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The Art of Wooden Wheel Making

Hoopes Brothers & Darlington were wooden wheel manufacturers in West Chester, Pa. Thanks to reader Phil Neff for referring us to this Smithsonian Institution Film, showing the interesting craft of wooden wheel making, which you will see below, filmed at the wheel maker before they closed in the early 1970s.

With the exception of some of the wagon style wooden hubs seen in the film, the process is quite close to what is involved in making an automobile or truck wheel. The first part of the film takes the process from the log and sawing it, to steaming the wood fellows in an autoclave and the fascinating process of fellow bending and finishing.

The second part starts with making the hubs, it then moves onto assembling the hubs and spokes and next the fellows are installed onto the spokes. The steel fellow band or tire, is then cut to length, formed, welded and installed and compressed to make it tight on the wheel. Take the time to watch both parts as it is quite interesting.

Much of the machinery that you will see in the film is similar to and some of it may possibly be as old as is seen in the 1903 advertisement (above) for the Defiance Machine Works.

Phil Neff had the following to say about the film and company: Here is an interesting film. It’s of Hoopes Bro. & Darlington wheel works. Their plant was two blocks from my shop here in West Chester, PA. They made wheels for many cars in the old days. I went in their abandoned offices in 1976 and found the factory files scattered about the floor. I took a couple folders, but should have rescued more. This film was made shortly before they closed in 1973. 

15 responses to “The Art of Wooden Wheel Making

  1. A fascinating look at a lost craft, David. I love seeing all that belt driven equipment. I can hear them in my mind. The company name is just too sweet, too.

    If you need wooden wheels either restored or replaced for one of your customers, where do you source them these days?

  2. The Smithsonian also did an article featuring the Hoops Bro.&Darlington Company along with many photos of the machinery shown in this video the article was in The Carriage Journal Autimn 1977 Vol 15,No. 2. I was very excited to run across this video as I own the small felloe bending machine with the big gear shown in the Hoops shop the one in which the young man is used as a counterweight .

  3. Marc, I own and live in a house which Paul Rodebaugh claimed was originally a mill (across from Madryn-Taylors Mill Rd)) on the original Hoopes wheel works site. Are you local to Chester Co?

    • No, sorry I live in Eufaula, Alabama. I hope someday to visit your area. I want to go to the site of the works and also visit Gruber’s as I have a Gleason spoke lathe and would like to spend some time viewing original wheel machinery and learning more about the local history. Thanks , Marc

  4. I worked at Hoopes Darlington part time while going to West Chester State College in 1966. I ran the spoke machine which was a huge belt driven lathe made in the 1800’s. I think it put out 8 spokes at a time. We were paid hourly and I was also paid piece work doing the spoke machine. No use of hearing protection or OCHEA regs in that factory. Was a fascinating place to work at. A long gone piece of Americana.

  5. I was born and raised in West Chester and do remember the spot, so nice to hear and see the History of West Chester and the greater Chester County

  6. We here at the Remington Carriage Museum’s Restoration Shop are endeavoring to preserve the trade skills of this era. To this end, the Shop is looking for wheel making machinery to add to our collection. working or rebuildable machines such as a spoke lathe, morticers and felloe benders suitable for a small shop rather than factory type machines are what we are looking for.

    If anybody has information on available machines, please contact me through the Museum’s website (google Remington Carriage Museum).

    This is a great video. We are fortunate that the Smithsonian had the foresight to make it.

    • I am a descendant of the Hoopes. If you are looking for felloe benders, Hoopes was the only factory in the country that used steam bending. You must make the machine. Other shops sawed their felloes.

      • I am a descendant if the Hooped family too. Elizabeth Hoopes Webb was I think my 14th times Grandmother. Have you seen Daniel and Jane’s house?

  7. What a fascinating look into the past. I am working on my family history and kept seeing the name of this company connected with them in West Chester. When I finally Googled the Hoopes Bros. and Darlington, I was delighted and amazed to find information and the video , knowing that relatives probably worked on some of the same machines. Gives me chills!

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