The road to Reo

Journey from Gisborne district country bus to motorhome.

Journey from Gisborne district country bus to motorhome.

THE ENGINE ROOM: Among the more than 30 volunteers who helped restore the first motorhome to be registered with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association were, from left, Brian Hall, Fergus McKenzie, Harvey Lodge, Alan Watt, Dave Covell, Roy Houthuijzen and Dennis Willson. Pictures by Paul Rickard
THE REO: The gleaming bottle-green and cream motor caravan that was converted in 1953 from a 1928 Reo Speedwagon used as a rural bus service took more than two and half years to restore by a team of local enthusiasts. Reo is an acronym taken from 19th century, American entrepreneur Ransom Eli Olds who founded a motor car business that eventually became the REO Motor Car Company.
THE WARMTH OF WOOD: A gift of recycled timber was used for the framing and lining for the restored motorhome’s body.
HOME COMFORTS: Brightly patterned lino and a Dover wood stove are among vintage features in the restored Reo motor caravan.
Sleeping arrangements for five family members included bunks that offered fresh views wherever the motor caravan stopped for the night.
BACK DOOR DUNNY: A door at the rear of the Reo allows access to the small timber lined toilet from outside.
AT THE HELM: Andy Anderson installed a toilet with a funnel with a hole through the floor under the driver’s seat. This toilet was for the convenience of his wife and daughters so they did not have to go outside at night and climb into the toilet at the rear.

About 30 Gisborne enthusiasts spent more than two-and-a-half years restoring the first motor caravan to have been registered with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. The converted 1928 Reo Speedwagon was unveiled yesterday morning at the association’s 63rd rally at the Showgrounds. Brian Hall tells the Weekender about the Reo’s journey from Gisborne district country bus to motorhome.

A 1928 Reo Speedwagon used as a rural bus service, then rebuilt as a motor caravan; eventually sold, and largely forgotten, has been restored and is about hit the road once more.
The Reo’s route from Gisborne district country bus, to the first motorhome registered with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, to eventual storage at the East Coast Museum of Technology (ECMoT), then restoration, has been a long and winding one.

“What you see today is more than two-and-a-half years of hard work by a very enthusiastic band of more than 30 volunteers,” says Gisborne man Brian Hall.

The Gisborne Reo Speedwagon’s life as a rural bus service began on September 29, 1928, with a contract for lease between CE (Ted) Grey and the Gisborne Borough Council. Greys Bus Service operated between Puha, Te Karaka, Ormond and Gisborne six days a week. The service later extended to Whatatutu, and to late night shopping trips to Gisborne on Fridays, and Saturday nights for the pictures.

Albie Middleton bought the bus service in 1945. One year later he sold the Reo to Scraggs at Patutahi. The Speedwagon was used to take workers from Waituhi and Patutahi to the freezing works at 6am each day. After delivering the workers to the works, Mervyn Scragg parked the bus outside J McCulloughs’ motor body builders in Cobden Street then walked around the corner to work with his son in his motorcycle shop. At 3pm he got back into the bus, picked up the freezing works men and returned them to Patutahi and Waituhi.

Bus to motorhome, 1950s style

Andy Anderson, a sheet metal worker at J W McCulloughs at the time, saw the parked bus each day and came up with the idea of converting it into a motor caravan. In 1953 he bought the bus from Mr Scragg and took it to his home in Townley Street. He drew up a design for the motor caravan. Changes he made to the original design have been replicated by the 30-plus enthusias ts as closely as possible.

But back in the 1950s Andy began the conversion from bus to motor caravan by stripping out the seats and installing beds for five people. There was room for two on a bed settee at the rear that folded down into a back-rest for a seat if needed. A curtain covered the doorway between the toilet and the wardrobe. A short bed and bunks completed sleeping arrangements.
At the rear on the driver’s side of the bus was a small room that could only be accessed from the original emergency door exit, and only from the outside. This room became another toilet. Andy’s notes describe this as an electric toilet with a light in the main room to indicate when it was in use.

There was also a toilet under the driver’s seat. Consisting of a funnel with a hole through the floor the toilet was for the convenience of the four females at night so they didn’t have to go outside and climb into the toilet at the rear.
On the right hand wall above the driver’s side was a fishing rod rack.

