Douglas (Doug) John Whitfield & Deirdre Whitfield Interview
Today is the 25th January 2017. I’m interviewing Doug Whitfield on his family in Hawke’s Bay and other areas. Doug, would you like to tell me about your life and times?
Well I guess if I go right back to my grandfather, he left England in the year 1900 and came to New Zealand on the toss of a coin. He walked down the street with my grandmother who was eighteen – he was twenty – and as he walked down the street he saw a sign up ‘Migrate to New Zealand’. And he said to my grandmother, “why don’t we go there?” She said “Clem, we can’t, we got no money.” He said “I’ve got fifty gold sovereigns”, he said. He pulled one out and he flipped it and he said “heads we go to New Zealand, tails we stop here.” And he took his hand off and up it came as heads. So he went in and bought the ticket.
What a great start!
And that was in 1900, and they arrived on the Wellington wharf and that was … I think he used to tell us that was the year that Richard Seddon died, and he died on the ship coming out. And when they got to Wellington wharf the Maori people were wailing on the wharf, and my grandmother had never seen a coloured person and she thought they were going to eat her, so she wouldn’t get off the boat.
So anyway he got a job … they got a job in Wellington working for Mrs Hannah … Mr and Mrs Hannah … Hannah’s Shoe Shop. And he was a coachman and Grandma worked in the house, cleaning for Lady Hannah. And anyway he worked there for over a year as coachman – he used to take her to town, wherever she wanted to go, and do a bit of gardening for her. Anyway one day she came to him and she said “Clem, I want you to clean my windows”. And him being quite an arrogant Pom, he said “Mrs Hannah, do you think I’ve come fourteen thousand miles to be a charwoman for you? You can stick your job.” And he went and told Grandma, and she said “well, where are we going to live?”
So he went and got her a job at Government House … cleaning at Government House, with accommodation provided … and he went down to the West Coast, coal mining. He was down there for two years, and they never saw each other for two years while he worked there. And when he got enough money together he came back up to Wellington, picked her up and on their bikes went out to Lower Hutt – Epuni Hamlet, Lower Hutt, and there he bought two acres. And he put glasshouses up and he grew vegetables and took them in to Wellington.
So he bought this two and a quarter acres, and he set it up as a market garden. And he used to go up into Wellington to the market gardens – he became a part owner in Market Gardeners – put money into Market Gardeners to sell his produce. And he used to go with his horse and cart on the Hutt Road into Wellington, and then come back to Ngauranga and pick up horse manure and take it and put that on the garden. And he did that for three years.
And then … must have been like, 1910 – I’m only guessing these figures. He’d already had my father and my uncle, they were two little boys, and he decided he wanted to get out of the Hutt. So he got on a train and came up to Hawke’s Bay, and a guy by the name of White had six acres for sale in Hodgson Road at Pakowhai. So Grandad bought a bike in Hastings and biked down to Pakowhai to see this land, and bought it. That was the start of Pakowhai, and that must have been about 1910 I would think – I’m only guessing that. It might have been later than that – might have even been 1915, because the day of the earthquake in 1931, they were all digging potatoes by hand, in the big sacks, and my grandma was picking them up and Dad and Grandpa were digging with a fork. And the bags all fell over, and they hadn’t sewed them up. And that was the day of the earthquake, so that was down at … he bought six acres in Hodgson Road in about 1915 maybe, and then later on he bought ten acres down Brookfields Road, and that was where they were digging potatoes the day of the earthquake. So that’s where we started on potatoes.
And so then Dad went on growing potatoes every year, gradually got mechanised, to the horse cultivator and then the digger behind the Fordson tractor, and we gradually got mechanised. And then Uncle Harry, Dad’s brother, went over to Mill Road in Clive – he started growing over there. And then in 1938 I was born and that was the day that he got the truck, and we’ve been involved in growing every since.
And then in 1987 … I think it was 1987 that Dad died and my brother and I carried on for another two years, growing. And we had quite a bit of land at Pakowhai we bought over the years, and we had an orchard as well. But my brother didn’t like the orchard so we cut that out, and we then grew just potatoes and pumpkins and tomatoes for Wattie’s.
