Interviewer: Jim Newbigin
Good morning Ian - 11th February, 2016 at the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank. Very nice to have you and I remember your talk at the Landmark a few weeks ago and that was very interesting indeed. I’d like you to tell us about when you first arrived in Hawke’s Bay. Tell us something about your grandparents and your wife and your wife and your life and when you married and everything you can so that we can digitise it.
Thank you Jim. My grandparents and my mother originated from Scotland in 1906. They came out by sailing ship from there and they first started off in Auckland. My mother at that stage was only 6 years old. Then they shifted down to Mangatainoka and my grandfather became the head brewer at the Mangatainoka Tui Brewery, and my mother – she was the secretary there. My father – he was down there driving bullocks at that stage so then they married and went from there to Te Rehunga – that's a little district outside of Dannevirke.
I was born in Woodville in 1929 and went to the Te Rehunga school there when I was 5. And from there we left Te Rehunga in 1939 and we came up to Haumoana. My mother ran the Post Office store. She owned and ran it along with the Post Office there. And then soon after that the war came in and my father - he went down to Christchurch and was one of the men looking after the conscientious objectors down there. 'Course the war came along and there was a lot of telegrams that used to arrive for people that had soldiers overseas and I had an old ramshackle bike that I used to hop on and deliver telegrams all round the village of Haumoana.
In 1947 I got my Heavy Traffic Licence. Previous to that I used to go out with J M Olsen’s truck drivers and drive the trucks while they loaded potatoes in the potato paddocks, and then J M Olsen had shifted to Takapau and Ericson & Son had taken over his transport business in Haumoana and then it went over to Ericson & Douglas, the two sons. They were operating that then, and I drove a truck for them for about six months and while I was there driving that truck we shifted a lot of earth from the Bluff Hill in Napier that had come down in the earthquake – slip - round into the pond at Ahuriri which is probably all built on today by Alexandra Hospital.
From there I got a job with Bill Reeves. He had come back from the war. His old employer who happened to be Dave Walker gave him a couple of licences which were hard to get in those days and started Bill off on his transport business, and from there I got a job there driving one of his flash new Dodge trucks, and I was actually one of Bill’s first drivers. There was Ken Hill, Roy Glenn and myself who were Bill’s first drivers. And so I carted a lot of stock for Bill Reeves, and a lot of other general work as well from all round the district. There was a lot of farms being settled from rehab war. After the war I had a dispute with Bill after working with him for 3 years and I decided it was time to leave.
In 1950 I left Bill because of this little dispute I had with him. He didn’t want me to leave but I had just got married in May 1950 and he said to me that I was married now and did I have another job to go to, and I said “no, I didn’t” but he said “well don’t go until you get a job,” but he said “I don’t want you to go.” I said “well sorry, but next Friday''ll be my last pay day.” So that was it.
So I didn’t have another job to go to and then I got a job with Ron Nelson who turned out to be the Mayor of Havelock in the finish. I got a job with him because he owned a shingle crushing plant that he supplied most ballast for the railways there, and Tukituki River at the Black Bridge at Haumoana and I got a job driving the bulldozer down there. And I’d only been there 6 months and Ericson & Douglas had a dispute between themselves and they had four truck licences and they couldn’t buy one another out but they wanted one another to get out. So we finished up that we … well, I'd probably like to think about buying that, so my mother looked into it and between her and the bank manager and what-have-you we managed to buy these two trucks, my brother and I – Gordon - and we started that. But we were pretty restricted as to how much business we could have, and it was pretty seasonal. So we did some wood and coal business there as well because that was already established there and that’s what we got.
When we bought the business we got four trucks, two were ... couple of old Federals and one Austin and one Commer truck that were available to put on the road. So that’s what we had and then we did a lot of fruit cartage around Havelock North, a bit around Haumoana and Twyford.
About what year is this?
In 1951 when we took the business over and as I say I got married in May 1950 and I said to my wife “Margaret, don’t worry, we'll probably in another 5 years we will be home on the pigs back”. And I don’t think I actually caught that pig.
