Matthew (Matt) Tweedie Interview
Today is the 16th February 2016. Today I am interviewing Matt Tweedie on the life and times of the Tweedie family from where they came from to New Zealand until today. Matt would you like to tell us something about your family please.
My father came out to New Zealand in 1913 and he came out with his father and one of the other brothers. They came out in dribs and drabs because my grandmother had died at the age of 32 in Ireland so the whole family decided that they would come to New Zealand. The cause of her death was what they called consumption, or I suppose it would be called tuberculosis. That is what she died of. But there was a big family, there were five girls and three boys. So they all came, and they lived with a person they called Uncle Sam. His name was Sam McClelland who lived in St George’s Road just one section back from the corner of St George’s Road and Havelock Road. There was a small cottage there with a big walnut tree – that’s where they lived when they came to New Zealand. And Uncle Jim and Uncle Hugh and Dad – they were the three boys in the family and they took up work where they could get it around the district until they branched out and they bought a forty acre property at Raupare and started milking cows.
It wasn’t until just recently that I realised that my Uncle Jim was the first one to deliver milk, and I always thought it was my father, Bob. But what they did was … Uncle Hughie was the eldest of the boys, and then there was Uncle Jim and then my father Bob. And what Uncle Jim and Dad did, they used to alternate month about on delivering milk, and of course in those days it was delivered on a horse and cart. They were the first milk delivery people in Hastings to have a motorised vehicle and it was a hideous old Model T thing, and they bought it from Ross Dysart’s and they put a body on it. And there’s a photo of it, there Frank [shows photo] – it was a hideous old thing. When Uncle Jim went to pick it up they just said to him “well there she is … away you go”. And he said “well, how do you drive it?” So they said to him “that’s your problem. You wanted a body put on it and you’ve got it, away you go.” So they took him down Maraekakaho Road and gave him a few driving lessons and away he went. That’s the way it was. They were the first motorised milk delivery in Hastings, and of course in those days it was a sort of an open slather thing. You took customers where you could get them. You remember Archie Wake and Norman Wake? They were another couple who had a milk delivery going, but they eventually fell by the wayside, and they said it was the best day’s work they ever did was when they gave up delivering milk, because it was too much of a cut-throat thing. But they used to go all over Hastings and the days started … and I’m going to skip over a few years now and I’ll bring it up to when I first remember delivering milk.
My father had a vehicle, it was called a Whippet, and it had that same body on it that they took off the Model T when they bought this Whippet. And it was a terrible old thing – no doors or anything on it and you could walk through from the front through to the back of the vehicle, and the twenty-gallon cans were stacked each side of the walkway through the middle. But we used to go, my brother Jim and I – we used to be up at usually about quarter to five each morning and this was seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. And we were only kids, we couldn’t have been more than about eight or nine, and shivering, absolutely freezing cold. And we would drive from where we lived in Brunswick Street in Hastings because that is where Dad moved to when he took over the milk run permanently from Uncle Jim. And we used to leave five thirty in the morning and go out to Raupare to pick up the milk. A lot of the milk was chilled in a big concrete trough as I remember, twenty-gallon cans with a good through flow of beautiful artesian water and it was chilled there from the night before – from the evening milking of the night before, and the rest was topped up from the morning milking.
And then the fun would start. We’d have to load it on to this decrepit old vehicle and start the delivery. We’d come down Raupare Road and we’d start delivering to Hassel’s as I remember it, round the corner in Raupare Road, and then we came down to a big two-storey place on the corner of Raupare Road and Omahu Road. Then we’d turn towards Fernhill, and we virtually delivered to all the orchardists and people all the way out to Fernhill, but Dad used to do that by himself because he would drop Jim and I off at the corner of Henderson Road. And just around the corner in Henderson Road – and of course it’s a very busy and built up place now – there used to be a big sawmill there owned by Orbell Bros. Prior to that though, right on the corner of Henderson Road the Girl Guides had a small property there and they built a mud hut. I think it was quite a unique sort of a thing. I don’t know what they used to do with it, but it was a mud hut and it stood there for many years. But anyhow, Dad would drop us off at the corner of Henderson Road and Jim and I would then start walking through this sawmill. Now there was – I think he had three or four brothers and the father lived at separate buildings through the property there. And … I don’t know whether I would do it today, but in the winter time we used to walk through there and there was just mud everywhere, and it was a creaky groaning old place. And we’d deliver milk to Mr Orbell and the three sons and then we would cut across country right over – it was just wasteland – over to the corner of … what’s the next one down there? We used to cut across a big huge paddock, and Dad would then have been out to Fernhill, delivered milk, and then pick us up on the way back. But to keep warm in the winter we used to carry skipping ropes with us, and skip. We’d have our hands – the best glove of the lot was an old sock turned inside out …
… and that kept us really good.
Then it was into town, and we used to go all over Hastings delivering milk. It was a rotten job really but still we did it because we didn’t know any better and we were always late for school.
So how did you know when people wanted milk? Did they leave a billy out or did they come to the gate with their money?
No, in the days when we started Frank, we knew who wanted milk. We had set customers and they would leave their billy on the back step. One place in particular I can remember in Wellwood Street, they used to trust us to go right in and we used to empty the milk out of billies into their jug on their table, which had been set by the lady the night before.