And then … oh, I’ll go back a bit … during the war Dad grew for the Forces – cabbage and all that sort of stuff as well as potatoes, so growing’s been … but we’ve always been in Pakowhai – we started in Hodgson Road, ’cause Dad bought from Grandad that block, and he bought him a three acre block in Pakowhai Road opposite [?] Orchards, in town, and Grandma and Grandpa moved up there. And Dad got married to my mother who was a Pakowhai girl and her father had an orchard on the corner by the store.
What was their name?
Harris. Yeah, and Johnny Harris had cows up the road. And anyway, they got married and lived in the house in Hodgson Road. And where I lived further up Hodgson Road we bought another fourteen acres and a house, and I bought that off Dad and got married in 1961.
We’ll just go back to your schooling … you would have gone to school in Pakowhai?
Pakowhai School – started there – I was born ’38 so I must have started there about ’42 … ’43, and then went through to 1952 at Pakowhai. In 1952 I went to Boys’ High in Napier, and I was there ’52, ’53, ’54 and ’55.
It was quite a little community, wasn’t it? Centred around the community hall that was there.
Well the hall was shifted, of course. The hall used to be in Fernough’s paddock on the corner there, and then they shifted it to where it is today – it’s still the same hall.
There’s not many of the names on the road now – they’ve all almost gone.
Well we’ve got one – my boy’s there; Malcolm McDonald’s there and he’s still on the main road; Brian Dillon, and that’s it.
So anyway you went to Napier Boys’ High?
Well I did three years I missed my School Cert ’cause I was spending most of my spare days at Frank Stein’s, driving machinery. And then my mother thought I was too small to lift these big sacks of spuds, and so she arranged for me to have an apprenticeship as a builder. So I went for four and a half years into town, ‘til 1959 I finished my apprenticeship with Faulkner Construction Company. And my first day at work was on the Fertiliser Works at Awatoto. And I started on there and then we built a big part of Wattie’s factory, and then after the fire we built some more. We built Williams & Kettle, which got pulled down, where now … on the corner of St Aubyn Street there where the … oh, they’re all there, there’s … trying to think of all those shops in there. We built for Loan & Mercantile, and then the day that I finished my apprenticeship the boss came to me and he said “you’ve got two weeks to go and you’ll be finished your apprenticeship.” I said “well can you take two weeks’ notice then?” He said “what?” “Well”, I said “I don’t want to be this – this is not my scene.” I was fed up with the unions and the strife, and I didn’t like it – and the the lazy way that people dodged work, and so I soon as I …
So anyway, ’59 we had a very, very wet spring, and I finished my apprenticeship in ’59. And I came home and my father said “what are you doing?” I said “I’ve finished – come home to here.” And he’d just lost all the potatoes that he’d planted, the flood had taken them. They were rotting in the ground.
It was terrible, that spring.
Anyway, he said “I’m not getting any more seed, I’m not spending any more money”. So I said to my mother “have you got any money?” And she said “yeah, I’ve got some savings”. “Then how about lending it to me?” So she lent me £2,000, and I bought seed and fertiliser, leased the neighbour’s property across the road – McCanns, and I planted spuds in there. And when I did that Dad went and bought some more seed and he planted his crop as well. [Chuckle] And that was 1959.
And anyway, so we struck out together and I worked for Dad for those years but I also worked for myself. That was from 1959 to ’61 when I got married, and then Gwen and I worked on our own and helped Dad. And then finally we made a company, so it became J R Whitfield & Sons Limited, and that was my father and my brother and I, and we farmed that ’til Dad died. And then we changed it to my name, and my brother left. So that was how it all happened.
So I started big time in spuds in 1959, and we got up to … the biggest we got up to was six hundred acres – four hundred acres in Hawke’s Bay and two hundred acres at Ohakune.
And of course you were in potatoes when we were in the big sacks?
Yeah. Fourteen to the ton – how I’ve got a back I don’t know.
And then in 1959, the day I come [came] home … well that year, Dad bought the first Ferguson, 35 diesel, and we were able to put a forklift on it and from there we started the pallets. Even though we didn’t have bins, we just started with pallets. And we used to stack the sugar bags onto pallets and lift them off with a 35 Fergie. That was a big step from the Farmalls that had no hydraulics like the Fergies.
Well you know, you think back when you were tomato growing, and we used to stack all the boxes on the truck, not on pallets.
