We have been building quality camps in the Midway Utah valley since 1976.
We are family owned and operated and are deeply committed in manufacturing and
producing fine quality camps that will withstand the test of time. Our family is
dedicated and determined to provide you with outstanding workmanship. We've
been doing this for over 32 years and continually strive to produce the most comfortable
outdoor home for modern sheep herders, ranchers and sportsmen.
Our upgradeable features and options allows us to produce a customized camp tailored
specifically for you.
History of the American Sheepwagon
(Text and photos taken from "Sheepwagon, Home on the Range" by Nancy Weidel 2001)
The sheepwagon is an object of fascination to many people today. The sheepwagon itself is a marvel of practicality and efficiency. And people often wonder who invented the sheepwagon. The traditional design of the sheepwagon, along with the placement of such defining interior features as bed, stove, table, and benches had become standardized by 1900, just sixteen years after it's invention. But not every sheepwagon was built just alike; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Designed to provide shelter and heat, mobility and storage, the sheepwagon was the ideal home for the herder.
Although the first wagons had only a canvas flap for a door, a Dutch door, or "stable door" as the English called it, quickly replaced the flap and became one of the sheepwagon's most prominent features. The door's top half could remain open while the bottom stayed shut. This feature served several purposes; with the top open, the herder could hear and see his sheep. The open top door also provided ventilation for the wagon and modulated the heat of the stove, which could be quite intense. A closed bottom door also kept out the herder's dogs and other animals. According to ranchers, however, the primary function of the Dutch door was to allow a herder or camptender to stand within the wagon - or even sit on the side bench or a box - and still be able to extend his arms through the open top door to hold the horses' reins when the wagon was being moved. The sheepwagon has retained its original interior configuration because the placement of its door on the front, and its component parts such as the bed and stove, utilized the small space in the most efficient manner possible.
One observation of the interior of the western sheepwagon was the remarkable resemblance to a ship's cabin, another version of a compact, efficient living space. Both have well-designed storage areas, built-in benches, retractable or fold-down tables, and a sleeping berth. A story is told of two old sheep-herders, both former sailors, who finally felt at home in the western desert which they described "like being on a dry sea." A term often applied to the deserts and high plains is "a sea of grass," the empty landscape consisting of only two elements, treeless earth against a huge sky, the undulating hills resembling waves on the ocean.
A relative of the sheepwagon was the four-wheeled "sheperd's hut" used in the British Isles during the nineteenth century. But unlike the sheepwagon, it did not house the shepherd full time and did not travel great distances. It was smaller, heavier and not designed to travel hundreds of yearly miles over the rough terrain of the American West. But the sheepwagon as we know it today is clearly related to the hut in regards to catering to the needs of the shepherd.
The most direct antecedent to the western sheepwagon is the traveling gypsy wagon. By the 1830s, the gypsy wagon provided a mode of conveyance and a movable house for a variety of non-gypsy people. Living in a wagon in a less-than-temperate climate was made possible by the design of a portable kitchen furnace in the late eighteenth century. By the 1860s, a type of free-standing, cast-iron cooking stove called an "American stove," first marketed the United States in 1830, came into common use in the British Isles. Standard interior features of the gypsy wagon, like the sheepwagon or sheepcamp, included a bed against the back wall, built-in storage compartments, and the essential stove. Even the shape has remained remarkably similar with a bow-top. Although the gypsy wagon could be quite fancy, there is no doubt it is a relative of the western sheepwagon.
Although no documentary evidence appears to exist that would confirm it, most experts agree the first sheepwagons were probably improvised by sheepmen of the northern territories since it was here that they needed protection from the harsh weather. They began with a standard wagon box about ten feet long and three feet wide. The bows of such light freight of farm wagons could easily be covered with canvas and outfitted with perhaps a bedroll inside. Adding a built-in bunk and fastening a small stove to the floor were the next logical steps in the evolution of the crude house on wheels.
The cooster wagon, a two-wheeled, canvas-covered wagon with a stove and a bed inside, bears a remarkable resemblance to the traditional sheepcamp. Freighters used the cooster wagon on their long hauls from remote settlements to the rail lines, hitching it to the rear of a cargo wagon. Like the sheepwagon, prototypes for the cooster wagon can be found in an early type of European gypsy wagon called a two-wheeled pot cart. This small canvas-covered, bow-topped cart was not meant to be lived in but did provide the traveling tradesman a place to sleep. There were many variants of the pot cart; a four-wheeled cart developed later gradually replace the two-wheeled version. One author suggested that the two-wheeled cart was probably the "oldest kind of wheeled conveyance used by travelers."
By the 1900s, as the sheep business continued to expand rapidly throughout the western states, sheepcamps were in demand. A rancher had a choice as to where he could obtain a sheepwagon. He might build one himself or obtain one through the local blacksmith. Blacksmiths played a key role not only in the invention and modification of the first sheepwagons, but also in the subsequent building and repair.
Although individual builders made many sheepwagons, commercial manufacture of the wagons had begun by the turn of the twentieth century. A rancher could order a sheepwagon from a catalog. Beginning as a blacksmith shop in 1852, Studebaker rose to prominence among wagon companies in the late 1850s. Studebaker manufactured sheepcamps from 1899 until 1913. Their version was called the "sheep camp bed," a model that changed very little during its years of production. Although the basic wagon shell was standard, they advertised their camps as "built to order," personalized according to the wishes of the buyer. This customization by both the builder and the buyer was a hallmark of the versatile sheepwagon, a tradition that continues even today with the modern wagons produced by Wilson Camps Inc.
The fact that catalogs referred to the wagon as a "sheep camp" while the term "sheep wagon" was also being used is curious. No definitive source has been found that explains this use, although "camp" may be a holdover from the early days when the herder slept on the ground or in a tent.
Utah was home to a number of companies that produced the sheepwagon or sheepcamp. But most have discontinued business. The only firm in the United States that has continued commercially manufacturing sheepwagons until 2008 has been Wilson Camps Inc. of Midway Utah. A couple companies have just opened their doors using the Wilson Sheep Camp as their model.
Wilson Camps has already proven that they will stand the test of time and will continue building the toughest and most innovative sheep camps available. Wilson Camps sells half of their wagons for non-ranching uses, selling them to every walk of life. Avid fishermen, hunters and sportsmen have all joined the ranks as proud owners of a Wilson Sheep Camp.