I was going through some old family writings today and thought this one might be of interest to some here. It goes some way to explaining the condition some cars end up in!
Soon after the First World War, an odd motor car began to drift into our district. They were almost all, in this area at least, ‘T’ model Fords.
In September 1919, my Father and uncle (Henry Olsen) who were partners in a grazing project at Poowong East, went to the Royal Melbourne Show for a few days, as they were want to do every year. It was about their only excursion away from the district each year. They returned with a ‘T’ model Ford - or at least they returned with a receipt for one. They had bought it at the Show and it was driven up here by one of the drivers from the car firm a week or so later. The company was Tarrant Motors and they had agreed to send a man to teach my father and uncle to drive. The roads here in those days were mostly just earth roads with perhaps an odd “bad spot” with a bit of gravel or rock on them. The country is hilly and the first two men sent up went home the next day as their nerves were not up to the driving conditions. The third chap thought it was a great place for a holiday and stayed for about two months.
This car, by the way, had been specially made for the Melbourne Show and instead of the normal brass coloured square radiator, it had a rounded one of gleaming chrome. It also had chrome windscreen standards and chrome on various other parts. Instead of the normal ear-splitting klaxton on the ‘T’ models, this one had a gleaming bugle-like horn with a rubber bulb at the end. When you squeezed this bulb the horn gave a melodious “Honk Honk”. So we kids reckoned we were a “cut above” the owners of other ‘T’ Fords. At the time of this radical change of transport, I was about nine years of age. I was a very nervous child. No doubt I inherited this from my mother who was a very nervous woman, and although she lived to be nearly eighty, she was never really at ease in a motor car.
This noisy, rattling monster terrified me. Up until that time I had been moved from A to B and back again, in a double-seated buggy drawn by a pair of brown ponies. For those who may not know, there were single-seat and double-seat buggies. In those far off days, long before the advent of “The Pill”, if a young couple started off with a single-seat buggy, it usually wasn’t long before they needed a double-seater, and perhaps a “dicky” seat to take the overflow.
We had a few mishaps in the ‘T’ model, but considering the road conditions at that time, I believe we didn’t do too badly. My father and uncle were going to look at some cattle a few miles away on one occasion, when a large dog belonging to a farmer along the way ran out to chase the car, which, no doubt, was a new and exciting thing to chase. They promptly ran over the dog who probably thought the car would shy off like a horse when he ran at it. The car tipped on its side, but the soft earth on the side of the road didn’t do any damage to it and with the help of a couple of neighbours, they stood it on its wheels again and away they went. The dog wasn’t hurt, but ever after he chased the car along inside the fence instead of out on the road.
One Sunday afternoon, my father was taking us all over to my Grandmother’s for lunch when, going up a steep hill, he stalled the motor while changing gears. (There were only two forward gears - high and low). Anyway, at that time the brakes were only working while going forward and as we were then going backward, the car ran up a bank and tipped us all upside down on the road. No-one was hurt, but everybody got a “hell of a fright”. After that I always wanted to get out and walk up the steep hills, but of course was never allowed. Meanwhile, other ‘T’ models were making their impact (literally) on the district.
Another uncle of mine (Andrew Byriell) bought one and used a shed that had been built on a steep slope for his garage. The floor at the back of the shed had a drop of about ten feet to the ground below. Uncle entered it too fast one day and the car went straight through the back wall. Luckily the back wheels got caught up in something that held them, and only the front end hung over.
Tony Linnett was the next local to join the fraternity of ‘T’ model Ford owners. Tony was quite a character. Every word he used was not a swear word, but most of them were. His colourful language was not really objectionable, nor spoken with any venom, it was just his manner of speaking. He also spoke gruffly and we kids stood in awe of him, although, actually, he was a very good natured man and would help anyone. Well, Tony became a familiar feature on our local roads in his bright new ‘T’ model Ford. He drove it well over the rough roads - as long as he was going forward. Somehow he never ever learned to reverse it. He had a garage built with doors at each end so that he could drive in one end and out the other.
Dan Robbins was the proprietor of a livery stable in Korumburra. This was a place where local farmers could, on market day, take their horses out of their buggies, wagons and other vehicles, and for a small fee, tie them up and give them a feed of chaff. There the horses were safe while their owner attended the stock sale, the hotel for a yarn and a few beers, a game of billiards, or perhaps all three.
