Peter Fraser Interview
Good morning, this is Claire Peuvrier with Peter Fraser on the 28th June 2016. Peter will tell us a little about his family history and his life.
Okay, well, to my knowledge my grandparents emigrated from Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Aberdeenshire is known for the red and grey granite cliffs. I believe that my uncle and a man by the name of Findlay, who was a baker, came out to New Zealand here, and I am unaware of why they chose Hastings but they decided that this was the place to come. And to my knowledge they sent information back to Scotland, and the family of eleven – they boarded a sailing ship and came via South Africa to Wellington, and from Wellington they moved to Hawke’s Bay where my two uncles and Findlay had decided to come. Now my father was only eighteen months old when he arrived in New Zealand.
The family established themselves in various parts of Hastings. Some of them never moved. I was surprised to learn in recent years that one of my uncles, arrived in Wellington, came to Hastings here, established an orchard business in Oak Avenue, and it wasn’t until after my auntie, his wife, died that he ever did anything – like, he was allowed to play bowls. He had only been, to my knowledge, to Bay View, north of Napier. But after she died he certainly saw parts of New Zealand, which – when you think of the time they’d spent here, was rather amazing.
The rest of the family – my Uncle Ted, Edward Fraser, was entrepreneur and the fact that somehow or other he bought up a lot of land in Hastings and Taupo. There’s a story went around that he was the unofficial Mayor of Taupo because he owned so much land, but he established businesses here in Hastings and he had a garage on the corner of Eastbourne Street and Warren Street, which today is Hutchinson’s bulk store. That was the garage known as Fraser’s Garage, and my father worked for his brother Edward, commonly known as Ted Fraser, in this garage. Now I assume that he would have had some sort of apprenticeship, but apprenticeships in those days are not what we have known them today. But he – my father John Fraser, commonly known as Jock – obviously had a brain for engineering, otherwise he would not have kept on his mechanical work in the garage. And I remember vividly many stories he was able to tell me about certain incidents of cars and trucks; and during the Depression how people were known to have driven their cars up the Napier-Taihape Road and purposely pushed them over the edge to claim insurance. And one of their fortés was salvage, and in doing so … the garage obviously was a fairly large garage and the fact that there must have been more than one mechanic there, because the work they undertook. And if you put the time cycle in, motor cars were the coming thing, and they had foresight to see it.
Now at the same time Ted Fraser – as I’ve said, being an entrepreneur – somewhere along the line he established what was known as the Omahu Shingle Company in Omahu Road. The site is still there where Bridgman Ready Mix Concrete operate from.
Now, during the garage period with my dad, what happened prior 1933 – obviously 1932 – my uncle had a truck, and he must have been a wheeler and a dealer and the fact that the truck was for sale. Now Ted went away for a holiday, and whilst he was away my father had looked at this and thought ‘right, I haven’t got any money but I’ll get some somehow or other’. And he arranged with the firm of de Pelichet McLeod, and he borrowed the truck … bearing in mind that my uncle was away on holiday. And he decided to take petrol, because petrol in those days was in four gallon tins, two tins to a box. And he took also other commodities to Taupo, and I’m not sure whether he sold them or de Pelichet McLeod sold them. When he went up it was a two-day trip, and the truck did have pneumatic tyres, I know that much, but it was a two day trip – one day to Taupo, one day back. And he took produce up and either sold it as I say for de Pelichet McLeod, and then brought it back for them. But on the return load he used to load up with fence battens, split battens. Farming in those days being established, there was a shortage but there was obviously a good supply in Taupo.
Anyway, what happened, his brother came home and asked him how things had gone and he said he’d managed to sell the truck. And Ted said to him “who bought it?” And he said “I did”, and he said “but you haven’t got that money”. Now I don’t know the value of the truck but he said to his brother “well, there’s the money. I would like to go into the contracting business”. With that, his brother said “well if you want to go into business you can keep the truck and I’ll give you twelve months to pay it off”. And Dad said to him “well, I’ve got the money”, and Ted said to him “you’ll need the money”. So that would have been 1932, because he started his business as John Fraser, Contractor, on Friday the 13th of January 1933.
Your father – did he grow up in Hastings, or around in the countryside?
No, they lived in Willowpark Road and he used to bike from Willowpark Road to the garage.
In 1931, the day of the earthquake, he was working in the garage and he had a motor bike, because after the quake a friend of his, Stan Ladbrook, they went to Napier on the motor bike and he claimed that they were the first people to go from Hastings to Napier. Now the reason he went to Napier was my mother worked in the Post Office. And I remember her telling me that she was sorting mail at the time of the earthquake, and she said she was sorting the mail on a big table. And when she turned around to put the mail in the pigeon holes the wall fell out, and she was on the second storey. And she said the whole wall just fell straight out, and she said “I was on the second floor with the table and the mail”. But she was able … the stairway was at the back, not the front of the building. The front of the building faced the road from what I gather. That was her part of the earthquake, but Dad had decided he had to find out if she was okay, so they negotiated the trip between Hastings and Napier and sure enough they – he found Mum there as good as gold.
So they were already married?
No. Now they married on the fourth of the fifth [May] 1932, so the earthquake was ’31 and they married in ’32. My brother was also born in ’32 – in December 1932. By the way Dad was born on the thirtieth of tenth [October] 1911. Between ’32 and ’33 I don’t know much about, other than the fact that they lived in a house in Omahu Road. The location is actually where the Tile Warehouse is to this day – that was the site of their house. My dad told me that … right at the end of Nottingley Road, so they obviously lived there.
Now when he started business he made several trips to Taupo where he somehow or other negotiated – I presume through de Pelichet McLeod – but I have reference here of “a hundred and fifty posts home from Taupo – a hundred and twenty posts and thirty house blocks – and three bikes and a swaggy – ten bob” [shillings] it’s got there – home from Taupo. And then his business started to flourish obviously, because “to Puketitiri for twenty-seven bales of wool, home with the wool to deliver to Murray Roberts”. “To Taupo, packages for Angus – home from Taupo, a hundred and twenty-five posts”. Now that was in the January, and then on Saturday the 11th of February 1933 the shingle pit in Omahu Road was opened, and that was on the 11th.
And then he has where with this truck that he purchased from his brother, which was an International, he makes reference of “carting material from the Omahu pit”, which as I said, we believe his brother owned it. And then it goes on for many days of carting metal from that and delivering it to various places round Hastings. Now this went on for quite some time, where in his … I didn’t mention it … he actually kept a diary and this is where I got the information from. It is pretty detailed and the fact that he makes reference here – when the truck “broke a wheel bearing”. And then he goes on, “eleven loads, eleven loads”. And this is where the house in Omahu Road … I’m not too sure of what sort of house … where he makes reference he “worked on the bathroom”. So I assume that it didn’t have a lot in it, and he added to it.
But he goes on and on in here – “came home from Taupo, stock in the yard, one hundred and one, and one hundred and fifty posts”. This is in stock now. We don’t know whether he purchased and then on-sold them or what – I have no recollection and nothing of that. He makes reference in here how problems were with the equipment in the shingle plant in Omahu Road, and a reference here of “seven loads of metal to Vidals”. Now I presume that wouldn’t have been where Vidals is in St Aubyn Street, I think it would have been out at Havelock … unknown. Yes, here’s a reference here in April 1933 to the local plumber, “two loads of shingle for Chas Bone”, the plumber. Another name of a contractor in Hastings in the road transport thing was Powdrell Brothers, and he refers to “delivering metal to Powdrells”.
