Living his dream
Cameron Spooner has loved playing with diggers and trucks since he was a child. Now he has his own and still considers them his ‘toys’.
Ohakune Automotive repairs everything from lawnmowers to bulldozers but its bread and butter comes from the surrounding carrot and potato growers. The local forestry companies provide the cream and jam through their use of Cameron’s digger and transport truck.
Cameron was just 22 when he bought the business. “I started here as an apprentice, when it was Goddard’s Automotive.” He moved to Ohakune from his family home in Whanganui, tested the waters with a week’s work experience, and then started his apprenticeship with Ben Goddard.
Once he had a few years of qualified work experience under his belt, he was ready to realise one of his ambitions – to own his own business.
“While there was a lot of pressure and stress in those first few years, we got through.” Ben Goddard stayed on for about two years as a mechanic and mentor before moving on.
As soon as he felt comfortable, Cameron pursued his next dream. To own his own digger. And then a truck to move it around. And a bulldozer, because “I’d always wanted one”. He says in the last five years his heavy haulage and earthmoving sideline has proved a good investment. “I didn’t have any particular work lined up when I bought the heavy machinery, but I knew I could find the work. We are in between two large forests and there’s all the agriculture around.
So when a contractor’s heavy machinery needs repair – Cameron’s truck is ready to carry it into the workshop.
He says, “We had to work hard for a few years to get all the gear paid off.” Cameron’s father Allan retired a few years ago and Cam taught him how to drive the truck. “He drives it 90 percent of the time but we don’t work it full time – it’s too stressful. So much can go wrong in the forest and the country is so steep and unforgiving.” Cam takes on the trickier transport jobs.
A large portion of the workshop workload comes from major carrot growers - repairing and servicing all their machinery and vehicles. Ohakune Automotive is a family operation, with Cameron’s brother Lee employed as a qualified technician.
“We fix everything from lawmowers to bulldozers,” says Lee, who also moved to Ohakune from Whanganui several years ago. The third technician is apprentice Kyle Tehuia, while the office has been under the efficient thumb of Deb Campbell for the past six years.
Cam reckons his workshop is running at about the right pace. “We don’t want to get too much bigger, because that just means more stress.” Things are still a little quiet post-lockdown, without the tourists coming through needing repairs.
“But we have been one mechanic down for a while, so it didn’t really affect us.” He has a replacement mechanic arriving shortly and is considering whether to take on another apprentice when Kyle qualifies.
“But really, I’ve worked hard for 10 years to set everything up so I’d like to reap the rewards now. I would like to get to the point where we can all spend Friday afternoons playing with our project cars.”
Lee has a rally car in need of a rebuild and helps Cam with his 1947 Ford Jailbar. Cam is also restoring a 1987 long-nosed Kenworth at his home.