San Antonio historian restores antique Pearl Beer delivery wagon

CIBOLO, Texas – It’s not everyone who keeps a big, four-wheeled chunk of early San Antonio history in his collection. For owner Bob Dale, however, his one-of-a-kind 1870s Pearl Beer keg delivery wagon is as much a part of San Antonio history as The Alamo.

Dale, the former editorial cartoonist for the daily San Antonio Express and the San Antonio News, said the wagon delivered many a cool barrel of suds to all of old San Antonio’s famous and well-known watering holes, including the raucous Bella Union, the Big Four Saloon at Concho and Monterey streets, the Terminal Bar, the Clipper Saloon, the Riverside Bar at 102 E. Houston, and the White House Tavern at Houston and St. Mary’s.

Pearl Beer wagon San Antoino TexasThis small beer wagon also dropped kegs at the Menger Hotel of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough-Rider fame, the wild and woolly Ironfront, the legendary Buckhorn (still operating on Houston Street), and Billy Keilman’s infamous “Beauty Saloon” in the rip-roarin’ red-light district near downtown to name just a few of the colorful beer joints in old San Antonio.

Built by carriage makers Koenig & Luhrs of Quincy, Mass., this little beer wagon sits right in the middle of a vintage, panoramic photograph of the brewery circa 1910-15 that measures more than 6 feet wide. The large, framed picture was in the office of night brewmaster Charlie Rice, who also was prominent in the comedy gunfighter group, “The Famous Pearl Gunslingers.” The aforementioned photograph neatly documents this horse-drawn Pearl Beer wagon.

The wagon is complete and authentic, with the original tongue, double and single trees, San Antonio Brewing Association signs, stake sides, chains and so on. The beer wagon features a heavy-duty, all-metal, cut-under spring chassis with chained removable stake-sides. The natural oak bed is approximately 4 feet 3 inches by 8 feet 3 inches. It has iron, square and hexagonal axles about 6 feet wide, double-sided heavy leaf springs and old Sarven-patent metal hubs, all painted Pearl Beer red.

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The wheel base, hub to hub, is about 5 feet. The small “cut-under” style front wheels are 34 inches in diameter while the large rear wheels are more than 50 inches. All four wheels roll on 2-inch steel tires for easy passage over the Alamo city’s then-cobblestone streets. The wagon bed is 39 inches from the ground while the driver’s folding seat (12 inches by 28 inches) is about 6 feet from the ground.

Dale said he kept this little dray in his hometown Alamo Plaza Cowboy Museum. The wagon was stricken from Pearl Brewery property rolls in the late 1960s, about the time Dale was building the Old San Antonio Western Village on Ackerman Road in east Bexar County, which included the huge Golden Stallion western nightclub.

Dale got the wagon in the 1960s from Aubrey Kline, Pearl Brewing vice president and public relations director. At the time, Kline and the Pearl Beer company was vitally interested in preserving future Pearl Beer outlets and spent time at both museums during their construction. Kline and Pearl Brewing also sponsored the Famous Pearl Gunslingers, which Dale organized.

Kline thought the old beer wagon would be appropriate for the 1880s Western Village. The Old San Antonio Village closed in the 1970s and the wagon was stored at his home until 1991, when he opened the Cowboy Museum on Alamo Plaza, directly across South Alamo Street from the historic Gunter Hotel.

Pearl beer is still in production by Miller at its Ft. Worth, Texas, facility, but the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio closed in 2001. The former brewery is now the crown jewel in revitalization efforts of southern Midtown and northern Downtown San Antonio. For more, visit Wikipedia’s Pearl Brewing Company page.

Dale tells Antique Trader that after decades of enjoyment it’s time for the wagon to find a new owner – preferably in the San Antonio area. For more information, call or write Bob Dale, P.O. Box 295, Cibolo, TX 78108-0295 or call 210-659-3192 or 210-887-6632.

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