So at this time he was working alone?
Yes, he was working alone. He did at some time … I remember the reference being made which I think is later on … where he had an employee. Could come up to that.
Another reference here where he “boarded up the veranda of this house”, so I assume that he was a bit of a builder at the same time. He also makes reference, or he finished the bathroom. So it must have been pretty primitive I think.
Yes – here, in April the 19th 1933 he “put in a tender for Mayfair Avenue”. So obviously the Hastings Borough Council that it would have been in those days, had called a contract, I assume for the forming of Mayfair Avenue.
Now on May the 1st he “took over the MCG Shingle Plant”, which I presume was what we know as the Omahu Shingle Company. What MCG stands for I am unaware.
He then goes on of mentioning how they had to – and you must remember that there was no mechanical equipment. Everything was done by hand shovel, and the famous … war cry if you like to call it … was, my father was well known for his pick, his shovel, his crowbar and his wheelbarrow. Now he obviously had the truck, so all this metal – I’m astounded at the quantities – all had to be shovelled on by hand, remembering that the capacity was known as three yards – approximately one and a half metres in today’s standards. The quantities that he carted – makes the mind boggle and the fact that everything had to be done by hand, so they were strong and fit men. Now as for fellow workers, I can’t tell you … doesn’t go on.
Now going back into May, on the 9th he put in a tender for the Hawke’s Bay County Council for Kereru. Now Kereru’s up Maraekakaho way, and obviously in that time roading was the big thing. Now I assume and guess a lot of the work on these roads is all done by hand. There would have horse and dray but there also must have been trucks, and I would think that the Hawke’s Bay County Council would have had quite a staff of manpower. Obviously these tenders were going on. 1933 he also makes reference to “metal for the Hastings Fire Station”. Now if it’s ’33 it’s after the ‘quake, because the Fire Station in Hastings – I’d have to go back, because in the book of the history of the Hastings Fire Brigade, ‘Fighting the Flames’, there’s reference that the Hastings Fire Brigade, which was run by the Borough Council, purchased the land in Hastings Street from a Mrs E Fraser. Now that Mrs E Fraser was my auntie. So I knew and remember Dad telling me, that a lot of the land round Eastbourne Street, Warren Street, Southland Road, he owned. So he must have owned the land, because they make references of the sale of the land to Mrs E Fraser.
There’s also reference here to the Grand Hotel, so I guess that possibly he was engaged to deliver aggregate, or shingle – whatever you like to call it – to the Grand Hotel.
Do you know if his business suffered about the Depression … when it was the Depression?
When you think the Depression was 1931-’33, round there – I mean it was an unusual time to start business. But I guess, being astute as what he was … because he wouldn’t have done what he did – he was never one to exploit people. To my recollection – the labour force was fairly easy to come by. Now I remember him telling me that with his first employee the ruling rate of pay in those days was 1/10d [one shilling and tenpence] an hour, but Dad paid 2/6d [two shillings and sixpence]. And when I asked him why did he pay 2/6d, his simple answer was that four half-crowns made ten shillings, so if you took eight half-crowns, that was one pound. So if you got five days a week forty hours, it’s forty times half a crown, and it was an easy way of paying. Now obviously 1/10d an hour was good money, but he was the sort of guy, as I know … and he always believe that any man for a good day’s work would earn a good day’s pay. And I am unaware of what he sort of paid himself. I’ve got a feeling he worked for nothing, but he was … all the time, was never miserable. I believe that he went without a lot – or both mum and him went without a lot.
See back here again, he makes reference to “carting metal to the Grand”, so I presume it’s the Grand Hotel, so possibly – I don’t know when it was built. This could be – it is hard to say. He also back here in June 1933, makes reference to the Showgrounds. Obviously something was going on at the Showgrounds because Chas Bone again, a plumber, was working there, and – “six loads of metal to the Showgrounds”. Another one here is mentioned as Premier Service Station at Stortford Lodge, which later became Fred and Les Round.
The Showgrounds crops up quite a lot – “five loads of metal”. Now every time you mention a load of metal you’ve got think it was hand shovelled on. “Showgrounds, three loads”. The days of a hand shovel was … really their right-hand man.
He makes a lot of references here, not so much on the work side, of equipping out his premises on Omahu Road with – not owned the house – but he obviously built a shed, where he mentions fitting the roof and beams and what-have-you, so he had to have a workshop where he makes reference of “finished putting the iron on the roof”.
Here again in July, the Showgrounds – “five loads to go – finished the job”. So whatever was going on at the Showgrounds, the job’s finished.
And at this time your mother was still working at the Post Office?
No, no no. She was then a housewife.
But one of the things I do know that in Omahu Road behind the house that was a large deposit of shingle which ran from Fernhill, right the length of the Omahu Road, because it is well known as being part of the old riverbed, when the river used to flow through Hastings. It flowed from Fernhill down Omahu Road – as I say the Omahu Shingle Company was there and there’s evidence still there today. The metal followed right through to underneath the hospital – the present hospital site. You’ve only got to look at the Stortford Lodge sale yards. You go further into town and the Central School – that is still low today, which is well known.
Now the river took a turn, and part of the history of Hastings shows that the riverbed actually was on the corner of Hastings Street and Eastbourne Street where the current Municipal Theatre is. Now it crossed Heretaunga Street, which today is New World car park. It carried on down to where Newbigin’s – the brewery – was, and the present Heretaunga Club car park was a big depression, which I filled up with excavated material from various construction sites being done, which as I say, is today the Heretaunga Club car park. It then went from there round and across Windsor Park and then came out through Asparagus Limited, as it was, which is now Karamu High, and went out into what is now the Karamu Stream. Later on I’ll mention how a lot of those deposits were used.
Now back in July ’33, he’d mentioned putting in a tender for the Hawke’s Bay County Council, and it was quite obvious that what they had done … because he mentions about how they arranged camping facilities to go to Maraekakaho, which to my knowledge would have been what we know today as Bridge Pa, where they camped. Now I know the reason that they camped there was because they couldn’t afford to travel from Omahu Road to Bridge Pa. And I know that his staff, or some of his staff, came from Bridge Pa and some came from Pakipaki.
Now the sort of thing – obviously to metal the roads here, he talks about three loads one day, ten loads the other, ten loads, fourteen loads, fourteen loads, six loads, twelve loads, ten loads. This is all obviously from the pit and I would assume that in those days everything would have been hand-screened. Now that would have been a screen set up on the deck of a truck, which they threw the metal up. And the screen possibly had a two-inch aperture, or two-and-a-half-inch aperture, because the roads would not have taken what is commonly known as the straight metal, and the rejects, the oversized, were barrowed away and stockpiled separately.