But all over Hastings we used to go, and of course in those days there wasn’t many people paid for their milk by cash, it was all … Dad used to come home and have to write the books up and he would send out monthly accounts for milk. And of course some people – they would dispute what they’d got, and others would say “I can’t pay, I’ve had a bad month”. As Uncle Jim has said in his previous interview that he did with a person years ago, some people never paid at all, because they just said that they couldn’t do it, so they just flagged them away.
We used to have a lot of fun on the milk round too – you know, we used to, as I say, get up at quarter to five and Dad would get us home from the milk round at half past eight. We’d gulp our breakfast down, change and get to school late every morning. I’m sure the teachers used to make allowances for us – we were never horrendously late, we were always about five minutes late or something like that.
You were talking about the twenty-gallon cans. They used to take a hell of a lot of handling. Those cans – how on earth we used to lift them and move them round – we used to put ours in the creek to keep them cold and they were two hundred and thirty pounds.
That’s right – they had a tap on the bottom of them, and we used to deliver the milk in four pint billies and on the inside of these billies there was … like a stud … studs marked all up the side of it, and one was half a pint, next one was a pint and then two, three, four. And when you got in they said that they wanted a pint of milk you would empty so much into their billy and if you emptied too much in there you’d have to get some back. But then of course as time went by – and I think it was probably for economy reasons, it might have been through the war – they bought in zoning. And I can remember the milk vendors in Hastings they didn’t think it was a very good idea, but the powers that be said “well – that is going to be your zone there” and fortunately Dad drew a zone that encompassed where we lived which was pretty good. So it made sense because you just went out and delivered milk to every place in that street. It was an excellent idea. It was … for economy reasons I think. And then after that it came along in bottles, which was a great departure.
But there were some funny things came out of … when you were delivering milk. I can remember one place in Methuen Street it was, they used to have a little Scottish Terrier dog and this person used to leave their billy out on the front steps. I’d go in and I would sneak into that property [chuckle] and I’d empty the milk, and I’d turn around and that dog would be standing virtually waiting for me to get to the gate, and it used to chase me off that property every morning. It was a little sod, you know – I think he was only playing with me. Another one was just around here in Pepper Street. This was in the days when we were still delivering milk out of billies, and I knocked on the woman’s door … round the back door, and heard this splish, splash, splish, splash. The woman was obviously having a bath so she yelled out “hold on a second Matt.” So she came out holding a jug in one hand and holding a towel up to her chest with the other, and she held her jug out and said “just a pint please.” So … gave her the pint and she said “just a minute, I’ll get you the money”, and she turned around and waddled down … a big bare bum … [chuckle]. But you know, there’s lots of funny things stuck in my mind.
We used to have a little dog called Sandy. He used to come with us all the time – they would never allow that sort of thing today, but you know, Sandy used to go with us on the milk truck all over town. No – it was good fun I suppose, but it was as cold as hell and hot in the summer time, but I had good parents and you know, we used to have frequent picnics down by the river out at Raupare. Big picnics. Mum and Dad would just say on a Sunday “what do you want to do today?” We’d say “let’s have a picnic”, so the phone would start ringing and we’d ring up aunties and uncles and cousins and everything. We used to have twenty-five, thirty people out there, just under the trees …
… we used to have a great time out there. But Jim and Ian Sterling and a few others – we used to have a favourite swimming hole out there. We used to ride our bikes out there as well. Once again, you know, you never get across those potties. But no, it was good fun.
And did your brother Graham – was he ever a milk boy?
Yes he was. I questioned Graham about this just recently, because I can’t remember him actually being a milk boy, but he said he was. But I remember Jim graduated to a bike. And that was another thing … they used to have four gallon cans that we used to hang on the handle bars of bikes and we used to go around – not me, but I know there were some … Jim had a bike. But frequently there would be a disaster and these handle bars would break you know? And there’d be eight gallons of milk all over the footpath and a kid sitting on the side of the road crying because he’d spilt the milk, handle bars broken and everything like that.
But my Dad had a good milk round. I forget how many gallons he used to do but he bought a brand new vehicle in … must have been 1937 or ’38 … bought a brand new Commer van, which is virtually just a Hillman Minx, but it was brand new, and – of course just being a passenger vehicle with wheels I suppose, with a van body on it – he used to break axles – it’d be, [chuckle] you know, grossly overloaded. I learnt to drive in that little van, and in the summer time Dad used to keep a quantity of milk at home, in the big concrete tub at home. And we used to go out to the farm in the evenings and pick some milk up, and of course learning to drive in that thing – mastering the clutch was quite a job, and the cans would slide to the back of the van and the milk would be pouring out the back because it’d flick the taps on, you know. [Chuckle] And that’s where I learnt to drive, was going to the farm in the evenings.
We used to supply milk to a chap by the name of Bob Berrigan – he used to have a little van. And milk vans used to have a particular smell about them … wasn’t sour, it was a sweet smell.
