Disabled vet builds, donates covered wagon to museum

DOUG McMURDO/Miner

DOUG McMURDO/Miner

KINGMAN - Not many images evoke the Old West era more vividly than does the covered wagon. The Mohave Museum of History & Arts now has one on display, thanks to the woodworking skills of disabled Vietnam veteran David Savage.

Savage built a half-scale model of a covered wagon, complete with water and grease buckets, sacks of flour and beans, a chest full of blankets and tools mounted to the sides, including a shovel, ax and bucksaw. There is a replica flintlock rifle and powder horn behind the bench.

The wagon is 8 feet long and 40 inches wide and almost everything is made of wood, even the tools and the brake.

Savage donated the wagon to the museum; a gesture Director Shannon Rossiter said was deeply appreciated.

"We've already got a lot of positive comments from visitors," he said. One woman, from Tennessee, went so far as to suggest Savage's wagon was her favorite display on a comment card.

Savage doesn't get around like he used to, not like he did a long time ago in Southeast Asia.

The retired Navy Seabee was among the first Americans to land on the beach at Da Nang and he and others from his construction battalion literally built a city in the jungle in 1966 and '67.

While in Vietnam, Savage was exposed to the chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange. His symptoms were dramatic and almost immediate.

"I had my first heart attack way back in the early '70s," he chuckled. "The lung cancer came next."

Savage would survive his bout with cancer, but at a tremendous cost to his health.

Unable to work because he simply had no idea how long his body would hold up over the course of the day, he became his own boss as a master woodworker.

"If I'm my own boss I can work four hours if that's all I can do or I can work for two hours," he said. "Everything depends on how I feel."

Savage spent a couple of months building the wagon in his garage.

"I found a guy in Golden Valley that had pinewood," he said. "This was choice honey pine and I bought it to make this wagon."

Like a musician who plays by ear, Savage has never used blueprints or somebody else's written instructions to make any of his woodwork, some which is featured in other museums in the West.

"I just look at a photograph at just about every angle you can look at a picture and go from there," he said. "Sometimes, if I want to learn more about something, I'll read historic accounts."

And while the shovel, ax and bucksaw are made of wood, they look like the rough-hewn tools in use 130 years ago.

The only modern item Savage used on the wagon is its cover. He didn't have the money to buy a canvas tarp, but he had the next best thing: A cover for his van that he no longer used.

"It fit perfectly," he said. "Like it was made for it, and that made me happy."

A curator at a museum in Las Vegas saw Savage's wagon and he's been asked to build one to display there.

"I have just enough wood to build another one," he said with a wide smile. "That means I've got something to keep me busy."

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