Caravanning and RVing in Australia
I'd always fancied running our own business and opportunity came when Caltex built a new service station in the Main Street of Mornington down near the beach. This was a great challenge as most businesses were moving further up the street where new supermarkets had opened.
With the help of Dave Lewis who came to Australia through an Apex scheme while I was a member of the local Apex club, we built a successful business that gave our friend Murphy unlimited chances to try his skill at making things go wrong.
Take the Hillman for instance. During a slack time one winter we spent a lot of time 'hotting-up' our Series 5 Hillman Minx. Raised compression, a hot camshaft, solid push rods, polished ports and other work coupled with a new bigger exhaust system and special inlet manifold were expected to produce a very high powered machine. The day dawned when it was ready for its first run. It started easily and sounded great until I opened the throttle to accelerate up the street. It coughed and spluttered and wouldn't have pulled the skin off a rice pudding as the saying goes!
The bitter disappointment turned to laughter when the trouble was traced. A large blowfly had crawled into the petrol inlet of the brand new two-stage Hitachi carburettor and blocked the fuel supply.
With the fly removed, the motor went like a dream, it had great power but also flexibility so Vi could still go shopping without turning heads to see what was causing the racket.
It was cold in that workshop and we had a 'Salamander' stove to produce some warmth. It was supposed to run on heating oil but we burnt used sump oil in it that worked well and was free. The only problem was that it used to soot up a lot. One bitter winter night Dave and I were working late on a car and had the 'sally' glowing red and the doors all closed to keep out the draughts. It was lovely and snug and we both were relaxed and drowsy. I realised at last, just in time, that neither of us had done anything constructive for ages and Murphy had nearly asphyxiated us by the heater using up all the oxygen in the building. He didn't leave it there. We opened the doors to get air and I opened the inspection cover to look into the heater. The sudden rush of air to the flame caused a minor explosion and Dave saw an apparition staring at him from a chalk-white face framed by singed hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and moustache where the flames had got me.
I hated having to scratch off the old registration label and stick on the new one each year and used to postpone the task for ages. Vi had been telling me I should change the label on one of our cars for some time and one day I got back from a meeting in Melbourne and not wanting to get involved with any of the mechanical jobs in progress, I scraped off the label and went to the drawer to get the new one. Not able to find it, I called to Vi to ask were it was. "It's on the car," she replied. At least it had been before I'd scraped it off! The police next door were quite amused when I had to produce a statutory declaration to get another label issued.
One of our best customers was a TV repair firm with two vehicles. If anything could go wrong it always went wrong with those two after they had been in for service. It said a lot for the tolerance and understanding of the two men who ran the business that they continued to let us look after their vehicles? even after one of our temporary employees left the wheel nuts loose after inspecting the brakes. I said temporary? his employment didn't start out that way but after the loose nuts episode, added to a number of other previous careless incidents, he had to go.
Our hot Hillman was a good tow car and with another couple, Peter and Beryl Massey, we took a fairly big caravan up to Mildura for our first Apex National Convention. All went well on the way up and we had a great Easter weekend.
On the way home Pete asked if he could drive for a while as he had never towed anything before and was anxious to have the experience. The van was quite heavy and the car a bit light? not the most stable combination and going down a slight grade the van started to fish-tail. Pete's knuckles were white on the steering wheel as I told him to flatten his foot on the accelerator and not fight the wheel.
Fortunately he did as he was told and the outfit straightened. As soon as he had control again he slowed, stopped, got out and said, "That's it. You drive the thing!" Pete didn't care for my little mate's shenanigans.
The Hillman was a great car and a joy to drive but eventually we sold it and leased a V8 VIP Valiant as being more suitable for towing in 'breakdowns' and Murphy struck on the way home on the first day we owned it. A speeding ticket was issued right outside our house? the officer thought I was trying to dodge him by going down a side street but all I was wanting to do was get home for tea.
Murphy likes water. The old saying that, "It could be far worse at sea," probably started because Murph or some of his seafaring ancestors, delighted in making poor sailormen's life a misery.
We had our first taste of his maritime mayhem on a memorable excursion on the Gippsland lakes when we hired a cabin cruiser from Bull's boatyard and set of for our week afloat on a Saturday afternoon.
"Just cruise around the bay a bit to get the feel of things and then tie up for the night in a creek," was the helpful advice given by the man. "If you can't get the anchor to hold just put the bow up on the beach and pull it off in the morning."
Well we cruised around a bit as directed and then looked for a creek to anchor for the night. We found a pretty big creek and dropped the anchor. However the water was a bit deep and the 'hook' didn't want to hold so we followed the direction to put the nose on the beach and all was well we thought. Murphy thought otherwise and next morning we were stuck fast with no amount of reversing able to get us afloat as the tide had gone out in the night and left us securely aground.
Being resourceful, Chris and I rowed the little dingy across to an island where we could see a house and used their phone to let the boatyard know where we were and ask to be rescued. The work boat was ages coming and a disgruntled fellow told us we were not in a creek at all but in the main channel to Lakes Entrance and nearly past the boundary for Bull's boats. He gave us a lesson in map reading and having informed us that they had spent the last hour looking for us up every creek they could find, pulled us free with very bad grace.
That night after a lovely day cruising around, we anchored in midstream in one of the 'safe' creeks we had been shown. It was cold, so late in the evening we decided to light the oil heater. This entailed starting the engine so that the generator could boost the battery to provide start up current for the heater. Having done that and successfully got the heater running we felt a large bump and I rushed up on to the deck to see who had run into us. No-one had. We had run aground again!. In the fine print in the handbook we found the paragraph that said that the gearbox would turn the propeller in neutral gear if the oil was cold.
The oil was cold and we had dragged the anchor to put the bow firmly aground once more. Not wanting to brave the boatyard's wrath again we rowed to another boat next morning and got them to tow us off the bank.
From then on we tied up at jetties at night! Our friend hadn't finished with us though as the driver's window fell out as Chris tried to close it and it was last seen heading for the bottom of the Mitchell river.
Then, on our last full day afloat, Chris had the helm (see how I've picked up the nautical lingo) and I was eating my lunch as we headed for Loch Sport. Somehow he missed the channel and we finished up in the shallows and had to constantly back and fill to get out into the channel again after much sweating and cursing from me. "That's it," I said. "We'll tie up at the Metung Hotel jetty, have a meal and an ale or three in the pub and just cruise gently round the corner to the boatyard in the morning."
The plan worked well until I selected reverse gear and opened the throttle to slow us as we approached Bull's jetty. I didn't know our efforts to regain the channel the day before had burnt out the reverse clutch and we hit the pier with a resounding thud. "That's one way of bringing it in!" grunted the man. We haven't been back since as I think our name must head their black-list.