Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 21, June 1977

By (Bill) W. E. LEACH

In 1918 in quiet little Paeroa motorcars were few. Most of the farmers still came to town in their sulkies, and heavy transport from the river port and railway was still horse drawn. However, one of our Rugby heroes, big Bill Young, never failed to arrive at the "Do" (domain) on Saturday, often splashed with mud before the game started. His two-seater Ford always started well although parked in the open paddock, and also coped well with the unmetalled road from his farm.

The local butcher had recently bought a shining black 4 cylinder Overland. The mill manager ran daily to work in a tiny two-seater of Continental design, cranked from the side. Dr. Smith created a buzz when he fitted his Model T with a self-starter. He would enter the car from the left door, sit with one leg on each side of a gadget which resembled a modern fire-extinguisher, and begin tugging away at the handle on the top.

We boys stood enthralled as the worthy doctor kept tugging until the engine roared to life and the whole body vibrated in answer. In the school playground, between top-spinning or playing "big ring" marbles for keeps, the one topic was the motorcar. "Have you seen Medhurst's new Chandler? He has two taxis now!"

"What a beaut!"

"Monkey Smith says he can see his face in Brenan's car bonnet when he has polished it!"

Then came the day when I could proudly announce that our family had arranged with Shorty Moore to take us to Waihi Beach in his big Glide. Our first ride! Shorty ran one of the two town taxi services and I cannot recall a second car of that make.

The 20 mile trip took over the hour and every minute on that winding road brought greater admiration of Shorty's skill, and greater absorption in the purr of that wonderful engine and the new smell of warm oil. Even the notorious Devill's Elbow brought no fears, our confidence by now was so high. Soon from the soft grass of the pohutukawa-covered slope we looked out for the first time over the wide white sands to the lines of white horses, the pounding surf. Few people were here in those days except at Christmas-New Year when the dotted cottages were in local demand.

After lunch we boys ran up past the schnapper-smoking shed that clung precariously to the steep cliff-side, up a stony track to where a gold-mining shaft had been sunk at the close of the century. The abandoned shaft was now covered with thick wide boards, but between the gaps we could drop stones to wait and listen for the splash some seconds later.

The return ride was left a little late, so enjoyable had been the day. At the entrance to the narrow Karangahake Gorge, Shorty braked to a halt and we all hopped out to watch him put a match to the huge acetylene lamps.

Weeks passed and then came the supreme excitement of Dad's announcement that he had swapped a cottage in Auckland for a second-hand car. This would make the eleventh in the town and wonder of wonders, we would own it. We could not wait.

"Good Lord, Davy!" said the local draper on arrival day, "You've bought a piano". Sure enough, on the dashboard was a metal label bearing the words "Baby Grand".

This was not the only curious feature. Came the first puncture just out of town. Dad jacked up the right front wheel, clamped on a smooth-tyred spare termed a Stepney, checked the wing-nuts holding the Stepney to the wheel proper, and off we set again, the inflated outer tyre supporting the punctured one. This was the very moment for us to be overtaken by our Overland rival. We tried hard to close the gap, reached almost 40 when alas! the clamps loosened. The freed Stepney rim raced away ahead and over to the right side of the road, leapt a fence and rolled at speed past the local poundkeeper standing near his gateway.

The Chev. (it really boasted this respectable title) ground to a halt and we heard shouts of abuse and indignation about a man not being safe these days, even on his own property. The wheel, slowed by the hillside had gently rolled back and caught the irate poundkeeper amidships!

All one Saturday we spent on preparing for our first long run - to the Thames coast, more than 20 miles distant. Dad's experience with machinery in the mining days when he held a steam ticket had taught him the vital part played by oil in the efficient functioning of all moving metal. So where-ever one part met another in went generous squirts.

Filling the petrol tank in those days involved lifting a four-gallon tin of Plume onto a tripod, a short sharp push to puncture a hole, and the steady gurgling of petrol through the hose began. But to be on the safe side it was decided to stow a spare tin inside the car. There was no boot in that model.

I recall vividly the rippling of the muscles of Dad's right arm as he cranked, called for more choke and cranked again. Very clear too those first lessons in safe cranking; holding the thumb below in case of back-firing.

For this outing, we linked with the butcher's family and the shiny Overland led the way. A dusty but uneventful run brought us to the agreed stopping place and the oldest son of the family ahead, clad in a white dust coat drew slowly into the kerb. We took the cue and coasted slowly up behind - but our Chev. would not stop! There was a dull thud, a severe bump and strained relations all round.

Yes, the oiling on Saturday had been over-generous even that applied to the rear brake bands!

Five years passed; a happy fishing day over, we were trudging up from the stream past enormous clumps of blackberry, to join "Old Faithful". We would not have been surprised to find a flat, but this smoking charred ruin that confronted us now was surely not real! Our hearts sank as we stood beside this blackened dead thing and a very depressed family set off for home on foot.

Later it was found that a tyre lever had rattled itself across the terminals of the battery under the driver's seat.

One cheering memory of the first family car remains with us today. The engine was sold to the owner of a river boat and for some years was heard on the upper reaches of the old Waihou River.