A journeyman carpenter by trade, Randy Kirschner spent 30 years in the construction business before turning an interest in the art of wheelwrighting and a love of history into a new set of skills and a full-time job.
According to Randy, the task of a wheelwright restoring a wagon is not unlike the work of an archaeologist piecing together artifacts from the past. Often it begins on the edge of a farmer's field where the remnants of a long abandoned vehicle are strewn in the overgrown grass. After collecting all the pieces, the job of reassembly and reconstruction begins.
Many skills are required to be a wheelwright - blacksmithing, carpentry, welding, and even upholstery. A great deal of time in any wheelwright project is spent on research in order to ensure all the details of a particular wagon or sleigh are accurate. But the biggest challenge in becoming a wheelwright today is that it is no longer a trade. Tools and supplies needed to build a wagon are not readily available, and often must be built from scratch. However, the skills once taught as a necessary trade are now slowly being rediscovered.
With initial training at an introductory course in wheelwrighting offered annually at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, followed by advanced courses in specialized areas, Randy finds that he continues to learn by doing and by sharing knowledge with other experienced wheelwrights. He currently serves as the President of the Western Canadian Wheelwright's Association (WCWA), a network of approximately 150 members, all determined to preserve the craft of the wheelwright. Photo at right shows Randy and fellow WCWA Member, Chris Jenson, promoting the WCWA at the Mane Event trade show held annually in Red Deer, Alberta.
To date, Randy estimates that he has built or repaired over 1,000 wheels and 100 wagons and sleighs. Every project is unique and totally built by hand and with much care. For an overview of Randy's work, please go to the Portfolio page on this website.
The Western Canadian Wheelwright's Association (WCWA) is a non-profit society set up to foster the skills associated with the carriage trade. While not a professional trade organization which licenses or bonds their members, the WCWA includes men and women at all levels of proficiency who are encouraged to share their knowledge with each other.