Barter Barber Sam Dowdall is in a bit of a pickle.

Dowdall's beloved 1971 Bedford van he uses as part of his mission to overhaul New Zealand's dreadful mental health figures is reluctantly stationary, for now.

"I was having heaps of engine trouble with it. It broke down every thousand kilometres and I was doing 1500km a week," Dowdall said.

The intrepid traveller and barber was given a new engine from one of his sponsors to help him continue his work raising awareness around suicide and depression, but that's when the problems began.


The installation of the new engine meant the van required certification before it could legally return to the road, but a roof extension added before Dowdall's time has to be verified first.

"The certification has to be done to say the engine is okay and the piece they are trying to figure out about is the roof, so we are trying to find a picture or an owner from before '92 to say the roof has always been there."

Dowdall is now on the hunt but isn't entirely sure where to start.

"I know it spent some time in Timaru and Kerikeri but other than that, I'm not sure."

After plenty of work, the Barter Barber's Bedford van now sits waiting in a workshop for someone to recognise it. Photo/Supplied
After plenty of work, the Barter Barber's Bedford van now sits waiting in a workshop for someone to recognise it. Photo/Supplied

Dowdall, who in the past few years has lost four friends and "several clients" to suicide, is passionate about spreading the message to men and boys that talking and "sharing the load" is key to suicide prevention. He does this by offering haircuts at no charge. All he asks for is whatever someone can give - perhaps petrol money, or maybe some food.

While the van remains in the workshop, Dowdall has been getting around thanks to friends loaning him vehicles but he ideally wants his own van back.

If he can't find someone to verify the van, the vehicle will need to be recertified as if it was new - something Dowdall can't afford in time or money.

The Bedford was first registered in New Zealand in 1975.

Dowdall bought the van off a teacher in Mount Maunganui for $7500 several years ago. He said there had been a lot of work that had since gone into the classic, which was now probably worth about $25,000 and was a valuable part of his mission as The Barter Barber.

"I was having quite a bit of work done on my car and it's all done now but I have to find the owner of the car pre-'92. It's the very last thing. So I'm just trying to figure it out."

Where to get help

- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youthline: 0800 376 633, Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
- Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
- Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
- Samaritans 0800 726 666
- If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.