Valdosta Daily Times

July 1, 2013

Hahiran builds Amish-style carriages

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

HAHIRA — Walter Byrd makes a living speaking quickly, but his hobby is working projects slowly.

An auctioneer by day and a horse-carriage builder by night, Byrd represents an uncommon blend of talents that dovetail where history is concerned. His favorite setting to hold auctions is estate sales, where he claims the ability to earn clients unexpectedly large sums for their antiques.

“What I like about the auction business better than anything else is helping people get rid of things,” Byrd said. “You can take old items to the regular auction, or hold a yard sale, but you can never get as much as you can at an estate auction.”

His interest in auctions and sales brings him to Perry every May and November for the Southern Georgia Horse-carriage and Antique Auction, hosted by members of the Amish community. With a love of horses, Byrd became fast friends with the Amish, whose lifestyle he has come to deeply respect.

Byrd began constructing his own horse-carriages after the Amish model—by hand and with simple tools. The only difference is he pulls his electricity for his welder and tire machine from the grid instead of from a generator.

“It’s a dying thing that people don’t do anymore,” Byrd said. “There’s nothing better than having horses hooked up and being in a carriage going down the road with a cup of coffee or a soda and listening to the clippity clop. It’s very relaxing.”

Byrd has built carriages for other people for about six years. They are of remarkable quality and don’t go cheap.

His most recent sale was a white hearse with Canadian rollers and a plush interior that sold to Blankumsee, Thomas and Wright Funeral Home in Quitman for $20,000. It is one of very few such hearses in the area.

Byrd’s model uses a steel frame, mig-welded together, and wooden interior and exterior to conceal the frame. He builds the wheels and adds the rubber to the tires himself

using a carriage-specific tool.

“There’s probably not another one of those machines that can put tires on spoke wheels in all of South Georgia,” Byrd said. “It’s an interesting machine.”

The greatest difficulty in the construction process is balancing the carriage once it is all put together, Byrd said.

“You want it to be as smooth as you can, like it’s gliding,” Byrd said.

Byrd uses a full undercut design to make his carriages more maneuverable, and has invented his own lighting system involving foot switches to control turn signals.

From the Amish, Byrd learned patience, he said. And that value has improved his quality of life considerably.

“They have the most patience of anybody I have ever seen,” Byrd said. “The first time I fixed a buggy, I felt like, ‘Golly, let’s just take this thing and cut it up,’ but they’re super patient people. Quality, decent people.”

Residents interested in Byrd’s work can call his business, Horse and Buggies, (229) 560-7176.