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Greg McDonald’s retirement marks the end of an era.

Greg McDonald’s retirement marks the end of an era.

48 years in the workshop

After starting as a fresh 16-year-old straight from year 11 at Cleve Area School, Greg McDonald has experienced the highs and lows of a car and farm machinery dealership.

He began his work life with Herbert Motors where Cleve Auto is now located. He was working on the then current model HQ Holden.  Back then tractors were a lot smaller, so it was possible to fit multiple tractors and cars in the workshop.

In 2002 Pringles Crouch purchased the business which by then was located on Rudall Road. A new family brought in some new ideas but generally things continued without much change. Greg had a steady flow of loyal clients who trusted him to service their cars. And of course, he was still involved with his not-so-favourite school bus maintenance.

He has always been organised and conscientious taking pride in his worksite and the jobs at hand.

After 48 years on the job a public farewell was held on April 1. Several customers and previous work colleagues shared their memories and good wishes.

Pringles Crouch director Rick Du Bois wished Greg all the best for his retirement and presented Greg with an engraved watch to help keep track of his time while fishing, sailing & enjoying his retirement activities.

Just before he left, we sat down with Greg to find out a bit about his time at work.

When did you start work?

I started with Herbert Motors in January 1974. I had finished fourth year (year 11) at Cleve Area School and I was 16 years old. I lived on the family farm, but I got pretty bad asthma from grain dust so going home on the farm wasn’t a good option for me.

What was your workplace like?

Herbert Motors business was on 33 Main Street. I believe they didn’t own the building but leased it from Stubings. Herberts had several franchises including Holden, John Deere, Chamberlain and Nissan. The building looked much as it does now. There was a showroom at front with double doors between the showroom and workshop to bring vehicles in and out of the showroom. The main offices were on the left with owner Bill Herberts office in the front corner. You had to go through a door in the centre to the workshop out the back. Tractors were much smaller then so we could fit a couple of tractors and a couple of cars in. There were still pits in the floor instead of hoists, so you’d drive the vehicle over the pit to work on them. Fumes would sometimes build up in the pits so they were a bit of a hazard.

Who were you working with?

When I started there was the boss, Bill Herbert, his son Don Herbert in sales and another son Dick (Richard) in the workshop. Ken LeRaye was the service manager.

To begin with I was taught by Kenny Hartwig. Other mechanics were Sam Elson & Paul King, Joe Brazauskas was in the panel shop, Des Forgie was TA, Arthur Whitehead was in parts and Eda Tilmouth was admin.

How was the pay?

My first pay was about $27 a week. There were a few pay rises through the year so by the end of the year I was getting around $45 a week. In those days you could buy three schooners of beer and a packet of chips for a buck!

We got our pay in cash in a little yellow envelope with a pink payslip. I didn’t have to go out front to pick it up, it would be delivered to me personally, often by my boss Bill if he was around. We would take our four weeks holidays in a block, not split up through the year.

What was your training like?

I was lucky because it hadn’t been too many years before I started that you had to train for four years. I only had to do three. In the early days one of my work mates parents owned the grocery store next door. It was a handy location for morning smoko snacks.

We had to go to Croydon Park Technical College for trade school which was in two-week blocks. There were four blocks in each of the first and second years, and two blocks in the third year. Because I didn’t have a car of my own, I went to Adelaide by bus. I didn’t come home for the middle weekend but would often go and stay with one of the other apprentices who lived closer to Adelaide. I am still friends with a couple of them.

Most techs did a year on cars and then moved over to tractors. I stayed with cars because of the grain dust in the machinery, but I’m not sure if there were two separate qualifications for cars & ag like there are now.

When we were in Adelaide we stayed at the Pentagon Hostel. It was also where new migrant arrivals to Australia would stay until they found a home. I saw the world just by staying there, Vietnamese, Poms, and all sorts. It was managed by an ex-army man we called ‘The Major’. He’d be up all hours keeping an eye on things. There were four of five of us sharing a bunk room, and our meals were supplied in a mess area. Sometimes we’d go to the nearby pub for a drink and a feed just for a change. I was too young to drink in pubs, but the older guys would sometimes bring a few beers back to the hostel.

Once I was qualified I did General Motors training, just over the Birkenhead Bridge in Port Adelaide and later GMH built a training centre near the Elizabeth plant on John Rice Avenue. There would be training each time a new model was released.

In later years training was held at the Port Augusta TAFE over two or three days. We’d have a pretty good time up there.

We also got to tour the Woodville assembly plant where they put transmissions together. Some of the assembly line workers didn’t seem too bright.

There are always stories about the after-hours activities at trade school. What stories do you have?

I’m not telling tales about trade school. It’s like a footy trip. What happens on the trip, stays on the trip!

We did go out sometimes for entertainment and live shows. One of them was to see the band Deep Purple

What about the cars?

I started learning on HQ Holden, they were the current model at the time. I mostly worked on HD, HR, HK, HT and HG Holdens, which were the most recent superseded models but there were some earlier ones too.

Most of the cars had bench seats. Bucket seats, and air conditioning were a novelty. I can remember us being impressed when the new models with bucket seats first came out. And air-con was mostly for the ‘wealthy’ owners.

Instead of having new cars freighted to Cleve they would get picked up from Adelaide. A carload of four or five of us would go to Adelaide and stay in a pub, owed by an ex Eyre Peninsula local and then drive the cars back. So, a new car would have 350 miles or so on the clock when it was delivered, but it was also run-in.

The best vehicles I’ve worked on would be the Holden HJ, HX and HZ because they were big cars with plenty of room. The worst I’ve worked on was an Austin.

