by Joe Castillo
December 11, 2013 • 435 views
Stage Coach Restoration …. The Autry National Center of the American West at Griffith Park is one of the most renowned museums in the United States. Their Native American, firearm, western film and American Western art collections are considered the most valued and unique collections of their kind. The Autry is more than a museum; it’s also a preserver of historical artifacts. One such example of their restoration skills is the restoration of an 1855 Concord Mail Coach. The builder of the Coach was Lewis Downing of Concord, New Hampshire with ironwork provided by J.G Chesley. Research determined that the coach was part of fleet vehicle number 65 and its serial number was 69. The Stage Coach was part of the fleet driven under the direction of the California Stage Company line which operated in the Gold Rush era in California. The coach was painted with bright colors, decorative paint artwork and custom interior settings. James Birch was owner of the line whose operations began in 1854. It could carry 9 passengers inside along with luggage on top. However, in case more room for passengers was needed as many as 12 more passengers could be carried on top, of course with no luggage included on the trip. Horses in teams of 6 or 8 were used to pull the coach which was managed by a driver with an armed guard next to him. In addition to mail and packages being carried on the coach, gold was also included as part of the manifest. This required a guard who was trustworthy, brave and very resourceful. The Concord Mail Stage Coach on display at the Autry was used in Northern California, probably in the Gold Rush country. What happened to mail coach 69 after the gold rush era is anyone’s guess. What is known is that the coach was acquired by NSGW Ramona Parlor #109. It had been varnished with black layers and was nicknamed ‘Old Smokey’ as some thought it was damaged in a fire. Ramona Parlor maintained the coach, using it in parades, and displaying it in its facility. In 1993, The Autry acquired coach number 69 from Ramona Parlor and began restoration efforts. In 1997, after carefully removing the dark varnish, the original painted images were revealed in vivid details. In addition, the restoration of the interior of the coach revealed more unique artwork, and conservation efforts led to the repair of missing leather pieces and upholstery. Using the skills of Thomas M. Tehee and an award from the Library of Museum and Library Services, Concord Mail Coach Number 65 was finally restored. Today, it is on display at the Autry Museum as a testament to the world of exquisitely hand-painted and designed Stage Coaches used during the California Gold Rush era.