Ellesmere Vintage Club president Stu Donald on his whare (hut on wheels) he is building, his classic John Brown tractors and the joinery work he has done on 19th century houses
What does the vintage club get up to?
It’s just a heap of enthusiasts that got together again when the club was reformed in 2010. We have got it up to about 100 members.
What’s your own area of interest when it comes to vintage stuff?
I’ve just always been interested in tractors and machinery, older types of things. For a number of years, I have been going to fairs and rallies and things like that and, when this club got going in 2010, I joined up. Lately, I’ve been building myself a whare to tow behind the tractor. We go to a few rallies like Wakanui and Waipara and Rangiora and all around the countryside.
What’s a whare?
They’re basically huts (on wheels). They used to tow them behind traction engines. It is self contained and you can cook in them and sleep in them and all that kind of thing.
How long have you been building that?
It has basically been on the go for about a year now. I started off with a truck chassis.
Has that been quite a hard job?
No, it’s not too bad because I’m actually a joiner by trade, so I have done it all myself and just fit it in between jobs.
How much longer do you think it will take you to finish it?
I probably only need another whole week on it and then I would have it all done, but it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.
Other than that, what is in your own vintage collection?
I have basically just got David Brown tractors. I have got a 950 red David Brown, a white 990 David Brown and a 1594 David Brown.
Which is the most precious one to you?
The 950 is the main one I use for towing the whare. I get along at about 25 or 30km/h on the road, holding up traffic I guess.
Do people get annoyed with you?
Oh no, not really, we try and keep on the back roads.
So you’ve got 100 members in the vintage club. What do you think is the most impressive item that someone owns, maybe something that you might wish was in your own collection?
There are probably a lot of things. Everybody has got different things from fire engines through to traction engines and classic cars. No one thing, really.
How old are you and how did your own interest in tractors and vintage things start?
I’m 56 and I’ve lived on a farmlet most of my life and always had tractors and that type of thing.
Is that in the Ellesmere area?
Yes, in the Leeston area. I grew up in Leeston and then we moved to where we are presently now, we have been here for about 51 years, almost my whole life.
How does it feel to live on the family farm for that long?
Good. I used to run cattle and run my joinery business from the farm as well, but I’ve given up the cattle now and just basically sell the grass to dairy farmers and just do my joinery as I get older, because the vintage club takes up quite a bit of my time.
Have you been president since the club restarted in 2010?
No, I was elected vice-president in 2012 and I served one term before I took over as president and have been in the role ever since.
Before the club restarted in 2010, when was it active?
It was active back in the late 1990s for about four or five years and then interest dropped off so it kind of shut down and then, after 2009, when we had this country fair at Leeston to raise money for St John ambulance, it got resurrected again and people have been quite enthusiastic ever since.
Does it hold a lot of events?
We help out with promotions for other clubs and stuff like that. Also, we do fundraisers, we have done some for St John ambulance, the fire brigade and of course this fair is a fundraiser for Abbeyfield Ellesmere (a housing complex for elderly people which is being built).
What made them stand out as a good cause to raise funds for?
It’s the first Abbeyfield to be built in the Selwyn district and it has been eight and a half years in the planning. The chairman of their committee, Bruce Cochrane, is actually a member of our club. We just decided to help them out because we know they have got enough money to build the building but they haven’t got enough for the chattels and things like that, so we have raised some money through a raffle and now we are going to run this fair for them. So it’s just basically to help the community out.
Is being a joiner quite helpful in general when it comes to doing up heritage items?
Yes, so you can make your own windows and doors and cabinets and things like that. I have made other windows for other people’s whares and
helped them renew their ones. Some of them were older whares and we have recladded them and done the whole lot from scratch again.
Within the vintage club are there a lot of people who have got different skills which are quite helpful when it comes to repairing each other’s machinery and things that might need a bit of tender love and care?
Yeah, we have got a range of panel beaters, spray painters, mechanics, joiners, builders, engineers and all that sort of thing which is quite good because you call on someone for a bit of a hand or advice.
With your club and the Ellesmere Heritage Park in the area as well it seems like there is quite a bit of local interest in heritage. Why do you think that is?
I just think it’s an old district, we just celebrated 150 years back in 2014. There is a lot of heritage around the area and people haven’t really moved far from the Ellesmere area once they’ve arrived from basically the first four ships. They’ve just stayed here.
Apart from joinery have you ever had any other types of jobs?
No, I left school and went and did an apprenticeship in joinery and have been self-employed for the last 31 years.
It must be nice to be your own boss.
It is sometimes, it’s hard to have an argument with yourself.
Is most of your work around the Ellesmere area?
Yes, I do kitchens and wooden windows and doors and that type of thing.
What’s the most interesting sort of assignment you’ve had as a joiner?
I have restored some older houses that have been around the 1870s mark, recladded them on the outside and done veranda posts and just put them back to a replica of the way they were again. I think that’s the most interesting thing, just restoring heritage around the area.
What’s the biggest challenge with those sort of jobs? I suppose you’ve got to be quite careful to get it right.
Understanding the system of how they were built years ago and lots of layers of plaster which you’ve got to be very careful of because if you do the wrong thing it’s all going to end up on the floor.
Do you have a wife?
Is she into heritage as well?
Judy is actually secretary of our club at the moment.
Do you think this fair in March is going to be quite a big deal?
Yes, we’ve got people coming from Invercargill and Motueka and the West Coast all converging on us.
What are some of the highlights going to be for visitors?
There will be traction engines around pulling sledges and trailers around, draft horses pulling drays around with seeds on them and the wooden and tin mills, we will have kiddies’ rides there and plenty of stalls.
• The Ellesmere Vintage Fair will be held at the Ellesmere A&P Showgrounds, Leeston, on March 25 and 26, 10am-4pm both days. Adults $10, under-15s free. Anybody wanting to take their exhibit along can phone Jonty Ward on 027 593 3322.