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In a leap of faith Swan Hill's Charlie invented the caravan tow ball

July 24, 2005
In a leap of faith Swan Hill's Charlie invented the caravan tow ball

The name Wilhelm Carl (Charles) Kruger may not mean anything to the hundreds of thousands of people pulling caravans around caravan parks today, but they owe 'Charlie' big time.

The engineer, blacksmith and forge welder from the Victorian Murray riverside city of Swan Hill is a hero among the many outstanding heritage achievements at the Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill.

Charlie Kruger designed and patented the caravan tow ball in August 1932. Records from the archives of Swan Hill Regional Library Manager, Bruce Myers, courtesy of the Mallee Oral History Group, show Charlie Kruger called it the Ball Trailer Pull, but when a stroke disabled him the patent ran out before he could start production.

Charlie Kruger repaired the Murray Downs pump with an oxy-welder

He was something of a genius with metal and in addition to being one of the leaders into oxy-welding in Australia he invented an armor piercing bullet, 4.8m long punt gun and a vice-grip pair of pliers.

The recoil from the punt gun was so impressive it sent the punt it was mounted on 10m in reverse when fired. But members of Charlie's family remember it was dynamite when used on a big flock of ducks.

His welding skills are legend. Charlie saved the day at drought stricken Murray Downs with an amazing oxy-welding feat on the broken spoke of a huge pump fly wheel. The broken pump was essential to watering the station's flocks. The metal of the broken spoke was thicker than a man's arm and until Charlie was called in it had proved impossible to fix.

He was also a real risk-taker and became the star turn at the 1924 Swan Hill Show when he launched his Rugby car from a timber ramp and jumped it more than 11m before it landed on its front wheels and turned over.

Charlie Kruger

Charlie suffered a cut over an eye, but when the car was righted his first question was: 'Did you get a photo?' The dare devil performance was recorded in local history as Kruger's Leap.

He sold Rugby's in Swan Hill from an agency next to the current Oasis Hotel Motel in busy Campbell St and won sales medals for the volume of new owners, but the deals were often at prices close to cost, so the Rugby dealership brought fame but not fortune to his family. His shed is still there, behind a high galvanized iron fence, next to the Oasis.

That is the thing about Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill it is an 'Original'.

As Director Robyn Till says it was the 'pioneering' Pioneer Settlement in Australia and its Sound and Light Tour set the pace. A ride in the specially built transporter into the Murray dusk each evening is a Time Machine to the world of 150 years ago.

It covers the time and pace of Australia's growth from the thunder of the hooves of a Cobb and Co coach team to the hiss and puff of the steam locomotives which brought rapid transport to the Murray and Mallee regions.

The 108 year old (2005) Pyap paddle steamer

The museum at Horseshoe Bend has a collection which remembers the Mallee-Murray adventure from the1830's to the 1930's.

It has a 1908 Saunderson tractor which is one of two of its kind in the world and Swan Hill's is the only working example.

The Museum's longest serving employee, Newton Williams, is justifiably proud of the strangely shaped Saunderson Type A. He put six years of his life into its conservation. The British-built three-wheeled 'agricultural motor' was purchased by the SA Government and began its Australian career in 1908

It is the key working exhibit in the museum's interesting tractor collection.

The resident Clydesdale wagon rides are alsohigh on the visitors' popularity pole.

The gentle giant Clydesdales are part of rides throughout the day which are included in the admission. In addition to the clip clop progress through the pioneer settlement a 1923 Dodge car putters about with museum goers aboard.

Another uniquely Swan Hill experience is the Stereoscopic Theatre. It is one of two which have survived and is the grandfather and mother of the birth of movie entertainment.

After 118 years the paddle steamer Pyap is still whistling along the Murray as she cruises from her wharf at Horseshoe Bend. Her working river career was as a trading boat, with a store and special drapery section. Pyap was built in Mannum, SA, in 1896.

The Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. It opens daily during the Victorian School Holidays and on public holidays. The Sound and Light Tour starts at dusk every night. Bookings are essential.

Steam loco and the Gem Dodge tours the Swan Hill Pioneer Museum