Wagons Roll!


We’re nearing the end of our summer New Found Land events programme, and yesterday we had our last Family Fun session for this current exhibition. The children learned about how the pioneers crossed Canada in covered wagons in search of a new life on the Canadian prairie. The wagons contained everything the emigrant families owned – personal belongings plus food, supplies and tools for the journey. Once they set off, the wagon was the only home they knew. During the day, the emigrants would often walk along side the wagon rather than riding in it, because the wagons were so full and the load was heavy for the oxen or horses pulling them. Each night, the emigrants would make a new camp in a new place and they would cook their dinners over open fires. Sometimes they took the covers off the wagons and used them to make tents to sleep under.

The journey took many months. Sometimes the days would be long and boring, but sometimes they could be exciting or even dangerous. Dangers included both hostile humans and wild animals. The emigrants often travelled together in wagon “trains” so they would have the protection of greater numbers.  Other scary things could happen as well, such as wagons overturning on steep slopes and hurtling down hills. Not only would that be dangerous for the emigrants and their animals, but the wagons might break. If that happened, a family would just have to stop there until they fixed their wagon – and hopefully there would be fresh water nearby!

It must have taken real ‘pioneering spirit’ to set off on such an adventure, heading off into an unknown continent in the hopes of building your own farm! Could you imagine doing the same thing yourself?

Below you’ll find pictures of the event and “how to” instructions for making your own covered wagon.

How to make your own covered wagon

You will need:

  • a small cardboard box, preferably cuboid (e.g. a herbal tea box)
  • brown card
  • brown tissue paper
  • white paper
  • corrugated cardboard
  • 1 bamboo skewer
  • sticky tape
  • glue stick
  • scissors
  • pencil

Step 1: Make the wagon box

Cut out one side of your box to make an open wagon box.

1. Cutting lid off box

2. Make the frame supports for the wagon cover

Cut 4 thin strips of brown card (about 0.5 cm wide) and stick the ends to each side of your wagon box so that they stand up in big loops. This makes a support for the wagon cover.

You can stick the ends to either the inside or the outside of the wagon box. If you stick them to the outside, they will be reinforced by the tissue paper in the next step.

2. Frame supports for cover

3. Add a wood effect to the wagon box

Use a glue stick to attach brown tissue paper to the outside of the box to make it look like wood.

3. Tissue paper

Step 4: Add the wagon cover

Cut a piece of white paper to about A5 size, place it over the frame supports and stick it to each side of the wagon box. (If you want to be really authentic, you could use a piece of white cloth instead of paper.)

4. Wagon cover 1

Step 5: Make your wheels

Draw four circles on corrugated card and cut them out. Usually the rear wheels on a wagon were larger than the front wheels, so you can do the same by making two of your wheels bigger than the other two (but make sure your big wheels are the same size as each other, and your small wheels are the same size as each other!).

Cut the wheels out, and mark the centre of each wheel with a pencil. Then take the pointy end of the bamboo skewer and pierce a hole in the centre of each wheel. Watch out for that pointy end, as skewers can be surprisingly sharp!

Then work out where you want the wheels to sit against your wagon, and pierce four holes in your wagon box to match with the centre holes of your four wheels. You want the wheels to sit so that their centres are above the bottom of the wagon, but there is still plenty of wheel to raise your wagon off the table.

5. Make wagon wheels

Step 6: Make axles and attach wheels

Next, work out how long your wagon axles should be. Hold the skewer against the end of your wagon, so that the blunt end of the skewer sticks out slightly wider than the wagon. Make a mark on the skewer with your pencil where you think the axle should end. Tip: The axles need to be slightly wider than the wagon at both ends, so that the wheels have plenty of room. Take a look at our wagon pictures above so you understand what they should look like.

Cut the skewer where you made your mark. This is a job best done by an adult, as it can be difficult to cut through a skewer and you could easily hurt yourself.

Once you have cut one axle, measure it against the remainder of the skewer and cut a second axle to match it. You should be able to get two axles out of a skewer easily. Then discard the pointy end.

7. Measure axle length

Step 8: Attach the axles and wheels

Now push the axles through the holes in the wagon box and attach the wheels. To make sure the wheels stay in place and to prevent any accidents with splinters on the cut ends of the axles, stick a small piece of sticky tape on each axle end.

8. Push axle through wagon box

8. Axles through wagon

Step 9: Make oxen, emigrants and fill your wagon

Now it is time to make your wagon come to life! You can make 2-D oxen and emigrants by either sticking pictures of oxen and people on to card and cutting them out, or even better by drawing them yourself. We used a clip art drawing of an ox we found on the internet.

9. Oxen and people

You could also fill your wagon with the furniture and supplies that your emigrants would need to survive. You can use our Get set for your journey worksheet to help you work out what  might be needed.

Now your wagon is ready to roll!

Wagon ready to roll

Have you found this “how to” post helpful? If so, let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted by: Sarah


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