In the early days we knew nearly every house in Cleve and who lived there because we would pick up and drop off cars.

Even though Holden was huge & well-recognised and they would bring a van to the Field Days full of merchandise and Holden Dealer Team vehicles us techs never got to see much of that. If there was anything it would be the sales and bosses who got to enjoy the perks.

Man working on Holden car

What happened after hours?

Herbert’s parties were fun-filled. They were always very entertaining with partners and families along. I don’t remember any shenanigans but we looked forward to the parties.

It also wasn’t unusual to find Bill and Ken and others in the offices late at night enjoying a drink.

In the Pringles days we have often had a few beers after work, especially on pay nights.

When did you move to the Rudall Road building?

The move to Rudall Road was in the late seventies.

The office partitions and even the glass door on the bosses office came from the old Cleve Bank of Adelaide building.

We were pretty impressed with all the new equipment, including the hoists. Because it was a brand new setup we only had to move our tools and other bits & pieces. At that time Ricky Nield and Frank Leonard were apprentices.

The workshop was big enough for us to fit two or three of each petrol and diesel vehicles, that is cars and tractors, on either side.

After we moved, Bob Herbert (another son of Bills) worked in parts, and Jenny Herbert worked in admin.

In the beginning there was a PA system run from the front office. Jen would politely call you up “Greg McDonald, can you please report to the office”

Trouble was on a calm day, or when the wind was in the right direction most of Cleve could hear the announcements. Later in the day when I went shopping I’d get asked what I’d been in trouble for. We were all pretty glad when Pringles took over and they stopped using them. The speakers are still in place in the rafters.

Old Bill was pretty particular. He used to check all the job cards, and they had to be right.

How did the Pringles takeover go?

That happened in 2002. It was a very different feel and not as regimented as Herberts. My new bosses were younger than me, so they had new and modern ideas.

At that time the staff were Brian Heath (Wiz), Phil East, Jen Herbert, Dick Herbert, Justin Peters, Sean Irrgang and myself along with the new owners Rick Du Bois, Harry Redding, Craig Walker and their wives Mandy, Bernadette and Donnamarie.

We kept on with cars and machinery. Pringles Crouch stopped selling Nissan cars in 2010, and then Holden vehicles in 2011 although they continued as a Holden service outlet until 2019.

You must have worked with lots of different people?

I have!

After we moved to Rudall Road I started keeping a list of everyone. I think I got up to 78 names. I wish I had done it earlier because I am sure there are some I have forgotten.

You must have a couple of stories you can tell?

I did catch on fire once. I was doing a bench test on a fuel pump, dropped the pump and it splashed all over me. I had to peel of my overalls pretty quick! Lucky they were cotton but I had to jump all over them to put the fire out.

We used to put a bit of fuel in the carby to get a car started. If we put in a bit much fuel it wasn’t uncommon to get a few flames or a backfire

We always had old towels around which we could use as fire blankets if we needed to.

One day I was working on an Austin with Kenny Hartwig and we didn’t put the sump plug in. We’d put in 6 pints of oil before we realised. We checked the pit and it was ‘Quick! Clean up the mess before the boss finds out!”

Our rags used to come in a continuous tubular roll made of cheesecloth. They tied me up in the roll of rag with a knot at the top and a knot at the bottom. Then stood back and laughed as I kangaroo hopped my way the bench to find a razor blade so I could cut myself out.

There were a few tricks that always got played on the new apprentices. We had them played on us, and then we’d play them on the new boys. One of them was to hook a suppressor up to a spark plug to charge it, and then hand it to someone to give them a shock. We had to stop it as the new model cars would charge so high we were warned there was a risk of giving someone a heart attack.

We had a crane and once I went out at lunchtime and ‘Wiz’ (Brian Heath) had fully extended the crane and my bike was at the top of the crane.

In the early days it wasn’t uncommon for a customer to pull out a deckchair and watch you while you worked on their car. They were often older guys who had been through the war & depression years. If you stopped to talk too long they’d remind you that they weren’t paying for them to talk to you.

We had a tow truck which was used to collect cars that had been in accidents. Pretty much all of the insurance claims would say that the accident was the result of dodging a kangaroo. The claims all got paid, but they must have thought there was a plague of kangaroos. We had a tow-truck to go and collect broken down cars but also cars that had come to grief. They might have just run off the road in wet muddy conditions but there was a more relaxed attitude to drink driving so there were more accidents in general, and sadly quite a few deaths.

Cars from the accidents would be stored on site, covered with a tarp. There were times when the bosses had to get rid of the rubberneckers who had come for a look. Cars are much better and safer now, with better technology.

The dumbest thing I ever did was come to work in my thongs. I’d had a pretty good night at the pub the night before, was under the weather and running late. I got to work, jumped out the car and realised I had my thongs on. I had to drive back home (about 10km) and get my steel caps before I could start work

Stories from your colleagues.

We also asked a few of Greg’s current and previous work colleagues for some stories.

Those we spoke to told us that he was always generous with his time, and that he had a big impact on their learning as young apprentices.

They remembered Greg as tidy and organised. One of their favourite tricks when they were apprentices was to mess up Greg’s toolbox. As one of them said ‘We thought it was a great joke. He wouldn’t be happy! It would get him flustered’. He still likes to keep things tidy and doesn’t like people to mess with his tools.

 

Congratulations.

A public farewell was held at the Cleve branch on Friday, April 1. Several of his Greg’s previous work colleagues and customers who were present shared stories and messages of congratulation to Greg for his retirement.

Director Rick Du Bois spoke on behalf of Pringles Crouch, presenting Greg with an engraved watch, and wished him all the best in his retirement from the directors, management and staff of Pringles Crouch.

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