Anecdotes from a man of many parts

Bryan Blanchard says harvest time was always hectic and machinery parts would be in great demand. Photo: Chris Tobin
Bryan Blanchard says harvest time was always hectic and machinery parts would be in great demand. Photo: Chris Tobin
In early 1957, fresh-faced Bryan Blanchard was only three months into his job in a Timaru farm machinery department when he was made parts manager.

And that was how it remained.

While companies he worked for came and went with the ebb and flow of the rural economy, and farm machinery underwent a revolution in development, this was the only position he knew until he retired, aged just short of 70, in 2010, as parts manager with Paul Wilkins Tractors in Timaru.

To say he saw a few changes over the years would be an understatement.

''When I started we had tractors and trucks from the 1940s through to the 1920s,'' he said, grinning.

After leaving Timaru Technical College, Mr Blanchard went to work for Parr & Co, which had the agency for the International Harvester Company, a manufacturing giant from the United States that has long since been split up and sold off to other companies.

IH, as it was known, handled the full range of farm machinery - tractors, trucks, mowers, trailers, headers, balers - and sourcing parts when they were urgently needed for farm work could be tough going.

''At harvest time I was on call 24 hours and sometimes I'd be out to 2am and 3am.

''There used to be a panic when there was breakdown and there had to be a crop harvested.

''I'd grab a truck and pick up parts in Christchurch, and get back around midnight so that the farmers could have them first thing in morning.

''Parts used to come by bus, or the Press or Star [newspaper] van, or there'd be a Midland bus which would stop at a milk bar in town at 9 o'clock at night.

''Harvester had a big range; machinery would come from the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany.

''Parr & Co had the agency and then we became International Harvester Company Timaru.

''The Harvester company had a depot in Blenheim Rd in Christchurch and one in Auckland. I'd order from both.''

He sourced parts from overseas as well, but there were occasions when this proved difficult, if not impossible.

''Goulds in Timaru had two trucks that had been used by the US Marines in World War 2. And John Scannell had an Australian army truck. It was a rare one he bought in Singapore. We couldn't get the parts.''

Over the years, Mr Blanchard dealt with farming families from three generations.

And he remembers the days when the label ''Made in New Zealand'' did not necessarily guarantee quality.

''In the early 1960s farmers had to buy New Zealand-made products and a lot of stuff brought in from overseas was knocked on the head.

''The New Zealand stuff had no end of trouble; we had to use them rather than the imported stuff.

''I remember boys doing an overhaul on a tractor engine; they broke four sleeves made in New Zealand putting them in; the imported sleeves just went straight in.

''Late in the 1960s, the government opened it up again to imports.''

In pre-computer years everything was done on paper and keeping track of what stock you had and needed was more demanding, as was working out discount sales and tax.

Mental agility and a good memory were required.

''When I first started with Paul [in 1990] we had no computer system, which I'd had before. It was like going back to the dark ages.

''With computers you knew what stock you had and when you were short you could go and order it.

''With Paul, he had a range of tractors coming from Italy, Russia, Japan, Massey Ferguson from France and Finland.

''He had a Subaru tractor contract and I'd order stuff through the office in Tokyo but Subaru stopped making tractors in the last two or three years. What killed it is the cheap Chinese, Korean and Indian tractors.''

The parts industry is greatly different from what the young Bryan Blanchard encountered back in the 1950s.

''It's more reliable now than what it was then and now farmers get contractors in.

''That's been a major change over the years and with the number of contractors around, it it is more cutthroat.''

He and wife Marian have three sons and seven grandchildren and in his retirement Mr Blanchard pursues his interests in the Pleasant Point Museum and Railway, and Hospital Radio in Timaru.

But dig deep and you'll find he's still a parts man.

''I've still got part numbers stored in my head.''

-By Chris Tobin

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