How do you go from growing up in the Midlands of England, helping your dad clean tools and keeping them warm in winter, to painting roofs of houses in tropical Queensland, to becoming a major player in the heavy machinery spare parts industry in the eastern states of this country?
Well, for one young man it meant a strong sense of adventure, a love of atlases, a desire for better weather and a wife who also embraced those same ideals.
Harvey Joyner was born in 1935 in Stourport, England and by the time he was 12 years old he was regularly spending his weekends and school holidays with his dad, Bert. Bert Joyner was an earthmoving contractor working in Staffordshire and Shropshire maintaining D8 bulldozers that were working the open cut coalmines.
Harvey’s main duties were to keep things clean – wash-up individual parts and tools and in the winter it became Harvey’s job to keep these same tools warm to prevent hands from freezing. An absolute necessity when temperatures regularly dropped to -10 degrees and lower. This was done by heating a half 44 gallon drum of diesel over a fire. Harvey had to make sure that the diesel did not heat up so much that it caught alight.
At the age of 15 Harvey commenced a 4 year apprenticeship as a mechanical draughtsman with British company, Rubery Owen in the industrial heart of the English Midlands. At this time, Rubery Owen employed 5000 people, 200 of whom were apprentices. It was a city within itself, having a police force (security), an entire building dedicated to their phone exchange, mail sorting and even child care facilities.
Harvey’s apprenticeship was extensive. The apprentices were on a 6 monthly roster for various departments. This way Harvey was exposed to many aspects of the business.
Harvey worked as an office boy in the drawing department; he was trained in the workshop to use lathes and make tools. A Rubery Owen apprentice became well versed in steel fabrication (which would be extremely useful in years to come with Harvey’s own business). He learnt riveting and where it would be used instead of welding. Time was spent in the Planning Department, and there was the necessary attendance at technical college. Time was also set aside for all employees to attend the forerunner of today’s OH&S lectures covering everything from keeping hair tied back to appropriate footwear.
Apprentices also spent time out on the field and it was here that Harvey and a few of his fellow apprentices learnt firsthand the importance of the safety messages that Rubery Owen was pushing. A new cutting edge was being fixed to the cable-operated bucket of an excavator. The contractor was putting a nut on the bolt when the cable gave way and the contractor lost his arm. A memory that stays fixed forever in one’s mind.
In these early years, Harvey was receiving 25 shillings a week. After deductions were made for National health and tax, as well as board paid to his mother, there wasn’t much money left in a young lad’s pocket. A situation that often brings imagination and resourcefulness to the forefront of one’s thinking.
Harvey’s dream mode of transport at this time was for a bicycle. He was jubilant when he found a frame of bicycle – he had half a bike! He then proceeded to gather individual pieces for the bike – handlebars were found, rubbed down and cleaned, rims were found and Harvey taught himself how to spoke a wheel. Ball bearings, inner tubes and tyres were purchased or located. After a mammoth effort, Harvey had a complete bike and he had also learnt a valuable lesson – sometimes building something from spare parts and from the ground up is false economy. But it was also great way to learn. It was knowledge like this that would help Harvey in his future endeavours as a spare parts supplier.
Finally, after 4 years with Rubery Owen, Harvey’s apprenticeship was complete. So now, with his trusty bicycle Harvey was able to start indulging his sense of adventure. His first trek was with a friend when they made their way to Paris and cycled around Paris and the French countryside for a few weeks.
Scenes of Australia from movies such as “The Overlanders” starring Chips Rafferty showing a country of sunshine and vastness were very alluring to a young man.
So in a miserable winter of February 1954, at the age of 19 Harvey farewelled his parents, his sweetheart, Connie and boarded the RMS “Otranto” a 20,000 tonne liner bound for Australia.
He had paid 100 pounds for his passage. The 5 week journey took him through the Gibraltar Straits, across the Mediterranean and down through the Suez Canal.
On the 4th April, 1954, at 6am, the “Otranto” sailed into Sydney Harbour. Harvey cherishes the memory of his first sight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – “It was absolutely wonderful”.
