Laurie Brunt – the ultimate collector

Laurie and Linda Brunt inside the yesteryear Barn at Netherton. Photo: Helen Wilson.

If one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, then Laurie Brunt was a rich man indeed.

Laurie, who passed away recently at the age of 83, was the ultimate collector of farm machinery and speedway memorabilia.

“It was his life…his passion,” says his widow, Linda.

The Brunts ran The Yesteryear Barn at Netherton, near Paeroa, which housed the significant and widely varied collection.

On a 0.6ha property, the barn was literally packed to the rafters. “We ran out of room on the walls so had things like signs and old number plates up there,” says Linda.

Laurie’s interest in farm machinery stemmed from growing up on a family farm at Karaka and he later “served his time” as a mechanic at nearby Clevedon.

In the early 1960s, Laurie bought his own auto-wrecking business in Cambridge, which he claimed was the first of its kind in the Waikato town.

He then had a stint as a taxi driver in Tauranga before shifting to Whitianga to begin a long career in waste management.

“He drove the big bin trucks and covered (at the associated transfer stations) when the guys there were away,” says Linda.

Bus Accommodation

For about two years the Brunts slept in a Bedford bus. Linda laughs that she lived on every transfer station on the peninsula except Coromandel.

Laurie’s final job in this chapter of his life was in the office at the Thames Transfer Station.

Linda says he’s always been “collecting stuff” over the years.

It started with old tractors and then turned to speedway items.

“He’d get rid of a tractor and get a speedway car,” says Linda.

The collection was originally housed in a shed they leased at Kopu.

Laurie was involved in stockcars, later racing midgets and mini-sprints, from the age of 18.

He competed at both Western Springs and Waikaraka Park in Auckland, Forest Lake in Hamilton and the “old Baypark” at Mount Maunganui.

After retiring, Laurie turned his attention to historic stockcars, racing monthly at Meremere.

“He’d gone full circle with racing - stockcars to stockcars,” says Linda.

His eldest son drives midgets, as do a grandson and great-grandson.

On the night Laurie passed away – February 17 - in Thames Hospital, great-grandson Hunter, 10, was competing in his first quarter midget race meeting at Western Springs.”

“Four generations raced at Western Springs,” says Linda.

In later years, Laurie was a regular feature in the Paeroa Santa Parade behind the wheel of one his vintage race vehicles.

Prized Possession

The collection at Netherton also features a stockcar bonnet signed by golf star Tiger Woods and his then caddy Steve Williams from when the pair raced in a celebrity event at Huntly in 2006.

Farm machinery at the museum includes a variety of tractors, farm implements and machinery including balers and ploughs, and even a vintage hay-stacker.

“He used to go to a lot of farm auctions and estate sales,” says Linda. “He also sold some…was a bit of a wheeler-dealer.”

Laurie Brunt and his ‘Big Red’ stockcar. Photo: Helen Wilson.

It was rather fitting that The Yesteryear Barn is on the site of the former Stembridge’s Garage & Transport, dating back to the 1920s.

At its peak around 1948, Netherton boasted not only a hall and school, but also a Post Office, cheese factory, Farmers Trading Company, store, church and three road transport firms.

Stembridge’s became a rock and mineral museum in later years and was used by a firewood business before The Yesteryear Barn was established in 2004.

Linda Brunt says when they bought the property the barn was full of cubicles made out of old wooden doors, used to store firewood.

“We had to dismantle it and burn the wood.”

Opening Time

And so, Laurie’s rustic museum was born.

Linda says he used to say: “If you’ve got a space, you’ve got to fill it up with something.”

It started as a private collection, but Linda says people called in “wanting a look”.

The Brunts never advertised the venture and had no set times of operation.

“It was pretty much word of mouth,” says Linda.

An “Open” flag indicated just that.

Laurie kept collecting items for the museum up until two years ago.

“He was always open for a bargain,” says Linda.

In later years, she says Laurie concentrated more on speedway memorabilia.

A regular at the street races in Paeroa, Laurie was never a big fan of Formula One.

“He was interested in racing on the dirt,” says Linda. “The tar-seal was just to get you there.”

Vehicles from the museum are being kept in the family, with other items to be sold at a later date.

Reflecting on Laurie’s passion for farm and motor racing memorabilia, she always thought the collection would get “big”.

Linda only had one rule about the purchases: “Nothing in the house.”



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