He was as silly as a snake. He used to drive that thing flat out didn’t he? Yeah, Bob Berrigan, Charlie Wake, Norman Wake and Archie Wake – he had a milk round as well. Archie Wake had a Ford V8 with a gas producer on the side …
Oh, gosh, that was pretty smart. [Speaking together]
… remember those gas producers? During the war he used to stoke it up. But that’s right about Berrigan.
Well, next time I’m talking to Colin Wake I’ll have him on about … the family fortunes started out on the backs of cows and gas producers.
Yeah, that’s right. But they were good times on the old milk round, a lot of fun. Then of course, as we grew older Dad still had the milk round going and it came time for me to get a job. But those were the days when fathers were more supportive in the home and everything, and it was through him that I got my first job at de Pelichet McLeod’s, because he knew somebody else in the system there and … whether he pulled a couple of strings or something I don’t know, but I got the job there as an apprentice motor mechanic. And Dad carried on delivering milk then and he had a Ford V8 truck and a trailer. You’d never be allowed to do it these days because it was all exposed to the sun and everything, you know. And then of course the supply of the milk came through the factory up in Williams Street – the depot they used to call it. And it used to be all bottled in Napier and everything, and brought out to Hastings.
Dad used to tell us some of the tricks that they used to get up to when they were kids. They were living somewhere in Clive at the time, and he said they used to wait for the milk … it used to come over on a horse and cart from Napier, and they’d hear the horse coming along just at a fairly easy gait, and the driver was invariably asleep, so the kids would run out and turn the horse around …
Oh, you’re joking! [Chuckle]
… and they’d just wait for another quarter of an hour or so, and you’d hear the horse coming and it was flying next time because the driver had woken up and he was nearly back in Napier again. [Chuckle] I suppose kids are still much the same …
Oh, I know.
… and get up to things like that.
That was sort of the early days, the milk round. I never had any other job. Well, I had a small after school job driving a grocer’s van for … strangely enough his name was Frank Cooper. He had a small grocery shop in Grays Road, and I used to love driving his little Morris van, delivering groceries. In those days you could ring the grocer up, he’d make your order up and you’d have it delivered. Likewise the butcher, and the baker used to bring right to your door, but those days are gone, fortunately I suppose.
And then I just went on from that into my work life and that’s where I am now and I’m retired.
Now what about your work life? I didn’t realise that you did your time at de Pelichet’s because Graham worked there as a mechanic – he was the boss mechanic there at one stage.
That’s right. That’s right. I did my apprenticeship at de Pelichet McLeod’s and I think I might have been the first apprentice they took on. In those days it was just virtually a company garage, you know, because they had quite a big fleet of cars and they were all pre-war. Most of them were Austins. They had one or two others – the stock agents, Gerry Klingender, had a Chev coupe, and there was one or two Chryslers in amongst them but it was virtually only a very small garage. It was only a two-bay garage. And the mechanic then left there and we fortunately got … they employed another excellent mechanic by the name of Charlie Webb. And he came from Barclay Motors and he was the type of guy who could do virtually anything. He was a very, very clever mechanic. I was still working under him at de Pelichet’s when he got married, and they had a new house built and he made his own venetian blinds, and he made his own TV set and he turned it on and the picture came on upside down, [chuckle] but he knew how to fix it. But he was a very innovative sort of a chap and through his ability the workshop actually grew quite a bit and they started taking in outside work.
And when I left there my younger brother Graham – he went to work there and took on an apprenticeship under the same chap. And the garage then was rebuilt on the corner of Southampton Street and Lyndon Road, and they got the Mazda agency. That was a good firm to work for. It was such a good firm to work for – when I went away to do my compulsory military training, when I came out after doing six weeks away, they asked me how much a week the Army paid me, and I told them and they made up the shortfall for what my weekly wage would have been. They were a wonderful firm to work for.
Yes. I remember Charlie because I used to take my Austin Westminster to him to service and then Graham took it over. They just had a special feeling for those sorts of vehicles.
Charlie was a very clever mechanic – very clever mechanic. He’s gone now.
Just before you move on – where did you go for your CMT training?
Incidentally I was in the first intake. Now there was – I think there was something like about fourteen or fifteen intakes.
There were seventeen in all – I was the last intake.
Well I was in the first intake. I went to Linton to do my basic training. That was for six weeks was it? And then I went into Corps training – I did my basic training in Linton and then I was allocated to go into the Tank Corps so we had to move to Waiouru. I remember it was a special train. We steamed our way through the night of course, [chuckle] to Waiouru, and jumped off the train in Waiouru and my God, what a shock that was! We jumped off the train into about six inches of snow, and it was a real eye opener. But once a year, that was a marvellous experience because to get the opportunity to drive a tank was absolutely wonderful. And I actually requested that I go into Transport to drive a truck – I thought it would be pretty cool to drive a truck, but they allocated me to the Tank Corps and I loved every minute of it. It was really good fun.
It’s interesting Matt, in the timeline. It wasn’t long after the war had finished because we were driving the same trucks, the same tanks, the same guns that were used. So you must have gone in in … early ’50s.
