series of articles, and this happens to be a favorite subject of mine, so I feel a need to attack it. I feel this is a vast and rich subject and you have barely scratched the surface.
     
  4. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    That's the thing... this is an article for a writing blog. It's meant to be a basic primer on the subject, to prevent writers from making the most basic of errors. There is only enough space to scratch the surface. To go truly in depth would require either a book or a whole series of articles on this one subject.

    If you wish to explore this subject further, you are welcome to write a follow-up article that goes deeper into the areas that interest you. Here are the submission guidelines:

    Write for Mythic Scribes
    That's on me. I added the image of the cart with the sail after the article was submitted.
     
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  5. Nimue

    Nimue Dark Lord

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    Thanks for the overview, Skip! Good to know the eras of each. This is something I’ve thought of fairly often, around story logistics, but never done more than a quick google about it... Usually I just spell wagon “waggon” and hope that conjures up a sufficiently antiquated image! Researcher I am not...
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I should make it clearer that I'm a medievalist and my posts concern that era (and place), with an occasional straying into late Rome. Thanks for the comments.
     
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  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I agree that someone should add in post-medieval stuff, not merely for transportation but for the other facets of life I write about. The early modern era saw significant change, and of course the Industrial Revolution, along with other shifts (Hobsbawm's "dual revolution"), changed pretty much everything.
     
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  8. Russ

    Russ Istari

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    Great article as usual Skip. The minute I saw the title I thought of the War Wagons of the Hussites. The middle ages were never boring!
     
  9. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    Hello Skip!

    I love how you talk about Medieval life in such a natural and familiar style. You are very good to explain many aspects of what the Medieval world was really like, it's all clear like water and at the same time you add nice touches of good humor. Thanks to your article, I have learned more about the history and evolution of carts and carriages.

    Certainly it would be strange to find a high-speed chase with carriages in a Medievalish story, but what would actually happen?

    Let's say that the road is very smooth dirt, and the escaping carriage is really desperate to get away as fast as possible. Would that be a terribly bumpy experience for the driver and the people inside of that carriage? How fast could they actually go? How long would pass before the carriage's safety is compromised?

    In my Joan of England trilogy I have some carriage scenes, but they were used only to transport Joan and her entourage from her residence at Surrey to the nearby Portsmouth.

    I have an idea for a future article of yours: What were naval battles really like in the mid 14th century, for example at the start of the Hundred Years war? I know the answer to this because I have researched the war adventures of Joan's father Edward III, but the article could be great for people that do not know this type of information.

    Cheers, Skip! Congratulations for a great article.
     
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Thanks, Shiela. I have enough stuff on medieval naval matters to occupy at least a couple of articles. I'm guessing you researched the Battle of Sluys, yes? There's lots to say on the subject.

    As for the wagon chase scene, you will get some good visuals by watching old American westerns, where they show both wagons and stagecoaches at high speed. It's funny how similar they are in their narrative to car chases--much careening, quick cuts, followed by the inevitable tipping over. :) Even so, you'll get a pretty good idea of handling and the ride, since those older movies and TV shows used real wagons and horses going over real dirt roads. The older the movie the better.

    To put it briefly, chases yes, but nothing high speed, at least as measured by modern standards. Certainly breathlessly fast for the people in the wagons. And good opportunities for a daring jump or two. Now I think about it, adding magic abilities into the mix could certainly provide some interesting novelty.

    Thanks for the comment!
     
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  11. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    Thank you, Skip!

    I have indeed researched the Battle of Sluys, and also the Battle of Crécy and that of Poitiers. All of them are mentioned in my Joan of England story, but they are never seen directly since only part of the first novel takes place in the 14th Century.

    For the article, I think it would be great if you describe the ships of those times in detail.

    Many people assume that all wooden ships of centuries ago were pretty much the same, when in reality there were many different types and sizes and also they changed a lot with the passing of time. In Joan I did not describe the ships in great detail because my research was not that good, so it would be great to know more about this.

    There are so many fascinating things about Medieval life that more people should know about.
     
  12. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Always been lead to believe the oldest carts were made by the Sumerians, or at least the oldest we've found to date.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    That's what I remember as well, Psycho Wizard. Then again, that comes from so long ago that the memory itself is ancient history!
     
  14. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Well, carts is important.

    That's how yoos get stuff to places.
     
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