Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Motor Car Changes Avondale: Part 2

Updated  28 November 2021.

Image: Turn-of-the-century Bowser pump from America.

 Fine enough to have the new motor car. But you need a place to have it serviced, to renew the oil, to fill it with fuel. These places are the service stations, which began appearing as specialised business in Avondale just after World War I.

 In 1919, one Harry Waygood returned to New Zealand after serving in the Royal Australian airforce as a flight engineer during World War I, and built himself a motor garage on Windsor Road, Avondale (Wingate Street). Waygood’s Garage was among the first to start selling petrol (in the early days, coming in three colours – blue, green and clear – depending on the petrol ratings). Imported petrol came to the retailer in 4 gallon cans until 1926.

Waygood family photo.

His garage was open on Saturday mornings, and Harry Waygood quickly earned the reputation of being very good with his hands, using the expertise he’d learned during the Great War, along with possessing a “ticket” to handle steam engines. His father had been a teacher at the New Lynn School.

His son Ron Waygood told me how his father had the Western agency in the 1930s for the Morris 8 type of motor car from Dominion motors in the City, and also taught people how to drive – so they could buy his cars.

Harry Waygood met his future wife, Elsie Binsted (whose father was a butcher in Avondale) while he was choirmaster, and she the organist at St Jude’s Church, Avondale. He continued to operate his garage until World War II, when petrol rationing meant keeping his garage open became uneconomical. He went on to work in Parnell until he retired. 

Up until 1926, petrol came in 4 gallon tins, packed in wooden crates, and served to the public either from garages like Waygood’s (which has a specially built safe in the building wall to protect the petrol from ignition) or from the local grocery store right along with the wheat and the chaff for the dwindling horse population. 

In 1926 saw the appearance of kerbside fuel pumps at service garages. C A Trigg applied for a permit “to erect a Kerbside Benzine Pump” at his garage on Great North Road (granted) [Avondale Borough Council minutes, 3/2/26]. The site of these pumps can still be seen today, in front of the Avondale Spiders, where vehicles would drive across what is now footpath to park up against the “bowsers”, and then drive off. 

Later that month, British Imperial Oil Co (in 1927 to become the Shell Company of New Zealand Ltd) asked for the Borough regulations in relation to kerbside pumps. The Chief Inspector of Explosives of the Department of Labour wrote saying his department were in favour of tank installation for petrol storage. 

Suddenly, all over the city the matter of petrol pump regulations became an issue, Newmarket Borough calling for “uniformity “. By August George Stuart had a pump at his garage also (Great North Road. H M Waygood applied for his kerbside pump in July (granted). 

1926 saw the appearance of the GOC Station at the five-roads intersection (present day roundabout). This was to become the Bowzer Benzine Station by 1928 (Bowzer was the tradename of the American-designed pump, and the slang of the time: “kerbside bowsers”), and by 1929 the Central Service Station, run by Albert Graven. [Wise’s Directories]

According to Mr Ernie Croft, son of a builder also named Ernie Croft who worked with Charles T Pooley, Albert Graven’s original name was Albert Grubnitz. Ernie was close: Graven's birth name was actually Albert Heinrich Knowles von Graevenitz, his father German-born, his mother English.  Ernest Croft senior helped build the service station, which was situated on land formerly owned by Charlie Pooley. Graven leased the property from Pooley through to the mid 1940s, then from a new owner until his own death in 1967.  Avondale lore has it that Graven won the Irish Sweepstake, which helped set him up in business. In those days, the Sweepstake was worth around £20,000 to £30,000. But, this does not appear to have been the case, Graven's business longevity more down to investment wheeling and dealing. Essentially, another form of gambling entirely.

By the mid 1960s, Graven had left the business, and it had become a Mobil service station from 1969. In 1989 it was replaced by the completion of the new bigger Mobil service station across the road (by St Ninians). The site is now a restaurant, after having been a collectibles shop.

Stewart’s garage was in Great North Road between Racecourse Parade and Rosebank Road. On 18 August 1927 – “Fire, which broke out at about 11.30 last evening, destroyed Stuart’s service garage, Great North road, Avondale, together with eight of the nine cars which were stored in it. Residents in the locality were awakened by the sound of an explosion, probably caused by the bursting of a tin of benzine. “The building was of galvanised iron with wooden frame-work and when the local volunteer brigade under Superintendent Watson arrived, it was enveloped in flames. Stuart’s garage is the largest in the district, and is situated a few yards past the Avondale Post Office. It is understood it was closed up for the night early in the evening, and the cause of the outbreak is a mystery.” [NZ Herald, 19/8/27]

After serving time with Northern Steamship Company, Scotsman Jim Crawford came to Avondale and opened Crawford’s Garage on Great North Road. This later became Morrison & Crawfords, then under Atlantic brand, and finally replaced by Mobil station by Battersby’s when Mobil Oil bought out Atlantic. Crawford went on to be a president of the ABA, master of the Titirangi Masonic Lodge, and founding member of the Avondale Cricket Club, among other honours. He died in September 1966. [Western Leader, 27/9/66] According to his widow, Mrs Vera Crawford, he also held the Queens Coronation Medal.

Jim Crawford came into the business at the instigation of Jack Fearon (of Fearon Bros.) who owned all the land which is now occupied from the corner of the Fearon Block to Battersby’s carpark. Mr Fearon introduced Mr Crawford to a Mr Morrison (hence the firm’s name), and the partnership was arranged. Unfortunately, Mr Morrison left the partnership after around 6 months, and as it was the Depression at the time, Jim Crawford felt he couldn’t afford the charges for changing the name solely to his own. By the time the Depression was over, the locals had become used to the name, and so he left it as it was.

After Mr Crawford died in 1966, Mrs Crawford managed the business for another ten years. The service station was altered to allow vehicles to drive onto a forecourt beside the pumps, and the site of the original station is now Battersby’s Funeral Services car park. “Owned and operated by the family of the late Jim Crawford (as Morrison and Crawford Ltd), from its beginnings as a multi-brand outlet in 1930 the station has, despite the effects of economic recessions, roading changes and rising fuel prices, maintained steady upward growth which reflects the vision and confidence of successive managements. “Leaving an indelible imprint upon its history is Mrs Vera Crawford who took over the running of the business in 1957 when her husband was forced to retire through ill health. Whilst we now see women taking an increasing part in the management of New Zealand service stations, she surely was a pioneer in this area. And why did she take on this challenge? ‘Because people told me that (as a woman) I couldn’t do it,’ says Mrs Crawford.” [Mobil Happenings, in-house magazine, 1982, from the Crawford Collection, courtesy of Mrs V. Crawford] 

In 1976 Morrison & Crawford became Curtis & Miller “In 1976, after forty-six years, the Crawford family retired from the operation of the service station, leaving it in what have certainly proved to be the capable hands of Pat Curtis and Paul Miller. Sharing managerial, mechanical and merchandising skills, this partnership has built on the rock-solid foundations that Mrs Crawford had established. The keystone of the business continues to be ‘service second to none’, and Curtis and Miller Ltd have certainly demonstrated that you don’t frighten customers away by ensuring that their motoring needs are well satisfied. “Looking at the service station today, a flourishing, modern business, well equipped for the eighties and beyond, it is possible to surmise that Mr Crawford would be well pleased by the successive achievements of firstly Mrs Vera Crawford and latterly, Pat Curtis and Paul Miller.” [Mobil Happenings, in-house magazine, 1982, from the Crawford Collection, courtesy of Mrs V. Crawford]

  (Above photos from the late Mrs Vera Crawford.)

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