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Cole's Motors, Agricultural Implement Makers & Motor Vehicle Traders, Colac, Victoria
Image: Portrait - Charles Henry Cole, circa 1918
Source: Museum Victoria
The company that later became known was Cole's Motors was founded by Charles Henry Cole (1882-1979), who began making agricultural implements in the small hamlet of Warrion, about 20 kilometres north of Colac, in South Western Victoria, around 1911.
After serving an apprenticeship with an engineering business in Colac, Charles Cole used his first-hand knowledge of local farming to develop improved implements specifically suited to the needs of growing onions, peas and potatoes in the rich volcanic soils surrounding Lake Colac and Lake Corangamite. Amongst the first products he produced were small single-wheeled 2 and 3-row hand seed-drills for sowing onion seed and similar-sized hoes for cleaning weeds from between the rows of onion crops.
Around 1916 or 1917, Charles Cole moved the business to larger town of Alvie, about six kilometres to the south-west, where the product range continued to expand, adding onion bag dumpers, light spring-tyne harrows, onion skimmers & rakes, and a split-rim tool for removing motor car tyres that he patented in 1927-28. In 1923, a branch railway opened from Colac to Alvie and the town became a business service town with three trains a day carrying out produce such as potatoes, onions and dairy products from farms in the surrounding countryside. Steel for Cole's Implement Works was received by rail and the trains also bought reps and travelling salesmen to the district. Around the same time C.H. Cole began selling motor vehicles taking out agencies for Rugby cars and light trucks (manufactured by Durant Motors Inc of Canada) and British-built Armstrong Siddeley motor cars.
In 1928, C.H. Cole opened a branch in Colac, which later traded as Cole's Motors, selling primarily motor cars and tractors. Following the demise of Rugby motor car production, C.H. Cole began selling Willy 77 motor cars in 1933, then in the following year switched to products of The Rootes Group and Chrysler-Dodge, thus maintaining a mix of leading British and American motor vehicle brands. The company also sold Triumph and Harley Davidson motorcycles for a period in the early 1920s, and later began selling tractors, specialising primarily in the David Brown and John Deere products, although Fordson-Ferguson tractors were also sold for a period around 1939-1940.
During the late 1930s Charles Cole's two sons joined the business. Edward Cole (born 1922) began as an apprentice motor mechanic in 1937 and his elder brother Fred Cole (born 1919) joined as an apprentice engineer or fitter & turner.
In 1940, C.H. Cole closed the Alvie branch of the business and concentrated all the company's activities at 260-274 Murray Street, Colac, trading as Cole's Motors, although the official company name remained C.H. Cole Pty Ltd. The business was organised into three departments: Tractors, Motor Cars and Engineering, with about 30 people employed in total at the peak. In later decades the Tractor and Engineering (Agricultural Implement) Divisions were managed by Edward Cole, while his brother Fred Cole managed the Motor Car and Motor Cycle Divisions.
During the Second World War, the supply of motor vehicles and tractors was extremely limited, but the firm kept going on repairs and servicing and its manufacturing activities. The firm became one of just three companies throughout Australia contracted to machine components for the ranging dials on Australian-built 25-pounder guns and it expanded production of agricultural implements to help increase the productivity of farms growing much needed food crops.
During the post Second World War years, the company continued to develop new and improved implements, working closely with local farmers and forming collaborations with larger city-based manufacturers. In collaboration with the Hugh Lennon Plow & Machine Co., of Spotswood, they developed improved mouldboard ploughs and with Connor Shea & Co, of Sunshine, they produced improved tynes for seed-drills. In the early 1950s Cole's Motors developed a range of attachments for the British-built Allen Oxford self-propelled motor scythe - such as jingle harrows, potato hillers, and inter-row cultivators with interchangeable blades - that were marketed through Scott Bonnar Australia Pty Ltd, Australian distributors for Allen-Oxford products. Alongside these activities Coles Motors continued to manufacture and market its own range of implements, specialising in seeders for onion & vegetable growers, market gardeners, flower growers and graziers, patent spring tyne harrows, light harrows, 2-row wheeled hand push harrows with adjustable row widths, Dutch hoes, long-handled crop hoes and long-handled crop rakes. Sales were achieved throughout Australia, with export orders being received from places such as Cyprus, Lebanon, the New Guinea highlands, and later China.
For many years the firm's flagship product was the Cole's Single-Unit Twin-Row Seeders, offered either as a 2-row walk-behind hand seeder, or as multiples of 2, 3 & 4 unit sets to suit auto cultivators and small tractors such as the Howard 2000 used by market gardeners. Larger sets of up to 6 units were also made for attachment to a three-point linkage rear tool bar or mid-mounted tool bar on larger tractors. Production of the S.U. seeder units continued until 1990.
The motor trading side of the business continued with both the Rootes Group and Chrysler-Dodge vehicles until the early 1960s when the Rootes dealership was relinquished. They continued selling Chryslers throughout the 1960s, including the Valiant range produced at Chrysler's Australian factory in Adelaide. In 1963, Cole's Motors took out an agency for Yamaha motor cycles and later also sold Suzuki, Harley-Davidson and BMW motorcycles. Cole's Motors Pty Ltd finally ceased trading in 1991 when Ed and Fred Cole retired.