Born and raised in Holland, Jake came to Canada as a 17-year-old to start a new life. In 1960, he married the love of his life, Shirley. They purchased their homestead and poured everything they had into building a productive farm. They then decided to sell the homestead and start all over. On their next parcel of land Jake built a corral and raised horses. This piqued his curiosity about carriages. He found his first broken down cart that he wanted to rebuild, and the rest is history in the making.
Q: How long have you been building buggies, carriages, wagons and such?
A: I’ve been making horse-drawn buggies for the last 15 years, I guess.
So, how did this hobby start?
Well, I was always interested in making wheels. I was fascinated with wheels and horses. And ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to make something out of nothing – right from scratch. The first one I bought just east of our home for quite a bit of money. When my wife and I went to get it, the man said, “Are you out of your mind getting a piece of junk like this?” But I knew I’d make something out of it.
How many have you made so far and how many do you work on at a time?
Well, in my first batch that I sold 12 years ago, I made eight. Then, I began building some more that has built up to 10, so far. I’ve made 2-seaters or light buggies, as they’re also referred as, and carriages, wagons, and sleighs. They are my winter project, and I work on about two at a time. It usually takes a full winter to build a couple because I don’t work on them every day. I just work at it for an hour or two when I do. And it takes a while to paint them – especially the wheels.
What kind of tools do you use when you’re building them?
I use wheelwright tools. I took a course in millwrighting for a week in Armstrong, BC 15 years ago. It’s a skill that’s been around for centuries. At least as far back as the Romans who had chariots. I also belong to the Western Canadian Wheelwright’s Association, which has about 100 members from western Canada as well as some in Europe and the US.
Do you bring them back to their original design or revamp them and what type of material is used?
No, I don’t build them like the original ones. I do them my way. I like to make each one unique, and I add different details – like putting in a cubby hole with a lid. And I’ll often use specialty wood on the bodies. One of them, I made out of tamarack. For the wheels, I’ve used oak, hickory and a couple of others. Making the wheels is the most time-consuming part.
So, what does the whole process involved?
First, I search and find the scrap materials, like the axles, springs and hubs. Then, I begin designing and rebuilding the entire carriage from the ground up. That begins with making the wheels that will fit onto the frame. Once I have the wheels formed, I make each spoke, which I then drill into each wheel with a special tool. Then, I measure the length of flat steel that is needed and heat it to high temperatures, so that it can be shaped to fit on the wooden wheels. And it’s a solid fit. There’s no need to use any glue. After that, the rubber goes on top. Once the wheels are done, I start building the box of the buggy in whichever design I’ve chosen. Of course, the sleighs don’t have wheels. Although, one year we put one in the Santa Claus parade, but there was no snow. So, I put some little wheels under it to make sure it would go.
Are any of your children or grandchildren interested in the trade?
My son, who is a horse trainer, has been learning the trade from me, and we have often worked together. He is working on one of his own right now. I helped him with his first wheel, and he has built the other three. He wants my tools when I quit because they’re all specialized tools.