ACT News

How Antony Davies, Mark Burton will restore pile of iron into two-wheel sulky

Two tenacious restorers who have rebuilt horse-drawn carriages from all over Australia have a fresh challenge.

It is the remains of a sulky, one of 10 carriages which sat outside Queanbeyan Council's depot for 30 years.

Antony Davis with the remains of a pony sulky he and Mark Burton will restore for Queanbeyan Council.
Antony Davis with the remains of a pony sulky he and Mark Burton will restore for Queanbeyan Council.  Photo: Jay Cronan

Antony Davies, of Braidwood, and Mark Burton, of Bywong, will rebuild the pony sulky into one typical of the vehicles that rolled through this district more than a century ago.

Their attention to detail is evident in the 1860s Braidwood gold escort carriage they restored years ago, which arrived with two small holes at the back of the vehicle. They suspected the holes were not for drainage. 

Braidwood restorer Antony Davies with a completed pony sulky behind his horse Tosh.
Braidwood restorer Antony Davies with a completed pony sulky behind his horse Tosh. Photo: Supplied

"They were holes for the gold bullion case which was bolted down to the floor in the back and two troopers sat on top of it," Mr Davies said. "We managed to find an identical 1860s cast-iron gold bullion case to fit that particular spot."

The latest carriage was one of a private collection of buggies, sulkies and smaller vehicles that were a tourist attraction at Watson before being donated to the National Museum of Australia, which gave 10 of the wooden carriages to Queanbeyan Council, only for them to rot in the weather for decades.


"Within two years they would have been badly dilapidated and starting to cause an issue for whoever put them there," Mr Davies said.

In the end, only eight were recognisable. Only two, the least interesting of them all, were barely standing on wheels. Mr Davies says the most interesting ones were piles of metal on the ground.

Restoring all of them would have cost more than $250,000, hardly worth it given the humble status of the carriages, which were made mostly of American and English parts imported for wheelwrights who assembled and sold them. 

"You can recycle springs and steps from one vehicle to another when there is a restoration happening," Mr Davies said. So the solution was to identify the best quality vehicle among the remaining ones, he said.

That was the pony sulky, a two-wheel vehicle, brass mounted for two people. Little of its wood is left, but it has good quality iron and attractive springs.

An experienced wheelwright and coach builder, Mr Burton travels to the United States several times a year for carriage parts from Pennsylvania's Amish community.

"They still drive their carriages every day, their technology has changed, they are still using machinery they purchased in the 1880s from the big Chicago carriage factories, the capacity in some of the factories is to turn out 2000 wheels a week," Mr Davies said.

Mr Burton has hickory and ash coach timbers and interesting little metal pieces like square nuts, exact replicas of those used when the carriages were originally built.

Enthusiasts from Esperence, in Western Australia, once brought an old sulky to the restorers for a 12-month restoration project – about the time it will take them to complete Queanbeyan's sulky.

The detail on square nuts will be exact and the correct coach bolts will also be used. Using flexible coach timber is critical on carriages that will take the strain of a pulling horse.

Rather than improvising with modern materials like vinyl upholstery trims, Mr Davies uses leather duck, a painted canvass typically used on original carriages.

The work will be done in Mr Davies' 1840s wagon barn in Braidwood, built for wheat wagons that worked the fields around Braidwood and Jembaicumbene when wheat was grown for the local flour mill.

"Our challenge is to produce a vehicle that, if it should happen to end up in a museum, is authentic enough a specialist wouldn't be able to notice it has been completely reconstructed," Mr Davies says.