Yes it would be early 50s. I remember because I think that’s when I probably had to enlist. You had to enlist when you turned eighteen didn’t you? And then I can remember I bought a brand new motor bike in 1950, and when I came home on leave from Linton, on my first leave, I was allowed to take my motor bike back with me because they had what they called hobby huts down there, and in the evenings you could go over there and fiddle with your motor bike.
Yeah – do things like that. So yeah, that’s right – 1950 that I went in there. That’s where I did my Compulsory Military Training and I enjoyed that. Incidentally Frank, have you got your medals?
Yes I have.
Well somebody told me about them probably five or six years ago, and I got the form from the RSA and sent it away. And I got them back very quickly because they said they were issuing them to the older people first before we croaked.
Good one. [Chuckle]
But – no, they’re quite neat aren’t they?
Yes absolutely. And we were in the line.
It’s a strange thing you should mention that, because that jogged my memory again because when we were doing our basic training at Linton the whole camp went into the big Assembly Hall there one night – they said there’s a special meeting. And a fellow by the name of Major General Thornton – became the big wheel of military staff in New Zealand – he stood up, and they had a big sheet up on a blackboard and he tore this sheet down and there was a map of Korea. And he said that if things didn’t improve in Korea very shortly that we would be kept in until we were twenty and we’d be shipped to Korea. And that night we all went back to our barracks and … we were a very sombre lot I can tell you …
… because we all thought that, you know, well … we came in here for a bit of fun and bit of training. But yeah, compulsory military training was good and you still hear people say “we should bring back compulsory military training”, but it would break this country – it would absolutely break us.
I was in the ASC so we were in Transport. We drove thousands of ks [kilometres] in these old Chevs, and we were kings amongst men.
That’s right. Well you know, when I tell some of my grandchildren now, and even the little kids who live next door – I say “did you know that I used to drive a tank?” And I show them photos that I’ve got and everything. And really it was marvellous, you know – you were in command of an eighteen and a half ton vehicle.
But you know, we used to have live shoots for the gunners, and I can remember we were on the firing range one day and the gunner in my tank was a Maori chap – a particularly nice fellow by the name of Peter Takine. And when the gun goes off in the tank – I know it’s only a two-pounder but it makes a hell of a noise. And on those two-pounders you open the breach block which had a lever you pulled down and it slid the breach block out – you slid the shell in and then you released it, and then the gun was ready to fire. And he had done this, and the tank beside him fired and he thought it was his, and he opened the breach block. And this bloody great shell started to come out of the barrel into the turret of the tank. And he saw it and he let the handle go and it was BANG – could have killed us all. You know – two-pounder shells fired inside the turret of the tank.
[Speaking together] Yeah, I know, absolutely – in a confined space.
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a white Maori. But they were good times, and it made … it was a good character building thing, because you had to do your own washing and your own ironing, and you had to – that blasted siren that used to go off every morning at six o’clock to wake you up, freezing cold.
And polishing those wet boots – spit polish them.
Yeah. We used to get on parade the following morning and they’d accuse you of not polishing your boots, and you’d say “well, you can’t polish wet boots”. Because they only gave you two pair. They were good times but as I say, it would be great character building for a lot of people.
And it was a funny thing, you know – when I’d finished my Corps Training and we were finally going home, in the last parade they’d say “any of you fellows who would like to stay on as permanent soldiers, step forward”. And it was nearly always the Maori boys …
Yes, I know.
… that stepped forward because I think they enjoyed it. They enjoyed the discipline, but all of us just wanted to get home.
That was when I was at de Pelichet’s, and then from then I finished my apprenticeship there and my interest turned to tractors. And then I managed to get a job at Barclay Motors who were the Ferguson dealers in Hastings, and that was the best job I ever had in my life and I should never have left the job. I should have stayed there ’til I died because he was a wonderful man to work for … he was good for me anyway. Some others didn’t sort of get on too well with him, but I found he was a generous man. And I was on the field service and I met some really outstanding people – lovely people. And I met some rotten sods as well. [Chuckle] But you know, I went up roads I never knew existed, because we had a huge territory that stretched from Kotemaori to Takapau and right out to the coast.
Did you start off in a Bradford van?
Yeah … dreaded Bradford. But, yeah, it was remarkable all the work those silly little things did, you know – they were only eight horsepower. And I think there was about seven of them out feeding. They were terrible vehicles, but they stood up to a terrible lot of abuse as well. The remarkable thing about a Bradford – you can never get them stuck in mud, because they didn’t have enough power to spin their wheels and they didn’t have enough weight to sink them, you know? But they used to be overloaded to billyoh … carrying lots of oil, spare parts and tools and things like this. But he had to run Bradford’s really because that was the other agency that he had – he had the Jowett agency prior to him getting Volkswagen, and that was probably the most … two desirable franchises that you could have, Ferguson tractors and Volkswagen cars.
Yeah, but that was a marvellous job, and I left there after … I think it was about nine years, and I had a bit of an unhappy time there, but it just seemed right for me to move on. And a job came up at Stewart Greer Motors and they were obviously trying to imitate what Sean Barclay had done with his field service, and it was advertised in the paper they were going to start an ‘on the farm field service’. So I went there and I was fortunate enough in getting the job, but I stayed there six months and it was the most unhappy six months of my work life. It just didn’t work. They didn’t have the volume of Nuffield tractors out in the field. I didn’t believe in Nuffield tractors. I felt they were horrible. I just didn’t like Nuffields, and I went around every Nuffield owner in Hawke’s Bay and I never got any work from it. And I left Stewart Greer’s because I thought ‘I’m only a passenger here – I’m not doing anything, I’m not paying my way.’