Now back in November 1933 he makes reference to “packed up camp and shifted to the Aorangi pit”. Now that would be on the Aorangi Road, Maraekakaho because in those days, along the roads there was various sites because it was all what’s commonly called red metal out there. They could move from – rather than cart it long distances by trucks like they do today, it would have been all short distances so the pits were strategically placed up the roads, and they would move from pit to pit to pit. And they would camp from site to site to site because he makes references of making arrangements with farmers to buy milk, and the odd leg of lamb and that, which no doubt knowing him – the farmers would have probably wanted metal for their drives, so – “I’ll give you the metal for the drive, you get the milk and we’ll have a leg of lamb or something like that. In those days when you think about it, life wasn’t easy but you had to do the best you could.
Even back in December ’33 he makes reference here to – he “loaded Fryers boat for Taupo at two am” in the morning. And he went to Taupo, unloaded the boat and brought back a hundred and fifty posts – “arrived home at two thirty am”. So I remember him telling me on numerous occasions of how he used to sleep in the truck, and I know he made reference of … on the Napier-Taupo Road, ’cause you must remember that it would be all pumice in those days, not metalled. It would have been through open country, and in those days wild horses were a-plenty on the Napier-Taupo Road because the forestry wasn’t there in those days. That wasn’t planted ‘til much later.
Did he have accidents sometimes?
Not that I know of, no. He had numerous breakdowns, but no – mind you I think I would be the same as him that if I had an accident I wouldn’t tell anybody about it.
But he also mentions here in … the 30th December of all days he “brought home sixteen hundred battens to Holt’s Mill from Taupo”. It was obvious around the end ’33 – ’34 he needed more trucks, and with his engineering ability he purchased second-hand trucks. But he makes references of – “finished off the hoist and body and fitted the tailboard”, which you needed, so he built his own truck decks. A lot of those I believe were manually operated bodies, not tip bodies as we know them today.
It was obvious in ’34 that he had intended to do a lot more work out in the County because he purchased a caravan, so instead of living in tents they had a caravan.
One reference here he makes in … March the 15th 1934, he makes reference of an “earthquake at eleven pm”, but other than that … don’t know anything else.
He makes reference here – “registered the car”, cost him £2.9.6d. And he also bought an electric iron. He bought home a cot.
Yes … this camping there – he had decided that he needed better facilities so he bought a Rio bus and spare parts for £76. Now £76 was a lot of money in 1934. Now he makes reference where he stripped the bus down because he wanted the truck from underneath. And obviously he bought another chassis and fitted the bus body onto it. He must have needed … whatever the bus was – it was a Rio – he wanted to make a truck out of it because he makes reference that he bought a three-way tipper from Farmery, whoever he was, for £15 and there is a lot of goings on of how he fitted the bus body to the truck, which he had no motor in. And I know for a fact that they lived in this because he makes reference of buying a coal range which he fitted into the bus body. And when you think about it it’s what we call a motor home today, and I know because he did tell me that my brother, who was born in ’32, that rather than have a cot he had got a pram, took the wheels off it and hung it from the roof. And that became the cot … I would assume you’d call it a bassinet … for my brother. So there was [were] engineering skills and that to make things comfortable.
And I know that my mother told me about how she used to do the cooking in the bus. Well, firewood was plentiful and she used to cook for – I assume the staff, if there was a staff – but even for themselves, but they actually lived in the bus. And when I look at it – this is in June – to be out at Bridge Pa in June in the winter … [chuckle].
And the bus body he fitted the steering in it, and what they used to do when they moved camp they would tow the bus behind a truck which was their home. So possibly he never went without the … he made sure that they were comfortable, and after all that’s what life had to be when you’re running a business. Well, you know, you had to look after everybody, and that’s the way he did it. He makes reference in here of registering the thing, and “packed up, collected the boys and gear, hitched up caravan and went to Aorangi Road, set up camp, filled up and arranged everything for starting the job. Fitted a shelf in the bus”.
It’s quite obvious that the quarry they worked in up there was pretty hard, because in July he makes reference to – “went to town and bought five pounds of gelignite, one role of fuse and fifty caps. Put in two shots and four plugs – very tough pit”. Later on he “packed up camp and went to Kereru Road”.
Reference also here to L E Elms, a fellow contractor and carrier of that time, and still going to this day. He needed obviously, more trucks, and he makes reference here “inspected a Stewart truck at McCormacks”, so I would guess that that was known as Graham McCormack and he finally bought the truck for £65.
So how many could he have … five or six trucks?
I think he … three to five … he never lists anywhere in the early stages of just how many trucks he had. What I have got I’ve been able to through the photos reference the truck – like, I know that the International truck that he first bought off his brother was number one, and I have photos of that. And then there was the Rio and a Leyland and a few of those.
In 1935 he makes reference here of – he went to see Harold Carr the accountant. Now Harold Carr – later on it became known and is still to this day, Carr & Stanton. Now Harold Carr was obviously his accountant, because he obviously discussed it with Carr that he wanted to further venture into the roading business and he wanted to get a metal crusher – that’s a road metal crusher. So he went and saw the bank manager, obviously to arrange an overdraft or a loan – whatever you like – and he bought a crusher for £270. Where he purchased if from I don’t know, because seven days later it arrived by rail and he makes reference that he “towed the crusher home on the 30th of March”. He then goes on of how he built the crusher – there again, his knowledge of the industry was phenomenal and the fact that he did it all himself. There were engineering firms in Hastings that he could get work done at, but he … obviously with his own workshop and that, he set about … I assume he designed a lot of this – well he would have designed a lot of it himself – but he made use of equipment that is mind-boggling, how he managed to get it together. And he managed to build this thing, obviously working long hours because Sunday didn’t mean much to him. And I am more than confident that he had the good support of my mother, because the amount that this would have taken under the conditions – and you must remember that equipment and machinery wasn’t as readily available then as it is today. A lot of that equipment, I know from my own experience, was very primitive compared to what we’ve got today. How much of it he owned I do not know.
When he bought this crusher he had to power it and he’s got here where he went to Hatuma – that’s out of Waipukurau – and he bought a Samson tractor and parts for £25. And he needed the tractor to power the crusher, so he – all of this equipment that he bought he spent many hours overhauling and bringing it up to tiptop order, so that when they went to work everything worked well. He even mentions, which he was never a fan for, painting stuff – he also was never one to have everything looking all nice, as long as it … paint didn’t make it go! Here’s further reference of the bus – “the boys stripped down the bus and painted parts”.
So the boys would be ..?
How old was he at this time do you think?
That was 1935 and he was born in 1911. Twenty-four.
So the War was approaching?
No, no, the War was a long way away in 1935. It was 1940-41 – the War actually started ’39 overseas, but never affected us.
So he didn’t go to the Front, or the Western Front?
No, no, no, no, no. No, no, he … later on I will come to where he was called up.
It is interesting here where he states the amount of engineering work that he was doing on vehicles, and I assume at the same time that he was home doing this, he had staff out. Because you had to have an income and I assume that his staff was competent enough to be able to go to these places and carry on working without him being there all the time. I must admit that they would have been a well-oiled crew, and he was not one to take any nonsense. I believe in those days that people were very honest, and you know, the pub had nothing to do with it. It was – people had to earn a living, and the only way to earn a living was to work. And at no point here have I heard or read anywhere, or remember anywhere, where he dismissed staff. I think if anything staff came and went of their own accord.