But however, that was it and we carried on at Haumoana for quite a few years. And as I say it was quite a restricted area and it was bounded by the Tukituki river and by the Cape and didn’t have a big client base. So Vic Peterson – he had two trucks in Hastings and his base ... was based in Hastings but he had a big clientele based around … up Sherenden and Puketitiri, and he also had a freight run up into Puketitiri. So we went and seen Vic Peterson about … did he want to sell his business, and he said well he thought he might, so he looked into it and we bought it from him.
So that gave us a big wide scope, a bigger clientele, because although Vic - he only had two trucks he had a fairly big clientele and some fairly big stations to cart from. He had to give a lot of his work away so his business wasn’t developed enough with enough gear to cope with all the business he had, so ours fitted in pretty well and we managed to have this freight run that ran into Puketitri area every Tuesday and Friday and that increased our client base no end and we had quite a few people that we had as clients.
So when we took over from Vic Peterson that was in the 1960s. That gave us as I say quite a large client base and by that time our Haumoana yard was getting a wee bit small so Noel Ustic in Omahu Road cut up part of the block that they had down here, but it was a lot of shingle and they were 10 acre blocks and about the only ones down there was Peter Lowe's - not far out from Henderson Road and all the rest was bare land right up to where the Waipawa Timber Company was, right on the corner of Highway 50. And they cut up these 10 acre blocks so we bought one of those right out towards Fernhill. We paid at that stage for one of those blocks was if my memory serves me right – we bought it in the £ days - £10,000, £1000 an acre for practically all the shingle - the old shingle bed. However, so then we built a shed on there and put an office block internally inside the shed, and we operated the two depots - still maintained the one at Haumoana and used the Fernhill one for as many trucks we also wanted plus where the drivers were situated. So from there we had a fairly big farming clientele, and 'course - we used to cross tracks with some of the older people that were in the Transport who happened to be round Hastings – like, there was Powdrells, there was Dave Walker, there was Roy Sherwood, there was Alec Sherman. Many of our competitors, I call them competitors.
Leadbetter? Used to do the Taupo run did he not?
Leadbetter? He was in Taradale and he did the Taupo run, and the Lumsden boys - brothers - they did the Taihape run over the Gentle Annie. They did the Cascade Brewery and that. In Napier we used to do quite a bit over the Napier Road - had a clientele over there as well, and there was Pettigrews who was later Freightways and there was Bill Blair's and there was Nant Brothers who went into Pettigrews. So we used to probably ... not actually steal, but some of these people that I've mentioned who were our competitors were lost clients to us, but it was all in good faith that it was all accepted and what-have-you.
I actually lived at Haumoana from the time … I got there in 1939 until 1970 and I had two children, they're my two youngest children, that were just about due to leave school and it was a bit hard for these children who lived at Haumoana to get a job in Hastings. So I sold my house in Haumoana and lived in Hart Drive in Hastings until 1977 when I shifted out to McRobbie house on the Te Mata-Mangateretere Road.
Later on in the '70s Jimmy Mills died and George Mills died a few years before so the trustees of that was Kelly McNeil (lawyers in Hastings) and they didn’t want to have a bar … to do with any transport so they asked me at the time if we would like to buy it. You know, it was going pretty cheap so, yeah we did. So that put us up into the Sherenden district that also was a daily freight run every Tuesday and Friday.
So we were expanding pretty fast and everything. And then by that time there was a big change coming in the Transport. There was bigger units and more power coming into the trucks so instead of costing £128 for a 7 ton truck in 1970s we bought out one of the big internationals with 250 horses and we thought 'well - where are we going from here? We’re going to have to buy these trucks and we’ve got to go back to working for finance companies if that be the case'. And the old finance companies used to tell us “well you’re only paying 14%.” But that 14% actually added up to about 28% because you were paying the … in 3 years time you were still paying the principal plus what you started off paying so there wasn’t much sense in it.