I never did that. When we started growing tomatoes [it] was about 1963, and was on pallets and on a big trailer. And we’d go down the paddock and load the tomatoes onto the four pallets on the truck, come out to the head and then forklift them with the old forklift over your shoulder and onto the truck, and then take them to Wattie’s. I used to work alongside Did Ericksen doing that.
Yeah, spud game was our number one, and gradually … we bought our first harvester from Gisborne, and that would have been about 1963, ’64 – Johnson Minor, and it was no good so we took it back. We brought it down on our A5 Bedford, and then I carted it all the way back. Then I went over to Marton and bought a Johnson Major which was a big improvement on the job. So we started with that, and from there we went to Grimme Harvesters.
Early days of course, we hand-picked with a Maori gang, and the same gang that picked our tomatoes, picked our spuds into big sacks and we just carted them to the shed, stacked them two high in these big sacks, and never sew them. And then we’d just push the grader in and just tip them in.
1976 was a big change for us. We got in tow with Turners’ guys from Hamilton who we had been supplying. And they started some shops called K Market. And they were fruit and vegetable outlets, and they had one in Hamilton in Kahikatea Drive, one in Rotorua, and one in Huntly. And we bought a new truck and trailer to cart spuds for them, in 1976.
Brian Dale was the guy – he was an auctioneer for Turners – that’s who I dealt with. And him and Paul Fear had a fallout with Turners and they went on their own, and that’s when we … started ’76, then later on, it would be … ooh, I suppose in the very early eighties, we started growing at Ohakune because we had to have spuds all year round. And when we couldn’t dig in Hawke’s Bay we could dig in Ohakune, ’cause … They’re getting all the rain today – I’ve just been talking to my mate over there – he said they’ve had thirty mm [millilitres] last night, and we’re not getting a drop.
We used to grow some Ruas for the canneries.
Well … ’cause Ruas were one of the worst. Unless you had absolutely dead tops, dry, dry … and good wet ground, they’d bruise as easy as anything, and they’d go in and [??]. And we persevered with Ruas and our first two row harvester – I said to my brother, “we can’t use this thing on these Ruas”, so we went back to hand picking them, and digging them.
Yes. We grew a potato – Majestics …
Yeah. And my son-in-law – his father used to grow the seeds at Kimbolton. Pritchard … joker Pritchard. Yeah, well his son’s married to my daughter. They met each other through us, in the potato game. Yeah, he was up at the back of Apiti, he grew spuds – put them down and graded them in Feilding.
You were growing up to six hundred acres …
That was when we picked. And that was when Wattie’s owned the factory at Feilding, and we grew two hundred acres for them for process – that all went in bulk shipping trucks, and bins.
And then when that fell over, McCains bought the factory and only run [ran] it for a year or two and then closed it down. And we then had to find alternative markets and that’s when we pushed hard with these K boys. They put some more shops at Tauranga and Te Awamutu and they started taking pretty well half our crop. And we then put … in 1995, Ross was home – and we went to Australia and bought a new truck – a big truck, 550 horsepower. And he’s just got rid of those trucks now … got new ones, but that truck came on here with a B-Train behind it, and went out every night to Auckland or somewhere, loaded with spuds. And the Eagle that I’ve got in town getting repainted, it used to go to Auckland every Monday morning or Sunday night, and every Thursday, and that was to Turners in Auckland.
So with your Ohakune growing, did you have staff over there?
Yeah, had a manager over there and he got the staff, and then I used to go two days a week. I’d go over on Tuesday night and usually stay – we had a flat in the shed, we built a flat like – a bit bigger than this, and I’d stay the night and help them on Wednesday and Thursday, and just help them with the digging. By that time we were growing potatoes for washing, and we were washing at Levin, but we were tied up with Wilcox’s from Pukekohe, and we used to grow five hundred ton for them for washing. And they had to be Nadine and Reds, and so Stroma and Nadine were the varieties we grew for them. And that’s when [where] our old International used to go two nights a week down to Levin from Ohakune.
‘Cause out of the soil up there they would come out almost clean?
Yeah, well only wanted a very light wash. And what we did over there, we also grew our seed. We stopped growing and buying seed from the South Island and we grew seed there and certified it, and then we could sell that as well – we used to sell it to our Pukekohe growers. And they’d come straight out of the paddock and be shipped up to them already in bins, and they’d plant them early. And over there we grew a bit of Rua, grew Nadine. And then they were supplying a couple of factories, so we grew Russet Burbank which is a chip, big long [?].
