Rally being held to support museum

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by Claire Allison

The South Canterbury Traction Engine and Transport Museum at Washdyke is expanding, so much more space is required.

This weekend Horsepower Rally 2018– featuring dozens of classic trucks, tractor engines, and cars of all makes and models – will be held at Phar Lap Raceway to raise funds for a new $500,000, 70m20m facility to house the ever-growing collection.

“The truck museum is full and becoming more and more popular,” museum member Gordon Handy said.

“Most transport companies in South Canterbury have trucks in the museum: Hilton Haulage, Barwoods’s first truck, Temuka Transport, H and R Bruce Transport.”

Mr Handy has been associated with farm machinery for much of his life, and has only been taking things a little more quietly since selling his John Deere dealerships last year.

Mr Handy was raised on a mixed farm at Fairview. After leaving school, he started an apprenticeship at Timaru Tractor Services which was then owned by Graham Jackson, a well known horse trainer.

“I worked on tractors, trucks, buses and other general machinery.

“There were seven or eight apprentices; I loved it from the start.”

Keen to work for himself, he did agricultural spraying for four to five years around Claremont, Taiko and Rosewill areas, then took the plunge and acquired a John Deere dealership with tractor salesman Dick Edwards.

“I started in Timaru in 1979; it was all reasonably low-key but my grandfather and father had had John Deere tractors.

“Farms and tractors were a lot smaller then, the tractors were two-wheel-drive and no cabs – that’d be the exception now.”

Things became tough during the farming downturn of the 1980s when annual tractor sales dropped to a trickle – two.

“I tightened the belt very, very tight. At that stage I was on my own but we came out of it brighter and cleverer.

“The best part of down times is that there will be good times after that, and farming picked up quickly; farmers are resilient.”

In 1986 Mr Handy bought the John Deere dealership in Oamaru, followed by Greymouth, Nelson, Blenheim and Kaikoura. Staff expanded to 100.

“The new development was to spread risk. When it got going we sold a lot of ride-on mowers and tractors and gained 30% of market share.”

With a dealership in Blenheim, Mr Handy said he had to learn a lot about grapes.

“Also with grapes, we dealt with corporates – a lot of purchase decisions were made round the business table, which I enjoyed.

“Most were multi-deals – it could be a 30-tractor deal. Once we sold 50 units.”

When John Deere started looking at consolidating dealerships, Mr Handy decided to put his dealerships up for sale. Mr Handy sold them to Ashburton-based Drummond & Etheridge last year for an undisclosed amount.

“I’m still on the advisory board for them.”

Mr Handy is also involved in the Chamber of Commerce, St John and the Mackenzie Development Group, and has played a major role in setting up a truck driving course at Ara Polytechnic, which will start soon.

He is also chairman of the Mackenzie A&P Show and, when not restoring his own vehicles, spends a lot of time working at the Washdyke transport museum.

The Horsepower Rally 2018 runs on Saturday and Sunday at Phar Lap Raceway.