Gas Engines in New Zealand

A Sampson Sieve Grip at Spark's rally site

A Sampson Sieve Grip at Spark's rally site.

Gerry Lestz

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(In the spring of 1984, Gerald and Margaret Lestz flew to Australia and New Zealand and sought out collectors and restorers of gas and steam engines. Gerry interviewed and took pictures; Margaret, familiar with farm machinery from her childhood on the family Montana ranch, took an active role in interviewing. We found all the collectors easy to talk with, and ever more than willing to make arrangements so that we could obtain information. This article tells in part of the New Zealand portion of our trip. GL)

I was lucky enough to arrange to meet Michael J. Hanrahan, editor of Vintage Farming Magazine for engine collectors, at Christchurch. We arranged to be carrying copies of our magazines so we'd recognize each other at the airport, but made instant identification nevertheless. Michael served as host and tour director for Margaret and me, and gave us the deluxe treatment.

Michael, who has a 700-acre sheep ranch and is a gas engine collector, estimated that the number of people involved in the engine hobby is 'well up in the thousands' in New Zealand. While there are many brands of U.S. gas engines and tractors in New Zealand, none of the American steam traction engines arrived there. Their heyday had passed before New Zealand farming got underway on the scale of today.

There are numerous clubs and organizations on both islands which compose New Zealand, and many rallies are held. While some of these draw large crowds, others are attended primarily by those who are showing engines. And as is the case worldwide, they enjoy talking engines and inspecting each other's machines tremendously.

'We have the best mixture of gas engines around,' Michael commented. 'You can find English engines, U.S., German, French and Australian.'

One tractor he cited with the Lanz Bulldog, made in Mannheim, Germany. There are Lanz clubs in New Zealand. The magazine received 400 photos from the factory's public information office. How many Lanz tractors there might be in the U.S., we don't know. They seldom figure in our show reports.

Michael was a more than generous host. He not only saw to it that we met collectors, but also arranged visits to museums including one in which he is an active participant. He also is a well informed expert on plants. He took us on tour of his sheep ranch. Sheep are very important to the economy of New Zealand.

Vintage Farming Magazine, which he edits, seeks to serve as a clearing house for exchange of information. While those who work on it look upon it as a hobby, they also devote long hours to the job.

Working with Michael are Alan Lewis, who handles subscriptions and general inquiries; Alan's wife, No la, 'who became involved with vintage machinery by marrying Alan', and who does much of the record keeping and financial work; Frank MacKenna, and Ian Gilman.

American brand names keep popping up in New Zealand, and one of these is the Allis Chalmers. John Spark, of Rangiora, has the largest collection of Allis Chalmers in New Zealand and one of the biggest in the world. We were brought to his property, the Spark Bros, dairy farm, by Brian and Thelma Batchelor, of Christchurch, through arrangements made by Michael. John Spark's full address is: Boys Road, Rangiora, North Canterbury, New Zealand.

The day we visited the Spark farm, preparations were being made for a rally to be held the next day by the Case and vintage Farm Machinery Club of New Zealand. Many of the choice tractors had arrived and were parked in orderly rows in advance of judging. The judging was to be divided into two classes: Pre-1939, and 1939-56. Winners were to be selected on the basis of the best restoration, regardless of brand. Margaret and I regretted that our schedule made it impossible for us to be on hand for the next day, a Saturday.

The engines lined up were truly works of art. American names included Case, Hart Parr, Massey, Sampson and Caterpillar.

Mrs. Spark provided an afternoon diversion with tea, and this gave us a chance to sit with the couple and their associates at ease while we sipped tea and munched on delicious confections.

John Spark runs 260 dairy cattle, and when he speaks of 'a mob of cows' he is using an ample description. He has two barns for the mobs, and the job of collecting the manure daily is a huge one. His modern equipment includes a 9-ton New Holland muck spreader, made in the community of that name near our home in Lancaster, Pa.

John is intent on gaining information. He has a Sheppard diesel, made in Hanover, Pa. (also near Lancaster), and has been in touch with Roland J. Bourvier, Sheppard service manager. He has found this was the only Sheppard diesel in all Australasia.

The club of which he is a member was formed in March, 1968, according to its ad in Vintage Farming magazine. It has about 250 members and owns a library with 1,400 parts, books and manuals. It is proud of its 100,000 feet of 16mm film.

John Spark issues an open invitation to all engine collectors who are visiting New Zealand, to come see him. We can tell you, he is a grand host.

The Batchelors, who brought us to the Spark farm and picked us up for further travel, literally went out of their way to make certain our overnight stay in Christchurch would be pleasant. Brian called the hotel at which we were booked, and learned that they had sold all their rooms for that night. He told us that first, with a straight face, and implied he might be able to find us a park bench near a stream, for running water. Then he gave us the good news the hotel manager was away, and we were provided his residence for the night, along with free dinner, a bouquet of flowers and a bowl of fruit next to the hotel. Brian has quite a sense of humor, which we enjoyed (more after we got the good news).

The Batchelors own and drive school buses, hence they could not be with us part of the day. They did show us their own collections of engines, all superbly restored a Hanomog tractor, made in Germany; an Invincible 4 HP stationary by A. E. Woodward, a British copy of the Michigan on wheels; a United, 'America's greatest value,' l HP, and an Associated, with Iowa on it, on wheels.

This installment of our story on Australia-New Zealand journey, tells only a part of our experiences with wonderful people. Some is being related in Iron-Men Album, especially that relating to steam.

We want to help boost the circulation of the magazine Michael edits, Vintage Farming. It contains a variety of news and pictures of what is going on with the engine hobby in New Zealand. Address: c/o Alan T. Lewis, 'Racine', 61 Boston Ave., Christ-church 4, New Zealand. For U.S. subscribers, the rate is $8.00 surface mail, $10.80 air mail, for a year (four issues). Rates are in New Zealand currency.

An old time steamship has been saved for use by modern holiday guests at Queenstown, New Zealand.

The ship is the T.S.S. Earns law, known also as 'the Lady of the Lake', which has been in steam since 1912.

The Earns law ranges over Lake Wakatipu, a spectacular vast body of water with many different kinds of views.

Originally a commercial vessel carrying stock and supplies to the farms of the shores, the Earns law was retired from that kind of duty and now is primarily a pleasure ship, operated by Fiord land Travel Ltd.

You are permitted to roam the ship and watch steam in action in the hold. It is a very impressive sight, one which should attract traction engine collectors and everyone else who yearns for the days of steam.

The Earns law takes two kinds of cruises. In the afternoon she proceeds at a leisurely pace to Mt. Nicholas Sheep and Cattle Station, at a remote distance from Queenstown. At the station, a stop is made for 45 minutes; sheep dog and shearing demonstrations are held.

In the evening, the Earns law takes a dinner cruise on the lake, and the vistas change considerably as dusk falls.

Facilities are available for private parties in a separate dining room.

The steam whistle of the Earns law is calling you. Repond to it, when next you visit New Zealand.