The Pie Cart

From Waler Data Base @ Facebook. Image: ‘… the OK pie cart outside the Crown Hotel on the corner of Margaret and Neil Sts…’ Remember Toowoomba When Facebook page.

Once part of city night life was the pie cart. There were no shops, bakeries or take-aways open at night in those times. Pie carts were very popular for hot food or a cuppa after hours. The pie cart operator had a permit and his cart was taken to the same place each night.

A two-wheeled pie cart outside the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba QLD in 1946

Most did hours of 6.30 p.m. till 1.30 a.m., some longer, some shorter depending where they plied their trade. Cooking and prep was done in daylight hours; pie-men worked long hours. Some pie carts had a day pitch such at bowl clubs or the footy on weekends.

Customers at night were cabbies, tram workers, shift workers, students doing night classes, people on a night out including to the pictures/movies, opera and theatre, police on the night beat, the homeless and even Premiers on a night out visited the pie cart, and famous actors and actresses when the theatre closed.

Image: Toowoomba, Empire Theatre, 1946 / photographed by Max Dupain. State Library NSW

Cattle were driven through cities from railyards to saleyards at night, and the odd aggressive bull made life interesting – one in Adelaide just missed a pie cart and tipped a policeman eating a pie down a railway stair, then fell down after him.

Pies were a good hot, inexpensive meal. Pie carts sold several varieties of meat pie, and many also sold fruit pies, plus pasties, hot peas (usually dried peas cooked with bacon bones), soup, saveloys and other hot food. There were so many that competition kept the food top quality.

In Adelaide most pie carts sold the famous floater – believed invented by pie man James Gibbs. In fact Adelaide had more pie carts than any other city. A cup of tea or coffee was available too. Tomato sauce and brown vinegar were in ‘help yourself’ bottles on the bench of the pie carts.

Images: The Mail (Adelaide) 6th August, 1927; Telegraph (Brisbane), 19th April, 1934

The horse was taken out of the shafts once the cart arrived at the regular parking spot then taken back to stables and rugged, to snooze the night away until fetched to bring the pie cart back. Some horses were rugged and kept near the cart with a nosebag if there was no-one to help take the horse to a stable.

There are so many interesting stories from pie cart days, makes for fascinating reading!

In 1938 in Adelaide, Vic Richardson, a former Test cricketer was having a night out with about 20 friends. Rather tipsy they untied a pie cart horse, legged up a wireless comedian named Wacka Dawe and led him down the street. Vic grabbed another pie cart horse and also mounted it. A policeman was unable to stop them but another policeman arrived, Vic was arrested and the horses returned unharmed. It made entertaining reading in the news.

Image is from Pauline Conolly website, in a blog about the Vic Richardson story. No source given, and by the way, no charges were pressed as Vic was well liked and having fun, and no harm done.

Photo from Pauline Conolly website, blog about Vic Richardson borrowing a pie cart horse. No source given. By the way no charges were pressed as Vic was well liked and having fun, and no harm done.

The photo above is a good example: a pie cart was best made as low as possible so people could walk up and be served. Also many used the bench as a table to put their food and drink on while eating, usually several people were at one cart and it was a convivial place.

Several generations of the Gibb family had pie carts and pie bakeries in Adelaide, one credited with inventing the floater – no doubt they did as the pie cart supplied the crockery bowl for eating peas from, the cup, and plate for hot pie if wanted; obviously peas and drinks were the main things crockery was needed for and people were best to manage pies without a plate. So if a person also ordered a hot pie or hot drink it made sense as they couldn’t manage two hot things and eat.

Sauer’s Pie Cart in Maryborough QLD. Sauers still make pies with the same recipe!
‘Maryborough ..Sauer’s Pie Cart…’ Fraser Coast Libraries Local History Blog

Two men left a violin case each night with James Gibbs’ famous pie cart in Adelaide. They would collect it and return it there for safe keeping later. They failed to turn up once, the violin case was finally opened, and found to contain tools for house breaking, and the owners were found to be in jail! One night an elephant turned up at the pie cart, attracted by the lights and warm smell of food. Mr Gibbs fed it hot rolls until circus people turned up – it was an escapee.

Mr Gibbs, like many had started out in the 1800’s pushing his cart himself until he could afford a horse. One of his horses, old Skuse, was much loved. Once he’d delivered the pie cart, he was taken back to a comfortable stable in Morphett Street. When let out at the end of pie cart shift, he strolled to the pie cart in North Terrace himself, to be hitched up and take it back to the stables. he was known to gently put his nose into someone’s peas or pie for a quick bite.

Several pie carts became famous, working the same place for many years. Pop’s pie cart on Princes Bridge in St Kilda was famous. Pop was John Pomeroy, a fascinating man – as well as his famous pie cart he was a keen inventor. He invented various bullets, in fact one sort that brought down the first zeppelin in WW1 over London. Winchester later made other bullets he invented. Other inventions he made included a clothes line prop. He became very rich from his inventions but kept his beloved pie stall going.

Of course, rowdy drunks were a problem at times but luckily night shift policemen were fond of pies so there was rarely much trouble.

Image: Pop Pomeroy of the famous St Kilda pie cart, The Mail, 15th May 1948.

Pop Pomeroy of the famous St Kilda pie cart, who also invented all sorts of things including munitions.
Sydney pie cart: Cafe de Fairfax by night 1930's-1955

In 1948 in Sydney a woman bought several pies from a pie cart at the footy and contented herself throwing them at an umpire and a trainer after the game, at least eight hit the target.

In Adelaide one night a “high placed official” and friends took over a horse cab in Rundle Street, hitched a pie cart on behind and galloped down the street. Much destruction but all was paid for and cab horse ok.

A pie cart was usually two-wheeled but it was just a term for a vehicle selling pies, not a particular sort of vehicle. Some were vans with four wheels; there were all sorts of designs.

Image: ‘Sydney, Cafe de Fairfax by night…’ Max Dupain photo, 1930’s-1955, State Library NSW.

The term “The Old Pie Cart” was used affectionately for some old-fashioned coaches such as one built in 1867 in South Australia, and an old-fashioned horse-drawn tram car. A steam train in Queensland was even called “The Flying Piecart.”

This tram car is often mentioned in old newspapers as The Old Pie Cart. It was replaced by a more modern version of horse drawn tram, then a gas powered one.
‘Tram car used on the Port Broughton to Mundoora line (opened 11 March 1876). Car known as the “Flying Scotchman”, and as the “Pie Cart.” 1901.’

Posted by Enoch Waler

Waler gelding purpose bred to help educate and advocate for Walers, in person and via Facebook and Instagram.