To register a truck, two of his trucks £3.9 shillings each, and I believe his Morris car was £2.19.0 – bit different today.
He mentions in here of buying various trucks and fitting bodies, and changing tyres and that, so I’ve got a feeling that his fleet – if you could call it a fleet – may be up around the three to five trucks – maybe more. It’s very hard because of the limited notes to put together how many trucks he actually had. I’ve got the feeling that he had trucks on standby that if one broke down he could put another one … Reference is made through here at numerous times of trucks breaking axles, and here we make a reference here – “No 2 broken axle – took out No 3” – so there’s three trucks – “took out the broken axle, got a spare from Dave Walker”. Well Dave Walker, I remember well, was a very large sheep carrying contractor here who lived at Longlands … had a depot there … and in my day I remember Dave Walker, Carrier, very well.
We had a lot of sheep carriers – there was Roy Sherwood, Cyril Wilkie, Dave Walker etcetera, because the Stortford Lodge sale yards were very prominent, and also we had a set of sale yards at Longlands. Now the Longlands one, a lot of stock came by rail and they were unloaded at Longlands and there were sale yards there, and then the carriers took them from there on.
Here – he makes reference here – “went to the Hawke’s Bay Motor Company sale, bought spare axles etcetera”, and he bought them there. Another – he ordered four new wheelbarrows. So obviously the wheelbarrow was still very much part of the thing.
Now what he’d done is – not only had he built this crusher, what would have happened – they would have had to pick and shovel the right material and sort that out and then wheelbarrow it to the crusher, then they shovelled into what is known as a bucket elevator which elevated the material from ground level up to a height where it then went through a screen, and then the oversized went into a crusher. So we were well into the business there.
It’s obvious that the bus was a very important part of their living facilities because he makes plenty of reference to altering the thing, probably to make it more comfortable. Now whether they had – I would have thought they would have had a dining room table, but there wouldn’t have been a lounge or anything like that because no doubt in that time of the year, a double bed would have been a very warm place to retire. And if it had a coal range in it – they were well known for being able to light up before going to bed at night, and they would keep the place very, very warm.
I’m not sure, I don’t think any of the staff lived in the caravan. I’ve got a feeling … the way I’ve read, and putting two and two together … that he may have had two buses that he’d converted, one for quarters for the guys to share because there were references made of getting sacks to make the bunks. So what the mattresses were, if they were … unknown. You’ve just got to guess all that.
Back in July ’35 – “cleaned out the caravan, bought a stove for fifteen shillings. Boys cleaned it up – rain, no work”. So they obviously set it all up. Where he refers to the boys – whether they are on the payroll or not – I assume they were, because in those days, if my memory serves me correct, the camaraderie amongst people … there was not the diversification that we have today. People seemed to work as a team, and obviously you helped your mates out. And from what I’ve read and from what I understand, it was a very happy team, and they worked great together, I would say, through thick and thin.
Now in August 1935 there’s reference here … the crusher that he had built in Omahu Road, and with the tractor and that … he makes reference – “towed crusher to Bridge Pa, slow trip, caught lots of wires”. So it was high enough to pull down a few wires on the way. But that would have been from Omahu Road to Bridge Pa, and the Samson tractor that he had bought, he used that to tow the caravan to Bridge Pa as well. And there’s reference here – “took out the boys and set up the camp at Bridge Pa. Heavy rain, went to Bridge Pa and ended up, flood waters”. God, I’m only up to 1935.
Yes, through 1935, August, he makes plenty of references to breakdown problems but how they were fixed … and in his notes – they became very technical, or not too technical, but the everyday things that you would have to put up with because the amount of work that you did. And its’ quite obvious to me that the quantities they put through, that it’s like anything mechanical – it wears out and it breaks down.
Here’s a reference to No 4 truck. Yeah – “took No 4 for a trial run back to camp”. As a mechanic and that, there’s plenty of references in here of trucks not performing well. It was very easy to dismantle and decarbonise them, and grind the valves, and clean the carburettors and what-have-you. ‘Cause one must remember that it was all tinned petrol in those days, and there are references here of contaminants which they were unaware caused them problems. By the amount of work that they did, the type of trucks that they were in those days, diffs and gear boxes were I don’t think a lot of them were designed for the type of work we put them to, because you had to make do with what’s available. And there’s plenty of references of broken axles and things like that. I was surprised to find in here where a broken axle – “brought it into town had it welded up and put it back in again”. Well, you would never do that today, mainly because the price of a new one is probably much cheaper. But I have noticed in here that for the time, the prices were comparable with wages and fuel and what-have-you. It doesn’t appear to me that prices were inflated. It was just a sign of the times – at ’35, the Depression was over in a sense.
Another reference here – “broken axle, took it to Hawleys to get it welded”. Well, obviously Dad didn’t have a welder. Obviously the long hours that they would have worked … because it wouldn’t have been eight to four in those days … it would have been six to six – six in the morning to six at night. And whilst in all the references here – “plenty of work, very little party up”. I would assume and guess, knowing my dad as I did, he would have enjoyed a few beers. And he would have, and always was … his boys, his staff … came first. He was not one to go out on his own. And also, he was obviously very aware … and I believe the secret of success was ‘lead by example’. So what I’m saying is that if he set a good example, his staff did the same thing.
Now in 1936 in January the 13th he started a contract, obviously from Bridge Pa, to crush and cart metal to the Hastings main highway. Whether the main highway is what we now know as – I’ve got a feeling that the main highway was what we know now as Maraekakaho Road. I don’t know if it was the main road by Longlands or not. He started on the Hastings main highway. Whether this is significant or not, he collected a cheque from the County for £176. That was a lot of money in those days, you know. But it was part of the job.
He was a wheeler and a dealer, because not only did he buy things he was quite happy … he sold the seats out of the bus for £1.5.0d each, So if you think of a bus and he got £1.5.0 each for them, he did pretty well. But he never was one to turn his back on … if he could get it for next to nothing, he would.
So I can imagine there was no taking holidays?
No, no. I do know that the Christmas time was the holiday period. He makes reference in here with family of taking them obviously in a truck out to the river. Now the Tukituki River is one; Pakowhai, and up to Puketapu and places like that, where he would take the family. And the family were a very close-knit family and the fact that one of our Uncles had a farm at Korokipo. I remember vividly during the War we were never short of milk or cream, and the odd leg of lamb and butter. And I know it from here that Dad did reciprocal work out at the farm – loads of metal and limestone and what-have-you, so … The other ones with the orchard would have looked after us for fruit, and the fact that you’ve got to remember that Granddad Fraser was a baker. Now all his daughters would have inherited his baking skills, because I can tell you that they were all damn good cooks. And there was always a competition amongst them, whether it be a birthday party, a twenty-first or what-have-you of who made the best cake.
Now in February 1936 he put in a tender for metalling the Lagoon Farm. Now the Lagoon Farm to my memory is where the current Napier Airport is. That was known as the Lagoon Farm, so obviously there was work out there. And it’s quite obvious that he kept his nose to the grindstone, and the fact that … I don’t know … I assume it was papers; it could have been letters … that any work that was going on that they had the opportunity like anybody else. Dad wasn’t the only contractor in Hastings.
