Maryborough innovators descend from 1800s Cornishmen
LEADERS in their field, the Olds family derive from the 1800s Cornishmen who were known to be great innovators.
A family which has implemented a formidable reputation in Maryborough has helped all walks of people from the small-time renovator to the Pope and contributed to the Heritage City with the time canon and the historic Mary Ann steam engine which runs regularly in Queens Park.
The first William Olds was born in Cornwall in 1850 and moved to Australia in 1868.
The English immigrant worked as a winding engine driver and on his birth record it showed his father, Thomas Olds, before him had been an engine man and farmer.
As an 18-year-old William came to Gympie because of the mining – he was very skilled and well advanced in machine technology.
His son, aptly named William Olds, was born in 1890 in the bustling gold mining area in Gympie.
Even born into a family steeped in technology of the time, William Jnr talents were extraordinary.
Through his father he absorbed an intimate understanding of steam power and in 1906 built a working model steam winding engine.
It won a silver medal at the Gympie Show and also paved the way for the 16-year-old to be taken on as an apprentice electrical and mechanical engineer at the Gympie Scottish Gold Mining Company.
He became a master of his trade, readily adapting to new technology but always harbouring a fascination and fondness for steam engines.
After completing his apprenticeship he spent some time working as a mechanic for the railways in Maryborough where Ivy Bell caught his eye.
He quit the railways after an accident and found work in Brisbane at Evers and would return to Tewantin on weekends to work with marine engines.
William enlisted in the war in 1916 despite a pleading letter from the residents of Tewantin and Noosa saying he would be of greater assistance to the Empire if he stayed.
During his assignment he gleaned fresh knowledge and experience in the trade in which he had rapidly become a master.
After the war he returned home, married his sweetheart Ivy, and set up a light engineering business and car agency in Gympie with his two brothers.
In 1925 William, Ivy and their two daughters moved to a new house on the corner of Ferry and North Sts in Maryborough and opened an Essex and Hudson car agency in Bazaar St.
William promoted the business by building an Essex miniature car for his son Billy who was born soon after moving to Maryborough.
When the depression got tough they had to close up the business and William worked under his house.
He found work to keep their family which expanded in 1930 with the birth of Peter.
With time on his hands, William again made more model engines before he scaled down the QGR locomotive No. 830 and built Polly.
Polly became a popular attraction at local shows from Maryborough to Townsville, allowing the Olds family to travel and live throughout the toughest years of the depression.
His model steam train locomotives helped keep the wolves from the door and were a wonderful attraction wherever they were seen and a great education for his two sons.
Bill and Peter in later years were to follow in their father’s footsteps building working faithful models themselves.
In their turn Bill and Peter left school and served apprenticeships at Walkers Ltd where their father insisted they would broaden their experience in the trade.
The two sons eventually joined in partnership with their father who passed away in 1977.
The company had developed a reputation for imaginative solutions to engineering problems and for having the patience and perseverance to see the job through.
Olds Engineering continues to grow and has developed markets for their products and their technology both in Australia and overseas.
One of the most unique and memorable moments Peter said was being invited to meet with Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul II, after giving him an Oldsway bed.
The bed is another innovative Olds design to assist with patient care, rehabilitation and mobilisation, with a hydraulic unit which tilts the bed into any position up to an upright position.
Peter’s son Robert who served his apprenticeship with his father and Uncle Bill now has a major role in guiding the destiny of the firm.
Before he went to school he was a master at driving the model steam locos and his knowledge led him to teach courses in steam operation through TAFE.
Robert has also been instrumental in demonstrating and commercialising the company’s revolutionary technology including the Olds Elevator – a static screw elevator for handling bulk products and materials.
Recently Robert’s son William also joined the firm.
Peter often repeats the fact that he believes some of the most important products of the company are the tradesmen they turn out.
He said many young lads after completing their apprenticeships have gone on to very successful careers.
Peter also added they were brought up to have pride in their work and never be afraid to put their name on their products. Olds brand can be found on a diverse range of items locally and overseas ranging from heritage seats to locomotive headlights and small marine engines.