Dan Robbins, being an astute man, and seeing the coming of the era of the motor car, had turned the front half of his stables into a garage, and erected a partition down the middle and used the back half to accommodate the slowly dwindling horse numbers. To this garage Tony Linnett one day drove his car for repairs. He sailed in off the street in top gear, realised he was going too fast, yelled out “Whoa!” and yanked back on the steering wheel, forgetting momentarily what he was driving. He hit the partition with a resounding crash. The horses pulled back and broke their bridles or halters, then took to their heels for home. Many farmers walked home that day and if some of them did think of lynching Tony, nothing was done about it.
The reason they had second thoughts about lynching Tony Linnett, may have had its roots in a tale my father told about Tony when he and his bride returned from their honeymoon. It was the custom to give newlyweds a welcome that was known as a “tin kettling”. All the locals would gather after dark and the men would march around the house banging with sticks on tins till the newlyweds opened the door. They would then be joined by the women, armed with sandwiches, cakes and other delicacies, and everyone would then go inside and have supper. Tony, however, refused to open the door, so some enterprising lad climbed onto the roof and put a wet bag over the chimney to smoke them out. This brought Tony to the door where he gave the crowd both barrels of his shot-gun - up in the air no doubt. Anyway, it brought the celebrations to an abrupt close as the participants hurriedly dispersed.
Our Ford went along merrily for several years before the Korumburra garage owner, with whom we dealt, convinced my father and uncle that the car needed a major overhaul. It was decided to do the job at home on the farm. I think an idea that was probably thought up by the head mechanic, one Harry McWiggan, who was looking forward to a bit of a holiday out on the farm. McWiggan was a dare-devil in a motor car, if one can be a dare-devil at about twenty-five miles per hour. He also liked a few beers to help get the “devil” into him. We had some large pine trees at home and it was decided to do the job there. My elder brother helped Mac, while I probably got in the way. They stripped the car down completely and I was amazed at how many parts a car was made of. It didn’t take so long to dismantle it, but it took a hell of a long time to put it together again. I knew they began the job in the autumn and it went on into the winter. Through waiting on parts, McWiggan wasn’t at it the whole time, he would go back to the garage now and again to do a bit of work. But he was out home a lot of the time as he enjoyed life on the farm. I don’t know how much the job cost, but it must have been almost the price of a new car. He eventually got it back to the running stage minus unimportant parts, like the body etc.
McWiggan loved to drive the car round without the body, it went a lot faster and without the silencer you could just about hear his coming when he left Korumburra twelve miles away. He seemed to have to take it to Korumburra quite often, for the joy ride I suspect. He cobbered up with a chap by the name of Ben Charvel, who had recently arrived in this district to work for my uncle - the one who ran his Ford through the end of the shed. Ben was a good footballer and they elected him captain of our team. He was also good at bending the elbow and he and McWiggan had several weekends away together in our Ford (still without the body on it). How my father and uncle came to lend them the car, I will never know. They returned from one of these excursions having rolled the car over and McWiggan with one arm in a sling.
A few months after this, Ben Charvel went to Warragul for a weekend. Uncle Andrew had asked him to buy a pair of ploughing reins for the horse team while in there. Ben bought the reins alright, but he went and hung himself with them. Whether he had some unrevealed trouble or was just tired of life, we will never know, but someone found him on Sunday morning hanging from a willow tree just out of Warragul at the end of Uncle Andrew’s new plough reins. This did not, however, deter Andrew from going to the police station, collecting the reins and using them.
My father and uncle were now putting pressure on McWiggan to get the body back on the car. In the meantime, they wanted to go to a cattle sale at Drouin and Mac - as they called him, among other things - was to drive them in. Not having a seat to sit on (the seat still resting with the body under the pine trees and by now starting to gather mould), they sat on the petrol tank, which in the normal scheme of things was under the front seat. But there was only room for two on the petrol tank. One had to be Mac, and my father in the luck of the draw, got the other seat. They fitted a box on the back of the car and on this Uncle Henry sat, or at least hung on. He had to face the opposite way to that in which they were going, consequently he could only guess at what they were coming to, but had an excellent view of what they had been past.
Mac went like “Hell”; or at least with the noise of the exhaust without a silencer and the wind whistling past without a windscreen to stop it, he seemed to be going like “Hell”. Uncle Henry had the “wind up” as well as all around him. Uncle Henry was known as a man who spoke his mind and he spoke it with the help of a lot of swear words.