The five-week journey had been quite a holiday for Harvey and he had a very nice time on board. Once the ship berthed, Harvey, and an Irishman called Paddy, were ready to set off together to explore Sydney and its opportunities.
Harvey had the grand total of 15 pounds to his name. Accommodation wasn’t easy to come by as the two young men had arrived just as Sydney was preparing for the Easter Show and the country people were in town. However, they found accommodation at the CB Chambers in Pitt Street at a cost of 6 shillings a night. Harvey recalls the sheets reeking of bleach. But at least they were clean.
The young men quenched their thirst with their first Aussie beer that afternoon. Sunday was a day spent strolling around the city, including a walk across the Harbour Bridge.
Pennies had to be watched and Harvey and Paddy discovered the milkshakes were excellent and cheap. And if you added malt, Paddy declared that these were a feed in themselves.
On Monday the job hunting commenced. Harvey and Paddy did the rounds of the businesses in Sussex and Kent Streets but with no luck.
On Tuesday Harvey attended the employment office on the corner of Sussex and Kent Streets. Here he was told that there was work available at a place called Warragamba where a dam was being constructed. Harvey was advised to head to the Penrith office of employment and ask for directions to the dam.
Harvey’s journey west to Penrith started at Central Station where he boarded an electric train. This took him as far as Granville – it was then onto a steam engine to travel the remainder of the way.
By this stage he had 8 pounds to his name – the cost of accommodation, food and then his train fare to Penrith had made major inroads to his cash. Upon arrival in Penrith, Harvey immediately made enquiries about how to get out to Warragamba Dam.
With Harvey’s credentials the Water Board readily took Harvey on. However, instead of being sent to work out at Warragamba he was to start work on McCann Island in the Nepean River.
Once a job was secured accommodation was next. Harvey was informed of a family at Jamisontown who were taking on boarders. Transportation was also required. Harvey hired a pushbike for 7 shillings a week. So with living arrangements and transport sorted Harvey was ready to commence work.
Harvey’s work for the Water Board was on rotating shifts. He would ride his bike from Jamisontown to the meeting point for the truck, leave his bike there in a paddock in the middle of Penrith, hop on the Water Board truck and be driven to Emu Plains.
The Water Board used Harvey’s skills as a fitter in the quarry on McCann’s Island. An aerial rope way was in constant use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week taking crushed round gravel and sand up to the Dam. Harvey’s job was to ensure that the conveyor belt and cable cutter were maintained so that it could operate around the clock.
The aerial ropeway ran for 19 kms between the dam and McCann’s Island where the sand and gravel were loaded. There were 600 buckets. Each bucket held 1,250kg and a bucket delivered its contents every 30 seconds when the ropeway was running. The ropeway was also known in Penrith as the “flying fox”. The first concrete at the dam was poured in June 1953 and pouring then continued for 24 hours a day until the project was completed in 1960. More than 2,550,000 tonnes of sand and gravel were needed for this – all coming from Emu Plains.
The draglines on this job were Ruston-Bucyrus– it was a walking dragline. Harvey worked with the team of fitters who maintained the processing plant that prepared the material before loading into the buckets.
In 1955, Harvey’s sweetheart from England arrived in Sydney. Connie Williams and Harvey were married in the Uniting Church in Jamisontown by a Methodist Minister.
The newlyweds set up house in a flat in High Street, Penrith. Connie found work at a jam factory at Colyton whilst Harvey continued working for the Water Board at McCann Island.
During this time they put a deposit on some land in the Penrith area with the intentions of building a home. However, after the birth of the first child, Bill, in 1956, Connie suggested that they buy a caravan so that they could travel. They wanted to see more of Australia. Within 2 weeks of Connie’s suggestion Harvey had found them a homemade timber caravan.
Now where would they go?
Harvey was surrounded by men at work who regularly had conversations that started with, “If I won the lottery I’d shoot through to Queensland”. So that was it. After 2 years on McCann Island Harvey finished up and the young Joyner family headed north to Queensland in a 1950 Dodge ute with the homemade timber caravan hitched to the back.
