Thanks for the memories
It is not with sadness that Byron Buchanan watches the demolition of the Stortford Lodge Hotel, the establishment he ran for more than three decades, turning it into one of the most successful in the country.
“That’s history. What I will remember, however, are all the characters from the Lodge – and the fun we had.”
Like bar manager Bob Croft, the former wrestler, a “hard thing who would sell his grandmother.”
“I remember Crofter going round the bar raffling a saddle for 10 shillings a ticket.”
Jack Murphy, a drover who had full board at the hotel and kept his horses in paddocks outside the Stortford, won the raffle.
“In walks Crofter with the saddle for Murphy, who yells: ‘You bastard, that’s mine’. That was Crofter. Everybody took it as part of the fun.”
Byron “Buck” Buchanan says those sort of episodes went on all the time; fun days without the bitterness and haranguing of today.
Going through a scrapbook of memories, which records, amongst other things, the very first week’s trading accounts, a wistful Buck looks back with a lot of satisfaction.
There’s even a photograph he quickly covers with his hand. It shows a sign on the door of the hotel in the late 1950s which reads: Maori women not admitted.
Buck quickly explains that he was having trouble with the wives of some of his Maori patrons at the time and thought this was the best method of control.
The sign lasted only two days. After a visit from an aggrieved Boy Tomoana, who was not to be ignored, the sign was taken down.
And there’s a Stortford menu from the early 1970s which features a thick juicy carpetbag steak stuffed full of oysters for $3.50.
“Could you imagine. Why can’t we go back to those days?”
Buck was always going to retire at 40 and managed to do so, dropping the “toilet cleaning, pulling beer and general hotel management duties” to concentrate on property development.
His feats with the Stortford are well-documented – how he went into the pub with no capital at all, after getting a loan from the brewery for 10,000 pounds and one from the bank for eight thousand pounds. Buck was supposed to make up the balance of the 21,000 sale price himself but the hotel prospered so quickly that by the time he was supposed to pay his share in seven weeks, he had made enough profit to cover it.
His success, he says, was down to a little luck, hard work and a good wife.
Buck bought the hotel in partnership with Phil McCullough, whose nickname was “two thou Mac” a name coined because of his propensity for doing deals and selling when he had made 2000 profit, regardless of potential. After eight months, Mac said: “Give us 2000 and you can buy me out” and he sold his share to Buck.
That first week’s trading in November, 1953, showed a wage bill of 65 pounds and turnover of 765 pounds.
Buying the hotel was against all the advice from the region’s publicans who still considered the Stortford to be “in the country”, sitting on 3.5 acres of land.
Photo caption – Buck and Vera reminisce as demolition continues.