Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2001
Early Nelson Motoring: the Coote Family
Cecil Henry Coote was my grandfather, and his 1904/06 Rover was one of the first motor cars to arrive in Nelson. When my grandparents were away in England in 1907 my father, John Cecil Coote, who was still at Nelson College, took the motor out of the car and put it in a boat. Apparently this was quite a surprise to his father who, on his return, had to request that the car be made mobile as soon as possible!
A love of motor boats stayed with Dad all his life, however, and not only did he initiate many of the events in Nelson, Lake Rotoiti and the Marlborough Sounds, but he was also a successful competitor both locally and nationally. This covered both hydroplane and inboard motor craft. He imported the first four-cylinder outboard motor that came to New Zealand – an Elto.
My grandparents lived at Mountrath, quite a large home and small farm in the first valley east of the Atawhai cemetery. One day, when passing a horse-driven funeral cortege, Grandfather impatiently honked the rather raucous horn, which made the horse bolt, depositing the hearse and coffin in the tide! According to legend my rather severe grandmother never allowed Henry to drive the car again. Subsequent photographs seem to confirm this.
From 1910 to 1915 Dad managed the Blechynden farm at Lake Rotoiti. My mother was Edith Blechynden. In 1913 he persuaded his father, Henry, to drive his model T Ford to the lake. This was the first time a motor vehicle had attempted the journey, and it took all day. Many tyres were changed, some hills were only negotiated in reverse, and the car had to be 'unstuck' with horses and chain when crossing the Motupiko River, a tributary of the Motueka.
On his return from World War I, Dad realised that his fascination with things mechanical was to be his future and in 1919, at the age of 30, he began serving an adult apprenticeship as a fitter and turner at the Anchor Foundry.
In 1922 he went into partnership with a Mr Hallum, under the name of The Universal Ford Motor Company, in a two storied building in Hardy Street opposite Wilkins and Field. At this time he went to the United States, where he contracted with an oil company for the right to market petrol under the brand name Halco. This was sold in cases containing two four-gallon tins. He also purchased a 1918 Studebaker and a wonderful Stanley Steamer which, in later years, became a taxi owned by Ellis Dudgeon, a well-known Nelson photographer.
The partners opened a new garage on the corner of Hardy and Rutherford Streets, where Bowater Honda is today, in about 1926. Hallum sold his interests to Cliff Hall in 1928 and the new partnership traded as Hall and Coote Ltd. They had agencies for Rugby, Durant, Hupmobile and Ford.
Dad bought out Cliff Hall in 1932, sold the lease on their site to Vinings, and built a new garage where the New World Supermarket is now situated. The entrance lane off Hardy Street was roughly where the Marble Arch Arcade is now. Dad broadened the agencies he represented to include Standard, Singer and Dodge, as well as the trucks made by Reo and Thornycroft.
I used to spend every available moment in the garage, or out with Dad when he was demonstrating vehicles. At the age of two I got out the closed gates of our Seymour Avenue home and walked on my own down to the garage in Hardy Street, only to be told by Cyril Watson, one of the mechanics, that Dad had driven home for lunch. Half way up Collingwood Street on my return I was greeted by a Rugby open tourer with all the family anxiously out looking for me. I was quite unperturbed, but pleased to get a ride home.page 43 page 44
Sometimes Dad would let me off school, a place which I liked, but I preferred cars, in order to take me with him on a truck demonstration. In those days, when a truck was sold, it was nearly always as a bare chassis with no cab. I well remember going up the Wairoa Gorge, sitting on a petrol box that was tied to the chassis. The corners were so narrow and sharp that we had to take two or three tacks to get around them.
Sometime in his late teens or early twenties, in order to accept a challenge, Dad drove a car that I think was a model T Ford up the Church Steps. Later, on more than one occasion, I remember sitting on the back of a truck going from Salt Water Bridge down to the Wharf via the cycle track that ran alongside the railway line!
Regrettably, Dad died suddenly in October 1937 when, as an eight-year-old, I accompanied him to his sawmill at Okaha in the Pelorus Sound. He had just delivered an old truck that was a terror to start. This ended our connection with Hall and Coote, which was sold and became Nelson Motors, run at first by Bob Greenwood and later by Halsie Logan.
Some of the names of men who worked with my father at various times were his younger brother Eric Coote, Bob Greenwood, Bob Heslop, Noel Watson, Cyril Watson, Arthur Bradley, Joe Talbot, Les Ward, Des Hargreaves, Stan Lenney and the only one still living, Harry Gaskell.