Reading [red-ing] vardos are rigid wooden-bodied living wagons built on a sprung, four-wheeled platform, with the front wheels and springs mounted under the ‘lock’ which revolves on a simple steel ‘fifth wheel’, attached beneath the front of the undercarriage (figures 1 & 2).
Fig. 1. The fundamentals of a Reading vardo.
Fig. 2. Fifth wheel, lock, springs, axle and wheels.
Each wooden component is made from a specific variety of timber depending on its unique requirements. If I were building this late nineteenth-century Reading style vardo back in Britain – the home of the vardo – the choice of timbers would be elementary: Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) for strength and flexibility; oak (Quercus robur) for utmost strength and rigidity; and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) for its lightness and relative strength. It’s a little different here in Australia.
In early 2020, Jeremy Clarkson ruffled a few feathers when he wrote Australia was “God’s laboratory”, citing “… some of his more ridiculous ideas. Stuff he came up with when he was drunk. Like those birds that can’t fly and that otter with a beak”. I have a fondness for the be-beaked otter, but I must confess; Australia’s bounteous species of trees produce some challenging timber!
Eucalypts are plentiful in Australia and provide the most abundant milled hardwood primarily employed in the construction and furniture industries. Eucalypts are rife with unsightly gum veins which require filling. Splits and splintering are also a perennial and annoying issue with most eucalypts.
Tasmanian oak refers to any timber from mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans), messmate (Eucalyptus obliqua) or alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis), when it is sourced from the state of Tasmania. When alpine ash and mountain ash are harvested in the state of Victoria, they are collectively known as Victorian ash. It is said that early settlers named these eucalyptus timbers ‘ash’ and ‘oak’ as they somewhat resembled their European namesakes in both appearance, texture and workability. In my experience, messmate most closely resembles the characteristics of European ash and is my favoured eucalypt for carriage building.
Australia’s primary commercial pine is radiata pine (Pinus radiata) – elsewhere known as Monterey pine – which comes a close second to Scots pine.
Many Australian timbers have been successfully employed in carriage building since early European settlement. The following list of historic carriage building timbers (both native and imported) have been extrapolated from several local books on the subject.
|Timber Species||Modulus of Elasticity (GPa)||Modulus of Rupture (MPa)||Crushing Strength (MPa)||Janka Hardness (kn)||Density (kg/m3)|
|Sydney blue gum||18||140||68||9||850|
|Tas. oak / Vic. ash||15||119||60||5.7||620|
I have a modest amount of Australian grown European ash to hand, but not enough for the entire undercarriage and lock, so it will be supplemented with messmate and stringybark. Everything above, and including the floor will be pine, except for the front and rear burgins which are of messmate (figure 3).
Fig. 3. Messmate burgins alongside messmate six-by-fours (with pattern for the fifth wheel bolsters).
Fig. 4. Rear spring bed laid out, ready for carving.
Fig. 5. Spring bed scalloped and cleaned up.
Fig. 6. Carving the splinter bar.
Fig. 7. Fifth wheel crossmember ready for carving.
Fig. 8. The lock, assembled, primed, and undercoated.
Fig. 9. Halved joints are secured with coach bolts.
I made a makeshift jig with which to build the floor/undercarriage upside down (figure 10).
Fig. 10. Messmate rear crossmember and pine summers (floor joists) temporarily screwed to jig.
When the undercarriage and lock are completed and mated to one another, I will right it all and can then proceed with building the pine accommodation.
Keen eyed readers may have noticed the outside bolt and nut in figure 10 are not perpendicular. This was not a cider or gin event; the outer coachbolts are intentionally angled to clear the row of mortises which will receive the body ribs.
As with the three spring wagon I built, I employ hex nuts during the construction stage for ease and speed as most components necessitate their being added and removed several times. All will eventually be replaced with traditional square nuts prior to painting.