So then one or two nibbles started coming in to the place ... Midland Transport in Taupo. The transport was expanding because the rail was becoming deregulated so you needed this gear to keep up with your competition. So Midland wanted to get down here and have a base down here so they started to sniff around and probably buy us. And then Hawke’s Bay Farmers Transport who had been created through Roy Sherwood and Dave Walker and Cyril Wilkie and co - had all amalgamated into one and called it the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Transport along with the Waipawa Farmers Transport, they came in to it, and later on Foleys and Winloves from Waipukurau and the Irvine boys in Takapau Transport all came. They belonged to Hawke’s Bay Farmers Transport, and it became a public company. They wanted to buy us out. They were going to give us so much money, and so much shares whereas Midland was only going to ... not give us any money but spread it out over 5 years, so HB Farmers Transport won. And this was in 1981.
Farmers Transport wanted me to …. and we couldn’t sell the shares that they gave us for 5 years. And the Farmers Transport also gave me a job along with my brother - so then I was one of the sales reps and I used to travel round the country on this and that and the next thing. So then I did that for 8 years. And my wife Margaret – she wanted to go to Australia and live over there - 'cause I had a son over there. I’d been over there a few times and I thought 'yeah, by joves - I could live with this weather over here in Queensland - Brisbane'.
And so - left the HB Farmers in 1988 and sold the place at Te Mata-Mangateretere Road and then went over to Australia. Yeah. But then I found out when I got there – yeah, it was nice weather, but then - I didn’t have … no mates, nothing ... over there. I had no job and I couldn’t get a job. And I didn’t … see you today, and somebody tomorrow, and somebody the next day. And then I did get a little job on a macadamia nut place but that was only a casual job and they took somebody else on permanently and I said to my wife “I’m homesick, I want to go home”. She said “oh yeah, okay then”. So we put the house that we had up in Mooloolaba on the market and it sold pretty quickly, so we were on our way back to New Zealand and they rang up and said you could have that permanent job on the macadamia orchard. I said “I'm sorry but I’ve sold my place and I’m moving back”.
That's when I moved back here to Taradale - bought a house in Taradale and that was in 1999 that we got back here. Then I was at an auction sale in Hastings in that period one day, and ran into Rupert Ryan. He asked me what I was going to do and I said “oh, I don’t know” and he said “well, you’d better come and drive my truck for me during the apple season”. So I had to go and have a talk with him one day in his office down Evenden Road. He installed me as his part time employment for … just during the apple season. And then the apple season got to repairing the bins that had been smashed and everything, so that was a bit more employment.
In '92, unfortunately, my wife – she got sick and she died at the age of 63. That was July 3rd 1963 .
So Rupert – he used to get to do - other than drive his truck - to do a bit of sheep work and do a bit of this and do a bit of that and instead of being casual work it expanded out to this, and this, and this and actually it was turning into a permanent job.
Well he knew where a good man was.
Yeah. So anyway, it was August – September '93 that I’d been working there under casual and he rang me up one night about 9 o’clock and he said to me “I’m going away for 10 days.” I said “are you Rupert, why ... do you want something done?” “Oh no, no, no” he said. “Matter of fact” he said “I’m going to California and I’ve got a spare seat on the plane and I’d like you to come with me”. “Yeah? Well when are we going?” “Lunch time tomorrow.” “Oh, God - can’t get on the plane at lunch time tomorrow.” Just then Air NZ had started booking your suitcases right through, you didn’t need to worry about changing over at domestic airports. And I’d been to Australia a couple of times previous to that and it was working well because I’d fly from here to Auckland and jump off, and then get on the international plane and get to Aussie and my suitcase was there.
