Pre­serv­ing the past

A hobby gets away on this Eltham col­lec­tor

The Shed - - Contents - By Ray Cleaver Pho­tographs by Rob Tucker

What do you do when your pas­sion for col­lect­ing means you are ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ob­jects that can be mea­sured by the tonne?

One an­swer is to buy a big build­ing and open it up to the pub­lic — Mike’s Mu­seum in Eltham dis­plays the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sults of Mike Coil’s col­lec­tion ma­nia.

Two up­per sto­ries and a huge base­ment of an his­toric build­ing in the small Taranaki town are bulging with the strangest things. A big col­lec­tion of an­tique chain­saws, World War II ob­jects, in­clud­ing an anti-air­craft search­light and US sub­ma­rine gen­er­a­tor en­gine, steam boil­ers of all sizes; you name it, Mike’s col­lected it.

There’s also a great col­lec­tion of his­toric tools and ob­jects from New Zealand’s past.

Start­ing young

Mike be­gan col­lect­ing when he was a young fella. From a fam­ily of 12, he was raised on Taranaki farms and re­calls, when aged eight, his fa­ther com­ing home from a stint at sea with a hand­ful of coins.

“Yep, the old man got me started on this path. He gave all us 12 kids each some for­eign coins and said when he came back the one who’d col­lected the most will get more.

“I didn’t stop. I started col­lect­ing coins, then stamps, then left high school aged 14 to work on a farm. I was paid 12 pounds a week and given two sows.”

When Mike was 17 he ex­panded into bot­tle col­lect­ing and then got into WWII mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing a Dodge 4 x 4 and a Chevy Pud­dle Jumper.

He pur­chased a milk bar in New Ply­mouth, which his fa­ther ran, then he crossed the ditch to Aus­tralia where he ran a num­ber of abat­toirs, and owned and op­er­ated an in­ter­state truck and trailer.

“It was built in 1910 in the Doric style and it’s be­lieved to be the first build­ing out­side of Europe to be con­structed with a sus­pended floor — it’s on con­crete stilts”

When he re­turned to Taranaki he was loaded up with a big WWII an­ti­air­craft car­bon arc search­light, 12 crates of an­tique bot­tles, and a 1700s flint­lock pis­tol.

That’s when the col­lect­ing and restor­ing of old things re­ally took off.

Mike’s Mu­seum

Mike needed space. He pur­chased a big build­ing in Eltham, and 14 years ago be­gan fill­ing it, set­ting up what’s be­come Mike’s Mu­seum.

The two-sto­ried build­ing, with a mas­sive base­ment, had a his­tory. It was built in 1910 in the Doric style and it’s be­lieved to be the first build­ing out­side of Europe to be con­structed with a sus­pended floor. It’s on stilts — huge legs made of solid con­crete.

Ev­ery bit of free space in the build­ing is now full of things ei­ther on show or wait­ing to be re­stored. Mike spent some time in the on- and off-shore Taranaki oil and gas in­dus­try, op­er­at­ing boil­ers. As a re­sult, his col­lec­tion has many steam boil­ers, from tiny work­ing mod­els to big boil­ers de­signed to run steam equip­ment in work­shops.

His work­bench in one of the big rooms is in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing un­der the mass of ‘col­lectibles’. He only just has room to get to his grinder to clean things up.

“I’ve had many sheds over the years. The trou­ble is I fill them up fairly quickly.”

In 1993 he joined the Taranaki Vin­tage Ma­chin­ery Club. “That’s when things got re­ally se­ri­ous,” he said.

Buy­ing the best stuff

Mike goes to auc­tions, field days, swap meets and does scrap metal deals.

He picked up the WWII sub­ma­rine en­gine at a farm auc­tion.

“I love auc­tions but I have to back off a bit now. I’m run­ning out of room! I call it pre­serv­ing his­tory, but you could say I’m a mad col­lec­tor,” he says with a grin.

Now aged 67 he’s as pas­sion­ate about his col­lect­ing as he ever was.

“I’ll never get round to restor­ing all this stuff but I just can’t stand see­ing so much his­tory end up in rub­bish tips.”

While most of the build­ing has mas­sive piles of old ob­jects from yes­ter­year, all await­ing restora­tion, the dis­plays in the down­stairs mu­seum are re­stored and fas­ci­nat­ing.

He waved three petrol bowser pump han­dles at us. One was from a garage

bowser, one from a farm, and one for re­fu­elling air­craft that he got from the Ohakea Air Base.

Mike col­lects strange things. Out­side the mu­seum he has a funny-look­ing de­vice on wheels that was used way back to wheel stoves into houses so the de­liv­ery man wouldn’t need an as­sis­tant.

Also out­side is a 1919 Ford­son F farm trac­tor with metal cleats on the wheels.

On dis­play in­side is an old stain­less steel op­er­at­ing ta­ble, com­plete with in­stru­ment trol­ley and birthing stir­rups.

I also spot­ted a pith hel­met and po­lice ba­ton, which Mike ex­plains was is­sued to spe­cial con­sta­bles dur­ing the 1931 De­pres­sion ri­ots.

