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1973 Holden ute carts affable tradie on his rural rounds

WORK BENCH: The tray of Ray McNicol’s Holden ute doubles as a workstation for this travelling mechanic.
WORK BENCH: The tray of Ray McNicol’s Holden ute doubles as a workstation for this travelling mechanic. Toni Somes

WHEN Ray McNicol first started "mechanicing" in the early 1970s the going rate for qualified blokes was $45 a week.

These days the specialist tractor, hay and harvest equipment repair guru is making a "little more than that" but that doesn't mean he's gone all out investing in fancy workstations.

Truth is this 76-year-old Warwick mechanic has opted to keep his operation mobile, much like himself really, so his office, work bench and tool carrier is a trusty 1973 HQ Holden ute.

This week the Bush Tele caught up with the cheerful tradie, while he was working on his machine of preference: a New Holland hay baler.

"I grew up on a dairy farm at Kingaroy and in 1971 I was buying a hay baler from David Evans at Boonah when he asked me to come and work for him," Mr McNicol said.

"It was David Evans himself and then he had businesses at Boonah, Gatton and Warwick.

"He offered me a position mechanicing in Warwick.

My dad got me started, he fixed everything when we were growing up, in farming you just can't always afford to replace it.

So Ray and his wife Valmai and their three children Janelle, Lyall and Taryn relocated to the Rose City.

"It was a bit of change after the dairy, but I was okay because I was still rubbing shoulders with farmers," he explained.

"I felt comfortable with the blokes, whose machinery I was working on, we had the same background."

He stayed with David Evans for seven years before branching out on his own.

"And you know working for myself turned out to be a very good thing."

Getting grease on his hands in the interests of making a machine work has always been his definition of job satisfaction.

"My dad got me started, he fixed everything when we were growing up, in farming you just can't always afford to replace it.

"So I started on lawnmowers and motorbikes and then moved onto tractors, hay balers and harvesters."

These days he allows himself to be a little selective about the scale of the jobs he tackles.

Ray recommends New Holland hay balers, which he reckons will keep going after he retires.
Ray recommends New Holland hay balers, which he reckons will keep going after he retires.
Ray carries almost everything he needs to do his job on the tray of his trusty Holden ute.
Ray carries almost everything he needs to do his job on the tray of his trusty Holden ute.

 

"I will be 77 next month so I guess I have got a little particular.

"I don't do too much work on tractors and if I think someone else will do a better job I tell the bloke who owns the gear.

"But I love working on hay balers."

Looking back he reckons one of the worst mistakes he ever made farming was to buy an International Harvester or an IHB45.

"At the time I had the opportunity to buy a New Holland Super 69 and I should have taken it.

"The New Hollands are Australian-made and they'll go forever, very little goes wrong with them.

"Some of the New Holland balers in use around Warwick have been going longer than I have and with a few minor adjustments they'll keep going for years.

"Put it this way if I was relying on repairing New Holland hay balers to make a living; I wouldn't be making a living."

Meanwhile this personable on-farm fixer has no plans to pack up his tool boxes.

He said it is work, along with eight precious grandchildren, that has helped him survive the past decade.

"I lost my dear Valmai some 10 years ago to cancer, she'd had a long battle.

"But I keep her name on my business cards, because she was always part of what I was doing.

"And you know I just appreciate getting out to farms and getting to work.

"Of course I am finding it takes less and less to keep me busy these days."

Ray bought this 1973 HQ Holden in 1983, when the ute was already a decade old. He has been mechanicing out of it ever since.
Ray bought this 1973 HQ Holden in 1983, when the ute was already a decade old. He has been mechanicing out of it ever since.

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