Wheelwright Alan Boyd to restore old Macksville timber cutter wagon

Mr Alan Boyd of South Arm
Mr Alan Boyd of South Arm

If you ask Macksville history buff John Wood, he’ll tell you that the old wagon that sits outside the Macksville Aquatic Centre used to belong to a first world war digger named Cliff Bird.

Cliff was a resident of Gordon’s Knob at Newee Creek, and after his service in the great war, he got himself a bullock team together and lived his life as a timber-getter.

The wagon was supposedly used to cart logs with, but-wagon-and-all-things-bespoke guru Alan Boyd said the wagon was clearly converted.

“Only someone like me would know the difference, but the timber jinker has been added later by someone. It was originally a flat-top wagon that would have been used to pull timber out of sawmills or make deliveries,” he said.

The wagon was set up by Cliff’s good friend Aub Elliott along the old highway in the 60s after Cliff passed.

“Mr Elliott organised for it to be brought in and put in the park for kids to play with and experience some of the early occupation of the timber-getters,” Mr Wood said.

But that experience looked set to come to a deadwood end, with the spokes of the hind wheels having rotted clear out of existence.

Together with members of the Macksville Historical Society at the Pioneer Cottage, Mr Wood stirred up the passions of the Chamber of Commerce to get the piece of local heritage up on the wagon again...so to speak.

They enlisted the help of Mr Alan Boyd, who graciously agreed to donate his unique restoration skills to the project, and also the logistical abilities of the Council to transport the wagon out to McHughes Creek in South Arm where the Boyds reside.

“The Council will be transporting it to Mr Boyd’s property.  At this stage I can’t say when. My understanding is...that funding for any materials required for the repair will need to come out of existing Council budgets,” council general manager Michael Coulter said.

Mr Boyd, who is 80-years-young and not looking a day over 50, said “they’d want to hurry up” in getting it out to him; the project will likely take around 18 months to complete.

“It was rotten when they put it there and it’s been painted over for show. And the shelter they put over the top of it barely makes a difference – southerly winds and rain have rotted the wheels away,” he said.

“But timber jinkers were rough as dysentery – they were never painted with anything other than linseed and turpentine oils, then heated to set them, which allowed them to be out in the weather for up to a year with no other treatment.

“I’ll recreate it to suit what it was – I’m not going to go to great lengths to make it look pretty because they never were.”

Despite that, it’s still a huge job. The wagon will need to be completely stripped to its hubs. 

And Mr Boyd will need to source moisture-free timber to handcraft each spoke to a regimental precision.

Alan fashions a spoke using the traditional method

Alan fashions a spoke using the traditional method

The axles and boxes will need to be reformed to fit the hubs, and the wheels need to be shrink-fitted with forged iron tyres.

“Those wheels will take me a lot of time because they’re an inch thick and four inches wide,” he said.

And he hopes to fit a proper jinker on top, with a semi-circular space to hold a log in place.

For Alan Boyd this process is a labour of love, borne from a deep fascination with horse-drawn carriages.

As a child he used to fantasise about owning a horse; his family was too poor to keep one, but he remembers making a game of capturing one of the Wallarah Coal Company’s pit horses of an evening and taking them for a ride along the beach before letting them go again.

“And when I was living in Purgatory, Sydney, for 18 years I used to go and visit Roy Spencer – the king of Bungo St we used to call him – who was an old coach builder,” he said.

“I used to come home every evening and go and work with him, and that’s how I learnt the craft.”

When he and wife, Elaine, moved to St Albans, the pair made a habit of riding to church in a horse and cart.

“We used to own 32 carts – we used them for the movie business,” he said.

“We worked on five feature films including Bryce Courtenay’s Jessica, Kings in Grass Castles, Outback and Oscar and Lucinda.”

Since he was able, he’s kept a pair of Clydesdales, whose lineage can be traced back to Sir Banjo Paterson’s family which founded the breed on the River Clyde in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

He holds the claim to fame of having driven the fastest carriage in the world, the ‘Peveral of the Peak’ (owned by the Hunter Brothers in Queensland), which once used to carry the mail from Manchester to London – a distance of 185 miles – in 18 hours and 15 minutes flat.

He’s also driven the Rear Admiral Sir David James Martin, Governor of NSW, and the mayor of Hawkesbury in his worldly collection of antique carriages.

A 1700s carriage from Faaborg, Denmark

A 1700s carriage from Faaborg, Denmark

“And I’ve done an untold number of weddings, having known quite a few people in my time who were not content with happiness and so decided to get married,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek.

So the people of the Nambucca Valley can rest assured knowing their wagon is with the right wright.

Also in the news