But anyhow when we got to Napier and … going to go to California - Los Angeles - the attendant at Napier said “will I book the cases right through?” and I said yeah, yeah. And Rupert said “No, no, Ian - I don’t like this”. I said “Rupert, I’ve been to Australia a couple of times” and I said “I’ve had no trouble at all. Cases have been there every time”. So eventually Rupert gave in. So away we went - Napier to Auckland, Auckland to Los Angeles. Got to Los Angeles ... carousel going round and round and round … got thinner and thinner with suit cases and I didn’t see ours. And I thought 'where’s Rupert?' I looked around and he's … I thought “oh, gee I better not look at him”. So in the finish he came over to me and said “I told you Ian”. We found out our suitcases were still in Auckland. So Air NZ were very good and said “well we’ll deliver them to you the next day on the courier.” Well that’s very good, but Colin’s going to pick us up when we get through customs and whatever here. And they'd taken us to … wherever ... so we had no physical address to deliver the suitcases to. So it turned out after a lot of discussion and where we had to go to in California and what-have-you, that in 3 days' time we were going up past Bakersfield airport there, so we picked our suitcases up there three days later.
Anyway it turned out that I was still at Rupert’s 20 years later. I don't know - was more or less on his permanent staff from during the apple season. He just used to leave me to organise the trucks and the orchards that we had to go to and everything else, so I got back into the transport business that way . And then in 1998 I met a nice lady, who is Margaret Townsend, and she and I got married in 1998 so that’s virtually I suppose my life.
Ian that’s very good. I’ve just made a few notes here. You must have been the father of the carrying business in the area with the number of trucks you had. How many?
We started off with four with two actual licences, and we finished up with - by the time we'd put it into Farmers Transport - with twentyfive trucks, and all … most of those had trailers behind them as well.
When did the carrying start with sheep and cattle?
Well, I can tell you a few stories about that. Roy Sherwood, we got a combination crate. You know - at one time we … originally we built a cattle crate and then we built a sheep crate and that’s what they were. And then in the early '50s O’Neils in Matamata built a combination crate which would take cattle or sheep or whatever, you just converted it over. And I can well remember that we got one from O’Neils in Matamata, and I went to show Roy Sherwood because he was a well respected transport operator here in Hastings. Roy Sherwood stood in his yard with his pipe and he said “anybody that thinks they can cart sheep in one and the same crate as they cart cattle are stuffed in the head”. I don't know whether he used that term but – that's what he meant. it would never work. But it did work and we finished up with that particular crate that we had there we put it in the dump at Mangakino, because we’d taken a load of cattle up one night and one driver thought he could get away with flying round corners or something, and he just missed and tipped the whole load of cattle out, and plus – goodbyer crate - smashed that to bits, so we finished up we put that in the dump at Mangakino. Yeah – then after that there was quite a few cattle crates that were ...
And horse crates too. I’ve got a photo of my one of the brewery truck where my father put a horse float on to go to the hunt and then Powdrell arrived the next week with one as well.
Yeah, Tom Brown who had a carrying business in Hastings - he used to cart sheep, cattle and everything and he had a small client business - but he had horse floats and he had licences to go round New Zealand. It finished up Bill Reeves bought his horse floats off him and then that’s how Majestic Horse Floats was eventually … came to light. It actually came out of Avenue Road in Hastings where Tom Brown was.
In your talk this morning you’ve mentioned a number of old family names in Hawke’s Bay and I remember you mentioning for one the Ustics. And that's an old name in the area and there were many others of course and … was it Hartree up Puketitiri way? Dave Walker used to talk about him a lot.
Yeah, because he used to do the Waihau run up there. Dave Walker had a service run into the Waihau Road and old Boss Hartree farmed up there at Ngaroka and then he also took a big block in the back of Puketitiri in towards Pakaututu, and started farming up there. Those Hartree boys – they were pretty hard case boys.
When were the sales here at Stortford Lodge? Were they only on a Wednesday or were they on a Friday as well?
What happened there was they were always on a Wednesday and the Ewe Fairs were held on a Friday over about five Ewe Fairs between January and February. So then all the firms were here with DePelichet McLeod, Dalgetys, Loan & Mercantile, Murray Roberts and they all owned the sale yards here. So Wright Stephensons arrived here, and I forget what year they were here. So they said “well, we’ll build our own sale yards”. The agents here wouldn’t let them in to the sale yards here, so they said they'd build their own. And they were going to go down – just there by Irongate Road, I think they bought a block down there. And they were going to turn the sale yards here and have a sale on the Monday. This is when the Mercantile companies here in Hastings got their heads together and said “right - we’re going to have our sales too on a Monday and we’re going to call that the fat sale and the store sale will be Wednesday and the Ewe Fair will remain Friday. so that blocked Wrighties out of the sale yards here so then Wrighties had to buy their way in here after a few years.
