On a warm summer’s day in 1955, a then four-year-old Clive Pursehouse travelled with his father Fred, in their old Morris Commercial truck to the General Motors dealership in Quirindi. That was the day they collected their brand new 1954 model, single cab, Chevrolet truck, in forester green. These were exciting times for the four-year-old, and now 60 years on from the commencement of trading as a dedicated agricultural retail store, the Pursehouse brothers recount their memories of the Chevy truck that would become the work horse of the Pursehouse business throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Fred and Clive travelled back to Werris Creek in the shiny new truck, leaving the old Morris Commercial behind. She was a fast truck for her time, going 90 miles per hour, and Fred would regularly push her to her limit whilst travelling on the dusty dirt roads of the district. Once home, Fred immediately set to work building a new tray for the Chevy, from timbers he had in the shed. Fred tinkered away adding to the new truck until she was fit for purpose in his grocery and agricultural supply business.
The Chevy quickly became an important part of the show for the Pursehouse family business. She would come to spend her working week moving goods across Werris Creek, between trains and the shop, zig zagging across the town. Back then Werris Creek was a 24-hour town, being a major junction for trains meeting from the New England and the Northwest. Goods were shuffled around the platforms at Werris Creek Station, from local suppliers like the Pursehouse family, to train carriages travelling North into Queensland, Northwest to Moree, South to the Hunter and beyond. On any given day, you could see the green truck moving goods busily around the town in time for the next trains arrival. Small goods such as drench, poly pipe or paint were taken across to passenger trains three or four times per day and delivered to customers along the line at Duri, Nemingah or Kootingal. Large goods such as chemical and fertiliser were collected from freight trains by the ever-reliable truck and moved into storage by hand. No forklifts in those days!
The town was an ever-moving hive of activity at which the grocery and rural supply store ran by the Pursehouse family, lay at the center. The Greengrocers was one of the first self-service supermarket stores outside of Sydney and Newcastle. What we now expect from a supermarket, picking up our basket at the front of the store, collecting what we want from the shelves and making our way to the cashier at the end of our trip, was foreign to rural towns in the 1950’s. Fred asked his brother Ray, a builder in Sydney, for help. Together with his men, Ray built the shelving and shop fittings in Sydney and Fred took the green Chevy truck on the long trip to the city to collect the internal infrastructure for the modern self-service store.
Trips to Sydney would become a regular feature of working life for Fred and the boys. What would now be just a four and a half hour journey between Werris Creek and Sydney, thanks to the Hunter Express Way and the Pacific Highway, took up to nine hours in the green Chevrolet truck, down the Putty road which was dusty, powdery white dirt for 230km, between Singleton and the Colo River. During these trips the green Chevy would be fully laden with goods on the tray and family in the cab with Fred driving, his wife Marj sat in the passenger seat, oldest boy Malcolm in the middle and then youngest boy Clive left to take a seat on the floor of the truck. Brother Andrew was spared these trips as he was yet to come into the picture.
The Chevrolet covered thousands of kilometers in her time between the working and family lives of the Pursehouse’s. She carried horses to pony club, and trailers laden with a demonstration hammermill, built by Fred’s brother Colin in Sydney, to farms in the New England and North-West. Malcolm and Clive would join their father on these sales trips with the demonstration hammermill pulled along behind the green Chevy, to farms in Guyra and Tenterfield. Here the trailer would be unhitched, and the hammermill would be attached to a tractor on farm to demonstrate her strength. Fred would ask the farmer to grab some old bones and wood, which he would throw into the machine, and she would grind it up with ease, turning the bones to dust and the wood into sawdust, much to the delight of potential buyers. This was just one of the many aspects of Fred’s flourishing agricultural business.
Back in Werris Creek, the green Chevy became an active part of family life. Clive and Fred would travel out to a farm belonging to the family of Tony Windsor, whose father had been killed in an accident on the railway line. Here Fred would milk cows each morning for the Windsor and Pursehouse families and sometimes he would throw the Windsor boys, along with his own sons, and their bikes, onto the tray of the truck and take them on the three-mile journey to school.
The Windsor boys and the Pursehouse boys would return the favour, not always willingly, by helping Fred re-package potatoes from the three bushel bags received into the grocery store, down to 7lb paper bags for resale. After school, the sacks of potatoes would be emptied out onto the ground behind the grocery store and the young Pursehouse and Windsor boys would gather around, packaging and weighing the smaller 7lb potato bags to replenish the shelves inside. In summer the boys would be rewarded with any crushed icy poles that may have been damaged in the store, and in winter they would take some packing wire, spear a rogue potato and suspend it over the incinerator located at the back of the store, which was in operation around the clock, burning rubbish from around the place. Then, once their after school work was complete, a hot potato would be ready for consumption.
Each Pursehouse brother was keen to be part of the business at as young an age as possible. At 6 years old, Clive hopped into the green Chevy truck and copied his older brother Malcolm in how he would manoeuvre the truck around the sheds in Werris Creek. But 6-year-old arms and legs don’t quite operate a large truck without power steering to full effect, and Clive would often get the wobbles and be told by his older brother to hold onto the steering wheel tighter to prevent the wobbles from taking hold, to which Clive would swing from the steering wheel and grip with all his might. One day, Clive’s foot slipped from the clutch of the green Chevy truck, and she ploughed straight through the end of the shed at the Pursehouse home in Werris Creek. In typical brotherly fashion then ten-year-old Malcolm responded with a painted warning on the end of the shed to his younger brother, who was affectionately known as egghead. However, Malcolm, who had not really been paying too much attention at school up until this point, misspelled his words of warning which read,
‘Steady egg herd. Proceed at 105 miles per hour’.
In 2022, the 60th anniversary of the Pursehouse Rural business, the Pursehouse family imported a 1951 Chevrolet 3100 ‘pickup’ from Texas, USA. This being the correct make and model to match the original green Chevrolet bought by Fred all those years ago, as it had the two-piece windscreen, the straight six Chevrolet engine and four speed manual gearbox. These Australian sold vehicles were originally assembled in Australia from Chevrolet supplied parts, however there was often a mix and match of bumpers, grills, and such. The split windscreen was not common in Australia and was soon replaced by a single pane windscreen. The split windscreen is an identifying feature of the original truck used by Fred Pursehouse in his business at Werris Creek.
The vehicle underwent a full strip and rebuild, with a conversion from left hand to right hand drive. The original tub was replaced with a custom tray, modelled off the only remaining photos of the original truck showing Fred’s hand-built addition. The paint was colour matched to the original Chevrolet ‘forester green’, and the signage was brush painted by hand to replicate the original work.
Innumerable parts were replaced in the restoration, including window rubbers, seals, the carburetor, fuel tank, bumpers, and grill. The original 6 volt system was upgraded to a 12 volt system along with the wiring loom being replaced.
It is with great thanks to importer Lee Volk, from trackstar imports, who sourced and imported the vehicle, and to Warren Iacono, from MW USA imports Toowoomba, whose team completed the conversion and rebuild. Without their hard work on this project, we would not have the pleasure of sharing this exceptional part of Pursehouse Rural history.