He promised to break McWiggan’s neck, but as he had to hold on to the box with one hand, while with the other he held his long waterproof overcoat to prevent it from getting entangled in the wheel over which it was intent on floating, he didn’t have a spare one to damage McWiggan with. But I am sure the air was a deep shade of blue for the full fifteen miles to Drouin. I believe my father was reasonably quiet all this time; no doubt thanking his lucky stars that he got the front seat and hoping that Uncle Henry wouldn’t want to change him places on the way home.
There was an interesting side-light to this trip - a confrontation with Mr. Brock. Mr Brock was a giant Scotsman who had a farm a few miles from where we lived. He was one of that breed of men who carry telephone poles around on their shoulders and then see how far they can toss them, just for the heck of it. I think Mr Brock could have carried two poles at a time, one on each shoulder. The story goes that he walked a couple of miles down the road one day to borrow a plough from a neighbour. Anyone else would have taken a wagon with a couple of horses because those ploughs were heavy.
On the way back Mr Brock met a local farmer, Albert Hick, and stopped for a yarn. (Albert vowed that Mr Brock talked with him for half an hour and never bothered to put the plough down). Mr Brock was not a man who moved with the times and he didn’t have much time for motor cars. What was good enough for his grandfather was good enough for him, and he was a very stubborn man. In the course of the conversation Mr Brock is reported to have said that “If the Olsens come along in their flash motor car I won’t get off the road for them”. This was not a very intelligent thing to say as events proved, as he had no choice in the matter.
The confrontation came soon enough; in fact during the course of that wild drive to Drouin by McWiggan and my father and uncle. About two miles on our side of Drouin the road crosses the King Parrot Creek. Mr Brock was also going to Drouin with his wagon and horses. The sight of this monstrosity roaring down the road with overcoats flapping and Uncle Henry swearing was too much for Mr Brocks horses. They took to the bush and ran straight into the King Parrot Creek. Fortunately the only things hurt were Mr Brocks feelings. Incidentally, although Mr Brock lived for quite a few years after that, he still steadfastly refused to have a motor car. His son bought one immeadiatley after his death.
Amongst other things, McWiggan operated the moving picture projector at the Korumburra theatre on Saturday nights. With the happy reunion of the car with its body at last completed, he had promised us a treat of a trip to the movies one particular Saturday night, so in high expectation we piled into the old Ford; my mother and us kids and an aunt and a couple of her kids. I don’t know if we had a set of worn out tyres on the car, or if we were just fated to not have that free night at the movies, but whatever the reason, we had six punctures on the twelve miles to Korumburra. The tyres had to be taken off the wheel while it was still attached to the car in those days, then the hole in the tube patched, and then a long wait for the patch to dry before replacing the tyre back on the wheel. It was about 10:30pm when we got to Korumburra and as most of the intending patrons had got tired of waiting and gone home, it was decided that it wasn’t worth running the films through just for us, so we went back home too. We didn’t have any punctures on the way home, but we were most disappointed as outings to the pictures were very few and far between.
I can remember going to Drouin with my father in the car one day in winter to collect a young woman relative of ours who was coming up by train from Melbourne. Halfway to Drouin there was a landmark known as the “Three Bridges”. As the name implied, three streams of water ran under the road and during winter quite a lot seemed to be on top of it as well. The car just made it through the mud, which was axle deep, on the way in. On the way back the young lady wanted my father to stop in the middle of the mud while she got out and took a photo. My father rather reluctantly agreed, and pulled up where the ground looked a bit firmer. However, the ground only had a crust on top, and when the yound lady stepped out her feet sank into the soft mud underneath. She may have extricated herself but for the fashionable “hobble” skirt that she was wearing. This held her feet together as effectively as if they had been bound with cord, and she fell flat in the mud. My father managed, with difficulty, to salvage her, and dragged her out to firmer ground minus one shoe, her sense of humour, and her love for the countryside.
Neat! And a good read.
Thank you for sharing it.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Great read. Enlightening to say the least. Great find.
Great story David.
Wonderful story, especially as I live not too far from Poowong, and understand something of the roads around there.
With all the original owners names listed above how many now own one of the cars mentioned in the above story? Or are related.