That was virtually the start of Ron Trotter wasn’t it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah – Ron Trotter. That’s what happened there.
Now some of the old names with the trucking companies that are still operating – Elms, they must have been going a long time.
Yes, yes, yes - they were way back in the '50s.
And there’s a guy that I see a truck round Napier and I can’t remember his name. Is it Brown? There’s one name – Jones, that’s it. He’s an old name.
Yes, the Joneses – yeah, they were way back in there. They did a little bit of stock cartage. They were only actually doing that for some relatives of theirs up into the Patoka, and Hawkstone Station and also one of the Waihau road.
So with the number of carriers, it was a pretty big industry wasn’t it? And you were all vying for business.
There were fortyfive of us through the '50s. I counted them from Putorino down to Central Hawke’s Bay and there was fortyfive of us, all vying for that dollar – or the pound in those days.
So, I know, you’re like some other industries - you all got together and decided to charge the same rate. There was no cut throat, you were all gentlemen weren’t you.
Yeah, well the carriers themselves were. But then suddenly these young stock agents were given flash motor cars. And so they were the cause of price cutting coming in because they'd say “well, we’re buying the sheep on the farm, so I’ll get a carrier to here – I'll get you a cheap rate”. And that’s where the price cutting came in - the stock agents started to interfere with our business and then price cutting came in, in a big way. I can remember one particular agent - he got the boot from the company he was in - and some of these clients that he had, he went round and he became a big buyer for all the - 'cause there were a lot of butchers through the '40s and 5'0s in Hastings - and big butchers. So he had a big clientele of butchers that used to kill at the Awatoto Abattoirs and Tomoana Abattoirs. And when he got the boot from this particular firm he started up his own buying business up in all these areas, and in particular where we were operating up in the Patoka area - he went and brought a lot of cattle up there for these butchers. So they said “well, we want Bambry’s to do our cartage because they run the service run up here, which is all part of our work, and they bring the little stuff up so we want to give them the big stuff as well.”
So that was alright until quite a while later – that was going along alright. We were carting the sheep and the cattle into the abattoirs, and our clients – they were happy the way things were. But then – the fellow, he rang me up one Sunday night and he said “You're going to have to cut your rate on these cattle that you are carting for the butchers, because I’ve got to look after the welfare of the butchers”. So he said “from now on Attwood & Reid are not going to do my cartage, Bill Reeves is going to do mine, and from now on these cattle that you're doing out at Puketitiri and Patoka you're going to have to cut your rate on”.
So after a big discussion I said to him “Well, I’m not going to cut the rate”. He said “Well, you’re going to lose it”. I thought no we won’t lose it. Anway I rang him back about a quarter of an hour later and I said to him “I sort of decided that maybe we’ll cut the rate, we could have a discussion and we could perhaps cut the rate”. “That’s good” he said. So I said “yes, but just hang on” I said. “I’ve decided that if I’ve got to cut the rate and you’ve got to look after the welfare of the butchers, you’ll be getting a buyers' commission for doing that, so you cut your rate on your commission. You'd have thought I’d shot him over the end of the phone. “Why the hell should I?” he said. I said “exactly - why should I cut my rate? Because those clients there, they all help one another, they talk to one another - so if I cut the rate for you I’ve got to do it for all our other clients.
So eventually we did lose it. Most of the farmers up there one day said to me “well I’m sorry, but you know - he’s buying the cattle and we want to sell them to him”. He said “We're sorry, we can’t hang on to it any longer for you.” I said to him “do you realise he's getting two commissions for those cattle?” He said “is he?” I said “yes” I said “is he charging you a commission?” They said “yes”. And I said “he’ll be charging the butcher a commission too for buyers commission.” He lost the cattle out of all that too.
