Bill Madigan and his Wheels

G.W. (“Bill”) Madigan of Auckland was an engineer who made milking machines during his working life. In the early 1970s, with retirement drawing near, he prepared by taking a course in cabinet making and made three spinning wheels from an American plan entitled “The Wheel that Won the West”. He also made an aluminium wheel, which have recently been located. His daughter recalls that he used to design and make all sorts of devices.

He and his wife could both spin, and in 1976 (by then retired) they attended a spinning meeting where he observed a woman struggling with a large wheel which she had had to take apart to fit in her car. She had little time left to spin by the time she had put it back together again, until it was time to take it apart for the return trip! This inspired him to set about designing a portable folding wheel.

The most unusual feature of his little double drive wheels is the extended mother-of-all which is tilted by a metal screw to adjust the tension. This is the same principle as the Pipy Wendy, though his wheel’s appearance is very different (with no flyer frame) and the Wendy does not fold. Mr Madigan’s wheel is folded by means of a pivot from the centre of the drive wheel, an idea also used in some of the Majacraft wheels, which enables the tension to be preserved when it is folded.

His first wheel was made from an old television cabinet, and later he used almost exclusively recycled oak and mahogany, from old bedheads and other furniture. Demand for his wheels grew as he became known by word of mouth throughout the Auckland spinning community, though he never advertised.

In all, over a hundred of these wheels were made, and some were sent overseas, the last to Sweden in 1990. Many are still in use and greatly treasured by their owners. He also made one larger wheel (pictured at right) using the same tension system: he had the mother-of-all assembly specially cast in metal for it.

(This account is based on one compiled by Lyndsay Fenwick, who also took the photographs, with the assistance of Mr Madigan and his daughter Joy Milne. Mr Madigan died while it was being prepared, in September 2007.)