Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 38, September 1994

By Ian Parlane


The short item in Journal 37, page 43, raised the need for someone to endeavour to record the history of the motor spirits industry in Paeroa, relating particularly to the period when practically all of the major oil companies operated bulk storage depots in Paeroa and distributed wholesale supplies over a wide area. At the peak of their operations Paeroa was considered to be the largest inland storage and distribution centre in New Zealand. Only the port facilities were larger.

The Paeroa distribution district covered the whole of the Coromandel Peninsula down to Katikati on the east of the range and from Kaiaua on the west to Morrinsville, Matamata, Putaruru, Tokoroa and Mangakino. Prior to the motor car becoming commonplace all petroleum products, including lubricating oils, kerosene and paraffin (for lighting purposes) arrived in cans and small drums by ship and be taken by horse-drawn vehicle to the mine or battery workings or to general stores for sale to householders or trades people.

Articles in previous Ohinemuri History Journals seem to indicate that the first motor vehicle in Paeroa was purchased in 1910 by Mr John Harper who ran an engineering business in Belmont Road. (Does anyone know the site of that business?) This was followed by a Hupmobile and in 1912 Mr Wm. Medhurst, who managed a coaching service and stables at the site of the present "Farmlands Coy" (next to the R.S.A. building), bought a Studebaker. Brenan & Co. bought their first motor lorry, a Lacre, about 1914. As the number of motor vehicles in the district grew, Brenan's (who by now had bought the burned out shell of the Medhurst premises and erected a brand new building) built a brick storage depot - which still stands near the Marshall Street boundary - to hold mainly wooden cases each containing two 4 gallon tins of motor spiritand a few 44 gallon steel drums. These products were brought to Paeroa from Auckland by the Northern Steamship Coy. The wooden cases and 4 gallon tins were very sought after items - the cases for conversion to kitchen chairs and the cans for a number of uses. The most popular was conversion to a carrying bucket by the addition of a No. 8 wire handle but, cut in half lengthways, they were commonly used as very adequate washbasins! Many of our older citizens have clear memories of the cans and drums and the various methods for decanting the product into motor vehicles.

By the mid 1920's the major oil companies were conscious of the rapid rise in motor spirit consumption and moved into the sphere of bulk storage and distribution facilities allied with the installation of underground storage tanks at retailers' premises with branded proprietary pumps, albeit hand operated. The bulk motor spirit was distributed by motorised tankers.

The first company to establish a depot in Paeroa was the British Imperial Oil Co. Ltd. who purchased land at the corner of Coronation and Opukeko Roads from W C Kennedy and W H Taylor, in May 1926. The site was originally approximately half an acre but further land was purchased in 1952. Negotiations with N.Z. Railways and Paeroa Borough Council resulted in a railway siding for rail tankers and a cast iron pipeline under Coronation Road to convey the product from the rail tanker to the bulk storage tanks. The Company soon after was either bought out by, or changed its name to the Shell Oil Co. of N.Z. Ltd. At its peak the company had three pipe lines from the rail siding. The Shell Coy. appears to have distributed two brands - "Shell" and "Big Tree". According to one of the early drivers the product was identical and his truck had removable side boards with the two brands painted on them. The boards were "switched" in accordance with the brand purveyed by the next retailer to be visited.

In January 1927 the Vacuum Oil Co. Ply. Ltd. (a subsidiary of Socony Vacuum Oil Co. of New York) purchased about 1½ acres in Flora Street, adjacent to the railway, from Geo. Whiteside and Le Manquais Lamb Ltd. This company also had its own railway siding. This company's product was sold under the brand name of "Plume". (Did they sell any other brand?) In later years the company merged with Atlantic and became Mobil N.Z. Ltd. and retailed under the Mobil brand. About 1980 there was a large petrol leakage from the facility which caused a great deal of concern to the Fire Brigade and the Civil Defence authorities.

The next company to establish a depot was Atlantic Union Oil Co. Ltd. who purchased land adjacent to the Puke Road railway crossing from the N.Z. Co-Op Dairy Co. in October 1928. Atlantic Union was a subsidiary of Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey. The site is now occupied by Richards Toyota. Atlantic also had a rail siding. The depot was run under licence by Brenan and Co. No one I have spoken to can recall the product being sold under any other brand name but "Atlantic" other than their "super grade" having the word "Ethyl" added.

In 1941 Associated Motorists Petrol Coy. leased a block of land at Tirohia from Mr C G Jackson. The land was adjacent to the railway and also had a pipeline from a wharf on the Waihou River. On a recent radio programme Mr Harry Julian of the Auckland Tug and Barge Coy. recalled that about 50 years ago, as a very young tug-master, he transported bulk petroleum products by tug and barge to the Europa Depot at Tirohia. He referred particularly to the problems of getting a fully laden barge over some of the sandbanks in the river.

This company marketed under the "Europa" brand and seems to have later merged with B.P. who took over the running of the Depot. The lease was relinquished in 1981. At some stage the depot provided storage facilities for Caltex, which does not seem to have operated a bulk storage facility of its own.

