Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The Fordson Dexta tractor

Cutting firewood c1975
In the 1970s we bought a farm that was very run down. Nothing on the farm was in working order. The fences were numerous but all were old and had been mended numerous times with extra wire or posts, the house was old and hadn't been repaired at all and had no piped water, the outdoor toilet was way down in the orchard, the orchard was a completely untended (but surprisingly productive), the pasture couldn't be called pasture as it was full of weeds and bracken, the paddocks hadn't been levelled properly so were rough and bumpy and we couldn't stock the farm because the animals would have immediately wandered onto the roads through the broken fences and gates.

But it was cheap so we could afford it and we loved having some land we could call our own, and still do forty years later. Now it is in much better condition all round and is very productive. We no longer live there but we use the house as a holiday house and a local dairy farmer leases the paddocks.


So, the photo. The theme photo for this week's Sepia Saturday is of a tractor in Turkey. So I've chosen to match it with a photo of a tractor on our farm, taken about 1975. My husband and his father are cutting firewood for the wood-burning stoves in the house. The old house had a very old and inefficient wood stove and the only heating in the house was a small wood heater. Timber was in plentiful supply because we were gradually pulling down all the old fences but it had to be sawn into short lengths for the stoves. The photo shows a saw driven by the tractor and when I look at it now I'm amazed at how dangerous it is. It was noisy as well and neither worker is wearing ear protection. 

The tractor itself is a red and blue Fordson Dexta (don't know the model) that we borrowed from my father because at that stage we owned absolutely no farming machinery or equipment. I remember doing numerous turns around the paddocks when I was a child, with my dad driving and me (and sometimes other siblings as well) sitting on the wheel arch - completely unsafe of course but we kids survived our childhoods. We all learned to drive dad's tractors from an early age so we could help with the hay-making, feeding out and numerous other tasks around the farm. We still have a Fordson Major tractor but as it's no longer in working order it's a good restoration project for someone in the future.

You can more theme blog over on the Sepia Saturday page.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Business trucks


The theme photo this week features Finnish radio engineers on top of a broadcast van. So what have I got in my collection that might match? I found a few photos of trucks used by several generations of the Phelan family in various businesses over the years. Unfortunately this exercise has made me realise that there are a few gaps so I have some homework to do.

Firstly I should say that while the photos of the trucks are interesting the background is equally important for family history. We see images of buildings and landscapes not usually seen in 'posed' photos.

The first three photos are of a truck used by the Sims Bros general store in the small town of Mitiamo in central Victoria in the 1930s. The business was called Sims Bros but when these photos were taken it was owned by Roy Phelan who married Annie Sims. She was the daughter of C W Sims who bought the business from a Mr Dyke. (As an aside, I like the phone number - Mitiamo 2. Annie's brother, Charlie, set up the first phone connections in the Mitiamo area, a private line between several businesses and a farm at Pine Grove that the family owned. Mitiamo 1 was their home number in Mitiamo. Both numbers were probably applied when the official PMG lines were installed.) 

The truck used by Sims Bros general store to deliver goods throughout the Mitiamo district.
Neil Phelan and the Sims Bros delivery truck.
Doug Phelan and Pluto, Mitiamo.
Charlie Sims started making ice cream in Mitiamo and he had a nice little business going where he sold icecream at the Mitiamo railway station. After WW2 he moved north to Swan Hill and established an icecream factory. His nephew, Neil Phelan (my husband's father), worked for him for a while in the 1950s. This delivery van, a Chevrolet, was used in the business at Swan Hill. The sign on the van reads 'Sims Ice Cream. The cream of the north.'

Philip and Alan Phelan beside the Sims Ice Cream van, Swan Hill.
Neil Phelan at the Sims Ice Cream factory, Swan Hill.
The sale notice for Sims Ice Cream business
The Argus 20 November 1954
After operating a Post Office and Telephone Exchange at Toolamba in the mid-1950s Neil Phelan's next business venture was a fuel depot in Kerang. He delivered fuel around the town and out to the farmers in the district. Neil was already familiar with the fuel industry because of his father's and grandfather's involvement in the general store. He purchased this new 1957 Chevrolet truck, made in the USA, from Wattie Corrie, Bendigo. It was originally red with white trims on the grill, wheel hubs and grill but Mobil decreed that the truck had to be repainted Mobil red. The truck was used to carry bulk fuel and drums.

Mobil Depot, Kerang. Neil Phelan with his Aunt Ina and family, Philip, Alan and Shelley.
Philip and Alan Phelan on dad's truck at the depot.
The business needed a second truck so Neil bought a Chevrolet Maple Leaf, made in Canada. It was secondhand.

The Mobil fuel depot's second truck. Neil Phelan with Shelley and Kay.
Neil moved from Mobil over to the Amoco fuel depot in Kerang and used the truck in the next photo to deliver heating oil. It's a 1948 Morris Commercial truck. He purchased it off a local farmer. This truck has recently been donated to the Kerang Museum where it is being restored. The Amoco depot also had a bigger truck, a 7 ton Bedford, but I don't have a photo of that one so I'll have to search some more family albums and slides to see if I can find one.

Neil retired from the fuel business after about 30 years and no longer owns any trucks.