Andy put in a red Formica table and fixed a bus seat on either side of it. A one cubic foot, kerosene-run refrigerator went under the table while a modified metal carrier held a Rock Gas bottle, a kerosene container for the twin-burner Valor heater and a rubbish bin.

Gift of photos allowed restoration to stay true

The original bus had no front door but wall with a glass screen to the right that kept the draught, wind and rain off passengers. Andy made a door for the front entrance and lined it with Formica on the inside because the door got wet when left open.

Scalloped tasselled Holland blinds were installed for the window coverings, as well as curtains. A sink bench unit housed cupboards for cooking implements as well as an old wood range for cooking and heating. A Rock Gas water heater hung on the wall above the sink bench. A rangehood over the stove directed and cooking smells and steam outside.

Brass tubes intended for a tea wagon for Andy’s wife Gladys were repurposed for the motor caravan’s radiator grill.
On the exterior Andy mounted two chrome-plated blast horns on the front chassis rails, a sidelight on each front mudguard and two blue indicator lights for use when towing, and mirror on the left hand side door.
After Andy completed the conversion he approached the Gisborne Caravan Club but they would not accept a motorised caravan as a member’s vehicle.

Andy decided to start his own association so he and Taupo man Len Webber launched the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association in 1956. The Reo was the first motorhome registered with the association and Len vehicle was the second.
In 1956 they joined the association’s inaugural rally of six motorhomes for Christmas at Opoutama. At the association’s annual meeting in 1958 at Clifton Beach, the Reo was advertised for sale. It was bought by a Tauranga man who sold it in 1961 to the Broome brothers and their wives who used it for only a couple of years.

“We are not sure what happened to it after that but it was in a very dilapidated state when discovered by the Tauranga Historic Village Trust,” says Gisborne man Brian Hall.

“It was then gifted to ECMoT where it sat for eight years before it was bought by the NZ Motor Caravan Association.”
Photographs sent by the Tauranga buyer’s grandson to the team of enthusiastic restorers were an invaluable resource for the rebuild of the vehicle’s exterior design.

A gift of recycled timber was used for the framing and lining for the motorhome’s body.
“During the process of the rebuild we sourced numerous items such as a Dover wood stove,” says Brian.
“One was found at ECMoT. It was missing the fuel door but it was easy enough for a plumber to make a new one from a piece of 40mm galvanised pipe. We also found an exact model of the Ascot gas water heater which is now in position above the bench.”

A washboard, old kerosene cans, a Valor kerosene filler can, an aluminium kettle, a 1934 Peter Pan ware dinner set, wide-mouthed food thermos, thermette and fishing rods — most of which were documented in the 1958 No 2 Bulletin written by Andy and Gladys — were also installed.

The reborn Reo motorhome was unveiled at the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association’s 63rd rally at the Showgrounds on Friday.

About 30 Gisborne enthusiasts spent more than two-and-a-half years restoring the first motor caravan to have been registered with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. The converted 1928 Reo Speedwagon was unveiled yesterday morning at the association’s 63rd rally at the Showgrounds. Brian Hall tells the Weekender about the Reo’s journey from Gisborne district country bus to motorhome.

A 1928 Reo Speedwagon used as a rural bus service, then rebuilt as a motor caravan; eventually sold, and largely forgotten, has been restored and is about hit the road once more.
The Reo’s route from Gisborne district country bus, to the first motorhome registered with the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, to eventual storage at the East Coast Museum of Technology (ECMoT), then restoration, has been a long and winding one.

“What you see today is more than two-and-a-half years of hard work by a very enthusiastic band of more than 30 volunteers,” says Gisborne man Brian Hall.

The Gisborne Reo Speedwagon’s life as a rural bus service began on September 29, 1928, with a contract for lease between CE (Ted) Grey and the Gisborne Borough Council. Greys Bus Service operated between Puha, Te Karaka, Ormond and Gisborne six days a week. The service later extended to Whatatutu, and to late night shopping trips to Gisborne on Fridays, and Saturday nights for the pictures.

Albie Middleton bought the bus service in 1945. One year later he sold the Reo to Scraggs at Patutahi. The Speedwagon was used to take workers from Waituhi and Patutahi to the freezing works at 6am each day. After delivering the workers to the works, Mervyn Scragg parked the bus outside J McCulloughs’ motor body builders in Cobden Street then walked around the corner to work with his son in his motorcycle shop. At 3pm he got back into the bus, picked up the freezing works men and returned them to Patutahi and Waituhi.

