NRMA in the 30s: The Harbour Bridge and 24/7 roadside!

NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the second in a series of blogs about our story. 

BUILDING BRIDGES: The road service patrols, on their Harleys, lead a convoy of historical vehicles, portraying the seemingly ancient vehicles of the day, to the joy of the crowd.

BUILDING BRIDGES: The road service patrols, on their Harleys, lead a convoy of historical vehicles, portraying the seemingly ancient vehicles of the day, to the joy of the crowd.

Like today, back in the 1930s the NRMA was very selective in its recruitment for the prestigious position of guide.

As you would expect, guides had to have 10 years experience in the industry, providing them with a broad knowledge of mechanics. However, there were a few key differences between then and now. Guides also had to be married and own a home in the area which they were allocated to work. This strict criterion stayed in the recruitment process up until the 1980s!

In 1932, the small Douglas motorcycles were upgraded to the bigger Harley Davidsons complete with sidecar. This new road service vehicle meant patrols could carry a larger number of tools. NRMA road service patrols needed to have a high degree of ingenuity.

Improvised tools were sometimes as useful as traditional tools: ladies’ silk stockings were used for filtering petrol or making a rudimentary fan belt, soap – not susceptible to dissolving in petrol – could plug a hole in the tank, while apple or potato slices were used as a makeshift fix for broken wipers, to prevent a build-up of water in the rain.

The opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 was a high point for the NRMA in its second decade of operation. As the city buzzed with excitement, NRMA road service patrols, on their Harleys, lead a convoy of historical vehicles, portraying the seemingly ancient vehicles of the day.

“The laughs resounded in Sydney’s streets on the day of the Harbor Bridge opening mere not merely from the throats of people who were amused by the humorous pageantry. Behind this enjoyment was the enormous strides made in so few years by transport in New South Wales….The NRMA went to a good deal of trouble to make the transport section of the bridge pageant realistic.” The Open Road, 31 March 1932

With road transport playing an ever greater role in the lives of Australians, NRMA road service became a 24 hour operation in 1933. This increased work load meant extra time on the road for the patrols. Often, as well as their tools, the Harley’s side car carried a sleeping bag and swag for emergency ‘all-nighters’.

child-safetyUpholding the safety of motorists and pedestrians solidified as a core purpose for the NRMA in the 1930s. Along with safety advertisements, the NRMA wrote many articles about safe driving and being observant on the road. With the high road toll, select patrols were appointed Road Safety Patrols. These marked vehicles would ensure the safe crossing of school children at the start and finish of each school day.

Happily in the 1930s, there was no need for the NRMA to advocate for ‘no texting while driving’. However, communication while out on the road was quite difficult. Until the advent of radios, the patrols had to know the location of public phones. These phones were essential to call into head office to retrieve jobs; often stay at home wives would become a patrol’s informal receptionist.

“Ms Natalie Taylor, Caringbah branch’s assessing co-ordinator, in talking about her grandfather Mr Keith Saunders. Mr Saunders was an NRMA guide (patrolman) from 1932-1940, based at Katoomba and servicing an area between Mt Victoria and Springwood on a motor cycle with sidecar. Ms Taylor said job calls were noted by his wife; on completion of each job Mr Saunders phoned his wife for details on the next one. In appreciation of her part in the operation Mrs Saunders received a gift of five pounds from the Association each Christmas.” Excerpt of account: The NRMA Story 1964-65 to 1986-87 Volume 2

The most expensive road service job ever

Another example of ingenuity was in 1931 at Kurrajong, in the Blue Mountains, where a Member called for road service when his 1926 Overland developed a big end bearing trouble.

The depot patrolmen bent two new pennies, clipped a small segment off each and fashioned them into a bearing which was installed into the engine. It worked, and the car was then driven into Sydney for repair.

It was suggested that one of the pennies was a 1930 penny and if the story is true this must have been the most expensive road service job ever undertaken. Only 1500 pennies were dated 1930 were minted and they are valued now by some coin dealers at $250,000.

What is your earliest memory of NRMA Roadside? Share your story for your chance to win.

The truth about cruise control and aquaplaning


“Two vehicles aquaplaning” by Bidgee – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

We were recently asked on Facebook about this chain email below, which has been around for a few years, suggesting that cruise control causes aquaplaning.

