New Zealands First Barnstormer – Cecil W Wood

Cecil Walkden Wood: Born 28 March 1874 – Died 1965

I was passed an interesting book the other day about New Zealands earliest pioneer of flight, Richard Pearse. New Zealands history books are well covered with information about Richards successes in his pursuit of flight. But I digress…

In this particular book was a couple of pages about a man called Cecil Walkden Wood. I’d never heard of him but he has been credited with producing New Zealands first motorcycle, trike and motorcar.

After leaving school Cecil worked as an apprentice for five years in general engineering, firstly at sea then in a bicycle shop. While working on bicycle repairs he had to make many of the replacement parts. This led to building a furnace for case hardening and other foundry applications required for engine building.

He is credited with making the first motorcycle in 1895, followed by the trike in 1896 and then the motorcar in 1901.

I haven’t been able to find a photo of the motorcycle but this is one of his trikes (or 3 wheeled car as it was commonly called)

Alexander Turnbull Library Reference number: PAColl-6585-66
Alexander Turnbull Library Reference number: PAColl-6585-66

The above photo, in his own words, “Was a motorcycle and I brazed another cycle to it”. Interestingly the belt drive was to the right rear wheel only allowing left hand turns far easier than right hand turns.

“Belts were a great trouble, pulling out at the front joint and stretching.”

He experimented with different belts to transmit the power from the engine to the rear wheel, firstly procuring green hide from a local salt water tannery and twisting it himself before moving on to trials with canvas and rubber.

The carburettor was the most difficult part as he had no drawings and nothing to show him how to do it. Cecil experimented with many forms of carburettor on his motors, progressing from surface to wick then onto spray carburettors. All of these were manufactured by Cecil at his workshop in Timaru.

Ignition was also a learning curve, starting with hot tube ignition, where a length of gas tube standing upright was connected to the engine. The tube was heated by a Bunsen burner and the compression fired the charge up the tube and exploded the vapour in the engine. (McSnotty, technical wizard, may be able to elaborate on this type of ignition). Cecil never used this on a vehicle as he couldnt keep the Bunsen steady in the wind. He moved onto battery ignition, making his own battery and then on to magneto.

Fuel was also experimented with, from Powder to Petrol , mixed by the local chemist, and finally travelling to Dunedin to purchase Benzene.

From the MoTaT Inventions Resource Pack While testing his motorcar he was hounded by police who were suspicious that he was breaking the speed limit (8 mph/ 13 kph). The noise of the machine upset dogs and horses. Dogs would try and bite the wheels and tip the car over. The horses would jump and bolt and many people became very angry. Wood worked on the motor trying to find ways to make it quieter, but eventually he was forced off the roads. However he was allowed to use a railway road and he practised there. He went on to produce 3 motorcars, which were all sold.

Excerpt below from the “The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]” circa 1903

Reproduced here under the Creative Commons License from the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

Wood, C. W. and Co. (Cecil Walkden Wood), Cycle and Motor Manufacturer, Stafford Street, Timaru. This business dates from 1894, and is conducted in the commodious premises which were erected for the purpose. The showroom is on the ground floor front, and the office and workrooms are behind. The departments consist of an engineer’s shop, and an enamelling room, with oven; and the plant includes nickelling and copper-plating machinery, and every necessary appliance for carrying on the work of manufacturing and repairing cycles and motors. There are two flats on the premises, and these are both occupied with the various branches of the business.

Mr. C.W. Wood, Proprietor of the works, was born at Timaru, in March, 1874. He served for a time as a mechanical engineer at Lyttelton, and ultimately turned his attention to the cycle trade in Christchurch, where he gained his first experience. In 1894 he commenced business in Timaru. His establishment was the first of its kind in the borough, and the business has developed so steadily, that it is now quite a large concern. The firm imports extensively from England and America, and is also busily engaged in manufacturing motor cars, two of which are already to be seen running about the streets of Timaru. Mr. Wood is a Freemason, and is attached to Lodge St. John, English Constitution. He was married, in September, 1899, to a daughter of Mr. Thomas Harris, Timaru, and has one son.


MoTaT Inventions Resource Pack

New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

Richard Pearse and his Flying Machines – C. G. Rodcliffe ISBN 978-0-473-12362-8

Alexander Turnbull Library