When they reached Brisbane Harvey got a job as a fitter for Thiess Brothers who were very involved in the construction of the canals on the Gold Coast. Harvey, however, stayed in the Brisbane workshop, working on utes, earthmoving equipment and tyre fitting for drawn scrapers using sledgehammers and wedges. Despite Harvey being familiar with hydraulic presses during his time with Rubery Owen in England, there were no such “mod-cons” here in Brisbane and it was just hard manual work.
By 1957, the family then moved onto Maryborough where Harvey worked as a mechanical draughtsman for an engineering firm called Walkers Limited. This company was involved in sugar milling machinery and was a global company having concerns as far away as Africa.
During his time with Walkers, Harvey watched the launching of a grain carrier into the Mary River. It was also one of the last steam locomotives built by Walkers.
Harvey continued to work for Walkers but was now in the Mackay offices. But the company only maintained a skeleton staff here for seasonal maintenance during harvest.
After working for Walkers, Harvey decided to try his hand at the arduous task of cane cutting. With a large knife Harvey slashed his way through the cane fields in Mackay.
Once the cane-cutting season came to a close it was time for Harvey, Connie and baby Bill to move on and for Harvey to look for more work. This time Harvey took up painting the roofs of houses. They travelled north from Mackay, passing through Cairns to Mossman, then back down the coast to Victoria and South Australia. By this time Harvey had developed a tidy little system using both his right and his left hands. The most time spent painting a house or a roof is the dipping of the paintbrush into the paint, wiping it and then applying it. Harvey took care of this wasteful use of time and with his left hand he would spray the paint on and with his right hand he brushed.
Whilst the Joyners were travelling between Rockhampton and Mackay they found that the road conditions were too much for their home on wheels. The little wooden caravan with its timber frame simply split in two. Harvey jacked the caravan up and tied a rope tightly around the van so that they could keep travelling. As soon as he could he purchased a steel chassis and placed the entire caravan, timber chassis and all on top of the new frame. They were off again.
Heading back down the coast, Harvey and Connie revisited Penrith, catching up with friends for a short time. Then they were off again, Harvey painting their way south.
With Harvey’s 2 handed system of painting Harvey knew what he could achieve in 8 hours and quoted accordingly. However, the cooler temperatures of Goulburn caused him to realise that he could only paint for 4 hours a day. He had to start later so that the dew was off the roof and had to finish by early afternoon so that the paint had enough time to dry to prevent it becoming dull. Unfortunately, he learnt the hard way.
It wasn’t just always roofs and gutters that Harvey was contracted to paint. Sometimes it was the entire house, inside and out. One job that Harvey landed in Goulburn was to paint all the outbuildings of a sheep station. It was here that Connie and Harvey got to spend a fair amount of time given the reduced painting hours available.
It was then off to Eden, Merimbula, and Orbost. They bypassed Melbourne, working their way through to Murray Bridge and Horsham and even catching part of a test match in Adelaide between Australia and England.
Then it was north again, travelling up through Renmark, Hay and Blayney and then down over the mountains and back to Penrith.
This was the area where Connie and Harvey wanted to settle permanently. As Harvey said “It felt right here”. They had been travelling for almost 2 years.
A house at the top of High Street was rented. It was in this home that the Joyner family of three became a family of four when their daughter, Ann, was born in 1962. In 1965 they moved into their newly built house in Stafford Street, Penrith.
Harvey opened for business in 1961 as Harvey Joyner Tractor Spares at the rear of a timber yard in Penrith. The first machine that Harvey dismantled for parts was an International TD14 bulldozer.
Land was purchased in 1963 in Cox Avenue and the construction of a factory started. He had his first spare parts delivered from England – undercarriages for bulldozers. In those early years, Harvey had the ideal contact for spare parts – his father, Bert, who was now running a spare parts business in the Midlands of England.
An UK company, known as Tractor Spares Limited, had pioneered a booming manufacturing business in spare parts for dozers after the Second World War. To aid Britain’s recovery from those war years there were restrictions in place that did not permit any overseas purchases – it all had to be British made.