Now 1936 in February the 28th he had a meeting with Harold Carr again, and the bank manager, and he got an introduction for Auckland. Now what happened … and this is the true part of it … there was an exhibition in Auckland. Now you’ve got to remember, Dad started in 1933 and this is three years later. They went to the exhibition in Auckland and he ordered a new truck. Now he paid – I think from memory the price of the truck was £468, which was a lot of money. But to be able to buy a brand-new truck – no doubt there were others, probably Ford and Chev and Chrysler but this was known as a Diamond T, and they were an American truck and in a way they were the crème-de-[la-]crème of trucks. Now he went up there, and Mum obviously went with him, and then they had a good look around Auckland and obviously had a good holiday.
And he came back to town and he was there again looking at buying trucks from Williams & Creaghs, and Barry Brothers in Napier. Now they were big time carriers – Barry Brothers went right up until the seventies. It got gobbled up in the finish by the conglomerates. It was obviously off one of those firms that he bought a truck called a Commer Car. Now I remember that, and I have photos of that truck. Believe it or not, Dad rated as 1918 but it was before 1918, because for a truck of that … it had something that trucks to this day don’t have – a steering column gear change. It was also chain driven, and it had what we have today, but you’ve got to think of it at the time – it had what they called a pre-selector gearbox. In other words you could select what gear you were going to use. So as I say, I know it was chain driven; I knew the truck – I have photos of the truck. But he obviously bought that, and then I know what he did later on. In buying this truck, what he did later on, he – the crusher that he had built had to be towed around and was on like – big dray wheels. And what he did is he took the unit off and he mounted it onto this Commer Car chassis. So he used the motor – where he had had a tractor to drive it – there again, his own ingenuity, he’d worked out that he could disconnect the drive train of the truck and use the motor and that to drive the crusher, which he did. And it then went on to be just another part of his well-designed and very efficient equipment.
Here’s another reference – in April of 1936 he “bought an International truck from Mildon’s in Wairoa”. So he must have known what was going on. And then he makes reference here also of No 5 truck, so we’re up to five now. Previously we’d talked about No 4, so I assume that this International that he bought from Wairoa became No 5.
His engineering ability in setting up this equipment was out of this world. For the time and the way the contracting industry was, I consider that he was actually ahead of his time and the fact that the foresight that he had. Obviously he studied a lot of equipment and how it worked. I don’t know whether he was able to – he didn’t venture far, so therefore he couldn’t have – he must have got ideas from somewhere, but the contracting industry in Hastings-Napier was not big. There was opposition and the fact that there was [were] fellow contractors, but in lots of cases here he engaged them to work for him. I don’t recall anywhere in any of his notes that he worked for them – they worked for him.
Now in the ’36 era, it was amazing the amount of work, and as I said before, he trusted his staff – he must have had foremen and that that he obviously paid well. And he had confidence in them, and they must have been good, strong … like, there was no room for any weak links or lame men in those days.
1936 again. On June the 20th he was off to Auckland. He had notification that his truck had arrived at Cavanagh & Co in Auckland. Now all it was was a chassis and a cab. Cavanagh’s in Auckland were body builders and they would have built the cab on it. He makes reference here – “left Rotorua, good trip. Arrived in Auckland at five thirty. Went and saw the truck. Only the engine fitted, and diff on the chassis”. And he stayed at the Metropolitan Hotel. Then the next day he went to Cavanagh’s and helped to assemble his Diamond T – he “put on the mudguards and radiators, assembled engine, got going and drove to the paint shop”.
Now what had happened – in the early days one of his sisters said to him about the fact that his trucks were – there was nothing uniform, and she suggested that he paint them. And Dad says “you don’t need to, that doesn’t make them go any better”. But the fact was that you had to be recognised. And Dad said “well – what colour?” And his sister said to him “Jock, you must paint them red and grey after the red and grey granite cliffs of Aberdeenshire in Scotland”, which to this day they’re still well known for. So what happened? The bonnet and the mudguards became red, and the cab and deck became grey and the wheels were red. That colour remained right through until probably about ’65, when I added a white to it.
But he drove it to the paint shop, and I know because I have a copy of the letter when he ordered the truck, confirmed his order by mail, about how he wanted the truck painted. And on the 25th he “worked on the truck, signed up all the papers, paid the registration and took the truck for a trial run, and packed up the Diamond T.” They “left Auckland at five o’clock, arrived in Rotorua at two thirty am. Couldn’t get a bed and slept in the truck. Awake at dawn, very cold and stiff. Went to the Ward Baths”, which are the thermal baths in Rotorua, “and thawed out and had a good feed”. Now they then, with the salesman from Cavanagh’s – obviously the two of them together in this truck – they then went from … I had an auntie and uncle that lived in Rotorua, and they obviously looked them up – they didn’t stay with them … and then they went from Rotorua to Gisborne. I would assume they would have went [gone] through Murupara … that way … Waikaremoana, which … the only way from Rotorua down to Gisborne. And “left Rotorua at ten, Gisborne at three pm. Booked at the Albion Hotel and went to bed early”.
They then had to demonstrate the truck at a company called Redstone Motors. They demonstrated the truck to the Borough Council in Gisborne, and the Electric Power Board, and sundry people. And then the next day they went from Gisborne to Wairoa and they demonstrated the truck in Wairoa, and then they arrived in Napier at four o’clock. He makes reference to “a good trip, but I had a sore bum”, and that’s obviously because he’d been sitting in the seat for two days, and I can tell you a truck just a chassis and cab would have bounced around there. The next day he “washed and polished the truck for a demonstration. Took it to the bank manager, and around town as a show off”.
The deck and all that for it, he built himself. He decided to build the body himself because he wanted the truck in a hurry I assume, and then they left Auckland on the 25th of June. And then on the 13th of July he’d completed the truck and he took the truck for its first trip with the body on, and believe it or not the speedo reading was eight hundred and eighty-five miles. So between June and July, obviously what’s happening on here … because in between there’s references of other work carrying on … he obviously stayed at home and built the body, and he no doubt would have had assistance to help him – he couldn’t have done it all on his own. So away he went.
Now 1936 – that was what I consider a great feat – to be able to start and order and get a brand new truck. And she was known as No 2. The International that he’d first bought was No 1. He did have a Rio, but obviously he traded that Rio in on this truck. He actually drove it to Auckland and traded it in with the firm that he bought the truck off, and called her No 2, and away she went.
It’s obvious that at this time the reference to the trucks – that the painting issue came up because he makes plenty of references here of “painting No 3 bonnet and guards, second coat, and No 1” and that, so it’s quite obvious he now had a fleet of trucks which had to become recognisable and it was the way things went.
Now it was in August, again ironically the 13th – the 13th appears a lot in Dad’s life in more than one way. And it says here he saw a “mechanical power shovel working at the Port of Napier”. That is the first reference to mechanical power shovel.
Now also in here on September the 6th there’s reference – “Jock not so good, gone to Royston”. On the 8th – “operated on, doing well”. 9th – “doing well”. I seem to recall that one of the problems was a hernia, and that would have been brought about by him lifting things too heavy, because that’s the way that things happened.
