MALONE — A northern peasant has turned his passion for American history into a demonstration that educates people across the region about the Weber wagon and its role in America’s westward expansion.
Steven M. Dustin says he became interested in American history, and the Old West in general, as a child watching shows such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman,” and “Wagon Train.”
“I used to do the Civil War reenactments, and they didn’t have a supply wagon,” Dustin explained. He said he acquired the wagon he restored from a dealership in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 2018. He displayed the supply wagon at reenactments for “a few years” before changing course and completing modifications of the clamping carriage.
“I got out of (reenactments) and wanted to keep using my cart for good causes, so I converted it to a chuck cart,” Dustin said. “That’s what I do now for my shows.”
According to chariotmuseum.org, the Weber wagons were the creation of a German immigrant who built the company from scratch before the Great Chicago Fire, securing space in one of Chicago’s few buildings to escape the catastrophe. By the 1890s, Weber was producing about 16,000 wagons a year, as well as bobsleds. In 1904 the Weber Wagon Co. was purchased by International Harvester and Weber wagons continued to be manufactured until the late 1930s.
Dustin said efforts to restore his 1880 Weber wagon involved craftsmen from across the country, including local Amish. A South Dakota-based blacksmith was employed to fabricate a crucial part of the wagon’s braking system.
“There are about five different states just on the brake system,” he said. “The coins and coins I’ve collected come from at least 20 different states.”
He said his goal was to make the wagon “as authentic as possible”. He said his experience running a New Hampshire antique store in the past helped him do just that. He has accumulated a large stock of authentic historic equipment, which is on display throughout his Malone home.
So far this year, Dustin has brought his wagon to Wilder Farm in Malone for a day-long event featuring the restored farmhouse, Moira Heritage Day, another celebration of local history, and he eagerly awaits its biggest show of the year, Frontier Days in Canton.
Dustin said he would set up camp and be outfitted to do fire cooking demonstrations at the Canton event. He plans to cook a fried chicken steak, grind fresh cowboy coffee and bake sourdough cookies in the back of the wagon as part of his demonstration.
Although he usually doesn’t get paid for his appearances, he usually donates the money raised to events that hold his shows and has stated that he hopes the chuck cart will serve as his heirloom.
Dustin said his family roots go back to the Revolutionary War and he had ancestors who fought for the Union in the Civil War.
“There’s a big statue in Massachusetts of one of my great-grandmothers named Hannah Dustin,” he said. “She was here in the 1600s, so we’ve been here a long, long time.”
Dustin served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and says his wagon displays made it easier for him to interact with others and feel safe in his surroundings, two things that made him happy. were difficult since his wartime experience.
“It’s helped me with my PTSD more than you can imagine,” Dustin said. He, like many other veterans of foreign wars, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, which he says manifests in the form of severe nightmares and social phobias.
“I actually talk to people now,” Dustin said. “I meet people. 5 or 10 years ago, I would never have done that.
Canton’s Frontier Days and Dustin’s next and biggest show of the season are scheduled for September 10-11 at 385 Schoolhouse Road. For more information on this event, call 315 854-4054.