Jim Judd – Morrison Industries

Joyce Barry: Hello everyone – first one for the year. We’re starting today with – and will continue in the year – with more Hastings industries. And Morrisons was one that I felt very sad about. We’d just arrived in Hawke’s Bay and there was another one gone, and we knew nothing about it other than that it was quite famous, and so was [were] its bikes. So it’s with great pleasure that we welcome Jim Judd tonight, who worked for Morrisons, and I believe a few of you here did the same.

Now Jim came from a farming background – not Hawke’s Bay; Pahiatua, Tokomaru, Kaponga, back into Hawke’s Bay. His mother was from Waterford; [Ireland] came out here as a nanny and housekeeper, and got eyes for the man next door across the fence, and that was it. Out of this came Jim. [Laughter] They did the right thing; that’s wonderful. [Chuckles] So farming background for Jim, but it was in Morrisons that he had this huge experience. I was quietly amazed as to how many businesses grew out of the closure of Morrisons because of the expertise that those men took … so yes, a lot of guys had the expertise from that factory and went on to establish so much in this area. Over to you, Jim. Thank you.

Jim: Thank you, Joyce. [Applause]

Good afternoon, everyone. As far as I know, no-one has ever compiled a history of Morrison Industries. Now, as it’s thirty years since the closure of Morrisons, I do apologise for any gaps and dates that may not be as accurate as they should be.

As I did not join the company until 1963 for the first time, I was unable to think of a source to gain information regarding the early days of the company. Then I recalled that Jack Morrison, Sid Morrison’s son, was I thought, still alive – and so he was. So I phoned him and asked him if it would be possible to chat with him regarding the early days. He said yes, and what did I want to know? I replied, “The early days until 1963”, to which he responded, “Not a problem.” So I visited him last Friday morning and was amazed at the memory recall, seeing as he was ninety-one years old.

Prior to the Second World War, Sid Morrison owned a mower repair business which repaired and sharpened hand mowers and the like. It was located next door to where Hector Jones is still located, on the corner of Queen and King Streets. Between them and the Farmers’ Building was an old mansion which was used as a hostel. He was friendly with a man called Bill Charlton, who gave him a hand from time to time; and Bill was a very clever fellow who could put his hand to almost anything, and I will come back to him shortly.

Sid built his first real mower as a Model A Morrison; sixteen-inch cut. And the first prototype was bought by Ian Gordon from Summerlee Station. It was based on a Qualcast mower which was produced in the United Kingdom, and as Sid did not have any casting equipment or press shop, the rear roller used the Model ‘T’ brake drums as the roller ends. Also, it was fitted with bronze bushes as Sid did not have any bearing housings, so he was unable to fit ball-bearing races. A Villiers 2-stroke was fitted to the units. Some years after using the prototype, Ian Gordon pulled up outside Sid’s workshop and offered him back the mower. Jack took over the mower, and some years later gifted it to the Waipawa Settlers’ Museum where it is still in operation today.

This was followed by the Model B which, due to the shortage of steel because of the war effort, was fitted with wooden handles and was, according to Jack, a beast to control because of the flexing of the handles. During this time, Sid relocated his manufacturing facility to a large building located in Karamu Road opposite the Shell Service Station, where it remained for many years.

Sid also used his factory to help the war effort, with his friend Bill Charlton inventing the Charlton machine gun. This was a converted .303 SMLE rifle, which I believe worked really well. It never saw service, as evidently prior to this a stockpile of the weapons was housed in an Army Depot building, which was destroyed in a huge fire.

Sid went on to manufacture the C and D models of the Morrison mowers and expanded the facilities by moving the assembly plant to the corner of Jervois and Warren Streets. The D model was fitted with both 2-stroke Villiers engines, and also a break-through with a 4-stroke engine. It was an English motor called a ‘Suffolk Punch’, which was a really good engine until it flogged out the key-way between the crankshaft and the flywheel. There were also two attachments made that could be fitted to the D model – a hedge-cutter and a paspalum cutter. Both worked well, and I think we still have one that we could perhaps donate to the museum in Waipawa.

Sid was also a very practical man, and it was rumoured that when he had a bright idea and then drew a plan for it on the factory floor, in chalk, for weeks, everybody walked around the drawing. They also introduced a 14-inch mower, plus a 20-inch and a 24-inch.