Now 1936 was a great year. As I said, they went to Auckland to the Centennial Exhibition. The reference here, and having checked this out in his diary, nine months later after the trip to Auckland, I was born. So I have been very very proud of the fact that I’m the results of a Diamond T truck. If I was conceived in Auckland, so be it, but the only reference he’s got here – “December 10th – Peter born at Sister Cooper’s in St Aubyn Street in Hastings at eleven am – eight pounds”.
As I mentioned before with the family, he makes reference here – “December the 20th – took crowd to the hall for Christmas dinner”, so I would assume that he would have picked up the family somehow or other – I don’t know – cars … might have been on the back of a truck … you don’t know. And the Napier … ‘cause my mother lived in Napier, my grandparents lived in Napier … that was a regular trip, to Napier.
Now 1937 – believe it or not he bought a pram, so I suppose the pram was for me.
We start making references here of more work. Somewhere along the line he had decided that Havelock … now I know that there was another contractor who had a quarry at Havelock, but he points out here that the “Hawke’s Bay County Council, Woodford House, metalling contract”. And then he goes on here of the amount of “metal that was crushed for Woodford House” – 1937. But I think Woodford House started before 1937 – I’ve got the feeling it is for additional work there.
Now at the same time his good old firm, de Pelichet McLeod that he established business with in the first place – he must have had a pretty good relationship, because with this new truck – No 2, the Diamond T – there’s plenty of references here of the Pourere run. Now Pourere, out of Dannevirke, and he’s got listed here – I assume Mum did this – a hundred and eight miles; a hundred and twenty-nine miles; on a Saturday fifty-nine miles; a hundred and fifty-four miles. So I assume what happened – he used to do a run for … it could have been taking supplies. I guess it could have been like a mail run, only done with a truck, because if you think of those areas – posts, wire, wool, hay, timber. I’ve got a feeling that he had negotiated, or … somehow or other with them … this daily run, because it crops up very well. I mean here’s another one – a hundred and twenty miles; a hundred and thirty-seven miles; a hundred and two miles; a hundred and six miles – and it just goes on and on and on. This run was a regular thing which was pretty good, actually.
He still must have been working on the house, because he refers to – he “fitted a shelf in the washhouse”. So Mum must have needed something in the washhouse ‘cause she had two children.
There again, from Havelock in March he shifted the crusher back to Bridge Pa, so we’re back to the old stamping ground again. And then after that – he had won a contract with the Hawke’s Bay County Council to metal the roads from Clifton to Te Awanga, to Haumoana. Now after they had finished Bridge Pa, he makes reference to bringing the crusher home and doing an overhaul on it and what-have-you, and he shifted it to Te Awanga. And then he makes reference to – “shifted bag and baggage”, and I assume the bus, to Te Awanga.
Now all the way through here this – de Pelichet & McLeod – day after day, we’re talking about in excess of a hundred miles a day that they used to travel. And he must have, at this point … I haven’t been able to quite sort it out … I think he must have had two crushers, because he talks about the Clifton job and Bridge Pa. So I assume that the two areas are being worked. But I remember him telling me, and I also knew where the quarry used to be at Te Awanga – it is not there today because it’s been very conveniently landscaped, but I do know above the quarry, which was red metal, was a Maori burial ground. And on today’s … that’s tapu, but it wasn’t in those days. But with the Te Awanga job which he started in April, he obviously had quite a few trucks, because whilst they were only, what they call ‘three-yard’ trucks, when you look at the quantities delivered and spread on the roads they talk of a hundred and eight yards, a hundred and five yards, ninety yards, sixty-six yards, a hundred and two, a hundred and fourteen, ninety-six, a hundred and two – per day. And then it goes on and on and on. They went out there in April, May, June, July, August.
Now in 1937 he also had ordered a second Diamond T truck. Now there’s not the write up, and there was no addition to the family. He went up in August 1937 to Auckland, only this time he ordered the truck and they built the body. So he brought the whole truck home, and they – that became No 4. Right up until September he worked at Te Awanga and then they shifted from there to Okawa, so there was more work there.
During that time – I made reference earlier where he saw a mechanical power shovel at Napier – the first reference I’ve got was where he designed … this is in 1937 in September … one of the trucks he had, a Leyland, he stripped it down for the construction of a power shovel. Now you must remember all the time, that everything they’ve done and these large quantities of metal, they’re all done by hand … hand and a shovel and staff. Now it is a feat that he designed and built this power shovel himself. Now I’m not exactly sure of the time but I know because I remember him telling me – it must have been 1939 or ‘40, somewhere round about there, maybe ’41 … ’40 more likely … that the Ruston Bucyrus Company in the United Kingdom who were big manufacturers of power shovels and mining equipment, had heard about this, and Dad told me this – they sent two people from the UK all the way to New Zealand, because it was impossible to do. But he had built his own power shovel and that was brilliant. I mean I remember, and up until some years ago, or back in ’87 … ’86, round there, I had salvaged, and had intended to restore it but it never came to be, the original power shovel that he built.
Now from then on after he built this power shovel, things took a new turn. It wasn’t the end of the hand shovel because the hand shovel still had to be used. But with his crushing plants, instead of feeding them by hand he could feel them with the power shovel.
Now again 1937 he bought a new Diamond T. And here we have in 1938, on June the 28th he went to Wellington and bought a new Chev truck. And from the photos he had two Chev trucks, one was No 6 and the other was No 3, and I have the photos of the two Chev trucks. So we’re doing pretty well and the fact that 1936, 1937, 1938 he’d bought two, so business was … and he was making money, because one of Dad’s philosophies which I’ll refer to later on – if he couldn’t pay for it he never owned it. There was no such thing as time payment or borrowing money – the only thing that I’m aware of where he was lent money was when he bought his first … got his first truck from his brother, and he told me the story that they agreed on a price and he said “you’ve got it for twelve months”. Now Dad knew that his brother was a stickler for protocol and if it was ten o’clock in the morning and you were there at five past, bad luck for you. But Dad was there – I remember him telling me – quarter of an hour earlier and his brother said to him “what are you doing here?” He said “I’ve got your money I owe you”. And Dad was free of his debt. That is the only time that I am aware that he was lent money. Other than that, you had to have the money to pay for it, so that was good.
Now as I’ve made reference before where he’d been to hospital, here we are again in May the 3rd – “Jock went to hospital, he was operated on the 4th”. Now in those days I know that they went to Royston, and his doctor was Doctor Comrie. Whilst he was operated on the 4th “the 16th Jock had the stitches out. On the 24th Jock came home”. So if he went into hospital on May the 3rd, he came home on May 24th so I assume there again … because later on this operation played a part in his life.
Now I’m not absolutely certain because I can’t find a reference to it, but where I made reference to the power shovel, prior to that … the reference I made was September the 6th ’37, but somewhere along the line, and I have the photos of it but no reference to it, he built his first power shovel which I know, and he told me, was only what they call ‘a hundred and eighty degree swing’. In other words from left to right, they worked over the rear. Now when he built the new power shovel it was a three hundred and sixty degree – it made no difference whether you went left to right, right to left – it was the way it was worked.
