A piece of motor history is being prepared for display at the Cooma Monaro Historic Automobile Club's Motoring Museum.
Unlike any vintage vehicle in the museum’s collection, this one runs on charcoal!
An early example of small farm ingenuity, before tractors were 'affordable', cars like this c1926 Dodge spent most of their lives as a farm hack - pushing trees over; harrowing paddocks, hauling firewood and, for this example, was the local Fire Wardens 'official' fire truck.
The late George "Eddie" Turner was typical of small acre farmers in Australia during the '30's and '40's - tractors were too expensive, so farmers turned to 'old' cars to carry out the 'heavy' haulage tasks of every-day farm life in their efforts to get produce to market. Fuel was expensive and fuel rationing was introduced (pre- and post-WW2) to help the war effort. So many cars turned to burning charcoal, producing a mixture of volatile gasses including methane to run their vehicles.
This Dodge had been in the one family for 70 years. Eddie's children, Dennis Turner (74), Philip (71) and Jane Kerin (63), have donated the unique vehicle to the Car Club to help preserve the heritage of a period in automotive history when, much like today, alternative fuel sources were needed, albeit for different reasons.
"What people soon forget is the that just before WW2, during the Recession, and in the years after, petrol was rationed and unaffordable to the small-acreage farmer." said Mr Dennis Turner.
"My dad bought the Dodge over 70 years ago for 5 pounds. He cut the body off and converted it to a ute. Being the farm “tractor”, it soon lost many of its extremities - wiped off on trees and low branches - so it’s missing the cab, windscreen, mudguards, and lights but with a set of home-made chains for the wooden spoked wheels, the Ol' Dodge could go anywhere" Dennis added.
Eddie Turner's other son, Phil Turner (71) of East Jindabyne recalled, when he was 8 years old, watching his father cut off the barrel of the property's shot gun - a single barrel 12 gauge 'snake fixer' - to replace the kingpin bushes. "This was a different era. Times were tough and people, like my Dad, were extraordinarily resourceful", Phil said.
In the decades that followed, a tractor eventually replaced the Dodge's unstoppable service, and it was left with other discarded farm implements to 'rest' at the back of the property.
"Eddie" thought future generations should learn about this important part of Australian motoring history and set about restoring the vehicle, in its farm livery, designing and building a gas producer to run the Dodge on charcoal.
Rogan Corbett, President of the Cooma Car Club said, "This is a 'first' for any Car Club that we know. And a significant opportunity to bring to the Cooma community such an historic piece of Australian motoring memorabilia."
“It’s an extraordinary contrast considering a moment in history where many were having to find alternative fuel – this example burning charcoal – in comparison to today where we are well on the way for electric vehicles to be the new ‘fuel source’. Mr Corbett said
"It’s totally unique and is a working example of early Australian farm ingenuity. With the kind assistance of local businesses and grants, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for younger generations to see, hear and feel motoring history, it is going to be a feature in the Motoring Museum and at Club events like Motorfest in November", Mr Corbett added.
Following the Turner family’s decision to find a permanent home for the Dodge, Phil Turner went to Tasmania in February 2021 to transport the Dodge to Cooma. During an horrific rainstorm, the Dodge bordered the Spirit of Tasmania and sailed from the shores of Tasmania for its new home at the Cooma Car Club. It is currently being assessed by the heritage, restoration, and history group, and then will be the task of 'training' members in the Club on how to 'fire it up'.
“I recall my father taking his mother from one property to another when a split pin failed, and the drag-link dropped. The front wheels pointed in different directions and the Dodge disappeared into the scrub with my grandmother bouncing on the apple case seat. Problem soon rectified with one of grandma’s hairpins and the Dodge was soon back on the road.” “The rear mounted fuel tank was always a problem. When towing farm equipment or dragging logs out of the tall bush to cut up for firewood, the fear of something smashing into the fuel tank was a bit risky. Not only that, when clearing land and ramming trees, in reverse, the rear mounted fuel tank was not a good idea AND the tank was relocated to the firewall”, Phil recalls.
The Dodge is as reliable today as it was when it first arrived at the Turner property “Malunna” all those years ago. The motor has not been touched; still with the same tyres and, despite having to use the crank handle to start, the ‘fire-up’ routine is straight forward…providing your hand is not in the way of a possible backfire!!!
The fitting of the rear mounted gas producer was straight forward now the fuel tank had been relocated. But to get it running the Dodge must be started using petrol and as soon as the ‘fire’ is up in charcoal burner where it produces the gas mixture from the smouldering charcoal, it is gradually introduced to the engine through several filters, via a mixing valve controlled from the cabin.
Economy is good with about 400km achieved on one bag of charcoal!
The Dodge was not “Eddie’s” first charcoal burning vehicle. He once had a “T” Model Ford before the outbreak of WW2, which he fitted a gas producer and drove the old Ford shooting rabbits using a 1908 single shot 22 – a round trip of about 150miles with charcoal to spare.
Eddie Turner is part of a dying breed of brilliant early engineers with the practical abilities to, basically, build or fix anything. And in those days, they had to. Eddie was a master around metallurgy, physics, maths and lateral problem solving. “Back in 1974, I saw my father rebuild the air conditioner unit for a Mercedes 600 Pullman. The air con unit was the size of a small V8 and resembled something between a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and a complicated Swiss Chronograph, but he made new pistons and other parts to get the thing to operate again – took him nearly 6 months with plenty of cursing to boot”, Phil Turner said.
Mr Rogan Corbett, President of the Cooma Monaro Historic Automobile Club Inc. said, “This particular Dodge is significant. It fits beautifully within the heritage planning for the museum and is a classic example and will be a feature attraction at the Museum.”
“People of all ages, especially school children, can now see a piece of motoring history”, Mr Corbett concluded.
No doubt there will be a new item on the agenda for Club members...acquiring charcoal!