So I went and saw Ray Almond at Barclay’s again, and said “look, I’m not happy where I am. If you’ve ever got a vacancy coming up let me know.” He said “well – start on Monday”, which I did and I then got up to be Service Manager of the tractor service, and I stayed there ’til I decided that I would have a go at contracting, which I did. But it was a marvellous job, a really wonderful job. We met some lovely, lovely people.
Of course during that period of time you saw the development of the Ferguson tractor and all its associated equipment, and it happened not over a long period of time but every year something new came out – new models.
Harry Ferguson must have had some very, very clever people working for him because those little grey Fergusons with the little TEA – they applied them to all sorts of work, you know – the sort of work that’s almost beyond their capabilities, but they made them do it – like loading aeroplanes and things like that, like for aerial top dressing, and oh, just doing everything. They were a bit like the Landrover, you know – the Landrover’s been to every continent on the Earth and Ferguson tractors have done the same thing.
When you think of it they were almost a tractor designed specifically for these jobs because nothing else could have … the Allis Chalmers couldn’t have, the old McCormicks couldn’t have. Case’s like Jim’s wouldn’t have been any good – you know, it was just … the timing was perfect.
Absolutely. And you know – as I’ve stated a couple of times before in an interview I did for the Machinery Club – the way that Cyril Barclay got the Ferguson agency is quite interesting. Because apparently he was driving down Railway Road one summer’s evening at about seven o’clock in the evening. This is the way the story goes … the way I had it told to me anyway.
There was a fellow parked on the side of the road with the bonnet up of his car, so Cyril Barclay pulled in beside him and he said “what’s the trouble?” And he said – oh, his car has broken down but he had to be back in Palmerston that night.
So Cyril hooked his car on to the back of his car and they towed him to the garage in Karamu Road which is where Toyota now stands and while he was finding out what was wrong with the car the driver of this car was walking around just looking at the workshop and he said to Cyril, he said “would you be interested in taking on the Agency for a new British tractor that’s coming out.” And so he said “well tell me about it.” And it was just through him stopping to do this guy a good turn – that is how he got the Ferguson Agency. And apparently he had been to several places here. From what I was told he approached Thompson Motors, he approached Tourist Motor Company and several others and none of them were interested. But Cyril took it on and what a gamble that was and it must have been a veritable gold mine for him to have the Ferguson Agency because you know, at one stage there Ray Almond told me that at the height of their sales they were selling six tractors a day.
The interesting thing was with Barclay Motors – those of us that dealt with them would never go anywhere else.
There was a customer loyalty that was … it was wonderful.
That’s right, yeah. But they were very interesting times and it was a good time for me – I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
But you know – I can remember … this is the sort of thing that Cyril Barclay did. We had quite an active social club, and he said “I’ve booked out a whole motel in Taupo and we’ll take the social club away for the weekend”. But we didn’t go on Saturday morning, we went on Friday afternoon – he shut the shop. How many businesses would close on a Friday afternoon? He just shut the shop.
We got up to Taupo, booked into the motel and he then picked the phone up and he rang De Brett’s I think it was, and said “is your pool open?” They said “no, it’s just closed.” He said “well you’d better open it again because I’m bringing a whole team of my employees up for a hot swim”. And the first one in the water was him off the high board, you know. He was a good guy. He treated me very, very well. He was a good bloke.
In those days though Frank, people … when they took a job on, some of them took a job on and stayed there ’til they died, or stayed there ’til they retired. You know, as you say, there was a loyalty there like Ray Almond and Noel Painter and John Fitzgerald in the Spare Parts department. They were just … employer loyalty was just great.
It was a reflection on the management and the owner too.
There were times that I’m sure there were other tractors that were as good or better than Ferguson but we never ever thought of other makes.
That’s right. Once you bought a Ferguson, to get the best out of it of course you had to buy the matching implements because I make no hesitation in saying that a Ferguson on a straight out pull is no good but you put a three-point linkage implement behind it – that’ll pull the back out of anything. But of course all those bigger ones, like the 165s and all the 1 Series, they were just coming on stream as I left. And – but you know, they ended up making some great stuff – big heavy four-wheel drive vehicles, and combine harvesters. I wrote it down somewhere just recently, just out of memory, of the implements that you could get from [for] it, and extras like front wheel weights and half-track assemblies and things like that. And I think I made about thirty-two implements or accessories. They were great … great little tractor. Incredible little tractor.
But then Matt … went contracting, and of course you were married at that stage with three children. And I was trying to remember the other day whether you owned a Morris or an Austin truck.
Morris. We I started off … I had an OLB Bedford. And that old Bedford – it was as slow as anything but it never gave me any trouble and it was an ex Williams & Creagh truck originally, and you know the way they used to hammer those things around. They used to do the mail run right up to Whanawhana. It was pretty stuffed when I bought it, but it never ever let me down. But then I got rid of it in the end and I bought a Morris, and it was a good truck and that thing could pull. It was a wonderful truck but it had one big problem – it used to burn valves out like nobody’s business – the big four litre Austin motor … but in those days Ferguson tractors used to burn out valves too.