Sid sold the business of Morrison to J H Mason, who made a considerable amount of money through the Putaruru Timber Yard. His son, Ian, was not particularly fond of motor mowers, and preferred the PTY. During this time the Morrison brand became a force to be reckoned with in the New Zealand market; and also at this time during the 1950s the rotary mower was born. The manager was Andy Duncan and Ray Woodham was the accountant at that time.

J H Mason especially took a shine to Jack Morrison, especially with the name Morrison, and the fact that he was related to Sid. He made him the Morrison ambassador and he travelled around the country for four years, clocking up some thirty-two thousand miles in a then Zephyr 6. Jack told me that all of them had howling diffs, [differentials] and that the only way to fix them was to load up the trailer with every heavy item you could find, and go to Taupo and give the car beans over the hills. [Chuckles]

There were many advances with rotary mowers which were produced from the 1950s onward; from the first off-side delivery to a rear delivery unit that had a catcher. They were usually fitted with Iron Horse 2-stroke engines, and later, Briggs & Stratton 4-stroke engines. Also used were Tecumseh.

As with all plants, they were managed by people – men and women from all walks of life, with the usual characters who spiced life up. Some of the stories told were fact, and a couple of these I have to tell you.

Out the back of the Karamu Road factory was a separate building that housed a ladies’ rest room and also the paint shop, with all of the cleaning vats complete with overhead hoists. Evidently the smoko whistle went, and a lady went to wash up and almost beheaded herself on the hoist, which was left in the middle of the doorway. She then turned to the operator and said, “You shouldn’t leave that thing dangling like that -it’s dangerous!” [Chuckle] To which he replied, “If it’s dangling, it ain’t dangerous!” [Laughter]

Also in the assembly plant, one of the blokes was responsible for unpacking all of the engines, which were packed in wood wool. And during the smoko break a little English guy would take all of the wool out to his car. God knows what he used it for. One of the hard cases standing outside – and Ken would remember him, one Keith Wiseman – saw this and promptly lit a match and set fire to the wood. We think the language was not too good when he found out he was alight. [Chuckles]

I rejoined the company in 1964 after completing a stint on Campbell Island as the Officer in Charge. It was a weather research station, and during the summer months it housed fifteen men and over the winter, [cough] from March through ‘til October, we had ten men, and we were isolated for that time. I started on the reel assembly bench at Morrisons and spent quite a bit of time there, and then I was appointed as a Special Projects Assistant, and I spent about three or four months doing that. I then went into the bicycle assembly plant as the Supervisor, and from there progressed to Production Controller and then Production Supervisor; and then as the Manufacturing Manager.

Morrison[s] expanded their range of products and made both the multi-hoe and mini-hoe for home gardeners. They were really great machines and worked extremely well. At this stage, they had taken a Ransome reel mower and had tooled up for that; and it was known as the Olympic mower and featured a double-helix reel that threw grass into the centre of the catcher rather than to one side as a single-helix does. It also had an addition to the centrifugal clutch which spun the reel, another clutch which initiated forward movement. It was an extremely versatile machine, and it looked really good too.

The Morrison business was then taken over by Wright Stephenson, with Sir Ronald Trotter as the Managing Director. In the meantime, Ian Mason had taken up a parcel of land in Dartmoor Road, Puketapu, and set up what is now known as Sacred Hill Wines, which is still run by his sons.

In 1962-’63 a new factory was built off Henderson Road, facing Omahu Road. This was a hundred thousand square feet of space which was to house some of the most sophisticated equipment used to manufacture mowers and bicycles in New Zealand. It was a purpose-built factory which saw raw material come in at the front end of the plant and finished product going out the other end. They had also become sophisticated in their management systems, and production was controlled with job cards that laid out the sequence of operations, material used, tooling requirements, and a work study time for each operation. For instance, to build a bicycle wheel took around eight minutes; and then it had to be true, which took four minutes, and so on through to the finished wheel.

The equipment was also very sophisticated. For instance, they had their own case-hardening furnace which was operated by a man some of you may know – Les Culver. It operated at high temperatures and used propane as a medium to achieve the caisson steel. On odd occasions there was a large explosion which took place, [coughing] and Colbar would emerge somewhat shaken, and white in the face.

In addition to our own paint shop which used high-tech equipment called an electrostatic system where the object to be painted was negatively charged and the paint was applied using a positive charge that wrapped right around the whole of the object, and it not only gave great cost savings but it saved a great quantity of paint as well. We also had our own chrome-plating plant, which gave us versatility in production as well. Other specialist equipment including [included] a robotic welder which was programmed to automatically weld a complete unit with CO2.

