About Me and My Old Iron

By Staff
article image
One corner of Jim Davies' engine shed in Auckland, New Zealand shows just some of his total restored collection.

48 Alwyn Avenue, Te Atatu South, Auckland 8, New Zealand, Sent
to us by Richard C. Wiley

A bit about myself first. Well my first ‘squark’ was let
out in 1923 in Aukland. At school and college I was in the middle
dumb level, but with the grace of you know who, and a leather belt
I managed to get through, sort of. After fifteen years, out into
the world I went. My first job was with an electrical engineering
company. I was really someone; start at eight, finish at five, and
I was with men. Two days later, I was back to square one-and it was
the Depression days as well. With the aid of a stern father and all
sorts of promises of ‘behave or else,’ I was installed as
an apprentice motor mechanic to the Chevrolet agent in Newmarket. A
half-hour tram ride from home. After a lot of mathematics, I found
it cheaper to borrow my sister’s bike to go to work, so as I
could save for my own.

Lots happened in the next three years, an old Vellocette MAC
bike was found in the local dump and rebuilt easier than a push
bike. Then came the utmost ‘for Sale 1924 Chev. offers’ the
advert went. Five pounds later and a tow home with my
neighbor’s horse, I was the proud owner of wheels! Much jumping
up and down from the Head of the House, ‘waste of money, you
can’t afford to run it,’ etc. A lot of work went into the
old Chev. (I wish I had it now.) I had a mate who worked in the
Railways, as an upholsterer, a helpful bloke. I would say I was the
only person who owned the only Chev with Railway red pure leather
front and back seats. Servicable too, you could spill a can and not
leave a mark.

I had to sell the old Chev because the world erupted and for
five years I did my bit for King and Country. Part of the time in
Italy I was stationed in the Vehicle Recovery Company, tank
recovery, that is. Previous to that I was a foot slogger.

Back home and back to the grind. Most of my relations were
farmers, all had an old engine driving their machinery of some sort
and being a mechanic of some sorts, it inevitably fell on me to
make repairs; a chore in those days. I didn’t know then how
handy it would be in later years.

I don’t know where the time has gone, but the later years
are here and I am back to the old stationary engines again and I am
enjoying every minute. I had been looking forward to retiring for
the last fifty years. It’s great-I can go out to the shed in
the late afternoon when I have done all my chores, (washing dishes,
sweeping, dusting and general cleaning)! I’ve been known to get
out among my engines by about 4 o’clock, that day the wife was
feeling okay-birthday or something. It’s great to be your own

Over the time, I’ve collected one or two engines. I think
every collector has a favorite engine. I stand at my shed door and
look at my gear. It’s a bit hard to pick one out, because I
look at one and think that’s it, but then over there in the
corner is an American side shaft EZ Mogul, next to it is a
61/2 HP New Way big and rough, then the
little horizontal engine. They all have parts in their favour. Then
there is the lamp start Tangye, what a lovely machine. Its little
brother is a 3 HP and just as nice.

My eyes for some reason always seem to come back, past the
Monster Crossley, past the 1901 IHC horizontal Titan and farther
over the row of diesels to the four HP Hornsby and Son. The number
of exposed working parts, all the bright metal, the energy and
workmanship does something to me! Perhaps you know the engines.
It’s a great feeling when it starts up. It runs as good as a
clock. It has an even sound of its own; with so many cams, rollers
etc., it is surprising how little noise.

I have been up North to collect a Pitt Spirit engine and stopped
at a town called Wellsford for a brew when an old bloke, looked to
be about forty, said ‘I saw one of those old pumps down at my
brother’s farm at Gisborne last year, bigger than that

‘Yeah?’ I said. ‘Sit down, have a cuppa, have a
sandwich. Do you smoke? How about a can. Tell me more.’ Man, I
think it takes longer to get a little information from a
‘cow-cockie’ than to have a dozen hot dinners.

Severals cups, sandwiches, cigarettes, cans later etc., I
finally had the info, a little vague, cause his brother moved last
month to the Barrier Island, so he might have dumped it in the
creek. He said he was going to have a big clean-up.

