Sunday, 4 August 2013

Nichols Service Station, Riverstone

The Nichols Service Station was originally established by William ‘Bill’ Robert Nichols (1903-1958) who was born in London and arrived in Sydney when he was 9 years old. The family settled in Richmond about 1917 where Ern operated the Nichols Bakery. On completing his schooling, Bill was apprenticed to Wally Heap, a Motor Engineer in Richmond and also drove hire cars for him. In the early 1920s, Bill started his own Hire Car Service. Around this time, Bill’s future wife Florence Jennings (1905-1988) moved with her family to Riverstone. Bill became interested in Riverstone’s potential, eventually leasing an old stable building opposite the present day Post Office in Garfield Road. This was the first motor repair shop opened in the town. 

Bill moved to a workshop partly occupied by Harry Williams the Blacksmith, on the corner of Garfield Road & Carlton Streets in about 1927. Sometime before 1935 Bill purchased land in the centre of Riverstone directly opposite what was the Olympia Picture Theatre in Garfield Road. The first purpose built service station opened in 1935, with three hand operated petrol pumps of different brands on the kerbside. 

The 1935 Service Station. Located in Garfield Road, Riverstone. 

Early in 1942 Bill enlisted in the AIF and was a mechanic/fitter, serving his time in the north of Australia. During the war years, his father Ern (1875-1967) affectionately known as “Pop” - looked after the business single-handed. Due to post war shortages new parts were almost impossible to purchase so everything had to be fixed and repaired.  

Bill’s eldest son, Geoff (1930-2012) started work at the garage and started his apprenticeship in 1946, attending Ultimo Tech. Ern (1932-2004) the second eldest, commenced in the workshop in 1947 with a pay of £1 per week. The following year he began his apprenticeship and attended Granville Tech. Bill planned to relocate his business and with foresight he eventually purchased land opposite Oxford Street and the Uniting Church. Also in the mid-1950s he obtained the Chrysler Peugeot agency selling a few cars, as well as second hand cars. 

L - R Bill Nichols, son Geoff, father Ern and son Ernie.

In the late 1950s Bill suffered a setback due to illness, so the relocation plan was set aside. Sadly Bill Nichols passed away in 1958, aged only 54 years of age. As a result of Bill’s death, Ern took over the running of the business. Geoff was working in Parramatta. Bill’s widow Flo was also enticed to become involved in the business looking after the accounts. She also worked on the driveway, selling petrol, as did subsequent family members.

The business grew and in the 1960s it was decided to follow Bill’s plan to relocate. The new Nichols Service Station began construction and was designed in consultation with Mobil and was built by W. McNamara Pty Ltd. From the 1960s petrol for the business was purchased from Mervyn Bassingthwaite of Pitt Town. The business opened in 1962 and boasted a modern driveway, lubitorium and pit with two extra workshop bays. 

In 1962 Geoff returned to the business and modern wheel aligning and balancing was installed. The old Tozer house, adjacent to the garage was purchased and demolished in readiness for a new upgrade. 

During the early 1970s extensions for the next stage of the complex were underway. The petrol at this time was purchased through Mobil Oil Australia from the Rose Hill refineries. In 1974 the new extensions to the Service Station were opened with much fanfare in the town. The old garage was converted into workshop areas plus the two extra bays (hoist & fit) provided 8 bays of a modern service centre. There were three working pits, a hoist and four other bays. The huge driveway canopy and shop front with a store room was quite progressive. Larger fuel tanks were also added to the new site and two islands of pumps made available. The people in Riverstone will remember the petrol strikes of the 1970s/1980s when the queues of cars wound down Garfield Road, into Pitt and then Market Street. 

The 50 year celebrations

Nichols Service Station was awarded the contract for the NRMA depot and road service in Riverstone in 1979. During the 1980s many service stations became self-serve, and began selling other items. In 1985 a decision to sell the business transpired and it was sold the following year. It was the end of an era.

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