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Saw doctor's wagon
The ‘office’ side of the Saw Doctor’s wagon. National Museum of Australia

Harold Wright's mobile home and workshop

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, Jeff Carter

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’.

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.

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.

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