So we grew the seed for that for five or six years, so that was an interesting operation. And then Moonlight came on board which is a New Zealand variety, and we carried on growing that. And Trevor Good out here, used to buy the seed off us – we’d grow it at Ohakune, bring it over here and grade it, and he’d take it. So they were the later years of our growing operation.
So the sheds you had at Pakowhai, were they purpose-built or were they farm sheds?
They started off as purpose-built, and then they grew like Topsy, we just kept adding onto them as we got bigger and bigger. But they were never high enough. We were trying to skimp and we got those trusses from … oh, I forget – one of the firms in town … Cyclone. They made these frames, and we met them but they weren’t really high enough, but we managed with them. We’d store a thousand ton at Pakowhai.
And of course I suppose Ohakune, because its cooler you probably weren’t worried about stuff like blight?
No. Frost was our biggest problem. We had a frost one year on Christmas Day, and I knew it was coming because the temperature had dropped. And my manager rung me and he said “the temperatures are coming down”. I said “quick – ring the helicopter. Get him to put two kilos to the hectare of copper on”. And that would give us two degrees we could save, and we never got cut. And our next-door neighbour’s spuds were brown, and ours weren’t even touched because of two kgs of copper. So they just hardened the top a wee bit.
Yeah – Ohakune was different. We wouldn’t plant ‘til we’d finished planting here. We took the gear, the planter and all, from here. We always had a couple of tractors over there, but we took the planter and the hopper and all that gear, and we’d go and plant. And we’d start planting about 5th or 6th of December, and if we had a good run we’d get it all in by Christmas, but if we didn’t we might have to plant a bit after Christmas, but that wasn’t desirable ’cause we had frosts in the autumn at the other end.
But it was a very interesting soil over there to work … very easy to work. Turned it over with the plough. A lot of the ground we got was ground that had been swedes and that sort of thing, so we’d just go in and plough it, give it one cut with a power harrow, and plant. And other ground we got was new ground, and we got that ahead of the carrot growers. And they wanted us in first so that there was no turf in the ground ’cause the carrots would [?fail?]. So they wanted ours so we had the ground first.
And of course as time went on your children grew, and it’s your son that’s in the trucks – did he ever work as a potato grower?
He went and worked for – he did his apprenticeship with Russell Asphalts, the Russell boys, as a mechanic. I said to him, “if you’re going to be doing trucks you’ve got to have the knowledge to fix them”. So he went off.
The older boy – that’s the boy on the tractor there – he didn’t want to leave home. He came home the day he was fifteen and he worked with us on the spuds all that time. He did most of the tractor work.
So what’s his name?
John. And he now works for his brother-in-law, Alan Clark, who owns Bay Spray, and [they] do all the roads. Yeah, and that’s my son-in-law … my other son-in-law. And John works for him and he also works for Stewart Young since I’ve got crook – he’s doing Stewart Young’s potato work which I used to do.
And then of course along came psyllid.
It cost us a million dollars. We didn’t know we had it, and we must’ve had three hundred acres of spuds here in the Bay by that year, and I wondered why they were going like they had blight – the tops – and they only got that high. And because we were growing a lot of Moonlight then which are very susceptible to it – one of the worst. And anyway, the next thing we heard that the psyllid had come in on capsicums in Auckland, Pukekohe. It spread like wildfire through the country, and people could only get little wee spuds, and tomatoes. And I’ll never forget that first year, the Bank rung me up and they said “you haven’t cleared your overdraft.” I said “I can’t – it’s impossible.” I said “we had a million dollars’ worth of spuds in the ground and we’ll be lucky if we get a hundred thousand out of them.”
So anyway, it was a very challenging thing because we’d been using a product called Tamaron for tuber moth. And we never started spraying for tuber moth until probably 20th December, depending on the season. Anyway I read an article – Gwen, my late wife, she got onto the computer and found out that North America had plenty of psyllid and they started spraying when they were only that high. So we had a bit of seed left over in the shed, and the crop had gone – they were gone. And “so what are we going to do?” So in [on] 20th January I got these spuds out of the shed and I planted them. And the other crop were all damaged with psyllid, you see. And we started spraying them when they were just through the ground. We sprayed every week with Metafort and oil … vegetable oil … and I got twenty-five ton to the acre in April. Not a mark on them, and that was in … right through the heat of the summer. And here we were paying all these researchers to do all this research about psyllid, and they were creaming it and they couldn’t come up with any answers. And all it was – you had to get in and impregnate the plant with this, early. Now I still do it, and we don’t use any of the flash sprays, we just used a [?], Metafort and all.