Harvey enjoys the recollection of the first D9 that he purchased to strip for spare parts. It was actually still running when it was unloaded off the float. It was driven into the wrecking bay, positioned perfectly in the workshop and the engine just seized – never to start again. As a D9 weighs-in at over 50 tonnes and the engine alone weighs 5 tonnes this was perfect timing. It would have been next to impossible to reposition it otherwise.
Harvey Joyner Tractor Spares attracted considerable business, especially when Harvey imported a state-of-the-art Italian built track press manufactured by Bignozzi. It was a twin ram press that allowed tracks for dozers up to the size required for a D9 to be repaired. The nearest press with these capabilities was at Villawood so Harvey attracted a lot of business in and around Penrith as well as the west, including the districts of the Riverina and New England of New South Wales. Up until the purchase of the Bignozzi, Harvey had operated a press dating from the Second World War.
Harvey recalls a particular incident involving a track pin. The old track press was being used to recondition a track when the pressure that was being exerted by the press sent a rogue track pin up into the air, punching a hole in the metal roof. The pin kept going and it was located on the property next door.
As business increased, instead of buying a new car, Harvey purchased a 5 tonne travelling crane for the workshop around the beginning of the 1970’s – it is still going strong in another factory.
Harvey’s son, Bill, followed in to the business as the third generation of Joyners tasked with keeping big equipment moving and in good repair. He started off, during school holidays, sweeping floors, cleaning spare parts and shovelling the dirt and mud that was inevitable in a workshop that only had a roof and was open largely to the elements. Bill served his apprenticeship in the business under the experienced guidance of his father. A bulldozer was purchased and rebuilt so that Bill could see firsthand just what it took to get a machine back into working order. He also learnt how to decide whether it was beyond repair and should be stripped for parts.
Bill then spent 2 years working for the RTA in the Engineering Department’s materials testing laboratory, then it was off for 2 years travelling. Bill officially joined JTS in 1979.
In 1982 Harvey invited his future son in law, Stephen Callaghan, to join the partnership.
The 1980’s proved to be the “boom years” for Joyner Tractor Spares and replacement parts. With the company importing 6 shipping containers per year of spare parts as well as manufacturing specific parts for export the company was a hub of activity.
JTS continued dismantling many graders and bulldozers and reconditioning parts. They were also manufacturing various parts so more space was required. Land was purchased in Leland Street, Penrith and larger facilities were built. The company had also expanded to include branches in Melbourne, Brisbane and Townsville.
Manufacturing was also on the increase, especially major components for graders. Harvey was also designing root rakes from steel plate to specific requirements. The designs were drawn out or cut in the JTS workshop where there were 15 employees at their peak time, 5 of them were welders fabricating the root rakes and tree pushers.
Many of these parts were required out west. It became Bill’s job to ensure that these parts were ready and packaged up to put on the 4pm parcel train from Penrith to Dubbo. Bill would acquire the key to the crane into the State Rail land from the Station Master. He would then drive his ute into the yard and up to the waiting carriage using the hand-winch crane that was there to load the heavier items on to the train himself.
Both Bill and Harvey travelled regularly sourcing spare parts. Northern Italy was the world centre for items such as undercarriages, dozer tracks, sprockets, front idlers and final drives. Links and track plates were sourced from Britain, Germany and Italy. Taiwan, Korea, Brazil and the United States were also frequently visited to acquire the best parts for the business back home. Pins and bushes were obtained from Asquith Engineering at Hornsby – a little closer to home.
As the spare parts industry changed so did the style of demand and Harvey, Bill and Stephen scaled down the business. JTS relocated to smaller premises in Peachtree Road, Penrith. After almost 50 years of keeping the earthmovers moving the company has changed, Stephen and Ann are pursuing their own path, Bill runs KomKat in conjunction with JTS and Harvey, well, Harvey and Connie are now enjoying a slower pace these days. Harvey still has a hand in the business but he and Connie spend more time in the quiet village of Kurrajong, a long way from the freezing coalfields and industry of England.