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Saw Doctor's wagon

At a glance

  • Mobile home and workshop
  • Harold and Dorothy Wright
  • Saw sharpener
  • Depression
Saw Doctor's wagon
The ‘office’ side of the Saw Doctor’s wagon. Photo: George Serras.

Harold Wright's mobile home and workshop

This distinctive wagon was the home and workshop of Harold Wright for more than 30 years. Wright migrated from England to Australia in 1930. During the Depression of the 1930s, national unemployment levels reached over 30 per cent and many people travelled as itinerant workers to survive.

Wright constructed this wagon as his home and workshop in 1935. For the next 34 years he travelled throughout north-west Victoria and New South Wales, promoting himself as ‘The Saw Doctor’.

A black and white photograph of Harold Wright and his daughter Evelyn with the Saw Doctor's Wagon, 1956.
Harold Wright and his daughter Evelyn, Narrandera, NSW, 1953. Photo: Jeff Carter.

Wright travelled with his wife Dorothy, whom he met in Queensland, and their daughter Evelyn. The family had dogs, cats and chickens and they rarely spent more than a few days in any one place.

Wright attracted business by decorating his wagon, which he affectionately named the Road Urchin, with signs, trinkets and bright paint. He used a variety of grinding wheels and files to sharpen all manner of items, including saws, scissors, lawnmower blades, knives, and shears.

Moving with the times and the economy, Wright refurbished and enlarged the original horsedrawn wagon, fitting it onto the chassis of a truck, towing it with several different tractors and, when rising fuel costs and shortages started to bite, hitching it back onto a horse.

Wright continued to live and work in his wagon until his death in 1969. Soon after, Dorothy sold the wagon and tractor to a secondhand goods dealer in Wangaratta, Victoria. In 1977, the wagon was saved from obscurity and the scrapheap by collector Peter Herry, who recognised the remarkable vehicle that had trundled through his town during his childhood. The National Museum bought the wagon and tractor from Peter and Wyn Herry in 2002, ensuring that this extraordinary piece of history is preserved.

The ‘office’ side of the Saw Doctor’s wagon

The ‘home’ side of the Saw Doctor’s wagon

The cabin of the Saw Doctor’s wagon

Recovering the wagon

Bringing the wagon safely to the National Museum in Canberra was a laborious process, involving many trips to Peter and Wyn Herry’s farm near Wangaratta, about 400 kilometres away. Over six days, Museum staff packed and transported 3000 loose items – including hundreds of metal files – each of which were photographed, dusted, wrapped and labelled. Then the wagon, which weighed about five tonnes and was structurally unsound after decades in storage, was winched out of the Herry’s barn, lifted onto a truck and driven to Canberra.

Conserving the wagon

The arrival of the dilapidated wagon and tractor at the Museum signalled the beginning of an extensive conservation project to rejuvenate and stabilise it. It took six months just to clean it, using a process of brush vacuuming and washing. Then the wagon, tractor and contents were treated to prevent further deterioration. Conservators stitched and reinforced the torn canvas awnings, stabilised and wax-coated the paintwork, and restored the tractor engine to working condition. Placing the wagon on the sub-frame seen in the photos below helped stabilise the structure and made it much easier to move around. Due to their sheer numbers, many of the loose tools and domestic items remain in storage.

Transport and treatment of the wagon and tractor

More

Collection record

The Saw Doctor – Flash interactive

audio_w15 Audio and transcript of Door to store caring for your collection talk - Listen to members of the National Museum Registration team discuss the documentation, photography, uplift and transport that was needed to make the Saw Doctor’s wagon a part of the Museum’s collection.


The Saw Doctor's wagon is currently on show in the Hall at the National Museum of Australia.