ou­tram garage & ray Warnock

NZ Today - - ON MOTORING -

Pulling up out­side Ray and Janet Warnock's Ou­tram Garage (for those not sure where Ou­tram is, it is 28 km in­land from Dunedin and I have to ad­mit I did have to check as I wasn't 100% sure my­self of where ex­actly it was. I had a rough idea but...) it looks ex­actly as you might pic­ture a small in­de­pen­dently owned ser­vice sta­tion in any tiny ru­ral set­tle­ment.

With a pop­u­la­tion of less than 700 and not lo­cated on SH1, it is places like this which are slowly dis­ap­pear­ing from the map and it would be easy to imag­ine Ou­tram's garage and the other small en­ter­prises in the town qui­etly with­er­ing and dy­ing. Yet even from the out­side there are just a cou­ple of hints that this as­sump­tion might be in­cor­rect.

Parked out front of the workshop is an im­mac­u­lately re­stored 1948 TE A Massey Fer­gus­son trac­tor and off to the side (I later was to learn it was await­ing an en­gine trans­plant) a very un­usual early 1970s Dodge van. But it is only when I opened the door and went in­side the shop that it be­came ob­vi­ous that this is no back coun­try en­ter­prise on the way to ruin. As well as the usual wa­ter, milk, coke and choco­late bars one ex­pects to find when hand­ing over the next mort­gage pay­ment for a tank of petrol – ac­tu­ally, that isn't re­ally fair, hav­ing just re­turned from Europe where petrol and diesel run at around €2.50 per litre (NZ$4.25) we are ac­tu­ally one of the cheap­est coun­ties in the world for fuel, we just don't re­alise it, Ray (but I sus­pect this is more the work of his wife Janet) has set the in­te­rior up as what might be termed a mini-mu­seum or a ren­di­tion of the ul­ti­mate man-cave.

Newly re­fur­bished, the walls are adorned with pho­tos and mod­els of Aussie and Amer­i­can mus­cle cars, his­tor­i­cal items like a large au­to­graphed photo of Sir Jack Brab­ham and arte­facts from garages of yes­ter­year. When Ray proudly pointed out the large colour mon­tage of very shiny V8 Hold­ens and Fal­cons and ex­plained that they were his and son Dean's (who also works in the garage as a me­chanic) prize win­ning pride and joys, it was easy to see that here was a fam­ily where the mo­tor in­dus­try is a pas­sion, not just a job. Ray and Janet are staunch Holden fans, Dean is the Blue Oval sup­porter, while their other son Reece is a Holden man, with enough sense to keep away from work­ing on cars full time. In­stead, he runs an ar­chi­tec­ture busi­ness, also in Ou­tram.

From what I had seen, I had as­sumed that Ray was one of those old-time garage own­ers who had been in­volved in the mo­tor trade since just af­ter the in­ven­tion of the wheel. And again I had as­sumed wrong. Leav­ing school in 1965 he served a five year ap­pren­tice­ship in the ra­di­a­tor re­pair in­dus­try. With there be­ing only a lim­ited num­ber of peo­ple do­ing this, there re­ally was no qual­i­fi­ca­tion di­rectly per­tain­ing to the world of cool­ing sys­tem fix­ers, so of­fi­cially he was classed as a Mo­tor Body Builder.

With his time served and the ap­pro­pri­ate piece of pa­per framed and ready to hang on the wall, he did what many young (and not so young) New Zealan­ders do, he skipped the Tas­man and worked in the Aus­tralian oil in­dus­try for a year be­fore re­turn­ing to New Zealand to work for his fa­ther's light engineering busi­ness in Dunedin, ex­pe­ri­ence which was to give him a good ground­ing for his cur­rent line of work. Yet, as a com­plete change of di­rec­tion he went from engineering to forestry, in­volved in the re­plant­ing of many of the pine forests of Otago. The col­lapse of the tim­ber in­dus­try meant that again a new di­rec­tion was needed, so he be­came a plumber and drain­layer, which he kept at un­til in his words, “I was too bloody old to crawl un­der houses.”