I bought two or three different sorts of chemicals they sold me. Now, it cost more to spray them than if I had’ve gone to the supermarket and bought them new.
Well that’s the thing, and that’s why their chemicals that they were recommending were so expensive. And the other thing we had to learn was, you had to get down to the bottom of the plant. And high pressure’s no good ‘cause all it does is fog it, so we went back to low pressure and big droplets. And we put glass in the bottom of the furrow and there were spots [?], and we knew we were getting the bottom leaves. ‘Cause they were coming in and laying their little eggs on the bottom leaves, and then all these nibs’d get underneath. They’d suck the guts out of the plant.
See helicopters were useless to get the volume on. Well we still today spray at four hundred litres to the hectare, and we got a John Deere with two tanks up by the bonnet and one on the back – five hundred-five hundred; a thousand on the back.
Do you still grow any spuds?
We’ve got to grow all for the Chinese, this Chinaman …
Oh, for Stewart Young – where’s he grow his then?
All round the place, and we do all his work. I’ve still got my big sprayer with a twenty row boom, and all hydraulic. And we built that ourselves. And we’ve changed the nozzles and we do it in big droplets and we beat the psyllid. And we’re digging Agria now.
Aren’t they a great spud?
Oh, yeah. We planted the first paddock of Agria this year on the 20th of August and they’re beautiful.
So who does the work on your tractor for Stewart then – you don’t ..?
Not at the moment. I did it all until I got sick. John’s doing it – he knows all about it. So we spray for him, we plant for him, we mould for him, and we harvest for him.
Oh, so you’ve still got a Grimme?
Yeah, little old Grimme. Just got two new webs for it.
Now, you consistently got higher tonnages but from all sorts of varieties of potatoes, didn’t you?
Yeah, yeah. I always said you had to have fifty to sixty ton to the hectare, which is over twenty ton. And my father taught me how to do my estimates years and years ago. He said “you plant a seed potato like that – use a ton to the acre. And when you want to have a look how you got there, you take all them out, and those big spuds – three of those”. And that’s how he worked out his stuff. Was easy as, so I still do that.
Now Doug, you also had a long term involvement with the New Zealand Growers’ Federation or whatever it was called?
Yeah, well the Vegetable Growers’ Federation – originally the potato industry was tied up with Federated Farmers, and when I got to know this Alan Pritchard – and that was only because my father went on a holiday and met him, and so he came back and he said to me “I met a guy Pritchard – he’s on the Potato Board.” Now the Potato Board was under the umbrella of Federated Farmers. The job of the Potato Board was to know that New Zealand had enough potatoes stored in pits in the South Island to supply the New Zealand market. Well Alan Pritchard retired, and he asked me to go and be the member. So I went to be the member on Federated Farmers, and we used to meet in the St George Hotel in Wellington once or twice a year. And after three years, Veg Fed was already going and Jim Clayton from Pakowhai was already Chairman of the early Potato Committee of Veg Fed. One day he stopped me on the road, and said “what are you doing?” He said “all potatoes need to be under Veg Fed They don’t want to be under Federated Farmers.” I said “well I agree with that Jim, but how can we do it?” He said “well, we’ve got to convert the potato growers that they’re best with Veg Fed rather than Federated Farmers.”
So there was a guy by the name of Lex Wilcox, from A S Wilcox in Pukekohe. And he rung [rang] me up and he said “well Veg Fed have asked me to go and visit the potato growers of New Zealand.” He said “I want you to come with me as the Federated Farmers one”, he said “and we’ll try and put them all in.”
Well it was a wonderful opportunity. We toured the South Island and met every potato grower in the South. I was away for two weeks, and we came to the North Island and we did the same. And we got everybody under the umbrella of Veg Fed.