Four o’clock, with a new lunch box, next morning, and with
my daughter installed in the car, off we went, 378 miles to go
south. A nice drive all the way down, only stopped six times
(Woolworth’s bladder) and we arrived. I’ve seen some broken
down places, no wonder his brother took off to the Barrier. Anyway
in I went. I counted nine dogs every one doing his own rendition of
‘welcome’ well that’s what I like to think. Out came
another old bloke, about my age, I would say. The usual
‘Gidday, How-ja-doo’ and I put it to him ‘Gawd, I only
moved in last week. I haven’t seen any bl- pump, but it could
be in one of them sheds down by the orchard. If not, go over to the
other side to the wood shed. You can’t drive, no bridge, bl-
floods-. Anyway if you can find it, help yourself. Must go and have
my afternoon rest. When you get to my age, son, you have to have
your afternoon rest.’

It was quite a walk to the orchard shed. Judith, my daughter,
went in first. ‘Nothing here’ she said, ‘unless
it’s under that pile of boxes and sacks.’ So we looked
under the pile of sacks, etc., no pump, but to my pleasure we un
covered a Wolsley in mint condition. It even had the original
transfer on the cylinder.

‘I’ll have that,’ I said. ‘We had better go back
to the car for the tools and get stuck in. It’s a long way home
and I would say we’ve got a job.’

‘You get the tools, Dad, and I’ll go over to the wool
shed and have a look.’

Twenty minutes later I was back, Judith sitting on a box waiting
said ‘I went over to the wool shed and there is another engine
sitting over there, one of the flat ones, couldn’t read the
name plate, something like Hansley, I think.’

I dropped the tools, I really tore the three minute mile apart,
(three hip replacements or not) in getting to the wool shed and
sure enough, covered in all the usual stuff was a 4 HP Hornsby. On
the walla tank and a LT coil with wires, looked like the magneto
had had it at some time. We took the flywheel off and wheeled it
all the way back to the trailer, dismantled as much as we could and
unloaded. Three hours have passed and we still have the block
assembly to get loaded. In the next shed I found a pair of buggy
wheels and axle, the wooden spokes looked a bit ‘iffy,’ but
when we had the engine suspended under the axle, they didn’t
look too bad. With Judith pulling on the rope, me pushing, we took
off across the paddocks. If there was one gorse bush or one
blackberry bush, every darn one was in the way and it made the
distance twice as long. Why the old farmers put their sheds down in
the gully beats me. I don’t mind admitting when Judith and I
finally got into the car for our drive home we were buggered.

I stopped by the house, knocked on the door, and a voice said
‘What do you want now? I said help yourself, I’m

‘I found the pump. I’ll come down again next weekend and
pick it up.’

‘I’ll no be here, so help yourself said the voice.
‘I’m going to Aussie for ten days.’

The drive home was quiet and peaceful, I couldn’t believe my
luck, I’ve only seen one other Hornsby and that was at
Hunterville. It’s been a good day!!

The following Saturday morning 4 o’clock saw Judith and I on
our way back to Gisborne to pick up the Wolsley. We had a good run
all the way, the car went well. Back in the shed a note was found
on the Wolsley. It said ‘This pump doesn’t look much bl-
good to me, send me a photo when you get it going, Fred.’

Judith and I used the wheels again and one collapsed just as we
got to the trailer; luck is with us on this job. ‘Should be
home in good time’ I said. ‘By the way, what was Fred’s
other name, Judith,’ I asked.

‘Don’t know, Dad. I think it was Help your bl- self,
son’ she replied.

Both the Hornsby and Wolsley are at home in my engine shed. The
Hornsby has had the full works restoration wise and I am more than
pleased with the results. The Wolsley sits there in as
found-condition and runs perfectly, in fact, I don’t think it
has been very much used over the years, a very nice engine.

Then there is the Fairbanks Morse with the six mule team Amanco
alongside, 3 HP Jumbo, a Stover and a few more here and there.

I get great enjoyment starting up and showing off my collection.
It’s almost a , full time job keeping them all in good
condition. One day it turns, the next day the exhaust valve’s
stuck. Still it keeps me off the streets and away from the
‘wild women.’ There is a price war on cans over here that
helps to fill in the time. When the boys from the club come over
here to a meeting why do they all seem to wander over to the
Hornsby? After all there, are Crossleys, New Ways, and several
others, all nice and shiny. Funny that! There’s no accounting
for a bloke’s taste!

I belong to a local club, a meeting once a month. We have no
club rooms and such. I attend the meetings and enjoy the outings.
Gets me away from the dishes, etc. I mentioned. Meetings are held
at one of the member’s engine shed and business such as
minutes, apologies, inward/outward correspondence is gotten over
within swift time and onto the more important engine work. In that
way we help each other on engine problems, exchange information.
You know what I mean, and generally a good night is had by all.

So what with my engine collection, visitors to my shed and all
my chores, I am kept quite busy and enjoy every minute.

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