In his own words Des Reynolds was a “bugger for horses”.
One day back in 1959 he found himself at Te Rapa racecourse and Lady Luck was with him – his horses came in and he walked away with £125 in his pocket, big money back then, big enough in fact that Des was able to buy his family their very own Holiday Inn.
Holiday Inn, as it turns out, was an old 1934 Bedford bus that Des bought as a mobile holiday home for his wife Noeleen and their family.
It was an old ARA (Auckland Regional Authority) city bus; at some point the Bedford engine had expired and the bus had been re-powered with a big Chevrolet motor. Des paid £100 for it at a disbursements sale in Mangere, then spent another £30 on the materials needed to modify it for the Reynolds’ camping holidays. They did the work themselves; racks along the roof, baggage racks inside where the kids could put their clothes, a bunk for each kid and a double bed at the back. And four inch nails knocked into the wardrobe so the boys had somewhere to hang their toy guns.
When the Reynolds and their bus rolled into Waihi Beach camping ground in the summer of 1960 it was the biggest vehicle that had ever been into the camp so finding a spot large enough was challenging. Des was a friend of the camp manager Roly Green and so was given the largest site in the park, Number 81, the site the Reynolds family occupies to this very day.
Through many summers at the park the bus was a focal point for family, friends, visitors and, most of all, kids. They loved to play in it – swinging on the steering wheel and constantly honking the horn, there were half a dozen inside every time the Reynolds returned from the beach and even when they woke up in the morning. On hot days too the bus was full of kids, sleeping in the coolest place in the camp that had a bed.
The Reynolds and Gilchrist children held regular séances in the bus at night, attempting to conjure up spirits while their parents played cards next door. One evening Des, Arthur Gilchrist and another of their card buddies played a trick on the kids: using a fishing rod they bounced a lead sinker along the roof of the bus, making terrible banging and crashing sounds. Petrified kids ran out the front door and out the back. The Reynolds’ son Wink snatched up a tin of spaghetti, some coffee and some milk then ran all the way to Orakau Bay, intending to camp out for a few days. ‘They were calling for a spirit and they got one all right!’ jokes Des.
At the end of each summer the bus was driven home to Morrinsville but the kids would continue to sleep in it in favour of the house until May. They loved to play in it and push it up and down the driveway. Wink vividly remembers the first time he was allowed to drive it – he was nine or ten years old and drove it between Te Aroha and Morrinsville with his eyes almost popping out of his head.
Age eventually began to catch up with the Reynolds’ bus to the point where there was no guarantee it would make the journey home to Morrinsville and so the decision was made to leave it behind. Throughout its twilight years the bus remained here at Waihi Beach Holiday Park; in fact it was permanently parked at the camping ground for more years than the Reynolds actually drove it, slowly decaying and falling apart. The radiator fell off, the headlights fell out and on one occasion the door fell on top of poor Arthur Gilchrist as he tried to open it. On rainy days the bus used to leak terribly and plenty of ice-cram containers were needed to catch the drips. The windows had been permanently glued in.
The bus was given a fresh coat of paint every year and periodically patched up as best as it could be, but the battle to keep it presentable was being lost and one day Roly Green rang up with the bad news. “My wife says either the bus goes or I have to!”
In the end a compromise was reached: the bus would be moved across the bridge and hidden from sight for most of the year and moved back for the Reynolds to use over Christmas. The bus hadn’t moved so much as an inch in ten years, so when word got round that The Reynolds were planning to drive it away a good sized crowd gathered to witness the spectacle. ‘Couldn’t see for all the people.’ remembers Des.
For a day and a half the old Chevrolet motor refused to start, but eventually, following a lot of hard work and a lot of petrol poured directly into the carburetor, a few promising sounds were heard. The people gathered around once more, and when the big Chevy engine finally burst into life it shot the exhaust pipe off like a bullet, sending it directly into where the laundry is today. Smoke was everywhere. In the end it took three gallons of petrol to move the bus fifty yards
The end came one day around 1976 when a cousin of the Reynolds came to the park and towed the old bus away to Waihi where it languished behind a panel-beater’s workshop.
Thinking back to that day at the Te Rapa races, perhaps it was fate (and a couple of good horses) that brought the Reynolds and their beloved bus together. Either way, Des Reynolds has been coming to Waihi Beach Holiday Park since 1939 and, bus or no bus, he has no intention of changing his summer camping spot any time soon.