Yeah, here we go – in July you see we’re up to No 6 truck, so that the Chev was No 6, so we’re getting up to six trucks, so we’re doing pretty well.
Now in 1938 – it must have been earlier in 1938 – there’s no reference but I remember the conversation – we had a big flood here, and I have got photos that were taken of the flood. Now Dad referred to me that the Ngaruroro River nearly burst its banks at Fernhill where the rifle range used to be, and obviously they did a hell of a lot of work out there, because he did say he made a lot of money. Now in that, he was able to purchase the section on the corner of Tomoana Road and Heretaunga Street known as No 5 Tomoana Road, and he had a house built by Ossie Simmons. Now Ossie Simmons was a builder in St Aubyn Street, and on September the 14th they shifted into the new home in Tomoana Road. On September the 15th, the very next day – “Jock to Auckland. On the 17th, two days later – “Jock home from Auckland”. That was on the 17th and yet my sister was born on the 1st of October. So Mum would have been heavily pregnant at the time and had to move into a new home, and the very next day he went to Auckland, which was in those days … Joan was born on the 1st and Mum arrived home on the 13th so she had thirteen days, which you did in those days, not like today – in, out and gone – from again, Sister Cooper’s in St Aubyn Street. Now Sister Cooper’s is still there to this day. That is actually … I think the funeral director’s from there … every time I drive past I think …
And then one of the things that’s rather interesting having this, December the 2nd Mum got a new Chev car.
Yes, during ’39 here, laying the lawn and everything and I’ve got the photos of Tomoana Road, of the house and then they built a garage next door which he operated from right up, from 1938 to 1960. We moved out of there in 1960.
Now obviously in 1940 there was plenty of contracts around and a thing called ‘day work’. The Public Works Department – they hired trucks from Dad. Now I know that these were – like the Napier-Taupo Road – and he also won a contract for the Patangata County Council. Now Patangata County was part of Waipukurau, and they were there for a hundred and twenty-six days, and on the truck hire business they were good rates and that. The Diamond T … the de Pelichet run must have stopped or he put another truck on, because he refers to No 2 and No 3 – well that was a Diamond T and a Chev, and they were on the Public Works Department for two hundred and sixty-four days. Now there’s only three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, so staff – you know, they worked … to do all this work, they were pretty busy boys, there’s no two ways about it.
In November 1940, because there was a war coming along, the Army requisitioned two trucks. Now on the 1st of November 1940 the No 3 Chev truck was commandeered. Dad asked £300 for it, but they only paid him £298. And then No 5, so the two Chev trucks, they went into the Army and they were changed from the red and grey to khaki as all trucks were. Now they went in in 1940 on November, but he got them back from the Army on the 10th of April 1941. He got both them back. No 3 went in in November, and No 5 on the 30th of January, but he got it back on the 10th of April. So January through March-April – they weren’t in there for long. I remember the trucks painted khaki – I remember that.
So what did they do with the trucks?
Oh, he got them back. They were tip trucks, but the Army commandeered them, and they would have used them for anything. Now as I say, I remember those trucks so that’s puts my memory 1940, which is not too bad – I was only born in 1936. I remember the trucks painted there but I’ve also got photos that confirm it.
Unfortunately 1941 on February the 1st his nice new Diamond T truck ran into the back of one of the Chevs, and I’ve got a photo of it smashed up – not too bad, it got repaired and got back in.
And then whilst we talked about my Mother having a baby, when Joan was born here she is on March the 5th 1940, because she had to have her appendix out. So things were a bit different in those days as they are today.
1941, yes, we’re big into the Public Works Department which was the Napier-Taupo road and there was day work there. At the same time as this was happening, there was also County work going on, keeping the roads. But also in ’41 we’ve got reference to truck No 7. So we’re keeping up in it.
Somewhere along the line in 1941 – “home from Auckland with a Bedford truck”, so … don’t know what’s going on there. Parallel to that work we’re at Porangahau working for the Patangata County Council down there. They “crushed and carted three hundred and thirty-three yards in twenty days”. So it was a good job there.
Now at the same time he secured a job for a company called Lime Hydrators Limited at the Tukituki, which later … much later … became, after the War, Webster’s Lime Works. Now they spent many, many months there, a couple or three years actually, working there. I’ll come to it.
In 1942 in February, Dad went into camp in Dannevirke. It was surprising that a man with three children was called up, but there would have been plenty of reason for it. Yeah – in May he had a medical for the Army – “fifth x-ray for the Army”.
Now obviously the War was getting on, but one of the things that was surprising – that the Public Works Department which later became the Ministry of Works, hired one of our trucks and it went to Plimmerton, that’s out of Wellington. Now it was down there for twenty-five days and it came home on July the 2nd. There must have been a shortage of trucks, to send one from Hastings to go there, but the Government departments – they needed trucks. I don’t know what it did down there.
Now on July the 2nd 1940,  Dad went to Harewood, that was the Air Force camp. And then on September the 16th – he went in in July the 2nd – in September the 16th Mum went to Palmerston North and “Jock came home on final leave”. So he was going overseas. Now I know, because he told me, one of the things that you weren’t allowed to do with your mail – it was heavily censored in what you were allowed to write home – but one of the things that Dad, in a letter which I have still got, he wrote to Mum – they left Wellington and they were going to New Caledonia. And in this letter he wrote to Mum that “the old Maori lady rolled a lot”. Now the Maori lady was the ‘Wahine’, ’cause wahine was your Maori lady. And the ‘Wahine’ was a troop ship, and that’s how Mum knew that he’d gone on the ‘Wahine’, but she didn’t know that he was going to New Caledonia.
Now they went from Wellington to Auckland and then onto New Caledonia. Now it’s hard to believe, but I have read the book – Dad got a book, he was a great reader. After the War he got a book out of the library and it was by a Japanese submarine Commander. Dad couldn’t put two and two together at the time – he got a hell of a shock. I actually confirmed this by having a look in the library under the Second World War official military books that we’ve got. But this submarine Commander followed the two ships from Wellington to Auckland and then onto New Caledonia. Now he could have torpedoed them any time but he was told not to. Now Dad did tell me that they landed … what little he said – very little he said … that they arrived late in the afternoon and disembarked. And then that night – and it’s in the book – that this submarine surfaced and lobbed half a dozen shells in amongst the landing troops. Now if you read the Pacific history of the Second World War New Caledonia, was only a stopping off point – Guadalcanal, New Guinea, all that – that’s where the troubles lay. And Dad told me this – I couldn’t believe it when he told me – he said “one of the guys there”, he said “he was so upset he said ‘the Japs are not going to get me’, and he pulled out a pistol and shot himself”. Just like that.
But anyway he went to New Caledonia, he was only there for sixty-six days, and the reason he was there – he had the recurrence of a double hernia. Hernia’s the rupture that I mentioned before, where he’d been into hospital. Now one of the things that I found out – one of the problems in the Pacific, and New Caledonia was one, that when you had a wound it didn’t heal. You cut your finger, you know normally heals in couple or three days, it could be months. Now Dad told me this – he had his double hernia, went into hospital and they operated on him and said “well we can’t do anything for him, we’ve got to send him home”. So they put him in a rubber raft with a stretcher and God knows what, and all the supplies into a DC 3 which is the Dakota, and a pilot and navigator, and he’s in the back all on his own, and flew him home to New Zealand.
