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Frederick H. Modistach (1882–1963)

An identity, well-known to older residents of Waikerie district, passed away on July 22nd. He was Mr. Frederick H. Modistach, who was born at Tanunda in June, 1882.

Mr. Modistach married Miss Gertrude E. Pinson of Eden Valley at Birdwood on April 12th, 1901, and their family of five consisted of four daughters and one son. Messrs. Otto and Dick Modistach, are brothers of the deceased, and a sister, Mrs. M. Walters, all of whom reside in the district.

By trade, Mr. Modistach was a wheelwright, which he learnt as an apprentice at the Tanunda joinery workshop of Schrapels. He later conducted his own business at Eden Valley, and for a period followed his trade at Junee, N.S.W.

Returning to South Australia, Mr. Modistach was employed for several years as a manager of a growers distillery at Renmark, following which he became managing distiller and engineer for twenty years at Penfold's Winery, Nuriootpa.

His next move was to Queensland where he managed a wine producing firm at Roma for several years. Mr. Modistach was resident there at the time of the oil discovery in that area, and when the news of the oil strike became known, he and many others attending a ball at the time, rushed excitedly to the oil field where little notice was taken of the damage to their fine clothes by the oil spray.

After a further period at the Horndale Wine Cellars, at Happy Valley, Mr. Modistach retired from active business to live at Ramco in 1944. He built his house there, manufacturing all the window and door frames himself, and devoted much of his remaining years of life to building rowing boats of all types for river use. Mrs. Modistach, 83 years of age survives her husband.

He is credited with having built the first motor car manufactured in S.A. with no prior knowledge of internal combustion engines to guide him, he imported a 4 h.p. engine from France. With the aid of the instruction book, which had to be first translated from its French language, Mr. Modistach dismantled the engine thoroughly to acquaint himself with the function of each part. Reassembling the parts to the original places he set to work devising plans and specifications of his project.

The completed machine was approximately eight feet long and four feet wide. With its engine mounted in front, the transmission of its power to the back wheels was accomplished by means of pulleys and belt. He later improved on this method by devising a simple, but effective clutch system. The engine was air cooled, a belt driven fan was added later, and further improvements were made to the cooling system when he added a water tank.

The wheels of the vehicle were four bicycle wheels, and accommodation was made for a passenger as well as the driver. At the time of manufacture, in 1901, a tiller was the usual method of steering, but he manufactured a steering wheel for his motor car, similar to the type in use today. The efficiency of the vehicle was such that it was driven on many occasions as far away as Mannum and Adelaide. Mrs. Modistach also learnt to drive the vehicle. Several photographs of this first S.A. made car are in existence.

Mr Modistach keenly enjoyed a game of bowls which he played regularly until two years ago. His set of bowls was the only one of its type in the Upper Murray, manufactured from the wood of Lignum Vitae.

Original publication

Citation details

'Modistach, Frederick H. (1882–1963)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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