And it was a little while after that that they made me Chairman of the Potato Industry, and up there, on the top up there – that’s my longest serving Chairman of the Potato Industry – the yellow one with the gold around it.
So that was my involvement in the political arena. And then after I resigned from that – when two other guys came up I pulled out – I then got made Chairman of the Squash Council, and that was with Brownrigg, Bostock and Murray McPhail. And I started looking after squash, but by that time I was growing squash. So I was Squash Chairman for nine years, and then I retired from all those sort of things. So I did – I think I did twelve years as Chairman of the Potato Industry and nine years on the…
You really put something back into the industry, didn’t you?
Well they awarded me that award, and out of that I got a holiday to Fiji as well, for my wife and I.
And my late wife died in 2012, and it was a big blow, ’cause she’d worked with me. When I was away she run [ran] the phones. ‘Cause I was – you know, by that time my brother had left – he left in 1987 and went to town, and John was running the farm and I was doing the Executive. So yeah, it was a very interesting time. I learnt a lot. I met a lot of very great people, and it was a great experience for me but without … I’ve got it all recorded here … without my wife carrying on at home I couldn’t have done it.
So what was some of the major changes you saw? I suppose a lot of it was the machinery?
I think the machinery. When we went to the two row harvester … big Grimme two row … we had two of them. The first one didn’t have a very big bunker, and so you had to have a bin on a trailer beside you. And the last one we owned had a five ton bunker, and we could go up the full length of the paddock … on a long paddock … then you’d have all the bins stacked on the headland and just empty into big socks [?sacks?] that came down [?] And that was our own – no trouble doing a hundred and thirty … a hundred and fifty ton a day. And that would just idling, and I used to drive the tractor most, on the harvester, most of the time. John did it a bit, but by that time my brother had gone, and we had this – I bought this harvester for $140,000 in Australia, brand new – shipped it over here – a Grimme – and oh, she was a great harvester. It’s actually gone to Ohakune. I towed it from here to Ohakune, and he’s digging spuds with it over there.
I wonder what your father would think if he saw this? And your grandfather?
Well, my grandfather the most – my grandfather never saw us do any more than hand picking, but my father saw the harvesters. By the time Dad was alive we had three harvesters in his life. And when we went to bins – one ton bins – fascinated Dad that we could pick up a one ton bin and put it on the truck.
How many bins would the big trucks take?
Our big truck carted twenty-four.
Twenty-four tons of spuds?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We used to go to Auckland to Mr Chips with that every … well we’d do three days a week to Auckland. That’s the International that I’ve got that I’m rebuilding – it’s done just under three million ks. [Kilometres] We bought that new in 1983 – brand new, and it cost $154,000 in ’83.
Think what it would cost now.
Yeah, well Ross has just got a new one on the road … $300 and something thousand. The first International we bought was $75,000 – we bought that in 1980, and we only had it for three years and then we bought the bigger one. That was three hundred horsepower; the other one was four hundred horsepower, and I’ve still got the one that’s four hundred horsepower.
Yeah, big six.
Oh yes, she’d go …
And I see you’ve still got a few green tractors down here?
Yeah, I’ve only got two … I’ve got that one and the one with the sprayer on it.
Yes – I see you’ve got a blue one too?
Oh yeah. I bought that and I was going to restore it, but I haven’t done it.
But yeah, John Deere was our … ‘cause my brother was at Massey Ferguson we had the Farmalls, then in 1959 we went to Ferguson. We bought a four cylinder and the next year we bought a three cylinder 35, and they were our two tractors. Then we went from there – I think we bought a 165 with the exhaust on the left-hand side; then the next year we bought a 165 with a right hand exhaust. It was a 212 [?]. And then we bought two 168s and they weren’t much better than the 165. So then we bought two 188s – we had them for a couple of years, or three years, and then we bought a 595 French Ferguson with a cab, and a 295, and then went to 1086 International, and that was a disaster. And then from there, in 1987 we went to our first John Deere, two of them, and we’ve still got one of them on the sprayer but the others have all gone – I’ve only got that one there. We had a good run – we had ten John Deeres in the peak. But you had to have them for the work you had to do.
Now, I know that you didn’t take much part in any sports, but you did have a bit of a sporting run with a whole lot of other tractor enthusiasts when you drove from the North Island to the South Island. Tell us about that trip?
