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Brian Hickmott reminisces about McNabb Motors

(August 23rd 2011)
Report by Coralie Smith, photos by Wendy McGregor

Brian Hickmott with the newspaper story of the McNabb Motors closing

Brian Hickmott took us down memory lane on Saturday when he talked to the Motueka and District Historical Association about the business of McNabb & Co Ltd of which he was the last proprietor.

In 1979, when Brian was approached by GUS grocery wholesalers, who wanted to purchase the site to build a new supermarket, the building needed a major overhaul as it was built in the 1920s and only the frontages were modern. Brian had many sleepless nights weighing up his options. Loyal staff and loyal customers came into the mix plus the association of the business name with Motueka for over 50 years.

The fact that there was an oil crisis, that Brian had only 10 years before retirement and the generous offer GUS made helped Brian decide the business would have to go. He found jobs for the staff and himself and demolition started on McNabb's building and the Newman's building next door.

Supervalue opened the following year. It has also been called Fresh Choice - today it is Countdown.

Max McNabb, the founder of the business, had earlier run a garage with Arthur Knapp on what is now part of the Warehouse site. Max then went into partnership with Arthur Stanton and they established McNabb and Stanton on what is today the Greenwood Medical Centre. A third and final shift saw Max join up with Artie Smith in High Street and they were joined by Clarrie Hickmott, known always as Mick. This was Brian's father. Tom Knapp joined the firm as a mechanic and stayed for 41 years. He became a partner when he returned from his war service as a mechanic in the RAF.

McNabb & Co ran the usual services - selling oil and petrol, repairing vehicles and trading in spare parts. They also ran a taxi service. The 1928 Cadillac was a familiar sight and was nicknamed the "tomato house" because it was like a glass enclosed square box. Murmurings arose amongst the older members as they remembered it doing a school run from Whakarewa Home to the Motueka School and also from the Motueka Beach to school. World War Two saw the car put up on blocks as it was a "gas guzzler" and petrol was rationed. Bevan McNabb has now restored this car and Brian is looking forward to a ride in it once again.

In its place the firm ran a small Ford 10, owned by Mrs Mick Hickmott. Much more economical on petrol, its engine was never cold and Brian remembers it getting regular overhauls which took all night, so it was never off the road.

As a schoolboy, Brian helped at the garage and manned the pumps and office. With no radio telephone in the taxi there was a lot of waste time spent coming back to the office to hear what the next job was. Often it meant turning round and going back to where you had just come from.

Long queues formed after the pictures and there was always a rush at 6pm when the pubs closed. Eventually the taxi part was sold and run as a separate business as was the bus service. Both businesses had their depots at McNabb Motors.

Brian had worked for the York family at Pioneer Engineers, the forerunner of Pioneer Motors Ltd in Greenwood Street, before making the move to McNabb Motors in 1966 three years after Max McNabb died. The death of his father in 1972 saw him take control.

One of the buses used for a school run up the Westbank was later turned into a wrecking truck - what we call today a tow truck. Brian can recall many hairy rescues of people from ditches and rivers and the Mariri estuary. With no emergency services the tow truck driver was ambulance officer as well. Many times Brian and his wife would be dressed up ready to go out on a Saturday night and the wrecking truck was needed.

Some items of memorabilia Brian brought along were of particular interest. One was an award from the Caltex petrol company for 25 years of service, another was a plaque from the Goodrich company "supplier of rubber products" for similar service. The third was two "swing spout" oil cans. To pour a pint or a quart of oil into a hard-to-get-at engine you could swing the spout down into a straight line to pour in the oil without tipping it everywhere. Intriguing and so practical.

Brian has kept scrapbooks about the business that was so familiar to Motueka for over 50 years. The scrapbooks also include family history material on both the Rowling (his wife Margaret's family) and Hickmott families as well as the Motueka Municipal Band. We ran out of time to hear about these topics so Brian is coming back next year.

Caltex award to McNabb Motors

Goodrich Company award to McNabb Motors

The swing spout oilcans

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