124 BACK PAGE Rob Webb


Hun­ter­ville is one of those small towns on SH1, nes­tled in the Ran­gi­tikei hills be­tween Bulls and Tai­hape which the av­er­age mo­torist drives through with nary a sec­ond glance.

And in th­ese days of su­per-sized ser­vice sta­tions (the ones where get­ting a tyre fixed is im­pos­si­ble, but they can sell you some sham­poo and a nice cof­fee), the lit­tle BP sta­tion on the left as you head north is one of those rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing sites as fuel stor­age tanks reach the end of their ser­vice lives and the oil com­pa­nies make the call not to re­place them.

Which, if you run the sort of car I have, some­thing 80+ years old with a range of ap­prox­i­mately 20 yards and there­fore need­ing fuel seem­ingly ev­ery 20 min­utes, is a bit of an is­sue th­ese days!

Ron Bartlett and Don Hat­full are proud that they own what is now the last pri­vately-owned BP ser­vice sta­tion on SH1 be­tween Wellington and Auck­land, an achieve­ment re­cently ac­knowl­edged by BP them­selves.

Not only that, they are here to stay, hav­ing re­cently opened a 24 hour truck stop (al­though they did run into a lit­tle dif­fi­culty with the lo­cal coun­cil over the slight re­mod­elling of a small hill which was go­ing to im­pede the move­ment in and out of B-trains), their tanks are new and up-to date. Al­ways look­ing at ways to di­ver­sify as eco­nomic and so­cial change has had ef­fects on small ru­ral cen­tres which city dwellers could not even con­tem­plate, let alone live through, they have added a small show­room for Husq­varna power equip­ment (lawn mow­ers, chain­saws and the like) with a sep­a­rate ded­i­cated workshop to ser­vice and re­pair th­ese small but es­sen­tial items which are gen­er­ally mis­treated, abused and yet ex­pected to per­form fault­lessly ev­ery time the starter cord is pulled or the ig­ni­tion key turned (for those flash peo­ple with ride-on mow­ers).

With a pop­u­la­tion of only 500 and an op­po­si­tion fuel com­pany set­ting up shop 50 me­tres up the street, it is this di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion which is es­sen­tial to sur­vival. In­creas­ing com­pli­ance costs, the up­com­ing changes to the WoF sys­tem and the newly opened BP sta­tion with at­tached Wild Bean café 20 min­utes down the road at Bulls all pro­vid­ing chal­lenges which would have some of a weaker con­sti­tu­tion throw their hands in the air and ad­mit de­feat. There is none of that sort of at­ti­tude vis­i­ble in Hun­ter­ville, just a de­ter­mi­na­tion to look for other ways to strengthen the busi­ness. Nine years ago a small truck and dig­ger were pur­chased, avail­able for hire. This has proved so pop­u­lar that at the time of my visit, a big­ger truck and dig­ger were both be­ing pur­sued, to op­er­ate along­side the ex­ist­ing ones as this part of the busi­ness be­comes in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar.

Thirty years ago when Ron and Don took on the Hun­ter­ville Ser­vice Cen­tre, there were at least 15 farms in the lo­cal area to pro­vide a steady work­load. With the change to farm­ing trends brought about by the eco­nom­ics (or lack of) in sheep farm­ing, still the main form of agri­cul­ture on the hilly ter­rain, prop­er­ties have been forced to merge to sur­vive and now there are only five, giv­ing the farm own­ers the ben­e­fit of econ­omy of scale but this has an ef­fect on the lo­cal econ­omy at the same time.

The build­ing which houses the Hun­ter­ville Ser­vice Cen­tre has a his­tory all of its own. Ap­par­ently it was orig­i­nally the black­smith’s. As a young boy, my grand­fa­ther would make the day long jour­ney by horse-drawn dray from the fam­ily home in Rewa to Hun­ter­ville to get work done and col­lect sup­plies.

The sound of red-hot metal be­ing struck on an anvil to man­u­fac­ture horse­shoes has long since been con­signed to his­tory, now the mod­ern equiv­a­lent hap­pens, with tyres for ev­ery­thing from mo­bil­ity scoot­ers to trucks are fit­ted in the same place – the dray re­placed with farm utes and cars be­ing re­paired out the back, lo­cals and a few pass­ing trav­ellers re­fu­elling out front.

Back in a pre­vi­ous life I had my first con­tact with them. My first job (which I got be­cause I met two of the ma­jor re­quire­ments for the po­si­tion; I drove a French car and was into mo­tor rac­ing) was at the AA in Mar­ton. Be­ing a small of­fice, we all did a bit of ev­ery­thing, which in­cluded dis­patch­ing the Ser­vice Of­fi­cer or the out­ly­ing con­tract garages to break­downs. For any­one hav­ing car trou­ble in the area around Hun­ter­ville, it was Ron who got the call. Of course back then, most cars could be fixed on the side of the road with a cou­ple of cres­cents and a screw­driver. Put in a new coil and con­denser and things would be up and run­ning. If it was wet, there would be Minis with drowned electrics, re­vived with a squirt of CRC around the dis­trib­u­tor. And if none of this worked, a quick tow back to the workshop would be in or­der for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

That was the 1980s; now cars as a rule don’t break down but if they do, tow­ing is out of the ques­tion. Have you ever tried be­ing towed in a car with power steer­ing and power brakes when the en­gine won’t go? I have and it is a good work-out for the arms and right leg but not much fun. Plus the pos­si­bil­ity of dam­age to au­to­matic trans­mis­sions. Th­ese days there is a flat-deck low-load­ing re­cov­ery truck in the workshop on standby, al­though the tra­di­tional break­down truck still has a pro­duc­tive life when need­ing to re­trieve er­rant mo­torists who have run off the road and dis­ap­peared into deep ditches or over a bank.

For a small town and what out­wardly ap­pears to be a very smallscale op­er­a­tion, hav­ing four peo­ple em­ployed in the workshop (in­clud­ing an ap­pren­tice, to demon­strate the faith they have in the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of their busi­ness) as well as an of­fice and fore­court at­ten­dant, it is clear that Ron and Don are in­tend­ing to pro­vide an es­sen­tial ser­vice to their lo­cal com­mu­nity for many years to come.

The new 24 hour truck­stop is prov­ing a pop­u­lar ad­di­tion to the Hun­ter­ville Ser­vice Cen­tre.

Hun­ter­ville, small town New Zealand.

Just recog­ni­tion from BP. From a small Euro­pean hatch­back need­ing ser­vice to a farm ute which has in­gested wa­ter very much to its detri­ment, there is plenty of va­ri­ety in the workshop me­chanic’s day.

No need for the lo­cals to go to the big city for the small but es­sen­tial items of prop­erty main­te­nance; it is all here.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.