Well, my friend, Phil Aish – he lost his wife with cancer, and he made a promise to her that he would do something for hospice. And so he came here to see me, that’s Phil there, [shows photo] … “would I be interested?” And I said “yep.” So he told me what he wanted … planned to do. So I went and found a 188 that had been restored, and it’s in the shed down in the paddock down there. And I drove it from Bluff to Cape Reinga.
So how did you take it to Bluff?
Crowd from Palmerston, PTS … Palmerston North Tractor Services. He has trucks going up and down the country all the time, and Gary Spence rung [rang] him, and he said “what would it cost us?” And the guy said “what are you doing this for?” He said “for cancer.” He said “we will take it to Invercargill for you free, providing you get it ready in a fortnight, ’cause I need it a month before you want to drive it, so that I can slot it in with other loads.” So he took it down for free – Gary’s and my tractor.
You know, that’s a straight donation.
Well we had an orchardist here … a big orchardist here … gave me $2,000 towards my trip – like, we paid our own way on this trip. But we gave all the money that we got sponsored – Brownrigg’s sponsored me; Bostock’s sponsored me, and I raised just about $8,000 in sponsorship. And we raised $104,000 for the hospice. It was a long trip, I was away for a month, just this time last year.
People said to me, ’cause I was the oldest joker on the trip, “we cannot believe how you don’t even get tired.” I said “well I’ve been sitting in the saddle like this for hours and hours and up half the night”. You know, and I said “we’re only doing seven hours a day.”
Was the Mercedes a local tractor?
No, he bought that … Phil had that, it was Phil’s tractor.
Did he go?
Yeah he went, he drove it. Yeah, I didn’t realise that half the jokers had cabs and I never had a cab, just had a roof. But it didn’t worry me, I enjoyed it actually.
So – the future – you’re still growing potatoes in a supervisory fashion, doing the work, but …
Not much work. I will be doing a bit of spraying on Saturday, ’cause my son who does it – he’s got to go to see his daughter in Gisborne. So I said “well you go, and I’ll do the spraying on Saturday”, ‘cause I mean these modern … gear we got have got the litres per hectare, and we just set it at four hundred and she blinks a light when we’re either going too slow or too fast.
Hell, it’s changed, you know, with the GPS and all these things now.
We haven’t got GPS. But we spray twenty rows at a time. We’ve set our operation up with a four row planter. That was in 19 … it would be … ooh, probably the late 19s … oh, might have even been ‘bout 1995. We bought a new four row planter and then we put everything in four rows, so our moulders – we’ve got five moulders – and our Lewisons – got five Lewisons – and then when we dig we did those two, and then those two. And if the join is a bit out it doesn’t matter. And so we do everything, and then our sprayer goes down the centre four, it’s following the centre two, and it sprays nine rows out that side and nine rows out that side so we get our twenty rows, so do five blocks to the planter.
The other thing that changed a lot and that was irrigation.
Yeah. The irrigation … we started with pipes, and we used to shift them twenty-four/seven. And we’d back down the row … when we wanted to shift them over, my wife used to back the 165 down the row with the lights on so I could see to shift the pipes across. And we’d go bare feet up to here, and we’d shift them. But then we bought a … our first irrigator was a Briggs, and it was a big roto rain, and it winched up a clicker as it went round and we used that for a few years. And then I went off to the South Island and I bought an OMI – what they call an OMI [Optimum Managed Irrigation] – which is a red one, which actually picks its hose up, four inch solid hose, as it goes down the paddock. That was a disaster in spuds because if the paddock was sloping and the water run down it would bog itself and you’ve got the hose on. So I said to Leon Jansen, I said “I like the idea but I’d rather go for the big gun.” So he took me over to Aussie [Australia] and we saw these big guns working, and so I ended up with five of those and that was the best thing we ever did. I’ve just sold the last one, the Perrot, to Stewart Young. But you could set them up and they would do forty rows each side – eighty rows, and you’d just tow it down, and the hose was on the headland and all you towed was the cart. And that was the biggest … ‘cause we couldn’t – on leased land and that, we couldn’t get a pivot or anything jacked up, so that was the best irrigator we could have, that design. And it went well there.
But back to the OMI, I bought that OMI out in Darfield in the South Island, and I bought an old tractor and I towed it all the way to Christchurch from Darfield in the daytime, and then I sat ‘til two o’clock in the morning then I towed it through the tunnel, [chuckle] to get it on the boat.