We had our own research and development department where ideas were born and new mowers were invented, plus many other pieces of equipment. Once a final design had been approved it was then taken over by the tool design department who then drew up the tooling for it, and once this was done it was over to the tool-making department, who were specialists in the field, to make the tooling required for them. To give you some idea of the tooling and equipment used, our rough master [?], the main part of the chassis, was formed in a four hundred ton press and the very large flywheel was really slowed on each occasion that that press took part.

Bicycles. The safety bicycle led to a boom in manufacturing. In the early 1980s [1890s] locally-produced bicycles overtook imports. By 1900, New Zealand had seventy-one cycle factories, twenty-five of them in Christchurch. By the late thirties New Zealand had one bicycle for every six people. Between 1900 and 1950 nearly eight hundred thousand bicycles were imported, and about the same number produced locally.

As car ownership increased in the 1950s, cycling began to decline in popularity. In fact, bicycles were all imported, and with the advent of Morrison starting production in 1963 the government of the day assisted by reducing bicycle import quotas by ninety percent, and in the 1970s ninety percent of all bicycles sold in New Zealand were locally made. Agreement was reached to build Raleigh bicycles, branded both Raleigh and Phillips. Also, other brands were used, such as Rudge, Sunbeam, Humber, Triumph and New Hudson. It was first thought that a Swedish back-pedalling brake called the ‘mono hub’ would be used, and machinery specially imported was brought in, but to my knowledge it never produced a hub. Instead, we brought in Sturmey Archer hubs, back-pedal brake, free-wheel in three speed models, plus the front hubs. Production initially started with three frames – 16s [inch], 21s [inch] and 23 inch. Cranks, pedals, handlebar stems, fork crowns, ball-bearings and seats were about the total imported content of the cycle. Everything else was sourced as raw material in New Zealand, and both from New Zealand suppliers such as New Zealand Tube Mills, and raw steel from other sources; plus all the rubber was made in New Zealand as well. The factory produced its own frames, forks, rims, guards, handlebars, seat pillars, even down to the spokes and the fork switch which made up the wheel. In fact, New Zealand content would have been in excess of ninety percent.

With a very large increase in the production of both bicycles, mowers and other products, it saw a complete new bay added to the existing factory, and this was a boon to everybody. Bicycle production was changing over the years and becoming more sophisticated. The Raleigh 20 was introduced, and this was a completely welded frame rather than dip brazing that was used for standard bikes.

In addition to bicycles we were pressing ahead with new products, and this included turf-gear equipment such as the electric bowling-greens mower; Reed’s mower for golf courses; and a huge machine which was built under licence from Toro in the USA; and this was for golf courses and that type of thing. In addition to this, we also built the Roughmaster 28 inch, and Rapier 26 inch cut mower mowers, designed for heavy work for local councils, and these were completely developed and proved by Morrison’s staff.

Rotary hoe production was still going strong with home gardeners using both the multi-hoe and the mini-hoe. The former was phased out during the latter years. We also manufactured a battery-operated 16 inch reel mower which had the ability to mow what was now the old quarter-acre section, the E35, which was a mains electric motor mower used to be a great little mower for smaller sections, and flats and town houses.

We also made Agee preservers from scratch. Stainless steel was seam-welded and processed through to the finished product, the only thing from outside being the electric element, seal and the knob for the handles.

During the 1970s we also embarked on the production of solar water heating panels. The system that we used was an idea from DSIR [Department of Scientific and Industrial Research] which was developed through our Research and Development department, and finalised as copper tubing encapsulated in a steel panel which was insulated with foam; and the water used to cover the tubes de-oxygenated. It was quite a process from seal welding the panels together to final production.

Morrison employed around three hundred people during its heyday, and had a very strong social club at the plant, right across the whole business; and they had a number of events which were enjoyed by all. There was usually a picnic held in various locations and a children’s Christmas party where it was a thrill to meet all of the families. Because we had such a large representation of Māori staff – approximately fifty percent – they were always willing to put down a hangi, and this was a great afternoon thoroughly enjoyed by everybody. It had to have the right stones and correct firewood and they were absolute masters at it. There was always a raffle which was drawn on Friday afternoon; and the cafeteria was subsidised by the company, and they put on some good food, especially Friday fish and chips.