“A 36-year-old female was travelling between Wollongong and Sydney. It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydroplane and literally flew through the air. When she explained to the policeman what had happened, he told her something that every driver should know – NEVER DRIVE IN THE RAIN WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON. The policeman told her that if the cruise control is on and your car begins to hydroplane – when your tyres lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed and you take off like an airplane. She told the policeman that was exactly what had occurred. The policeman estimated her car was actually travelling through the air at 10 to 15km/h faster than the speed set on the cruise control. The policeman said this warning should be listed, on the driver’s seat sun-visor – NEVER USE THE CRUISE CONTROL WHEN THE PAVEMENT IS WET OR ICY.”

While the final phrase in capital letters is good advice, the reasons given for arriving at this conclusion are misleading. Cruise control should not be used in wet conditions but there is no reasonable explanation why it would cause aquaplaning.

What is aquaplaning or hydroplaning?

Driving in wet conditions can be more hazardous than normal dry conditions as the wet conditions affect the tyre’s ability to grip the road surface. In order to maximise the grip available to the tyres, water is dispersed via the tyre’s grooves. At higher speed, the tyre (particularly if worn) may fail to disperse the water, allowing the tyre to ride on a plane of water and lose contact with the road surface. This is commonly referred to as aquaplaning or hydroplaning.

Worn tires will aquaplane more easily for lack of tread depth. Tyres worn below their tread depth indicators are no longer capable of clearing the road of water. If you want to get your Tyres checked, book in to one of our friendly MotorServes or one of our More4Members partners, Beaurepairs or Tyreright.

How does cruise control operate?

Cruise control is a device used to keep the speed of the vehicle constant.

The speed of the wheels is constantly being measured and fed into a cruise control system that regulates the engine’s output. Under a condition where the driving wheels have broken traction, such as an aquaplane situation, the sensor would measure an increase in wheel speed. The cruise control system would then reduce the amount of throttle and maintain the set speed. (This is the complete opposite to what is claimed in the e-mail to have occurred and causing the accident.)

In addition, cruise control systems are deactivated upon application of the brake pedal, which is usually deployed in emergency situations. Hence cruise control causing a 15 km/h increase in vehicle speed, under these conditions, is not possible.

Safe use of a Cruise control

The safest way to operate a vehicle is to ensure that under all driving conditions you can control the vehicle (brake, corner and accelerate) in a safe manner. As the “cruise” control title infers, it is a device that should be used under steady driving situations.

Cruise control when deployed will attempt to keep the car at a constant speed set by the driver. Hence if it has been set to 100 km/h speed, the car will enter a corner at 100 km/h. If this is an inappropriate speed for the corner, the subsequent braking to reduce speed will affect the balance of the vehicle which may in turn induce instability in the vehicle. This will affect the vehicle handling and if not correctly compensated for by the driver, can in a worst case, result in a loss of control of the vehicle.

Wet roads significantly affect the grip of the tyres and this in turn can make corrective actions by the driver much more difficult to judge. Accordingly, the driver should assess the conditions of the road and adjust vehicle speed so it is suitable for the road.

To better understand safe operation of its cruise control, you should refer to your vehicle manual. Many owner’s manuals suggest cruise control should not be used in heavy traffic driving, city driving, and winding, undulating, slippery or unsealed roads.

Have you ever aquaplaned or do you use cruise control when you drive?

Other resources:

- Tyre Care list
Changing a tyre
- Wheel Alignment
- Tyre Pressure
 Tips for driving in the rain

SpeakOut: Remove speed camera warning signs

One SpeakOut member has suggested removing speed camera signs.

One SpeakOut member has suggested removing speed camera signs.

If there’s one thing that polarises drivers it’s the existence of speed cameras. Some believe they are simply plonked on the side of the road to raise revenue for the government, while others are adamant they save countless lives by forcing people to slow down.

For the record, the NRMA supports the use of speed cameras when they are positioned in black spots that will make the road safer in that area.

Love em or hate em, they’re not going anywhere soon.

But one of our SpeakOut community members has made a suggestion that seems to have people divided: remove the warning signs.

“I am a professional driver and often see cars slow down right before a camera only to speed up again after they have passed it,” his submission starts.

“Obviously this is not having the effect in saving lives these cameras are meant to have.

“My suggestion is to remove all signs warning of the cameras and have a speed limit sign between 200 and 300 metres prior to any camera.”

Other SpeakOut members were quick to vote on the suggestion and many were against the idea. At the time of writing, 98 people had voted against it, while 28 supported the initiative.

While this member’s suggestion didn’t get the approval of the community, it’s an example of taking something we deal with every day and thinking of ways to make it better or more effective.

There are now dozens of suggestions like this – not just about roads, but also public transport, fuel prices and cycling – on SpeakOut.

It’s a great place to find out what other people are thinking – there’s a very good chance others share your frustrations and this is a great place to vote on ideas and join the discussion about the change you’re passionate about.