But you never gave them a chance because you used to valve grind them.
Yeah – once a year.
I know. They should have had wing nuts on the heads.
Yeah – that’s right. But we were getting poor quality fuel and poor water. Now these days you ask a mechanic to grind a valve in he looks sideways at you – he doesn’t know what to do. Because after I gave up contracting and I went to Creighton Motors in Napier, we had a guy there, he was a very nice fellow – he was just on the point of coming out of his time … his apprenticeship. And a car came in and it was a Falcon, and it had a pretty worn out motor, and the guy said “rebuild the engine”. So I said to this fellow, this mechanic – “take the motor out, take the head off it and we’ll get a short block for it”. So we did that and he said to me “well we’ve gone as far as we can now.” I said “well have you done the head?” And he looked sideways at me, he said “what do you mean – have I done the head?” I said “well have you ground the valves in it?” And he honestly didn’t know what I was talking about, because that’s how it is these days – engines don’t burn out valves. I don’t know whether you can still go into a place like REPCO and buy a valve grinding sucker and a pot of valve grinding paste, you know? [Speaking together]
I wouldn’t either.
But now it’s all done in the machine shop. They machine the valves, they machine the sheets, and there they stay until it’s worn out again.
And the mechanics have just become fitters.
That’s right. But that Morris – every year it used to either burn a valve out or stick a valve. If we’d left it sitting for a week or something like that the valves would stick.
So anyway Matt went contracting. Let’s talk about that.
Well I started because Martin Elliot and Dave Fox – they were doing a lot of mowing in Hawke’s Bay for Eric Batson, I think it was, and it later became – I think Walmsley Brothers bought it. So anyhow, they were doing the mowing for Eric Batson and they were run off their feet. ‘Course they both had Ferguson tractors, and I said to Martin one day, I said “oh, can I give you a hand at the weekend or something like that?” And he said “well yeah”, he said “I’ve got a spare mower”, and I borrowed a Ferguson tractor. And he said “do you know where Moerangi Station is?” I said “no I don’t.” It’s a way up the Wairoa road. So he said “they’ve got a paddock up there they want to drop”. So Eric Batson leant me a truck and I put this mower on a borrowed Ferguson 24 and away I went up to Moerangi Station. And I was by myself and I was as green as grass – I didn’t know what was what. And I had trouble with this paddock, I couldn’t get it finished on the weekend so I came home. So Martin and I went up the following weekend and finished it then. But it was a hell of a long way up there.
But it sort of whetted my appetite for it, and so I had a yarn with Martin and Dave. And Dave was wanting to get out of the mowing and so was Martin so I said “oh, well …” So I had a yarn with Walmsley Brothers, and they said “yeah, you go ahead”. So I bought a tractor – I bought Dave Fox’s tractor actually and he bought a new one. And I knew that there was a mid-mounted Ferguson mower that Barclay’s had sold to a fellow, and he got it up there and he tried it out and he didn’t like it or something. So it was traded back in – it was virtually brand new, so – I was still working for Barclay’s at this time – and I said to Martin “go in and buy that mower and I’ll pay you for it”. Because I was secretly setting myself up, you know. So anyhow that’s how I got started in the mowing. That was good, but of course I didn’t think far enough ahead. I thought ‘what am I going to do when the mowing’s finished? I can’t sit on my tail for the rest of the year.’ And I was approached by a spraying contractor who used to do the spraying on Matapiro Station, and he said “I’ve got all the spraying gear here that would fit your tractor. Would you come and give me a hand?” which I did, and that led me into spraying. And that fellow eventually moved on from Matapiro, and I used to do all the spraying on Matapiro Station and that lead from there to here to there and everywhere, and I had quite a good spraying run in the end. So with the mowing and the spraying it sort of carried me on through the year and then in the winter time I just used to do a few mechanical repairs, and I would dismantle things on my equipment looking for trouble and I’d usually find it, and give them a coat of paint etcetera, and I was all set for the following season.
Do you remember Dick O’Rourke?
Dick was … a little 24 …
With the sealed wheels on it.
That’s right. He was like a human fly.
He was a lunatic.
He never got into trouble though.
No, he didn’t. I can remember when I was working at Barclay’s, in conjunction with his spraying, he used to do a bit of super spreading as well. And he had those … top dresser frames we used to call them … they were mounted around the tractor. So he was at Patoka Station, and Ray Almond said to me, he says “Dick O’Rourke’s got a broken axle.” So I said “all right”, so I went up to Patoka Station with this blimmin’ axle, repaired it all and he says “oh, well we’d better try it out now and see that it’s all right.” I said “well it is all right, I know it’s okay – I’ve just put a new axle in it.” And he took me out, and the blimmin’ lunatic – he stuck us on the side of a hill and I’m sitting on this top dressing frame, and he had a four left lock and riding hell out of the left brake, and how the hell we got up that hill I’ll never know. He did it for my benefit I’m quite sure, but he was crazy on a tractor.
