This old hearse will soon be on the streets of Ballarat

The way to go out: this Hudson hearse has been rebuilt several times, and stands over two metres at it's highest point. Picture: Caleb Cluff.
The way to go out: this Hudson hearse has been rebuilt several times, and stands over two metres at it's highest point. Picture: Caleb Cluff.

Once sitting covered in dust in a shed in Moe, this marvellous old hearse will get a new lease of life in Ballarat.

Funeral directors F.W. Barnes & Son have brought the vehicle to the city to use as a promotional vehicle.

It had its public debut over the weekend at the Fashion for Funerals show held at Federation University, but will now rest at a local mechanic shop to begin restoration.

F.W. Barnes manager Simon Dwyer says he is excited to have such a rare vehicle to display.

Vintage Hudson hearse

The hearse had been in a museum in Tasmania for the best part of 30 or 40 years before coming to Moe to be used by directors E.T. Bond, who have since been bought out.

The vehicle is built on the chassis of an 1925 Hudson Super Six. When converted to a hearse, the coachbuilder added a 1934 or 1935 Hudson grill and fenders.

Mr Dwyer thinks it may last have been actively used as a hearse in the 1960s.

“For the last 15 years it’s been in a shed, but it’s effectively been covered all its life, which is why it’s in such good condition,” he said.

“It was out during that rainstorm over the weekend and it had one tiny leak in the back. So it’s pretty sound.”

There is a problem though.

The hearse is too small for modern coffins and caskets – proof that we are getting taller, says Mr Dwyer.

“The average height for a man around the time after the First World War was about 5’8” or 5’9” (173-175 cm)”, says Mr Dwyer.

The average is now nearing six feet, and the carrying space in the hearse will not contain our longer, larger coffins.

“Our smallest coffin is now 200cm,” says Mr Dwyer.

Its first job, once it’s up and running again, will be to transport the headstone of F.W. Barnes back to the Learmonth cemetery. 

Mr Barnes’s headstone was removed to Waight’s Ballarat Memorials at some time in the distant past, where it became a ‘banker’ or stonemason’s bench.

Current principal Les Waight says the headstone came to Ballarat Memorials when his grandfather had the business in the 1950s or 1960s.

“I’m not sure of the reason why it stayed here – whether it was being restored or it had an error on it – but when I turned it over and saw the name, I thought it should go back to Barnes,” said Mr Waight.

Mechanic Vaughan Ratcliffe of Simmons Automotive is looking at getting the hearse running again.

He says the compression is a little low, but that’s to be expected when a vehicle has not been running for many years.

It’s the oldest car that Mr Ratcliffe has worked on.

“They are pretty simple, but the great problem will be getting parts,” he said.

“The parts are out there – they are not an uncommon vehicle – but I’m the one who has to find them. But it will a bit of fun and a definite challenge. It’s a learning curve.”

This story Vintage Hudson hearse finds a new home in Ballarat first appeared on The Courier.