When Jack Ford arrived at Seymour in 1957 he soon started an enterprise known as ‘The All Nighter’ — because it was the only service station between Melbourne and Sydney that was open overnight.
Looking over the rubble of the recently demolished Shell petrol station on Emily St, Mr Ford couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss.
‘‘There’s just a lot of scrap now — and a lot of tremendous memories,’’ he said.
‘‘We ran this place for 30 years.’’
In a conversation with Seymour FM 103.9’s Hank Kreemers, Mr Ford explored some of those memories, starting with how he was transplanted from a career and life in Melbourne to what, 30 years ago, was a small town way off the metropolitan grid.
‘‘When I was employed in Brunswick as a factory manager, I got the job of refitting the shop in Emily St and I used to come up and check the works from time to time ... and eventually the lady, Ms Gunn, convinced me that I should buy the shop, because she was getting out of the business,’’ Mr Ford said.
‘‘It was all too big for one person, but my brother in law, Fred Stammers and our mate Alf Alcock — we had just completed buying houses in Melbourne,’’ he said.
‘‘So we decided to sell all three and invest in the Seymour property, which was at that stage a tea room, with a petrol service that ran 24 hours a day.’’
Back in the good old days the Hume Hwy ran right through Seymour — what is now known as Emily St.
Before the Country Roads Board decided to bypass the town Mr Ford said it widened Emily St, slicing about 20m from his store’s frontage.
And while this wiped off the front of the tea room and some of the petrol bowsers, which were too close to the freeway, it was ultimately a boon for his business.
‘‘And from then on things just got bigger and bigger,’’ he said.
‘‘On the McDonald’s side of the street was a barber shop — I can’t remember who the barber was but he was nicknamed ‘Lightning Lenny’ — and when we decided to rebuild the service station, we moved the whole of that building across, and it became part of the residence our three families occupied.
‘‘When we went there in 1957, the residence was hardly livable — it probably should have been condemned. I lived upstairs but there was only an outdoor staircase.
‘‘There was a verandah surrounding three sides of the building and it was in very poor condition, but luckily since I was a cabinet-maker in an earlier life, I was able to do a lot of repairs. But it was so poor it was unsafe to go up once let alone all day.’’
In order to man the service station around the clock Mr Ford said he and his business partners, Fred and Alf — along with the wider staff as well — broke up into three shifts during the 24 hours.
The morning shift would start at 6am and go until 2pm, the afternoon shift then going from 2pm until 10pm, before the night shift took over until 6am and the whole process started again.
‘‘Not all the staff were able to work those times, especially the ladies with families, and I must say I recall now we had some ladies who were with us for 20 years to support their families ... and we’re very proud of that, because I don’t think in a situation such as it is, that you would find many firms that were able to keep their staff happy for 20 years,’’ Mr Ford said.
‘‘If you can imagine, there was quite a large tea room/dining room and there was a big open fire on one wall.
‘‘During the night truckies used to come and have their meal and then fall asleep or have a rest ... and the log fire would go practically 24 hours a day ... and of course keeping it up, the trucks drivers didn’t hesitate to go out and find something to burn.
‘‘Both the staff and ourselves enjoyed the fruits of some of the transport — when they carried fruit, the girls on staff always found enough so they could take some home.
‘‘Some of the wine tankers used to come down from Rutherglen, and we used to sample some of the goods, which was very convenient.’’
Mr Ford said while the local police didn’t worry the truck drivers, the country road inspectors would often come looking for one of them at his service station.
‘‘We would always say we didn’t know, but when the pressure was on, and the driver would see the inspector buzzing around, he’d use the convenience of our cool room to conceal himself,’’ Mr Ford said.
While this kind of ploy wouldn’t fly in the modern world, it is a fond memory for Mr Ford, much like the service station’s approach to cooking.
‘‘Steaks and fries were cooked on an old coke-fired stove, while the deep-fryer consisted of kerosene tin on top of an old gas stove. And we cooked chips in a kerosene tin placed sideways — it was very primitive by today’s standards,’’ he said.
‘‘Someone suggested to us if you cooked in view of the public, it would be more acceptable than cooking behind closed doors and pushing it on the plate for people to consume. So we decided to bring the cooking to the front of the shop and not hidden in the background.’’
Then there were the Friday afternoon executive meetings with Frank and Alf.
‘‘We used to always have a meeting and then adjourn to the Royal Hotel, but the road would get quite busy and the girls would ring us up and ask when we were coming back ... and sometimes it was so busy you couldn’t walk across the road,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s hard to imagine Emily St carrying as much traffic as it was, and of course the desire was very strong to stay where we were.’’
While he revelled in the reminiscence, Mr Ford said he had no ill feelings towards those responsible for the demolition of ‘The All Nighter’ in order to make way for a new, refurbished service station.
‘‘Well it’s a lot of history gone, but it’s progress, and you can’t expect anything else — there’s no animosity,’’ he said.
‘‘We had little tea rooms there when we took over, and now someone else is in the process of rebuilding the rebuild.’’