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Heritage Hub: Skinner Road
Tuapeka Mouth,


Tuapeka Ferry: Ferry Road
Tuapeka Mouth,


A visit to Archie McCorkindale’s Garage and Smithy, Tuapeka Mouth by W J Cowan


The Tuapeka Mouth store and Archie’s garage and smithy weren’t far apart locationwise, only about fifty yards. Archie was on the left of the main road facing south and the store was facing north at the end of a short dog’s leg. Draw a big circle around these two establishments because in the 1940s they were Tuapeka Mouth, the hub, the place where you stopped and lingered for a chat.  The passage of time was not of any great importance at the Mouth though there were two points on the clock worth noting: the arrival of Hec Soper from Lawrence with his Royal Mail rural delivery from Lawrence at precisely 2.30 p.m. and the Clutha Valley bus arriving from Balclutha at about the same time. This vehicle, an up-market Studebaker, entered the Mouth in style having crossed from the Rongahere side of the Clutha via the punt.


Mail bags may have been exchanged between the two services; I can’t recall. Anyway, the Mouth settled down into a peaceful lethargy from then on except for two brief noisy interludes: children being released from the nearby school at 3 p.m. and then an hour or so later high school pupils, and some children who had previously been attending the local school, making their way into the village after being dropped-off from the Clutha Valley District High School’s Puketi bus run.


But we are here to visit the garage and smithy. These are really two buildings with two separate functions separated by a spring-loaded door which led from one world into another. The main building, facing the road with its two manually-operated petrol pumps, was where the 20th century reigned. Here was the large hydraulic/pneumatic car lift which could lift a heavy vehicle up four yards for oil changes and servicing no trouble. You faced this end-on as you entered the building. Then near the far wall was a large lathe with all its ancillary gear.


Swing further round to face the road and, I think, you are standing in a repair bay where son Mit (Milton, Spencer) might be found working on some running repairs. (The last time I was in this workshop, about 1951, the firm was constructing a school bus body on a brand-new Bedford model M truck chassis. This was to the order of Roger McGowan who had the contract for the Tuapeka Mouth run for the Clutha Valley D H S. Tuapeka Mouth School had closed at the end of 1948). Possibly the most interesting, certainly the noisiest part of the workshop, was the 5 h.p Lister diesel engine driving a DC generator. I am unsure of its voltage, maybe 12 volts. Whatever, all this noise was concentrated in a low-ceilinged alcove on the building’s south side. 


The diesel engine’s thumpa-thumpa-thumpa reverberated throughout the day with the generator’s main purpose being to charge batteries ranging from the two volt radio batteries up to six and twelve volt car, tractor and truck batteries. In deference to those who lived close to the garage and wanted a decent night’s sleep the diesel generator was shut down at night.


OK, let’s open the dividing door and step into the 19th century building containing the smithy. The smithy side of the door had nailed to it a glossy black and white advertising flyer, about modern A3 size. This dated back to 1938 and featured the large range of trucks available from the International Harvester Co. of the USA. As mentioned elsewhere, A McCorkindale and Sons were the main distributors in South Otago for IHC products which included wheel and crawler tractors, trucks and farm implements like header harvesters and the like.


But back to the door way and I am looking around as if it is my first visit. This is not a large building, say half the size of the adjoining garage but absolutely of a different era. Dominating the centre is the large, brick-lined forge with an inverted, cone-shaped flue leading off any fumes to the atmosphere via the chimney. A large bellows feeds air into the base of the forge; this may have been worked manually or by an electric motor driven from the generator next door. Circling the forge is a line-up of all the different types of tools used to ‘work’ the metal in its red-hot state. A large anvil stands near to the forge on which the hot metal is beaten-out.


Most times the fire-bed of coke on top of the forge is quiescent but give the bellows a pump or two and the bed springs into life. It was really like a sleeping dragon being prodded. For ages hardly any noise or activity and then all of a sudden there are sparks and flames and fumes amongst the coke bed as the dragon bursts into life! It is fascinating watching Archie, slightly-built and now elderly, tend his forge. How he works the metal piece in amongst the flames to achieve an overall temperature, how he brings the metal, red hot to his anvil and with a suitable hammer, beats it into shape. It may be a horse shoe of particular size or it may be hinge brackets for a truck body being fitted to a new vehicle.


Nowhere in sight is a hi-viz jacket, nor a hard hat or safety goggles. Gloves are noticeably absent. Archie wears a leather apron, a felt hat and everyday glasses. Exhortations from Health & Safety are a thing of the future. I guess he just employs good old common sense to keep out of trouble with his work.


Near the forge is a stall where horses are tied up while having new shoes fitted for Archie was also a farrier. Watch the smoke curl up as a hot shoe is applied to a hoof and wonder why the beast feels no pain. Then there is the nailing procedure as half a dozen nails or so are driven to secure the shoe to the hoof which, after all for the horse, is like a giant toe -nail.


The smithy is open to the north for there is no door. Immediately outside and forming a huge rusting heap is a number of early car chassis, well past their use-by date. Here would be found Model Ts, Chevs but not too many English breeds because the Tuapeka roads soon sorted the ‘men out from the boys’ in terms of car reliability and roadworthiness. Fords, Chevs, Buicks, Dodges, Rugbys, Hudsons, Nashes and others were the vehicles of choice with here and there the odd Vauxhall and Austin.


In our tour of the premises we mustn’t forget the petrol pumps. I think there were two: definitely a Shell pump and maybe one for its cousin brand Big Tree. These were served by tankers from the Balclutha direction. A new Shell tanker arrived on the scene about 1947, so futuristic that it took our breath away. It was an International of the KB series with a 6 x 2 drive arrangement and was streamlined in a garish sort of a way with the letters S H E L L standing proud on either side of the bodywork.


There was nothing special about the actual pumps. They stood side by side about ten feet tall painted in the retailer’s colours. The top section contained two glass ‘flagons’ on end each containing half a gallon of petrol. The drill for using them was thus: after placing the delivery tube into your vehicle’s petrol tank you set the number of gallons you wanted delivered on a type of clockface just below the flagons. There was a metal ‘hand’ on the clock face and you twisted this around to the required number. After taking a deep breathe you grasped the end of the pumping handle which jutted out at an angle from the body of the pump and began swinging it backwards and forwards. While this was going-on petrol began swirling around and filling one flagon; when this was full its contents flowed down the hose into the petrol tank, there was a click as the clock-face hand began to work its way back to zero, and the other flagon began to fill. And so it went on until your order was completed.


Now a word of caution. I may be wrong about the capacity of each glass flagon, they may have held a full gallon instead of a half. And another note. The petrol available in those days, and remember it was still rationed until about 1950, had an octane rating above that of kerosene but not by much. Any vigorous acceleration attempted in our Mercury car resulted in an army of little men with their hammers beating on the cylinder heads causing a loud, metallic, knocking sound; ‘pre ignition’ to the experts.


This then was Archie’s garage and smithy with Archie ruling over the smithy and his two sons Mit and Bill in charge of the garage. But businesses ebb and flow; The McCorkindale garage has been closed for a number of decades with the smithy probably closing well before Archie’s death in the mid-fifties. Our family, apart from doing considerable business with the McCorkindales, had another association: Mum boarded with Archie and his wife Cis in the early 1930s when she was assistant teacher at the local school.