The last bulk storage depot to be established in Paeroa was for British Petroleum Co. of N.Z. Ltd. The district valuation roll indicates that this company purchased almost 1½ acres from Mr C J W Gleadow in 1951. This property is now the vacant land in Taylors Ave on the eastern side of the Hape Creek (Main Drain) adjacent to the main drain. Their bulk tanks were filled from railway tankers via a pipe line which ran through the drainage culvert which passes under Taylors Avenue. When the tanks were being sited apparently nobody bothered to check what was under the ground which was rather swampy. When one of the new tanks was being filled the weight caused the tank to subside and in doing so it crushed a very important main sewerage pipe serving a large part of the town, causing considerable panic to get the service restored. The depot closed in the 1970's following the merger with Europa.

In the late 70's and early 80's all the depots gradually closed as larger and faster road tankers and improved reading made it more economical to serve the district direct from the port storage facilities atMt. Maunganui.

The demolishing of the redundant storage facilities in Flora Street in 1992 marked the end of another significant era in Paeroa's history. "Progress" has decreed that these major facilities should follow the path of other significant operations such as the gasworks, railways, dairy factories and the soft drink factory into oblivion as far as Paeroa is concerned.

It would have been good to be able to record the names of many of the real "characters" who were associated with these depots but the more I sought information the more names and amusing anecdotes arose until it would have been possible to fill a large book. We can but regret the passing of the petrol depot era.


In trying to obtain information relating to the retail sale of petrol I limited my interest to the delivery of petrol through pumps, or "bowsers" as they were known in earlier years. Bowsers and their associated underground storage tanks were provided by the wholesale company to the retailer. Because no written records survive locally the majority of what follows is purely anecdotal and with the fallibility of human memories some errors may result. If any readers can provide corrections it would be much appreciated, as would any information on other early proprietors.

It would seem a fair guess, with Shell opening the first depot, that Wm Fleming & Son with two kerbside pumps in Princes Street would have been the first retailer through a bowser. The premises were at the site of the present A.N.Z. Bank and Shell and Big Tree were sold.

Other early retailers were:

  1. Hare Bros. From premisesat the comer of Princes and Wharf Streets (where the B.N.Z. now stands) with a pump either side of the front door dispensing "Plume".
  2. D Prime operated one kerbside pump in front of the Theatre Building dispensing "Big Tree". This pump is clearly shown in the 1928 historical film. As the film shows no building on the site of the present Paeroa Hardware premises did Mr Prime occupy a portion of the Theatre Buildings before he built the present Hardware shop?
  3. Mr Jack Pickford with kerbside pumps in front of what was the original Hague-Smith Hardware Store in Normanby Road (about where Kevin Pascoe Motors showroom is). One interviewee recalls that "Plume" and "Big Tree" were sold. Over what period did this outlet operate and had there been any other proprietors than Mr Pickford?
  4. Premises on the south side of Belmont Road and for a while occupied by Mr B C Linn (from 1938/51) until he opened new premises opposite, which are still occupied by Linn Motors Ltd. The early premises are thought to have purveyed Europa but the service station at the new premises sold Mobil. About ten years later he built a new service station next to the Paeroa Hotel and at some stage this changed to selling Shell. Mr Murray Green is the present proprietor (1994) of this station.
  5. Brenan & Co. operated two kerbside pumps outside the premises now occupied by Farmlands Co. next to the R.S.A. As the licensed operators of the Atlantic Depot they naturally sold that brand. The pumps operated at this location from 1927 until the Company built a new service station at the corner of Puke and Opatito Roads in 1957.
  6. The first proper service station to be operated in Paeroa was that at the cornerofBelmont and Station Roads. Mr G B Neil started this business in 1928 in conjunction with a carrying operation. He secured the wholesale licence for Texaco. He picked up his supplies from the Ngahina wharf. In 1932 the business was taken over by H A and E S Moore and is still commonly known as Moore's Service Station although now operated by Mr David Milner, son-in-law of Mr H A Moore. Texaco also sold a motor spirit under the name of "Power Chief" using the head of a Maori chief as its logo. One resident is quite firm in his belief that it also had a motto of "Never holds you up; Never lets you down".
  7. Weatherly Motors had two kerbside pumps installed at its premises in Wharf Street and these are still operated by Tunnicliffe Nissan.
  8. Chamberlain Motors erected a garage in Hughenden Street in 1946 but could not get a petrol retailers licence until 1951 when B.P. installed two pumps. These operated until Mr P Berry closed the business in 1993.
  9. Mr Ben McDonald, trading under the name of Paeroa Motors Ltd. established a large service station at the Normanby Road - Victoria Street intersection in 1955 selling "Europa" but several years later changed to Mobil. This outlet is now conducted by Kevin Pascoe Motors.

Outside the town, but still in our district, pumps have been operated at Hikutaia and Netherton. At Hikutaia I am told that, at one time, three businesses had retail pumps; Preston's (later Smith's) garage, Kinnaird's garage and the Hikutaia store, but only the store outlet remains. At Netherton the Farmers Trading Co. had pumps at its store. This later became Netherton Service Station operated by Sarjant's Transport. This closed around the time of the merger with Brenan & Co. to become Provincial Transport Ltd. In 1972 Shell pumps were installed at the Netherton Store.

Paeroa Shell Depot about 1949.

Paeroa Shell Depot about 1949.

Petroleum Industry in Paeroa
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 38, September 1994
Paeroa Shell Depot about 1949.