And of course we want to hear your ideas too. We want you to tell us what we should be championing and why we should be doing it.

So jump on to SpeakOut now and check it out.

What do you think of the suggestion to abolish speed camera signs?


Knights of the Road – The first NRMA Patrols

NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the first in a series of blogs about our story. Let us know your NRMA Memories in the comments. 


LEGENDARY SERVICE: The guides were paid a half crown commission for every new member they joined, as well as their salary of 2p.17s a week.

In 1920, a lobby group was formed called the National Roads Association (NRA) to petition for better roads. Following the success of the group and increased interest in motoring, National Roads and Motorists Association roadside assistance was born.

Smiling-guidess36_329_3On the 6 February 1924, two guides were appointed: Alfred (Stan) Povey and Sam (Mac) Hawe. The group quickly doubled and the NRMA guides, as they were called at the time, were issued with Douglas motorcycles. As the face of the NRMA the guides gained the trust of motorists, quickly seeing they were the knights of the road.

Working out of 117 Pitt Street, these guides performed a number of tasks for the multiplying motorists on the road. As well as providing mechanical first aid to stranded vehicles, the guides would move Member’s cars from park to park so as not to get a parking fine and join up new members.

One particular guide was so good at convincing motorists of the advantages of being a Member, while helping a stranded motorist, he would raise his voice putting on a theatrical display explaining his knowledge and the steps taken to revive the vehicle showing how advantageous a NRMA Membership is. The guides were paid a half crown commission for every new member they joined, as well as their salary of 2p.17s a week.

‘In those days we used to stand at the ferry wharves and sign up Members, if they needed it, we used to fix up Members’ cars. We’d change a wheel, work on the engine, even shift the car from one spot to another before the Police booked them for over parking’. Stan – In-Roads: NRMA staff journal FEB/MAR 1984

The uniform of the NRMA guides was based on the Light Horse Brigade, WWI uniform. Most likely surplus items, they wore brown jodhpur pants, serge coat, shirt, tie and boots. A leather cap was worn at all times featuring an NRMA badge on the crown and identifying number badges were worn on the collar. A long leather coat was issued for working in poor weather.

“N.R.M.A. official uniformed guides are new on duty in Castlereagh-street, from Hotel Australia to Hunter-street, between the hours of 6 and 11 p.m. These guides will extend the usual N.R.M.A. service to cars left in this locality, and will render mechanical first aid if necessary free of charge.” Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW: 1895-1930), Sunday 29 June 1924

Increase in Memberships meant increase of members in need and the guide contingent was growing. In 1927, the metro road service was divided into 5 divisions, just as the road services are divided into today, each division was looked after by a Sergeant guide. By 1929 the number of guides had increased to 50.

Neville Quist – the beltless wonder!

In 1927, many Members wrote to the Open Road praising NRMA guide Neville Quist, who helped quite a few stranded motorists in his days.

The big-ended bearing on the motorist’s model T had failed. Neville took the leather belt out of his pants and fashioned a bearing which worked well enough to get the car going and the member home.

Neville spent the rest of the day holding his trousers up with one hand while he worked with the other.

Bill Thornton: The Frying Pan Patrol Man

Bill Thornton, who worked around Bathurst in the late 1920s, once had problems of his own when the clutch plate of his motor bike gave up the ghost.

He took out his camping gear and cut the bottom out of his metal frying pan to make an emergency clutch plate.” Did I wake you? Association of Country Service Centres, 1996.

Next up - NRMA in the 30s: The Harbour Bridge and 24/7 roadside!

Share your story of how the NRMA has helped you over the years for your chance to win.

Can you help fix Sydney’s growing gridlock problem?

Traffic congestion

PREMIER’S OFFICE: “We need to think more innovatively about how our existing metropolitan-wide infrastructure could work more efficiently. “

While you’re sitting in traffic on your way home from work today, maybe use the time to think up a plan on how to reduce the gridlock that grips Sydney for much of the day.

That’s what the NSW Government is calling for with the launch of the Premier’s Innovation Initiative - effectively crowdsourcing ideas from the community and public sectors.

While the government may not (yet) be taking suggestions from the general public, interest and community groups will be invited to offer ideas of beating congestion hot spots around the city that are turning our roads into carparks at some times of the day.

The Government wants to broaden the pool from where ideas come as it battles this increasing problem.

If you have a particular road or route that makes your blood boil day after day and you think you might just have a solution, why not jump on to our interactive advocacy platform Speak Out and let us know what it is or #RedFlag it in our Seeing Red on Roads map.