Chasing rusty iron

Photo of Bill Darbyshire


There’s no such thing as a barn too big, or too many barns, for Puketaha’s Bill Darbyshire. He talked to Annette Taylor’s Home Range about his passion for collecting.

For about four decades, Bill has collected vintage machinery and parts thereof. He has a couple of sheds on his 10 acres in Puketaha, and a 40-foot container will be in place this summer.

The sheds are, unsurprisingly, filled with ‘bits and pieces’; tractors, stationary engines, trolleys, water pumps, tilly lamps and other bygones and collectables.

Bill, a former mechanic, likes things working. “Everything can be fixed,” he says. His museum shed, as he calls it, is spick and span, and almost everything in it works.

Described as a ‘great country gentleman’ by a fellow enthusiast who has known him for 40 years, Bill Derbyshire is quite particular about what he’ll bring home.

“I won’t take something if I can’t do anything with it. I like to know the history behind it, how it works and where it was from. I’m not as bad as some.”

At this, his daughter Bronwyn laughs. She had dropped by from her home in Pukete for a cup of tea and to do a spot of gardening. She and Bill are both regulars at the Woodlands Pioneer Fundays. Bill brings his tractors along, and Bronwyn operates the butter churn and corn shucker.


Bill and Bronwyn Darbyshire


It’s a surprise to Bill that some people don’t know how to make butter. “‘Is that how you do it?’ they ask, even adults. I wonder where they’ve been all their lives.”

From a farm in Whanganui originally, he says he’s always been interested in ‘old engines and what have you’. In 1973 he moved to Hamilton for work, and found himself living in a flat.

“There wasn’t much to do, and I started thinking about the cub tractor that was back on the farm.”

He admits it didn’t make a lot of sense having a tractor in town. “I ended up in Puketaha after meeting a lady, who later became my wife. I moved in with a tractor and all the cats.”

His wife Shirley died six years ago, but Bill is visited often by his daughter Bronwyn and her sons Heath and Tom.

“They adore their grandfather. He has seven grandchildren but we’re the local ones. We’ll call out for a cup of tea and end up staying all day. They reckon this is the best playground anywhere. They get out the cub tractor and harrow up the paddock or say the bulldozer hasn’t been out for a while – everything is theirs, if you ask them!”

And if you ask Bill how many tractors he’s got, he says there’s almost a rule that you should never count them.

“Dozens,” says Bronwyn, to which Bill replies, “A lot of stuff belongs to your mates. You can say you’re just storing it for someone…”


Photo of tractor


Another shed is full of future projects, which he will get working. “I try to keep things together. I don’t like pulling things apart until I’m ready to work on them.”

He’s not a fan of doing too much to his pieces. “I don’t always paint them; some have had big repairs done in the past and I like to keep it that way. Others will say you need to grind that and tidy it up but it tells me something of their history. They repaired things with the gear they had at the time, they didn’t have fancy wielding techniques.”

The Waikato Vintage Tractor & Machinery Club was formed in 1988 and Bill joined not long after. “I was almost, not quite, a founding member.”

It’s a nice way to meet up with like-minded people, he says. He thinks there are around 100 members, and about 30 or 40 will turn up at the monthly meetings, usually held at the Prince Albert Tavern in Cambridge.

“We decided early on we didn’t want to own property, you’d just end up with gear and sheds and someone would have to look after it all.”

They have quiz nights, talk about projects – and have a website. “Sometimes our site gets updated before the next year. We’re not much good at technology. Many don’t do emails, so trying to organise an activity like ploughing, it can be hard. Some of them are living in the past! They’re in the dark ages!”

Earlier in the year Bill and eight of his ‘like-minded men’ went to the US for five weeks.
“We were chasing rusty iron, pretty much. Flew into Chicago, went through Pennsylvania, Iowa, down to Washington, and went to a big engine show. Didn’t bring back anything but we made a lot of contacts. Next time I won’t be going cattle class!”

Photo of Bill Darbyshire

There are ploughing days coming up, demonstrations of machinery at various locations. and always projects to be going on with.

“I make my own parts. We’ll go down to a foundry in Whanganui once a year and they let us do our own moulding, take our own patterns.”

One of the best days he had was his 70th birthday. “We had it here, in the museum shed, took all the stuff out, had tables and hay bales and all the engines running out on the grass.”
Life, says Bronwyn, doesn’t have to be so complicated.


  • For more information about the Waikato Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club visit here.
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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