“I also spot­ted a pith hel­met and po­lice ba­ton which Mike ex­plains was is­sued to spe­cial con­sta­bles dur­ing the 1931 De­pres­sion ri­ots”

Chain­saws of old

Mike’s col­lec­tion of about 250 chain­saws from long ago is im­pres­sive, and he has 30 of these on show in the mu­seum.

“I knew a bull­dozer driver at the New Ply­mouth dump. I told him I’d give him a dozen beer for each old chain­saw he found. “He ended up get­ting me 70 saws, some of them quite rare. I don’t think he died of thirst.”

One big two-man saw is pow­ered by a Mer­cury twin-cylin­der out­board boat mo­tor. It was adapted by Dis­ton to run a big saw. The mo­tor could be de­tached from the saw and used back on the boat.

An un­usual saw is the Blue Streak, made in Aus­tralia in the ’50s with the chain oil tank in the pipe han­dle. Be­cause the car­bu­ret­tor would only work in the up­right po­si­tion, when the saw was on its side the carb and tank would swivel to

re­main hor­i­zon­tal; very in­no­va­tive. This saw mo­tor also de­tached to run a post hole auger or a blast­ing auger. Mike said some of these saws had clutches, which made them ideal for pow­er­ing early go-karts when their saw­ing days were over.

He showed us a 1940s bar with roller tips and, in­stead of the chain run­ning in­side a slot, the chain had the slot and it ran over the bar.

Some of these saws are huge. The big two-man saws were heavy to lift, let alone use for saw­ing. Mike has some bars and chains well over two me­tres long, from the days when men were men.

But wait, there’s more

Old mo­tor­bikes, push­bikes, sta­tion­ary en­gines, a gi­ant wasp nest, a col­lec­tion of fos­sils, bot­tles, tools, old swords, and china are scat­tered around. Not to men­tion sev­eral early po­lice hel­mets.

There’s even a piece of orig­i­nal road­ing macadam from an Eltham street, which was the first street in the coun­try to be sealed by this new-fan­gled method.

His old car parts in­clude parts from an early horse­less car­riage, and a Rex en­gine from a pre-1905 wa­ter-cooled motorbike. There’s an early loom, an old fore­run­ner of the Flymo mower, and one of the odder ob­jects — an old elec­tric stove he picked up in out­back New South Wales with a white tailed deer head and antlers at­tached to the side.

There’s a col­lec­tion of wheel­bar­row wheels, an an­cient pig cas­tra­tor, old ceram­ics, and a row of very old sta­tion­ary mo­tors.

He took us un­derneath the big build­ing into a mas­sive base­ment that was once a .22 shoot­ing range, and then a box­ing club and gym for Eltham youth.

Climb­ing un­der the build­ing, an­other world opened up. A jet unit from an early Hamil­ton jet boat sits by old street lights that once lit up the streets of Mel­bourne, along with two 24-volt air­craft gen­er­a­tors.

Mike said that work­ing on a farm, he once used sim­i­lar old gen­er­a­tors as welders.

He has a big, heavy-duty air com­pres­sor off an oil rig, which com­presses up to 5000psi, sit­ting near a 1900 Rus­ton sta­tion­ary mo­tor await­ing restora­tion.

A big power gen­er­a­tor, which was once the standby gen­er­a­tor for the New Ply­mouth power sta­tion, is sur­rounded by trac­tors, farm tools, vin­tage car parts, a small church or­gan, a big man­gle, horse-drawn equip­ment, and old street lights. There must be a kitchen sink there some­where.

“I’m a bit lucky. My part­ner, Mary, is very sup­port­ive. She’s a bit of a col­lec­tor her­self, mainly col­lect­ing pe­riod fur­ni­ture. She’s added to the mu­seum col­lec­tion dur­ing the 24 years we’ve been to­gether.”

At present, Mike is into restor­ing old trac­tors. He’s cur­rently work­ing on a rare 1950 Re­nault and a 1948 Ford­son E27N half track.

Mike’s Mu­seum is open dur­ing lo­cal events, dur­ing the Taranaki Gar­den Fes­ti­vals, and by ar­range­ment.

To con­tact Mike, ring 027 724 3731.

“I’m a bit lucky. My part­ner, Mary, is very sup­port­ive, she’s a bit of a col­lec­tor her­self”

A white­tail deer head mounted on the side of an old stove A well-known ad­ver­tis­ing dis­play from the 60s

Some of the weird and won­der­ful ob­jects in the base­ment await­ing restora­tion

Fuel bowser han­dles, the big one, from Ohakea air base, is for re­fu­elling air­craft

Even the build­ing it­self is col­lectable

All you need to know is in this hefty Web­sters dic­tio­nary

Some rare and unique pieces in this mu­seum

Not a lot of room left in stor­age

A WW II car­bon arc search­light

A mas­sive span­ner made for bend­ing beams that was found hooked un­der a ru­ral Taranaki bridge. These were used as bridge span­ners, for tight­en­ing the mas­sive nuts and bolts hold­ing these struc­tures to­gether

One of Mike’s stranger finds — an an­cient pig cas­trat­ing de­vice

A sec­tion of the dis­plays in the mu­seum

A piece of orig­i­nal macadam from Eltham streets — the first road in New Zealand to have tar-sealed roads back in the early 1900s

Part of Mike’s col­lec­tion of old chain­saws

Mike at his work­bench — not much room to work

Mike Coils and his mu­seum

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