Again, there had been quite a change in both management and staff. Morrison had a policy of employing at least five percent of his staff who were handicapped in some way. These people were fitted into various departments depending on their skill levels, and they were paid exactly what the other staff were paid. We had two people in wheelchairs, two whose sight was impaired, two with one arm; and I don’t know whether you know or remember Jim Parkinson who had also recently died; [he] was employed as a quality control person. He lost both of his arms in a farm accident but was still able to use a caliper, and it was quite amazing what work he could do; and he could follow drawings right the way through as well. We also had others who had other handicaps but were ideally suited for the tasks that they were given.

There were several changes in management after the resulting merger with Wrightson NMA and then Challenge Corporation. A new General Manager was appointed, and Noel Eades came to us from McEwen’s Machinery and soon proved to be a strong man who had definite ideas on where we should go, and he was right. Some staff departed, and one particular chap who had had some words with Mr Eades, told us one morning he had an appointment with him at eleven o’clock, and he was going to sort him out. We saw him after the meeting and asked him if he had sorted him out, and he replied, “Yes, I leave at lunch-time.” [Chuckles]

There were some who made quite a name for themselves with new ventures. Reg Hawley left to start the Te Mata Mushroom Farm along with Mr Speeden. Ray Custance and Dudley Haden started up Haden & Custance, which became a force in the engineering field; and they made most of our specialised springs.

There was a decided change in the demand for bicycles. Adult people were now more interested in 10-speed models with derailleur gears; and juveniles more into BMX and chopper-type cycles. To cater for this demand, we saw big changes in manufacture with great reductions in foam and forks where lighter, high tensile steel was required. The handlebars were now made of aluminium, as were the rims, which we had to buy in.

We also enjoyed a relationship with Miyata Cycle Company which was located at [?Kawasaki?], some sixty kilometres from Tokyo. They used a Just-in-time paint and assembly plant, where wheels were made in a town close to Mount Fuji, and other assemblies came from much further afield towards Sendai, which was in the opposite direction. The next day’s assembly requirements arrived into the plant the day before they were due to be assembled. We could obviously never do that.

Obviously costs rose, and after the government lifted import restrictions in the late 1980s, cycle assembly came to an abrupt halt in New Zealand. Only one plant continued to assemble cycles from imported parts. Prior to this happening, several staff moves took place. Noel Eades was seconded to become a director of Challenge Corporation, and Maurice Joblin took over the General Managership. During this period we also acquired another mower manufacturer in Adelaide, called Scott Bonham. Our manufacturing manager, Bill Henderson, [coughing] was given the job of restructuring the plant, and I took over his job at Morrisons.

Also at this time, Challenge merged with Fletchers to become Fletcher Challenge. A new manager was appointed after Mr Joblin’s decision to seek other employment. He was Russell, and it did not take very long before he and I did not see eye to eye. He decided to get rid of me in the factory and put me into orbit as the export manager, which I actually enjoyed as it involved a huge amount of travel world wide. Russell did not last, and then Fletcher Challenge sold us to a banking syndicate called Investment Finance Corporation. They brought in an Australian man who had been very successful with Corinthian Doors in Australia. His name was Ron Higgins. The company directors then asked our four top managers if they were keen to invest in the company, and the minimum amount was $40,000 which some of us accepted. And unfortunately did not foresee the share crash in 1986-87, and we lost the lot.

As we were IFC’s most profitable business we were then sold off to Masport Industries in Auckland. Some of the staff were offered positions with Masport, but only a few took up their offer as they all had family and friends in the Hastings area. Now there is only one manufacturer making mowers in New Zealand; they are Steelfort Industries in Palmerston North. Masport buy in all of their mowers, including the Morrison frame, from overseas – it still exists.

Perhaps one of the saddest days in my life was the closure of Morrison Industries Limited, and I can well remember the looks on staff members’ faces when they were handed an envelope which made them redundant. Coupled with the closure of Whakatu Freezing Works, plus ourselves and Fire Nymph who made wood-burning fires, over twelve hundred people were made redundant. A very sad time for Hawke’s Bay.

If you have any questions I will try to answer them.

Joyce: I’d like to ask Jim, when did you first have this hint of this constant change; it was all going to go kaput?

Jim: Well, it changed hands so many times during that period of time that it was difficult to sort of put a finger on this particular aspect of it; but it was only when we were taken over by Investment Finance Corporation that things really started to deteriorate. And of course during that period of time another fellow had entered into the BMX market – a chap called Bowles from Wellington – so it was a very trying time for Morrison at that point.

Joyce: How many Morrison ex-workers are here?

