Years ago, a fisherman noticed something odd protruding from the Rocky River in the Rocky River Reservation. Looking closer, he saw that it was an old wagon wheel. Forty years later, the wheel came to Rocky River Nature Center where Paul Goebl, a park maintenance worker, preserved what remained of it. Possibly 150 years old, the wheel spurs many questions. We can make educated guesses to answer some of them although there are many things we will never know for sure.
Who made the wheel? We can never know the individual who made it, but a wheelwright was a person who specialized in the art of wheel making. In addition to being an excellent carpenter and blacksmith, a wheelwright needed to be able to measure precisely and have good math skills. It took a very skilled and knowledgeable person to handcraft a wagon wheel.
What wood was the wheel made of? It was important to use specific wood types so that the wheel parts would not shrink and fall apart. Typically, the spokes and felloes (the outside wood sections attached to the spokes) were made of hickory and the hub was ash. The wheel was then painted, and a close look reveals remnants of the red-orange paint.
What was the wheel attached to? Most likely it was a farm wagon which needed solid, heavy duty wheels to carry big loads. A carriage to carry people would have thinner, lighter wheels.
How did the wagon wheel end up in the Rocky River? Many old roads crossed the Rocky River by traveling down a steep hillside (like Hogsback Lane) going right through the river and then on up the opposite side. It’s amusing to imagine an old wagon sloshing through the river water, crunching and grating on the shale river bottom, and with a giant crack breaking off a wheel that would then be left there in frustration. A more likely but less interesting scenario is that an old broken wagon wheel was pushed over the side of the hill and came to rest in the river.
Thanks to the fisherman who found it, the old wagon wheel has returned to a location looking out over the Rocky River, near to where it came to rest so many years ago. It is now on display at the Rocky River Nature Center where visitors can view the workmanship of the wheelwright.
Brecksville Nature Center