When he was courting his wife she lived in Taradale, and every Friday night he used to come into town to be with his girlfriend. And he used to drive from Patoka to Taradale in a tractor every Friday night. Not with steel wheels – no, but … we used to see him coming into town with a big Army greatcoat on and a balaclava. [Chuckle]
He used to park his truck with the tractor on – it was up that back road from the dump – Redcliffe Road somewhere.
He used to do a lot of work at Patoka. I suppose Dick has gone now.
Yes he always seemed to be a lot older than I was.
Yeah – everybody’s older than us though Frank. [Chuckle]
But those sort of people I think … our lives are richer for having known them.
At that stage you had a 135 didn’t you, with the drums on it?
Yep, I bought a 135 – it was second-hand and it’d only done about four-five hundred hours when I bought it – it was second-hand of course. But it had four-wheel drive on it which attracted me to it, but it was one of the earlier models Sileni’s, and they were made up of ex-Army Dodge four-by-four front axles. And they had very very limited lock, but that four-wheel drive system gave me lots of trouble and it used to let me down quite regularly. But the biggest problem with it was the lack of lock. But then they brought out a new model front wheel drive, and I saw it at the Field Days. And what attracted me to them was they were very neat, very tidy, it had as good a lock as a normal tractor would have. So I spoke to Cedric about it and it was the princely sum of about $900 or something I think it was. And he gave me $400 for the one I traded in. So I put that on it, but then I discovered you that could also buy power steering kits for them – genuine Massey Ferguson power steering kits. And I put that on and that just made it an absolute magical tractor. It would go up the side of a house. The good thing about it was if you were spraying and you were coming downhill and you had a blocked nozzle or something like that you could actually stop, instead of sliding [chuckle] to the bottom you know, you were able to stop. But it was marvellous, and it was the right width for when I was mowing as well so I didn’t have to do any alteration to … or take the front axle out when I was mowing. But it was good. And then of course with the mowing we changed to the disc mowers. When you think of the improvements over the years – the way we used to chatter away with the old sickle bar mower there … think you’re doing well if you are doing about an acre and hour. And those knives, and spend half the night sharpening them, and going out the next day and they were all buggered by about nine o’clock.
And the owners’d wonder why you were grumpy because you had rolls of wire and …
But the silly part about it is, Frank, [chuckle] we never used to charge for breakages.
No – oh, in the end I did.
I never even used to charge for mileage for my truck and it was Frank Hooper that said to me, he said “why don’t you charge for your truck?” And I said “oh, well …” He said “well, you know …” he said, “we charge mileage one way.” I said “well, yeah – I suppose that makes sense.” And I didn’t tell any of my clients. I just put it on the bottom ‘mileage one way’, and nobody ever questioned it. But then once the disc mowers came in, you know – it increased our work capacity immensely didn’t it? They were a marvellous mower but they were pretty agriculturally built – the frame of them wasn’t particularly good and they were sods of things to replace bearings in but nevertheless … There was one place at Holts’ at Puketitiri – it was about forty-odd acres I think it was. And it used to take Martin Elliott and I usually about two days to do it and it was a long way from home. The last time I cut that paddock I dropped in that paddock about half past ten one morning and I was out of it by about four in the afternoon. You could just fly. But they were a wonderful mower all right.
But the most unpleasant job I ever had with that disc mower was out at Maraekakaho. I forget who it was now, but he had a paddock full of … it was a very rough paddock, and it had been grazed by a big herd of cattle and he wanted it topped. God! I can remember doing it – I had a raincoat on and a hat [chuckle] – there was crap flying everywhere. I came out of that paddock – the tractor looked like … it looked like an Army tractor – there was crap all over it. And of course I, as you know Frank, I’m pretty particular with the way my gear looked, and I can remember a farmer saying to me once with a bit of a grin on his face, he said “you polish that tractor don’t you?” I said “yes I do.” And he laughed. And I said to him “well, do you polish your car?” He said “yes”. I said “well your car spends it and my tractor makes it.”
I always remember when we bought the Taarup – we used to operate it on the 135 or the 35, and then we put it on the 175 and we just couldn’t believe how much power those things could absorb. You could get some speed out of them.
Frank it’s strange you should mention that, because when I was finishing one season … you remember I used to go to Pakatutu? I had that whole area up there in the palm of my hand, and that 135 … I knew the engine was starting to get to the end of its life. And I was mowing along quite easily there one day, and it’s just like you turned the ignition off. It just ran out of all power. The engine had virtually reached the end of its life. And I borrowed a 65 off a person – he had two 65s up there and I used to stay with him when I was up there, and he said “well use that for the rest of your season.” So I hooked this 65 on and I never realised how much power those things took until I put it on that 65 and I should really have had a bigger tractor.
So those days you were living in Napier Road. Did you build the house there?
So you lived there until your marriage?
That was built in 1955.
And you lived there ’til the children really had left school?
Yep. I left there in 1973.
Is it that long ago? And then later on – you’ve remarried?
And is Barbara a local girl?
She was from Napier. We’ve been married thirty-four years.