That’s what happens. Yeah, I’ve seen that happen. You mentioned before your brother. What was his name?
That was Gordon. Was he with you all the way through the trucking business?
Yeah. My younger brother Owen he came in with us for a little while but he didn’t stay very long.
Now may I ask … Margaret … you were married in '98 to Ian. Would you like to tell me something about your family?
Margaret: My uncle George and Charlie had Townsend Motors over in Napier and they came from Picton originally. And my father, when he sold his businesses in Blenheim he took Mum overseas and while he was overseas he had Marineland Motel built. When they came back they went into the motels, because Dad always wanted to have a motel. He bought some land down in Blenheim for it and then they rezoned it industrial so he couldn’t build a motel.
So the you were stationed here - you lived here in Napier?
Yes, I came with my parents when my marriage broke up.
And then this golden headed boy came round and that was the start of another era in your life. Very nice too.
Ian: Very good, yeah - she’s a good girl. She looks after me.
Well Ian you covered the field pretty well.
D'you think so?
Yes I do … don't you think Margaret?
Margaret: Mmm. He has got a list of all the carriers ...
I think we mentioned most of them didn’t we?
Margaret: … a whole lot.
Would you be prepared to leave that with us and we can have it typed up.
Ian: Yes well this is what I had for …
The other one, yes. But if we can hang on to it for a while and have it typed up and then we’ll return it to you.
I'd just probably pick out the bones out of this one for you to … the ones I'd chosen were from Putorino down. These were people and where they were domiciled – Putorino – Paddy Burton and Van der Meer and all this.
These are mainly carriers that were all in the stock business, not the ordinary town and around fellows.
Margaret: See he hasn’t mentioned the people like Elms because they didn’t cart stock.
Ian: I just stuck to the rural place, and that's when Havelock North was Ron North, and Hastings was Atwood & Reid and Ron Burnley. Some of these were only one and two truck operators but still, they were there.
Well we'll just put it on to this part here and then we'll give it back to you. We'll get it all photographed out and returned to you. Thank you.
Long as you're happy.
Well you can always add to it later on anyway.
The Probus Club in Hastings were looking for speakers for different things and they heard about me down there. So they want me to probably do one.
You're on the circuit.
Well, so they say.
It was a Friday and Gordon Watson wanted to get to the pub so he drove straight out of the Longlands railway yard there on to the road at ... Longlands Road. Hit the railway line at the same time as the bloody goods train came through from Wellington. She broke that artic off at the pivot point and tossed the cab and the truck out there on to the road where the railway crossing sign … is on top of the cab and took the body with the sheep on there and carried it right from Longlands Road there across that little creek and dumped it off there with the sheep on it. That was Gordon Walker. And then ironically he had a job there at the other railway crossing ... Dave Walker’s father-in-law – he got killed on the Davidson Road railway crossing. Livingstone - Colin Livingstone.
If you want me to put a bit of a story together about some of these old things I’ll do it.
Well you know if you don’t do it, it will be lost.
There's points like that, like Colin Livingstone - he was a drafter for Borthwicks for years and years. He lived in Davidson Road and he got killed on a Saturday morning on that Davidson Road crossing. He was going back home.
Well, if you can do that it would be very much appreciated. Because you know - we want to get all the information we possibly can from Hawke’s Bay people. I see some of these people and you get hold of them and they say “oh, just not yet, not yet”. And I've got a couple like that and - they’ve gone. Peter McCullum, Kelly McNeil just died recently so we missed out.
Yeah, well I’ll put a few notes together like … seem to pertain to a lot of this history that I haven’t mentioned here.
And then you’ll have it in your speeches. We’ve only had three speakers in fourteen years, but you’d be worthwhile coming to. And we’ve got a few farmers there as well.
Okay, just to wind this up, thank you very much for your talk this morning. And Margaret, thank you - nice to have you here as well. And this will go down in the history of Hawke’s Bay.
Well, thank you Jimmy, it’s only been a pleasure to do it and I hope that it's of some value to be put together in a proper format – so thank you very much.
Okay – thank you.