Finding the right UV-stabilized gel coat was another concern. Old South’s carriages are black, which Williams notes is a “tough, tough color” to maintain. He and Pace had multiple conversations with the gel coat supplier to ensure that the gel coat would be able to withstand Charleston’s heat and sunlight, plus heavy commercial use. They ultimately selected a marine grade gel coat.
Pace says that once the design was completed, the tooling was made using “old school” wood, Bondo® filler and putty. The tooling was a large upfront investment for Old South. “We could have built a number of wooden carriages for the cost of the tooling alone,” notes Williams.
Cutting Edge fabricated the roof and body using resin transfer molding (RTM). The fibers were laid up by hand and vacuum infused with a catalyzed resin, which was specified for its low viscosity and slow cure time to ensure that there weren’t dry spots and that the large pieces were adequately cured. Pace says that although vacuum bagging of large parts can pose difficulties, the company’s prior experiences building a fully-infused 35-foot bus and 15-foot camper provided the needed expertise. To finish the carriages, the components were fastened together and installed onto the original steel chassis, which had been sandblasted and powder coated.
The end result is a composite carriage that has been carefully constructed to look like its wooden predecessor, but is substantially lighter and easier to maintain. “The carriages will never have to be painted,” emphasizes Pace. Although Williams hasn’t yet weighed a new carriage, he says the old carriages were exceptionally heavy, requiring four or five people to lift them. Now, it takes just two.
Old South has rebuilt 10 carriages to date and plans to rebuild the remaining five with composites as they complete their lifecycles. Not everything, however, is changing at Old South: The wheels and shafts will continue to be hand-made by Amish craftsman in Ohio and Pennsylvania. As for the horses, Williams wishes that they could speak for themselves. But he views the new FRP carriages as one more way to ensure that Old South’s horse-athletes have the best conditions and equipment.
Melissa Haley O’Leary is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. Email comments to email@example.com.