Your daughter? She’s …
Merryn? She lives north of Auckland – Kaukapakapa. Ross lives in Taupo, my eldest son – he’s fifty-eight now, and Gary’s down in Otane – he’s fifty-six. So time sure has gone by … you know, they say that life’s a twinkling of an eyelid and there’s no doubt about it when you start thinking about dates.
But then think about what you’ve done in your life time. You haven’t actually been sitting on your backside have you? From a small boy you were involved with the family milk run, all those sorts of things. And coming to today? You don’t play bowls?
And while Barbara’s here … Barbara you came from Napier – did you grow up in Napier?
Barbara: Yes I was born and brought up in Napier.
Went to school there?
Yes, I went to Marewa Primary School and it was a very new school in those days. And then I went to Napier Intermediate and Napier Girls’ High School.
And so what did you do as a job when you left school?
I left school when I was fifteen and was encouraged to go to the Napier Telephone Exchange to seek a job because I was told that I couldn’t be a nurse. And I wanted to be a nurse, but I was an asthmatic and the lady said “oh, no, you cannot be a nurse – you are asthmatic”. So I went, just like a little lamb, to the Napier Telephone Exchange and I stayed there until after I was married.
In fact those were places of high employment for girls weren’t they?
Matt: In those days Frank, you could get a job anywhere – when I left school, if you wanted to be a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, you went down to the nearest butcher and said “have you got a job?” And he would say “yeah – here, put this blue and white apron on.” Jobs were plenty.
So we’ve just about covered the field haven’t we? I guess the only thing is one of your interests is belonging to the … is it the Hawke’s Bay Vintage Machinery …
Vintage Machinery Club, yeah.
Where they reminisce for hours and days about the past.
Yes – well it’s a very, very alive Club. They’ve got a membership of well over a hundred, and most – or a big percentage of those guys have got some fairly tasty sort of tractors. They’re what we wouldn’t call vintage – from way back they would have been old Fordsons or something, but now they’re doing up Fergusons and big Fordsons. And indeed there’s a couple of guys driving two tractors – I think they’re on the road right now and they’re driving tractors with a group of other fellows from Bluff to Cape Reinga. Did you know about that?
Just go back there – you were talking about doing up vintage motorbikes.
One interest that I did have was Classic motor cycles, and it was always my ambition when I used to ride motorbikes in 1950 – it was always my ambition to own a Square Four Aeriel. I never thought I would but however, one did come available in Napier and I grabbed it and did it up, completely restored it. And it was a lovely bike but it had troubles, but I didn’t worry too much about it because it was still a Classic bike.
But I was out riding it one day and I was out Maraekakaho way and at that stage I’d had my left hip replaced once or twice, but I was out there and I thought ‘if I had to stop in a hurry I doubt whether I’d get my foot off the footrest on to the brake pedal quick enough’. So I came along beside the grassed area by the monument and I thought ‘well I’ll run up along there and see how quick I can pull up.’ Well it took me about half a mile to pull up because I just couldn’t get my foot down quick enough, so I came home and I remember I came up the driveway here and I went down beside the shed. And Barbara was hanging washing out and I drove along beside the shed, pulled the front brake on and fell against the shed, and waited for the feeling to come back in my left leg. And I hopped off and I said to Barbara “that’s the last time I’m riding it”, and it was the last time I did ride it. But I also had a quite tasty Norton 650SS. That bike’s in Larry Cooper’s collection.
Larry’s my cousin.
Have you seen that Norton in there, the silver one? That was mine – I did that one. And I bought it from just down the road from where you used to be too. He used to have a collection of ex-Army stuff.
And I had a 1929 BSA Blue Star which actually had belonged to Coleman Wright, and it was lying in pieces at his place and I asked him what he was going to do with it and he said “oh, I don’t know, it’ll never go. I’m going to send it to a friend of mine” – in Tauranga or Auckland or somewhere. So he did that but this guy never did anything to it. So he got it back and he said “do you want it?” I said “Yeah, I do. What do you want for it?” He said “No, I wouldn’t sell it.” He said “if you want to do it up you do it up, and then it will be joint ownership.” And then he brought around a little document to me one day – I’ve still got it somewhere – that if he died first it became mine and if I died first it reverted back to him. I did get it going and indeed I rode it from Taupo to Napier once on the … what’s known as the mail run. But it was a pretty hairy old thing. It was very, very old. It had open exhausts on it and … I would never tackle it these days you know, but I was a lot younger then and I thought ‘oh, well – there’s plenty of other bikes on this run if I don’t get there’. But it never missed a beat all the way from Taupo to Napier. That was the last time I ever rode a motorbike, was on that Square Four and people said to me “oh, what did you do with it?” I said “well if you wanted to look at it, it’s in Southlands Museum.”
On that note, that probably pretty well sums up the story of your life doesn’t it?
That’s right – it does, yeah.
And thank you Matt – it has been a pleasure interviewing you.
It’s the same with you Frank, because I didn’t know how this was going to go, because I must confess I’ve flicked through the notes that we got from my cousin Barbara, and I thought some of its relevant but not very much. But you’ve led me into it and what I thought was going to be a difficult job has turned out quite interesting.
No – brilliant.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper