Traveling Tubs on the Wagon Trail

By Alan Knight

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It was 1867 in a small mining town called Denver, Colorado. With signs of winter fast approaching, the sun set at 4:30 p.m.and didn’t rise again for nearly 15 hours. With the thought of the long, cold hours that lay ahead, there was only one thing on the miners' minds -- whiskey! The hard-drinking miners knew they didn’t have enough liquid gold to make it through the winter, and this made them grow restless.

Determined not to face the harsh mountain weather without it, they hired a group of Irish Teamsters to transport 40 wagon loads of whiskey through the Colorado plains. To ensure its safe arrival, the US Cavalry was commissioned to escort the load. 

However, when a crusading group of women from the Temperance movement learned of the shipment, they were furious. They formulated a plan to intercept and destroy the "evil cargo" on its way to Denver. Dressed in their finest Victorian gowns, they packed up their wagons and headed west for the 185-mile journey, singing as they went.
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Knowing it would take at least a month of hard travel through dangerous territory, these ladies of refinement turned their wagons into little mobile homes. They packed every luxury their prairie schooners could hold. There were tables, chairs, linens and silverware, colorful rugs and lamps, even pianos and several bathtubs.

The Temperance ladies were committed to their cause. But they drew the line when it came to traveling without their washtubs.  And these were no ordinary tubs.  We aren’t just talking galvanized buckets. These traveling tubs were Victorian furniture, replete with intricately decorated modesty covers.  All these ladies had to do was slip into the tub while another one poured hot water through an opening at their feet.

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Meanwhile, several other groups became aware of the shipment and decided they, too, wanted a bit of the joy juice. Local Native Americans who were interested in easing the pain of an approaching winter sought to intercept the shipment.  To make matters worse, the Irish Teamsters began to grumble and soon decided to strike. Receiving word their precious cargo was in peril, the miners created a posse that headed eastward, ostensibly to recover their wayward shipment. With so many opposing parties looking to get their hands on the whiskey, the wagon train came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. Inevitably, the women caught up with the whiskey wagon train as it made its way west, and demanded demolition of the alcoholic "mountain dew." (BTW: To learn the fate of the whiskey wagon train, you’ll need to rent the movie, "Hallelujah Trail," made in 1965 starring Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick.)

Early Bathtub History

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But in 1867, it wasn’t only women that enjoyed the luxury of bathing on the trail. It's reported that the Bathtubs that existed during the antebellum period before indoor plumbing came into vogue were large but relatively light containers. They were usually hidden away and only pulled out when needed, perfect for on-the-road washing. The typical mid-19th century bathtub was a product of the tinsmith's craft, commonly made from a shell of sheet copper, or zinc. The use of copper continued into the mid-1900s as a liner for wood-enclosed tubs. Commanders and officers of the US Cavalry also enjoyed some downtime relaxing in traveling tubs.

More commonly, tubs back then were steel-cased. By 1867, tub manufacturers started using cast iron, which had been used for several years for making sinks and toilets. The problem with metal was corrosion. Copper and zinc discolored readily around water and soap, and the seams of sheet metal were hard to keep clean. Iron and steel, of course, rusted eventually, even under the most meticulous coat of paint.  Bathtubs made of lead were only found in more progressive homes equipped with early water-heating devices. As running water became more common in the latter 19th century, bathtubs became more prevalent and less portable.
Birth of the Modern Bathtub

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While some members of the US Calvary and the Temperance ladies were enjoying their high society tubs, the miners most often bathed in horse troughs, if at all. Bathing wasn’t considered a necessity by these hard-working men. In fact, personal hygiene was considered something of a nuisance. Over time, as bathing became more fashionable, more tub manufacturers entered the market and began improving designs. Out with the horse trough and in with cast iron bathtubs with porcelain interiors on "Clawfoot" pedestals. These tubs rose to popularity in the 19th century and remain so today.  

To combat the corrosion problem, tub makers began successfully marketing porcelain-enameled, cast iron bathtubs, a process that remains broadly the same to this day. Some modern bathtubs are made of acrylic or fiberglass; occasionally, waterproof finished wood. In addition to the advanced materials used in making today’s modern bathtubs, many new and innovative bathtub designs have entered the market.

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One such design is the Walk-in tub that is perfect for seniors. These bathtubs provide a great safety advantage to handicapped persons or those with limited mobility. Not only are these tubs highly functional, there is also a range of hydrotherapeutic options available. Walk-in tubs are perfect for everyday bathing needs, but importantly, they also provide personal safety and independence wrapped in therapeutic luxury.

Tub King's cast iron/porcelain Clawfoot and Pedestal tubs as well as our therapeutic Walk-in Our tubs are made to fit in your bathroom. Or, if you want one for your covered wagon, we can hitch you up with that, too.

In this article, I first gave a brief historical account of the development bathtubs. I highlighted a story made famous by the motion picture, "Hallelujiah Trail," about a skirmish between whisky-thirsty miners and Temperance-minded women of the Old West. It then goes on to talk about elegant cast iron/porcelian Clawfoot and Pedestal tubs as well as safety-minded Walk-in tubs.

If you found this article useful, please share it with your family, friends and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment section of this blog. Thanks again for visiting with us.

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Have a question? Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed at the end of this article and my brother, Alan, who heads up Tub King, will personally get back to you. It’s been my pleasure sharing this information with you.

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Alan Knight has many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. His companies not only provide superior products, they are also multi-award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. If you’d like to contact Tub King, call (800) 409-3375 or (800) 843-4231; or send an email to

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