Brian, a man of many parts


By John Keast

Brian Smith reckons his best “school” book was about the Pratt and Whitney radial engine.

As a lad, he read it and re-read it.

He does not have a Pratt and Whitney engine at his Winchester property, but he has just about everything else.

Mr Smith, a spry 78, is a man who gets things done.

And he’s been tinkering with motors since he was a boy.

“When I was seven I worked on a (Lanz) Bulldog. I brought it from Mt Michael (near Fairlie) and ploughed a block with it.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and done a lot of crazy things over the years.”

Mr Smith is a regular at A&P shows with partner Leeanne Peatman.

They display stationary engines – they have many from which to choose – but the one they use most is one rigged so that a doll gets a dunking.

It is a fun contraption Mr Smith built from scrap.

The engine was recovered from a property in the Mackenzie, and the rest he made himself.

It is the self-taught ethic.

Mr Smith reckons he would have been lucky to have been at school for three days in any week.

He learnt on the job.

Over the decades Mr Smith has worked on farms, as a carpenter, logging and driving at Harihari – where if something broke you fixed it yourself – then as a Forest Service bush inspector in the North Island.

At Harihari, the boss said of his truck: “If it jumps out of low gear, jump out.”

It did and he did.

In later years, Mr Smith worked on farms in Western Australia, once seeing 11,000ha in three months.

He reckons that was a good effort.

On the East Coast of the North Island, Mr Smith reckoned a chainsaw had the value of a horse, and the work up there was fun.

Now, in retirement, Mr Smith has time for his passions – engines and engineering.

Partner Leeanne said he could disappear into a shed with a lump of metal and come out with an intricate part.

Given the age of some of the engines, stationary and otherwise, it is often necessary.

Mr Smith has three Bulldog tractors – one at Winchester and two elsewhere.

Another prized possession in a Reid and Gray chaff-cutter.

Mr Smith teamed up with John Booth and John French from Ashburton in giving displays with it, with horses providing the power.

Elsewhere, they have used a tractor.

The engine or chaff-cutting displays are seen wide and far – Oamaru, Pleasant Point, Methven, Waiau, Ward.

At home, there is always another project waiting to be finished; another stationary engine, a massive generator, a super-size drill press.

Some are bought, some traded, some donated.

People know that gear in Mr Smith’s hands has a good home.

There are Gardners, Unions, Crossleys.

Sheds have gear of all descriptions.

“What,” says Mr Smith, “is this?”

It is a blacksmith’s ruler.

Not everyone has one of those.

Brian Smith does.

He has the scales from Dalgety’s in Fairlie, the Bulldogs, Enfields, engines that soar and that that sing.

And if he can’t get parts, Mr Smith makes them.

“When you live at Harihari, if you can’t fix it yourself, it doesn’t get fixed.”

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