Packet Sea Foam: The story behind Hilton Head Plantation's surrey

Thanks to Dick Nelson of Hilton Head Island for sharing the story of a Hilton Head Plantation landmark.

"The Yellowstone Mudwagon"

By Dick Nelson

At the corner of Seabrook Drive and Surrey Lane in Hilton Head Plantation, under a specially built roof, stands a relic of the past -- a "Yellowstone Mudwagon" surrey.

For the benefit of all of us from a more recent time, a "surrey" is defined as a "horse-drawn four-wheeled carriage." My dictionary goes on to say the name came from a county in England where they were first built. According to retired Hilton Head Plantation Farmers Club historian John Evans, this one was probably built by Abbott and Downing Carriage Builders of New Hampshire sometime between 1850 and 1880.

Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser discovered it in California where he purchased it and had it shipped to Sea Pines in 1959.

He then used it to transport hotel guests to view real estate lots and also to advertise the Heritage golf tournament. Around 1978, it was parked in Hilton Head Plantation where it was used to carry Christmas carolers around the few homes that existed there at the time.

Ten years later, in 1988, the badly deteriorated surrey was given to the Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association by the Melrose Company with the stipulation that it be either reconditioned or sold for scrap. The POA passed this information on to the Farmers Club, which accepted the challenge of restoring it.

Bob Rhoades was named chairman of the project and formed a committee of George Kittle, Dr. Cliff Tichner and later Faye Willis.

After many months of ingenious fixes, the surrey was patched and painted. While not restored, the deterioration was at least checked. It was put back on display and remained as a marker for the Farmers Club until 1994.

Early in 1995, another committee was formed consisting of Ed Oliver, Tom Reylek and Chuck Machata. They withdrew the landmark to a work area on the Farmers, where they gave it a thorough inspection. Time, termites and weather had taken their toll. A complete rebuilding was recommended and approved by the Farmers Club.

The three men and others spent an estimated 3,000 hours reworking the entire surrey. Some parts were made and some were bought. The surrey's wheels required major outside work as the spokes had rotted and the apple wood wheel hubs were beyond repair.

New wheels were purchased from Wellivers Carriage Shop, a wheelwright located in Elko, Ga. Mary Keating, wife of then-president of the Farmers Club, Jack Keating, carefully painted the lettering on both sides of the surrey.

Finally, the surrey was completely restored, thanks to all the time spent by the volunteers, but also expenses totaling some $7,000 paid by the Farmers Club.

Chuck Machata estimates that about 40 percent of the present surrey is original, and 60 percent rebuilt. Wellivers Carriage Shop wrote an extremely complimentary letter to then-POA general manager, Bette Weseman, as to the quality of the restoration. Bob Welliver, whose occupation is the restoring and sale of carriages, went on in his letter to state that our surrey is "extremely rare" and gave an estimate of the restored surrey's value at $15,000.

To protect this investment and to properly display the landmark for all to see, the POA created the site we now see, which includes a gravel floor, facade of brick and a roof with wooden shakes.

In 2009, the surrey's paint was fading and the old girl needed some attention. By this time only Ed Oliver remained of the three who renovated the surrey.

Tom Reylek moved out of town to be near family and since has passed away. Chuck Machata was no longer a member of the Farmers Club. Ed, the Farmers Club elder statesman at 92, still farms in the club. With some assistance, he cultivates a 50-by-50 foot plot.

Dennis Snyder, past president, negotiated with Peter Kristian, POA general manager, for the cost of supplies -- mainly paint. Paula Gummere, a professional painter and club member, agreed to undertake the project. With a sanding crew of Dennis Snyder, John Nowacek and Chuck Johnson, the surrey received a facelift, and stands proudly for all to admire. Occasionally, I've spotted families posing for photos in the vehicle. She is good for at least another five to 10 years.

So next time you pass by this landmark, you might think a minute or two of how it came to be and who we all should thank for its presence.

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, a "Yellowstone Mudwagon" is a type of surrey with side protectors and large rear wheels that are supposed to keep the occupants clear of any mud from the dirt roads. My own guess is that they were used in Yellowstone Park, but that is just my supposition.