Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971


I must make it clear that I was not trained as a Wheelwright but for as long as I can remember horses were part of my life and in 1900 at the age of 15 I was apprenticed to W.J. Grey of Kati Kati as a Blacksmith. My wages were 1/- per day and this was increased by 1/- per day each year for 5 years. There at the Smithy I observed every phase of not only shoeing horses but also of building the horse-drawn vehicles of those days. Dave Morrow was the foreman and later the proprietor and in 1911 I worked for him, then for Verry on the site of Lockett's Garage in Waihi. In 1915 I started on my own in Dick's old Farrier Shop in Kenny Street. George Whelan was the Wheelwright with me and we shared the work. Later Tom Stewart of Kati Kati joined me.

The selection of right materials was the basis of the skill of the Wheelwright. Hubs and Spokes were ordered according to size and at first were supplied by Auckland firms but later we dealt direct with Grimleys of Sydney. It was essential that all timber should be well seasoned and "bone-dry". Small hubs were mainly hickory but others were red-gum and iron-bark, and they came ready spaced with 14 holes, one forward and one back, for the insertion of spokes which were morticed into the holes. The hub I have here is from a heavy Spring Cart. It had been turned on a lathe to make it look like a little barrel and then hub bands were put on to strengthen it. The inside - for the axle, was lined with metal and of course there was a hub-cap.

The spokes were brought up to an equal gauge, every pair to be attached to one of the even felloes or sections of the wheel. These were joined by short dowels and riveted to the hickory or ash "dished" rim. This was always made in two halves ready to be steamed, bent and scarfed for joining.

Here I must show you a wheel disc, bought in 1916, for measuring the bar of iron used for tires before the advent of rubber ones. It was essential that the welded tire should fit snugly and firmly to withstand the rough roads of early days.

Having assembled the wheel, work with a coarse rasp, followed by an application of 2 grades of sandpaper and a final rubbing with horsehair, prepared it for painting. Big side panels on Butcher's or Baker's Carts were well planed and before being painted, dampened, after which pumice stone sawn into flakes was applied by rubbing till a finish almost like glass was obtained.

NOTE: Mr. Armour who was the oldest ex-pupil at the Centenary of the Tauranga School this year, sold his business to Mr. Furey in 1945. For the next 20 years he continued to work on his own invention - a double purchase hoof-cutter which produced 6 times the pressure of normal cutters. When he discontinued this in 1965 at the age of 80 he had made 7,000 pairs which were sold throughout New Zealand. Giving the above talk in his authentic working clothes complete with Blacksmith's Apron he produced his tools of trade, a hammer he had made 60 years ago, and the component parts of a cart wheel but also the wonderful example of the wheelwright's art now housed in the Waihi Museum - the complete model of Milk Cart which won 1st Prize at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1900. (Made by - George McKelvie).