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Civil War Style Ambulance to be Displayed

June 6, 2013
By SHELLEY HANSON , WVweb

RAYLAND, Ohio - A replica of a Civil War-era ambulance once built and used in Wheeling is slated to be on display June 20 at the West Virginia Welcome Center on Interstate 70 east of Wheeling.

Rayland resident John Marko, with assistance from his son, Joe, built the ambulance, which looks like a covered wagon, between 2002-04. Last year it was on display in Maryland for the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam.

Marko said he copied the ambulance from the photo of an original one that hangs in the lobby of Wheeling Hospital, where during the Civil War both Union and Confederate soldiers were cared for. Marko believes the Wheeling ambulance was designed by Dr. Jonathan Letterman.

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''We started with the wheels. Once we got those done the rest was easy. We made everything. The only thing we bought was springs,'' Marko said.

Marko said the Wheeling ambulance was more like a prototype that was improved upon later. It turned out to be too tall, making it difficult to load patients in and out. Its door in the back also wasn't wide enough, at just 22 inches. It could fit two men lying down, 14 sitting in the back and two sitting in the front with the driver.

Marko said he tried to keep the cost of building the wooden wagon down by using ''anything I could get for nothing.''

''Everybody approves of it. ... The biggest thing is when you get to sit on the driver's seat and you see how high off the ground they were,'' he said.

Marko noted Letterman also created the method of triaging wounded soldiers that still is used today. For example, soldiers are picked up by medics off the battle field, taken to a nearby stabilizing station and then taken to the hospital. Before his system, soldiers often would lay on the battlefield for up to two weeks before getting picked up.

''With the system he developed eight hours was the most time they laid on the battlefield,'' he said.

Marko, who served in the U.S. Army from 1954-57, said he didn't read much Civil War history until he started building the ambulance.

 
 
 

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