Jim: Oh, there’s quite a number.

Joyce: Yes. Were you aware when they were laid off? What year was it exactly?

Jim: 1986. Incidentally, Jimmy Lee was the foreman of the machine shop and was responsible for all of the turning of the bits and pieces that went into the mowers and bicycles, so he had a very responsible job.

Question: I’m just curious – I bought a weed eater, and it’s got Morrison written on it. Where would that be made – Taiwan, or somewhere?

Jim: Well unfortunately all of those products, both the mowers and everything else, although it’s branded Morrison, it’s brought in by Masport and sold under their banner.

Question: How was the change made when the rotocut came in, from the reel mowers?

Jim: Well obviously, the rotary mowers were a lot cheaper than the reel mower. And the reel mowers, because of the reduction in section sizes and that sort of thing, the rotary mower became the thing that everybody would use rather than perhaps the reel mower.

Question: Jim, in my shed at home I’ve got a mini-motor bike – were many of those made?

Jim: They were all brought in from Taiwan, I think – Ken, weren’t they? Many of you may not know that Ken was our Design and Development Engineer, and worked for Morrisons for a huge number of years – I think even before I got there.

Joyce: Ken, what did you do after Morrisons closed? [Inaudible response]

Ken: Yeah – just a group of ex-employees from Morrisons – we formed a company and started up Super Stripe [Super Strike], and established that. Then the economy started to go downhill and the spare cash that people could use disappeared, and we went broke.

Question: Could you tell me how the designs of the mowers and the various other things you manufactured actually evolved?

Ken: Like everything else, they do evolve as you move along, and you see a wee bit of overseas development; you see a bit of local need. New Zealand is very well placed actually to use lawnmowers; we can grow grass, and that was probably the aspect which kept places like Japan out of the manufacture of lawnmowers, because they just didn’t grow grass up that way.

Joyce: Jim, it’s been fantastic … Sid Morrison must’ve had this dream.

Jim: Well it’s interesting, because in actual fact, Sid didn’t have anything to do with rotary mowers. I think there may have been some looking at overseas models and that type of thing. And especially Masport – they started off with a side-delivery unit as well, and I think they used an Iron Horse engine at that point in time.

Question: How many would Morrison’s have employed at any given time – what was the average staff number?

Jim: Well, at the peak of our production when I think we were churning out two hundred and fifty bicycles a day, and also around about a hundred rotary mowers and forty-odd reel mowers, plus mini-hoes and multi-hoes, we were up to around three hundred people altogether; that included sales staff and all the rest, so it was a very, very big industry for Hawke’s Bay.

Comment: Yeah, Mr Judd – a speaker earlier said that Japan doesn’t grow grass, therefore doesn’t have lawn mowers. I was personally responsible for one Morrison mower going up to the centre of Japan many years ago, in 1995. It was moved by Hammond International, and I was then given a summons to go to Japan to tell the guy how to actually work it. [Laughter] But seriously, about two hours west of Tokyo there is now a rusting hulk of a Morrison. [Laughter] I think it still goes.

Jim: Look, I must tell you a small story about my father who owned a 16D reel mower and it had a Villiers engine attached to it. I used to live just around the corner in Gordon Road, and he said to me, “That so-and-so mower won’t go.” And I said, “What – has it been getting slower or something like that?” And he said, “Yes, it’s terrible – it won’t go at all now.” He says, “I cleaned it up, and …” he said, “it just won’t move.” So I said to him, “All right, well I’ll fix it – I’ll come around on Saturday morning.” And as usual – as his wont was [as was his wont] – he disappeared up to the pub. I went around to the mower and took the exhaust system off it, and looked into the output for the exhaust and there was just a little wee tiny pinhole in that particular thing, so I thought, ‘Well, that’s the problem.’ And anyway, I cleaned the whole thing out, put it all back together and I started it up and it just went like a dream. Anyway, he came home and it was sitting on the back lawn; so ‘course he gets out and he opens the throttle wide, and rips the cord; and next minute – vroom! [Laughter] Straight down through the fence at the back. [Laughter] It went like a charm.

Joyce: I can’t thank you enough, Jim, for tonight – it’s been wonderful; it’s just been fantastic – I really appreciate it.

[Applause]

Jim, thank you – we didn’t put our hands together, but they have now … you heard them?

Original digital file

JuddJEK537_Final_Sep20.ogg

Business

Morrison Industries Limited

Additional information

Landmarks Talk 13 June 2018

Accession number

468571

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