Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood
A. G. Howland's Carriage Factory
A. G. Howland's Carriage Factory,
Which was established in 1864, is situated in Cashel street, near Manchester street, and covers nearly an acre of ground. The extent of the premises and the completeness of the arrangements for manufacturing all kinds of carriages and buggies would not be suspected by anyone cognisant only of the unpretending front and entrance facing Cashel street. Yet, from the commencement to the finish the work is done entirely on the premises, and visitors can see vehicles of all kinds in all stages of progress.
The first department is the timber shed and wheel shop. Here is a large stock of imported hickory and ash planks used for the bodies and under gear of the carriages, kauri for the panelling, imported hickory spokes, rims, and hubs. The building is raised some distance from the ground, and well ventilated, so as to allow currents of air to pass under and through it, by which means the timber gets gradually well seasoned before being worked. In this building the wheels are made, and here may be seen a large quantity hung up to complete the seasoning before the tires are put on. Racks full of spokes, drying, are in stock, and altogether there is a large amount of material on hand. Here is to be seen a very ingenious contrivance invented by Mr Howland for cutting tenons on the end of spokes to receive the rims or felloes, which will tenon a set of wheels with more accuracy than can be done by hand and in about a fourth the time. After the wheels are made, the next thing is putting the tires on. For setting these tires there is a furnace and wheel plate in the yard, so arranged that the hand can pass underneath the tires to ascertain if they are true.page 184
The next department is the smith's shop, where the forging of the different iron parts of carriages—steps, springs, tires, rails, fittings, &c., all wrought from the best Swedish iron, is carried on by experienced workmen. In here there are a barouche for Timaru, a pony cart, a single-seated lady's phaeton, and two waggonettes, besides several double and single-seated buggies in course of manufacture. The construction of the steps show an improvement upon ordinary work, the solid flap at the top making the step less likely to get loose, at the same time that it gives great support to the shaft. The solid chair for the spring clips is another improvement; and, in fact, in every way, no labour is spared to turn out the best work.
The various kinds of ironwork are fitted on the different specialties of carriages turned out of the factory, and a visitor can easily judge for himself of the perfectness of the ironwork, its freedom from cracks or patching, and its accurate fitting, it being, as yet, free from paint. In this shop are to be seen several perpendicular drills—the latest American improvements—self-feeding, and with quick action, worked with great ease by hand. There are also several horizontal drills in this shop, on the same principal as the perpendicular ones, for drilling tires. Another ingenious machine is a New York tire-bender, for bending tires to the circle of the wheel, capable of bending a 2-inch by ¾-inch tire with perfect ease by boy power. The shearing and punching machine is also worth notice with it a boy can cut off 2-inch by ¾-inch iron as easily as cheese can be cut with a knife. Each forge is supplied with an American patent hand-blower— great improvements on the old hand-bellows, saving both space and labour, and supplying a steadily sustained blast. Close by the front door of the smith's shop is the iron rack with partitions, sorting each size and the different kinds of iron used in coach-smithing, so that the smith can put his hand on any size or kind required without delay.
From the smith's shop the visitor enters the wood factory, where the bodies of carriages are made. Here can be seen buggies and vehicles in various stages of construction. With regard to this department it is particularly worth notice that the various imported woods used in each body are specially selected by Mr Howland himself for each piece of work. The steaming and bending required for the various parts of the vehicles is done an the premises.
The trimming shop, where the leather work and upholstery is done, comes next. American buffalo hide is largely used here, it having a good appearance and being very serviceable. In the upholstery the best curled hair, local make, only is used, page 185and not flax, which most makers substitute as much cheaper, and not easily detected by those not in the trade.
Next to the trimming shop is the rubbing down shop, where the carriages are prepared for painting. The fine gloss on a carriage, equal to a mirror, can only be obtained after very good work from the first. "Wood, ordinarily smooth, could never be perfectly polished, so it is coated with several layers of "filling" and then rubbed down with pumice stone till it is given a perfectly smooth surface, thoroughly free from scratches. After a carriage has been so rubbed it is transferred to the painting room.
Drills of American construction are used for grinding the paints to a floury fineness, requisite to enable perfectly even coats of paint to be laid on. When ground, various oils and liquids are added to prepare it for use. This room is most carefully constructed so as to keep out both dust and draught. The "getting up" of the painting to a fine even surface is a work requiring great care, as unless this is well done it is impossible to put on a good gloss afterwards.
The last touch to vehicles is put on in the varnishing room, which, like the painting room, is carefully constructed to keep out both dust and draught. Here the temperature is kept up always at 70 degrees by means of gas stoves night and day, the utmost care being necessary during the drying of the varnish; as if the temperature of the room should vary by any sudden change to cold or damp in the weather outside, the varnish on the carriages is liable to go—as it is technically called—pitty, fatty, silky, cloudy, or patchy. In any of these cases the whole body of the carriage has to be "flatted down" with ground pumice stone and re-varnished.
The next portion of the establishment to visit is the show rooms, where about forty different kinds of vehicles are to be seen for a purchaser to select from. They include Queen's phaetons with rumbles, trimmed with cloth or leather; single ditto phaetons, trimmed with green or blue cloth; Albert phaetons with or without child's seat in front; Howland and Commercial style double-seated buggies; Abbott and Howland style single-seated buggies; Yacht and Brewster style single-seated buggies, hung on side or end springs; waggonettes, dogcarts, pony-carts, station waggons, double-seated buggies with hood; Queen's phaeton with hood and rumble, T carts, and a large lot of second-hand vehicles. The double-seated buggies have several improvements of Mr. Howland's; one is a patent equalisor on the springs, so arranged that no matter how steep a siding the buggy is on, the weight is equal on page 186both springs, and the body is kept level. Another, is a patent eccentric lock, enabling the buggy to be turned in an eight-feet circle. The footboards, or tailboards of the dog-carts are fitted with slide-irons, to which a spring is so contrived as to remove all fear of its jumping out. This is another of Mr. A. G. Howland's inventions.
It should be mentioned that even the plated handles on the carriages are locally made, the ironwork being forged in Mr. Howland's workshop and electro-plated in Christchurch.
It will be thus seen that the work turned out of this factory is locally made in every particular, raw material only being imported, and even that being no more than what cannot be procured in the colony. This factory, which has been carried on now for nearly twenty years, employs over twenty-five hands, all fairly skilled and specially trained workmen. No secondhand work is attempted.