Keeping the Buggies Rolling with Skill and Craftsmanship

By Patrick Raftis in Community, People

Edgar Brubacher didn’t set out to become a buggy maker. However, as an entrepreneur whose wheels are always turning, he saw the potential when a buggy-making friend offered him a job.
Brubacher, who was raised in the Elmira area, moved to Minto Township in 1990, purchasing a 100-acre farm on the municipality’s Eighth Line. Ten years later, he was approached by Elam Weber, who ran a buggy-making shop a few concessions away. Weber was planning to move out of the area and asked if Brubacher would like to work at wheel repair. He began by replacing rubber tires at Weber’s business, under the guidance of Elam’s father, Christian.
After working for a time in this fashion, Brubacher decided to move the wheel repair equipment to his own property and Corner Creek Wheel Repair was born. While the initial work involved mainly tire replacement, it wasn’t long before customers began showing up with loose and broken spokes.
While he had purchased the replacement parts along with the business and equipment, and was pretty sure he could figure it out, Brubacher said, “I wanted real instruction, so I could fix them right.”
So he once again he called upon Christian Weber, who was then in his 80s, to show him the complete art of wheel repair. The elder Weber showed him how to cut and fit the spokes, which are made by an Elmira area business on a specially-designed lathe (they are oblong, rather than round) and also how to repair and replace the fellows, channels and hubs that make up the rest of the wheel. While he isn’t sure if the oblong design is more about the look or the strength of the wheel, or possibly to make them lighter, Brubacher notes the spokes are formed to give the wheel a concave shape, which is definitely about strength of design.
Wear on a buggy wheel, like anything else, varies by use. Brubacher himself has a buggy, which he’s owned for decades which has required only minor repairs to the wheels.
“Another person, if they are on the roads more, might get a year out of it and need new tires. Then it might be five more years before they are back with loose or broken spokes,” he explains.
How busy Brubacher, who also continues to farm, gets with wheel making depends on a lot of factors. While he sometimes goes a couple of months without any wheels to fix, he also goes through periods of several months where he has wheel work every other day. Some customers can be sent on their way within 30 minutes for a tire replacement, while a major spoke repair project or a total wheel re-build can take from half a day to a day.
“If you have more than five or six spokes to change and channels to replace, you might as well just build a new wheel.”
During long dry spells, Brubacher says he gets very busy, as the heat causes spokes to dry out, shrink and become loose, which eventually damages the whole wheel. Like any machinery, well-maintained wheels give less trouble.
“If people bring them in in time, they can get them repaired for minimal cost and get back on the road,” he points out.
Most of Brubacher’s customers come from a roughly 10-mile radius around his farm, meaning there’s room for a wheel repair specialist to set up shop every 20 miles or so. Buggy makers are also in demand throughout rural Ontario and Brubacher says after his first year in the wheel repair business, he was invited to a meeting of area buggy makers who gather regularly to discuss the trade.
“I said what do I need to go to a meeting for? I just repair wheels; I’m not going to be making buggies. But, within five years of starting business, I was
making buggies.”
Brubacher has made about a dozen buggies in the interim. He makes them only with an order in hand, as, although he buys the boxes pre-made, it takes close to 100 hours to make the other components and put it all together.
While the craft seems a timeless one, Brubacher points out that there have been technological advances over the years. For example, fiberglass is being used more commonly for wheels, hitches and buggy boxes. Brubacher sees both advantages and disadvantages with the material. Fibreglass wheels, while more expensive (about twice the $700 cost for a set of four wooden wheels) and heavier, last longer and need little maintenance. The spokes and fellows of a fiberglass wheel, he points out, are a one piece unit, as opposed to the multiple fitted parts used to make a wooden wheel.
While buggies designs tend to begin with one of several basic styles, Brubacher says each one is customized to the buyer’s particular specifications. Covered or uncovered? It’s a personal choice.
“The young fellows like to be out in the open yet, whereas us older fellows like to be inside.”