The last load out of the Exhibition gates. Photo courtesy "The Echo".
One of the wonderful things to
come from my book "Legacies left Untold" is the renewed interest in Duncan
& Fraser Ltd. and Duncan Motors Ltd. The grainy photo above captures the moment
as a Ford 'TT' 1-ton truck carrying the last load and leaving the Northern
Annexe of the Exhibition Buildings in September 1923 vacating the site in
preparation for the upcoming Adelaide Show.
The following article "Reorganising" was written by Howie Spafford, Master
Mechanic, Production & Workshop Manager for Duncan & Fraser and appeared in
the September 1923 issue of "The Echo". It gives us a detailed glimpse of
how the management of Duncan & Fraser Ltd. and Duncan Motors Ltd. coped with
their logistical nightmare and kept all facets of the business running under
adverse circumstances, particularly in view that the Duncans received no support
from Ford Motor Co. Canada, financial or otherwise. It is a credit to both
their management skill and the team of dedicated employees that worked for
"In giving this short
article I will endeavour to convey to all interested in our business some
of the obstacles that we have met with and how we have overcome them to
keep up with our regular work.
It is now 7 months since we came to a sudden stop, caused by the disastrous
fire, and just at that time we were in a postion which we had been striving
for for some months. All departments were well up with our programme,
and we were prepared for putting up a record in output of bodies for the
month of March.
In a flash everything was wiped out, and we had to start under the most
trying of circumstances, and we knew that we had the men that could be
relied on who were with us wholeheartedly.
One look at the ruins showed us that it would be some time before we could
replace some of the most important machines necessary for our work, particularly
our hydraulic press and dies, which we depend on for our panels. Our friends,
Tarrant Motors Ltd., and Davies & Davies, of Sydney, came to our aid with
what jigs and forms they could spare for our Standard bodies.
Besides losing the whole of our patterns, etc., the tools of the men were gone, and before we could start on new patterns
the men had to get new tools.
North Adelaide premises were the headquarters for the factory for a few
days. The different departments pulled a new Standard body apart to make
a new set of patterns, and, this sorted, the next big move was to find
premises, and by Saturday, three days after the fire, we had some machines
working on Standard bodies.
At this point the Motor Department rose to the occasion, and came to the
assistance of their fellow workers by working night and day to fix up
machines in convenient places, such as a stable in Currie Street, which
we turned into a Sheet Metal Department, another stable near by was converted
into a Smithy and Vice and Drills Department.
We secured a place in Hanson Street, which was converted into a paint
and Trimming Department, and while this was going on the body makers were
working on presses and forms for the trimmers to carry on their work.
Our sewing machines, which are of a special kind, had to be purchased
in Sydney, and were hurried across per express train.
Another group of body makers were at work making the large cutting out
table - the table is a fine job, and will be transferred to Franklin Street
in due course.
We were fortunate in securing the Northern Annexe at the Exhibition. This
was a most suitable place, only we knew we had to get out for the September
First of all, it was necessary to cover up the many broken windows to
make it both rain and dust proof, and we also had to erect a dust proof
paint shop, and erect the necessary hoists and runners for handling our
In short time everything was in working order and going well, and on April
12 the first complete standard body was made on the jigs from parts, panels
and woodwork, made and machined since the fire. From this date we increased
our output up to 16 standard bodies per day, and altogether we built 1,263
bodies of various designs at the Exhibition.
The Northern Annexe looked large enough to give us all the room needed,
but when we got to this output we were getting cramped for room, so next
secured the Machinery Hall, which, at times, was full to the door, and
just at our busiest time we had to move out of this building to make room
for Poultry and Kennel Club to hold their Show. To do this we had to cover
in the three open shed with hessian to take car of the finished cars and
bodies, as during this time we were experiencing very bad weather.
Soon after we started we could see that we would have to have an extra
mill, so we were fortunate in buying F.H. Ring & Co.'s machinery, and
rented premises, where we have housed the body makers who make the Studebaker
and Special bodies.
The telephone arrangements that we have had to install at all depots have
been a great help, but at times the Office has not been able to get information
at once, although as a whole, I think all the departments have co-operated
with each other with the one aim, to push business on, at the same time
hoping for the day when we will be housed in our new quarters at Franklin
As each department was fixed, so the necessary store had to be arranged,
also additional clerks and timekeepers.
As time went on we found that we were getting more work than at normal times, and in three months after the fire we had 130
more on our pay roll than previous to February 21.
Our transport was a very big item at the time Franklin Street premises were being cleared, and we had 12 Ford lorries
working around town, and even these could not keep us going, as we had to call on outside help whenever a shipment of
chassis came in.
Mile End depot was nearing completion, and we were beginning to make use
of it and prepare for cleaning out of the Exhibition. The whole of our
stock had to be moved from North Adelaide to Mile End, which took three
weeks, and we had as many as six four-horse teams on the job, and our
own Ford lorries whenever they could get in.
Preparations were made at North Adelaide for the Standard body gang, so
that we would not lose any more time than was necessary during the changeover.
In the meantime, we had fixed up a paint and varnish room at North Adelaide,
and preparations made for the trimmers to work on Ford Standard bodies.
The spot welder was dismantled at the Exhibition, and is now installed
at North Adelaide.
Our transport is till a big item, as we have to over our Standard bodies
from North Adelaide to Mile End, and for this we have fixed up a trailer
made principally of Ford parts, which allows us to move four bodies at
a time, and our Ford Ton Truck with this attachment moved as many as 28
bodies per day.
During the move from the Exhibition we counted 145 loads, and we left
everything on wheels until the last day. We requisitioned every man who
could be spared, and made one day of driving cars and chassis to Mile
While we were making these changes we were busier than ever preparing
a programme of 50 different for Show purposes.
The headquarters for the factory are now situated at Mile End, and we
have had to make quite a lot of alterations there which include, bulk
store, paint rooms, apparatus for the Ford chassis assemblers, al altogether
there are 118 men now employed there.
As time went on the motor shop were making and rebuilding machines, and
at one time we had nine engineering firms in Adelaide either making new
machines or making parts to replace damaged machines. All this meant a
very big expense, but we were after one point, and that was to get bodies
ready for delivery.
The Sheet metal Department realised that they had to be ready with their
goods first, this was accomplished, and we were able to send finished
panels away to Queensland seven weeks after the fire.
Our quickwork cutting machine was destroyed, and an Adelaide firm who
had a machine something like it kindly loaned us the patterns of it, the
Motor Department made the machine, and in a few weeks it was working in
the Sheet metal Department. Lately, our original machine has been installed,
and the Sheet Metal Department has cut up as much as 20 tons of sheet
steel per month."
It is fortunate that this material
has survived when the Duncans were in total disarray after the fire. The
mastermind making all of these plans possible was clearly Howie Spafford.
This was not lost on Hubert French when he arrived in January 1924 and quickly
recognised Howie and his talent. To the Duncans credit all of the rebuilding
was done by themselves and with not a single shred of assistance from either
Ford Motor Co., Canada or Ford Motor Co., USA.
Do you have information or photographs about the rebuilding after the fire? Have you any information
photographs of the Northern Annexe of the Exhibition Buildings? Did you have a relative that worked for
Duncan & Fraser Ltd. or Duncan Motors Ltd. through this period? If the answer is yes to any of these
questions, I would love to here from you.