The Morris Commercial truck - still in the family but long after it had finished its working life.
I suggest you travel on over to Sepia Saturday to see what others have made of the theme photo.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Iron work

This week's theme photo for Sepia Saturday shows people with practical and artistic skills employed in a  factory.


Well, I've searched my photo collection and failed to find anything similar, so I'm heading off on a tangent. The illustrations are not sepia but it is an old trade so I'm half way on theme.

A few years ago we were in northern New South Wales on holiday and one memorable activity was the morning we visited an industry in the small town of Uralla. It was an iron foundry, the oldest working foundry in Australia.

The buildings weren't large but I was mightily impressed. We saw a blacksmith in action, manipulating the hot iron like it was a piece of dough. We saw many old tools and examples of items they had produced over the years. We saw the patterns and moulds for the delicate-looking cast iron lacework. Until that day I hadn't fully understood the difference between wrought iron and cast iron. The blacksmith produces wrought iron from iron that, because it has less than 1% carbon content, is soft and malleable. It can be hammered and rolled. Cast iron is made from iron that has a higher (3%) carbon content so it can be melted and poured into sand moulds. It is hard and brittle and cannot be hammered or moulded.

The cast iron process is amazingly skilled. We saw the molten iron being poured into sand moulds and then placed into presses until they were cool enough to use. Some of the moulds were tiny, others very large. Most of the moulds are very old pattens. It's hard to imagine sand being used for such delicate work and as I write this I wonder if they use a particular type of sand.

Our visit coincided with a that of a historian from the New South Wales museum who was cataloguing each item in the foundry - every one of the hundreds of  tools and patterns was being photographed and described. And it is just as well because I have just done a web search and it appears that the foundry has now closed as a business and is only open by appointment as a museum.

We are all familiar with the work produced by a blacksmith or cast iron foundry. Houses, shops, public buildings and cemeteries from the 1800s and early 1900s were decorated in iron or had iron incorporated into the structures like verandah posts and street lighting. And bridges. Several years ago we visited the first iron bridge in the world, at Ironbridge near Shrewsbury in the UK. It was built in 1779 and the work and skills that must have gone into the building of that beautiful bridge is amazing.

The first iron bridge in the world is at Ironbridge in the UK.
For a number of years I was a guide at a local cemetery and ironwork got a mention in my tours along with famous people, interesting people, headstone architecture and symbolism. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the ironwork in the older sections of a cemetery even though it is very common. The headstones and memorials are the key focus. But we should stop to appreciate the delicate lacework, forget-me-knots, anchors, doves, crosses, finials, inserts, ornaments, posts and pickets all made from iron. These examples are all photos I took a decade ago in Eastern Cemetery, Geelong and research for this blog has made me curious to go back and see if there are makers' badges. It seems a shame if the work of the craftsmen is unacknowledged. There were several foundries in town so I imagine they are well represented.

The upside-down torches symbolise the finish of the 'race of life'.






You can see the work of other skilled people over at Sepia Saturday.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sepia Saturday: The Millaira stud

George Henry Alford, my husband's great-uncle, was a very complex person and his life was complex as well but I'm not attempting here to write his biography. This post is in response to the theme photo for Sepia Saturday this week, an advertisement  featuring a horse.


In the late 1800s George's father was a successful dairy farmer at Warragul in Gippsland, Victoria and George himself was a fine judge of cattle and horses. Throughout his life George committed to a diverse set of business opportunities - farming, real estate, a stable of trotting horses, a livery stable, a boarding house - as well as serving the community on any number of committees, judging at shows (including the Perth Show in 1918) and was a councillor of the Brighton council.

This is an advertisement for the boarding house he had at Warragul.


Gippsland Gazette
, 29 June 1909
But I think George's main interest in life was horses, trotting horses in particular. There are many, many newspaper articles mentioning the results of shows where George's horses gained prizes and trotting races where his horses placed well. The photo below is held by Museum Victoria and shows George with one of his trotters 'Alarm Bells'. In newspaper articles a lot of his horses have 'bells' in their names so I think the line must have been fine racing stock.

George Henry Alford and his champion trotter 'Alarm Bells' [Museum Victoria]
During World War 1 George and his family was living in the Brighton area near Melbourne. George worked as a real estate agent and had also built up a stable of horses that he called the Millaira stud. It was very well-known throughout Victoria and beyond. The family home was a substantial two-storied building and George was an elected member of the Brighton Council. But all was not well. Two of his sons were serving in France with the Australian Army (they returned in 1919), and his other son accidentally shot himself (dead) in 1916 and George himself was not well. So he put the Millaira stable of horses and the fittings on the market.

The sale was mentioned in newspapers in Hobart, Perth and Sydney as well as in Victoria and the results were very satisfactory.

The Australasian, 25 May 1918
Daily News (Perth), 30 May 1918
George must have held on to a few horses because there is another notice of a sale in 1926 and this time the reason given is that his son is not interested in carrying on the business. George was 64 years old and must have decided he couldn't keep it going himself but he lived until 1942 and I can't imagine he lost his interest in trotting and horses.

The Argus, 1926
I suggest you trot on over to Sepia Saturday to see what other bloggers have contributed.