Bus to motorhome, 1950s style

Andy Anderson, a sheet metal worker at J W McCulloughs at the time, saw the parked bus each day and came up with the idea of converting it into a motor caravan. In 1953 he bought the bus from Mr Scragg and took it to his home in Townley Street. He drew up a design for the motor caravan. Changes he made to the original design have been replicated by the 30-plus enthusias ts as closely as possible.

But back in the 1950s Andy began the conversion from bus to motor caravan by stripping out the seats and installing beds for five people. There was room for two on a bed settee at the rear that folded down into a back-rest for a seat if needed. A curtain covered the doorway between the toilet and the wardrobe. A short bed and bunks completed sleeping arrangements.
At the rear on the driver’s side of the bus was a small room that could only be accessed from the original emergency door exit, and only from the outside. This room became another toilet. Andy’s notes describe this as an electric toilet with a light in the main room to indicate when it was in use.

There was also a toilet under the driver’s seat. Consisting of a funnel with a hole through the floor the toilet was for the convenience of the four females at night so they didn’t have to go outside and climb into the toilet at the rear.
On the right hand wall above the driver’s side was a fishing rod rack.

Andy put in a red Formica table and fixed a bus seat on either side of it. A one cubic foot, kerosene-run refrigerator went under the table while a modified metal carrier held a Rock Gas bottle, a kerosene container for the twin-burner Valor heater and a rubbish bin.

Gift of photos allowed restoration to stay true

The original bus had no front door but wall with a glass screen to the right that kept the draught, wind and rain off passengers. Andy made a door for the front entrance and lined it with Formica on the inside because the door got wet when left open.

Scalloped tasselled Holland blinds were installed for the window coverings, as well as curtains. A sink bench unit housed cupboards for cooking implements as well as an old wood range for cooking and heating. A Rock Gas water heater hung on the wall above the sink bench. A rangehood over the stove directed and cooking smells and steam outside.

Brass tubes intended for a tea wagon for Andy’s wife Gladys were repurposed for the motor caravan’s radiator grill.
On the exterior Andy mounted two chrome-plated blast horns on the front chassis rails, a sidelight on each front mudguard and two blue indicator lights for use when towing, and mirror on the left hand side door.
After Andy completed the conversion he approached the Gisborne Caravan Club but they would not accept a motorised caravan as a member’s vehicle.

Andy decided to start his own association so he and Taupo man Len Webber launched the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association in 1956. The Reo was the first motorhome registered with the association and Len vehicle was the second.
In 1956 they joined the association’s inaugural rally of six motorhomes for Christmas at Opoutama. At the association’s annual meeting in 1958 at Clifton Beach, the Reo was advertised for sale. It was bought by a Tauranga man who sold it in 1961 to the Broome brothers and their wives who used it for only a couple of years.

“We are not sure what happened to it after that but it was in a very dilapidated state when discovered by the Tauranga Historic Village Trust,” says Gisborne man Brian Hall.

“It was then gifted to ECMoT where it sat for eight years before it was bought by the NZ Motor Caravan Association.”
Photographs sent by the Tauranga buyer’s grandson to the team of enthusiastic restorers were an invaluable resource for the rebuild of the vehicle’s exterior design.

A gift of recycled timber was used for the framing and lining for the motorhome’s body.
“During the process of the rebuild we sourced numerous items such as a Dover wood stove,” says Brian.
“One was found at ECMoT. It was missing the fuel door but it was easy enough for a plumber to make a new one from a piece of 40mm galvanised pipe. We also found an exact model of the Ascot gas water heater which is now in position above the bench.”

A washboard, old kerosene cans, a Valor kerosene filler can, an aluminium kettle, a 1934 Peter Pan ware dinner set, wide-mouthed food thermos, thermette and fishing rods — most of which were documented in the 1958 No 2 Bulletin written by Andy and Gladys — were also installed.

The reborn Reo motorhome was unveiled at the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association’s 63rd rally at the Showgrounds on Friday.

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E.A.Harrison, NSW - 14 days ago
I worked for JW McCullough for three years in the mid-1950s.