In 2002 the Ou­tram garage was avail­able and Ray and Janet bought the his­toric premises. No one is re­ally sure when the garage first opened. It seems the build­ing was a black­smiths orig­i­nally and by the early 1920s it had evolved into a ser­vice sta­tion and has re­mained so ever since.

Ray is prob­a­bly one of the old­est “new” me­chan­ics around, hav­ing got his War­rant of Fit­ness au­thor­ity at age 65, so he gets to work along­side his son, plus another me­chanic and a workshop hand who is about to leave and will be sorely missed, while Janet looks af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tive side of the garage as well as keep­ing the dis­play area look­ing fresh and chang­ing the items on dis­play on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

While not re­ally on the main road, Ou­tram is ac­tu­ally on SH87, the ma­jor di­rect route from Dunedin to Queen­stown so they do get more than their share of pass­ing tourists. On the wall in­side there is a huge map of the South Is­land with a large “you are here” ar­row point­ing to Ou­tram, put there to as­sist some of the more ge­o­graph­i­cally chal­lenged tourists who stop for fuel or are lost al­ready (de­spite the fact that Dunedin Air­port is lit­er­ally a five minute drive away).

It is this prox­im­ity to the air­port which led to one of the reg­u­lar sources of in­come for the garage. Ray has the con­tract to ser­vice rental cars for both Hertz and Avis' air­port fleets and while this is sea­sonal (fran­tic in the ski sea­son, not so busy in the sum­mer) it is just another of the di­verse ways busi­nesses like this think to keep them­selves busy. In this case, al­most too busy and they are ac­tively seek­ing another qual­i­fied me­chanic to join the team.

With such a tiny pop­u­la­tion, they can't rely on the towns­folk to keep the doors open, but the large out­ly­ing farm­ing com­mu­nity makes up for this. Ac­cord­ing to Ray and Dean, 70% of the workshop busi­ness comes from ser­vic­ing farm 4wd utes and other farm ma­chin­ery. While the newer ve­hi­cles go into Dunedin for war­ranty work, as soon as the fac­tory war­ranty pe­riod is up, they ar­rive at Ray's workshop for the at­ten­tion re­quired. There are some big hills down there and the weather is best de­scribed as “ex­treme” so this can be hard on equip­ment (and good for garage work­shops).

Be­ing keen car en­thu­si­asts another side­line has been the grow­ing num­ber of clas­sic cars com­ing in, ei­ther for ser­vice, or more ma­jor work (like the Dodge van get­ting its en­gine changed), right through to full restora­tions and there was an in­ter­est­ing line-up in a sep­a­rate workshop area at the back of the garage. Old car own­ers like to have their toys worked on by those who ap­pre­ci­ate and un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences be­tween to­day's cars and those of a few decades ago. Once the word is out that there is some­one “old car friendly” in the dis­trict, it doesn't take long for word to get around.

Fam­ily-run small town busi­nesses al­ways seem to have a more re­laxed and friendly vibe than what is found in the big­ger towns and cities. The Warnock's love liv­ing and work­ing in Ou­tram and are proof that ru­ral New Zealand still of­fers plenty of great op­por­tu­ni­ties for a great life­style and a suc­cess­ful busi­ness at the same time.

From the out­side, the Ou­tram Garage looks the same as any other up and down the coun­try

Cer­tainly not the in­side of your typ­i­cal ru­ral ser­vice sta­tion

Ray Warnock out­side his workshop

Dean’s Fal­con get­ting “the treat­ment” – a cou­ple of tur­bos as a start...

Some­time in the early 70s, a Mk4 Ze­phyr re­fu­els at Ou­tram

Some of the equip­ment needed to keep both the ru­ral and clas­sic car com­mu­ni­ties run­ning

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