It fitted all right?
Yeah, I got it through, but ‘course you shouldn’t be in there. So I got through that, and I got to Lyttelton, at the port and I was booked to have it lifted onto the ship the next morning. And then I sold the tractor to a tractor yard, then flew back home. I only shipped it to Wellington on the ferry … there was a ferry going just to Wellington. And we took the truck down – one of the boys met me in Wellington with the truck – and we had to hang the wheels over the edge of the deck – it was too wide. So we put blocks under the axle, sat it on the deck with a crane … got a big crane … and then we came all the way home and I followed him all the way home. We travelled all night with that one. But the Perrot was the best irrigator we had, and I’ve just got the last one. John and I just set it up the other day for Stewart.
Now, we need Deirdre to come in and tell us about her part of the …
It won’t take long for her, she’s only been around here three years.
Okay. Doug married Deirdre – three years ago?
Yeah – 23rd November 2013.
And they’re moving down to become urban dwellers in Hastings. Deirdre would you like to tell me where you grew up … where your parents came from?
She’s a Pom really.
Yeah, but mate – we all were once …
Deirdre: I was born in England in Pembury, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, during the war. My mother and father both came from – my father from Kent, my mother from London. My father was in the RAF, and also he was a policeman. When he left the RAF he went into the Metropolitan Police in London, and he was in the Flying Squad. And then in 1953 the New Zealand Government wanted him to come to New Zealand as the driving instructor for New Zealand Police. He left that, and he went out as a minister. And then we came out here and we lived in Hamilton for three years, and then we shifted down to Upper Hutt. I met my first … my late husband … in Upper Hutt – he was a butcher. But we married and live in Masterton at Bideford, for the first nine years of our life … married life, on a sheep farm.
That’s Falloon country, isn’t it?
That’s down the road from him. Then we left there and we went down to Dalefield in Carterton, and we milked cows for twenty-six years.
So you’re a cow cockie?
[Chuckle] Yes, I milked with Ian for – how many years did I say?
Deirdre: Twenty-six. And Ian died in 1999, and I kept the farm but I shifted into town, into Carterton. But I didn’t like living in town, and came and lived in Dannevirke – bought a lifestyle block in Dannevirke. Then I sold the farm in 2005, and I stayed at Dannevirke ‘til 2013. I was on the lifestyle block until 2012, and it got too much for me so I went to town. And a year later I met Doug. [Speaking together]
Doug: It was on a blind date.
And so that started …
Deirdre: That’s how it started.
Obviously started a lovely relationship …
Doug: Yeah – I’d been on my own for over a year.
Deirdre: I’d been on my own for … [speaking together]
Doug: Fourteen years.
Deirdre: … fourteen years.
So did you have any children?
I’ve got two daughters – one’s in Carterton and one’s in Mauriceville.
Doug: This side of Masterton.
Deirdre: Just north of Masterton.
And so you moved from Dannevirke, you came up here, met Lord Fauntleroy ..?
No, I didn’t meet him here, I met him in Dannevirke on a blind date.
Doug: I came down to see her in Dannevirke ‘cause my friend in Taupo met her, and he hadn’t seen her for fifty years. And he told me about her, and I said “what’s she like?” And [chuckle] he gave me a good description, so I decided I’d ring her up, which I did. And I’d never seen her before – I didn’t know what to expect, and I went down to Dannevirke on a Sunday, took her out for lunch and from there it happened.
And now you’re moving into the heartland of Meeanee when you leave here?
I bought a container today, and I’ve got this lease farm up the Taihape Road, so I’m taking all my farm gear and putting it in that container – like, all my fencing gear and drenching gear, and my motor bike, and it’ll stay on that farm.
It’s just before Sherenden. Not far away – less than half an hour from here.
Well, I think that’s probably given us a pretty good look at various things that you’ve done, Doug and Deirdre, so thank you very much for the opportunity to do this.
If you want to have a read of that, you can take that with you. That’ll be very interesting – that talks about my wife and my family and all, in there.
All right – well, thank you very much for that opportunity of doing this.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
- Douglas John Whitfield
- Deirdre Whitfield
Interviewer: Frank Cooper
Supporters and sponsors
We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.