Now one of the things, and it’s a bit hilarious – Dad couldn’t believe it, but these two Americans – they had sub-machine guns, they had hand grenades, they had pistols, they had everything you could think of, because they were coming to a country where they believed that the Maoris still roamed wild. And that’s the intelligence of the Americans up in the Pacific – that’s what it was.
But one of the things that Dad did tell me … he knew when they flew from New Caledonia to Lord Howe Island and refuelled, and then flew onto New Zealand, but they’d been flying and Dad got hold of them and said “listen, we’ve been flying for too long”. The pilot or navigator said “well what do you mean?” And he said “I think we’ve overflown New Zealand”. So they did some reckoning and with that they turned round and flew backwards and found New Zealand. And Dad told me this, he said they landed – they found New Zealand – at Whenuapai, and they landed there but they never made the terminal – they actually ran out of petrol. The plane actually ran out of petrol before it would get to the terminal, then they towed the plane, or put an ambulance and took Dad out, and away he went.
Do you remember when you stayed with your mother here in New Zealand, do you remember how … where the wild times ..?
We were okay, we lived in a new house in Tomoana Road. And whilst my uncle and my mother ran the business while he was away, we still had plenty of work going on, and my uncle became foreman. He was one that couldn’t go overseas ’cause he was medically unfit, but he was quite capable of doing that. And as I said before, with the family we were pretty lucky and the fact that the farm at … and the close family relationship between all the aunties and the few uncles … we were never short of fruit or food or anything like that. We were one of the lucky ones. At the same time there was rationing, food rationing, we had coupons and I remember the coupons, and you know, you were only allowed so much sugar, and so much flour, and what-have-you. But the family – Scotchmen [Scotsmen] are pretty miserable, and they stuck together. And the fact that Mum had three children … our aunties looked after us … I mean there’s references in here right through of where I stayed with Auntie Peg or Auntie Jess or something like that. And the fact that my Uncle Jim – his wife, Auntie Peg, was … she was my dream lady. I used to spend a lot of time … and ‘course you’ve got to remember at this time also, I started school. And I went to Mahora School and my auntie live in Mahora, so it was easy for me to go after school to her place, because like it or lump it, I had to ride a bike the length of Tomoana Road from Frederick Street right down to Heretaunga Street. You know – but I had a two-wheeled bike, and I had a brother and we had the Chev car, and on wet days I remember my uncle would take us to school in the car. Mum did drive, but I don’t think she was a competent driver, I’m not sure. It was just one of those things that we did, you know.
What about the petrol for the trucks?
Well petrol was rationed in those days, but because we had the trucks – I think I’ve covered it there where petrol was rationed – but because of having a company, a contracting company, somehow or other we would have had a supply because it was then classed as an essential industry – the contracting was – because you know, that went right back during the War and all that. Whilst there was limited amounts of fuel available I don’t recall anything of diesel, mainly petrol. But how they got it here I’m blowed if I know. I mean tankers must have got here somehow or other because it certainly wasn’t made in New Zealand.
To camp, and then he went to Tauranga. And then I remember we talked about he used to transport by boat an air sea rescue launch from Tauranga to the Mount, because the Air Force base was at the Mount, and I think I remember saying he spent a lot of his time deep sea fishing.
So it was in 1943?
I think I’ll start in 1944 when he came out of the Air Force ’cause various things happened there. March the 13th Dad came home from Tauranga for good and was now back to work. For some reason during that period there were vehicles purchased – one, I don’t know which one it was, from Palmerston North, purchased from Army sales so it would be a second-hand truck.
And then now he was home, the work continued at the Tukituki River which was where we were crushing metal for the Ocean Beach, Waimarama, Maraetotara areas. And each time the boys brought the equipment off the riverbed but because Dad was home now, he decided there was no need to. Unfortunately on May the 28th we had a phone call from Felix Campbell who owned the property adjacent to the Tukituki River where we were excavating the metal from, and the power shovel – the one that he had made – was parked in the river. But the phone call said that the river was rising, and unfortunately for us the river had risen quite some number of feet, and when we first saw it the water was up to the radiator which would have been about one and a half metres deep. We went up to Bruce Webster’s, which was Webster’s Lime Company – Bruce being a good friend of Dad’s – and later on when it come time to come home – I remember it quite vividly – that when we had a look, by this time the water was right up to the top of the radiator, and we waited for a while and then the power shovel completely disappeared. Now that was on the Sunday. I remember him telling me to be home from school, don’t hang around on the Wednesday – he was going out to the river to have a look. We duly went out to the river and the Tukituki had dropped – it was right down to its normal level, but we could find no power shovel. We walked across the riverbed until we found an oil slick and a wire rope and there we found the power shovel which was lying on its side.
Now on the following Saturday Dad went to Wellington to GT Gillies, who had bought a couple of hundred GMC trucks ex the US Government, which had been brought to New Zealand to be refurbished. But the War finished and the trucks were left in storage and ultimately put up for Government tender which … Gillies bought these trucks, plus I remember there was five hundred – he bought the trucks at £18 each which was a lot of money, and he also bought five hundred tons of spares for £500. Now those spares, unbeknown to anybody – nobody knew, they were all crated – when Gillies purchased them and opened them up he found that there was complete brand new motors, gear boxes, differentials and anything which … typical of the US Government … had supplied. And there was also Dodge 4 x 4 and Jeep spares – the US Army Jeep was a very popular vehicle here. I know that, because of other information I’ve got, that Gillies paid £18 each for them. Dad bought his – it cost him £235. But at the same time Gillies bought the land and he had all these vehicles and he had to sell them, and he was an astute businessman and that’s the way things went.
The vehicle that Dad had picked was what was classed as a very, very rough one but nevertheless, because it was what they call 6 x 6 drive, when they got it home from Wellington and it was used – we went out to the river and the men excavated round and the power shovel was dismantled. And the GMC being 6 x 6, it could traverse the river no problem at all, without getting stuck. And we dismantled the power shovel and brought it home to where it was completely dismantled, washed out from all the silt and water, was put back together and reassembled, and it was back to work.
It would appear that it took to the end of July to complete all this work because it must be remembered that there was other work going on at the time, other contractual work, and so they could devote all their time to working on the thing. It appears here that the actual GMC truck which was used – on September the 25th he has listed that the GMC was in work.
So that was the first of his Army trucks that he purchased. I know that he purchased over a period of time, probably a couple of years, up to five of these vehicles because they were the only vehicles that were available to purchase after the … well the War was just over, and there was [were] no new vehicles coming into New Zealand and many, many businesses right throughout New Zealand purchased these vehicles and were able to get back into business.
I notice here that also the contractual work was still going on in 1945 – “heavily involved with Napier-Taupo Road. Reference is made to the local work as well. At the same time, with everything back going, the Waimarama-Tukituki River was in full swing, and there’s a lot of that period of time. Also thrown in amongst this, it’s obvious that County Council work … he mentions here Big Hill, out behind Maraekakaho, there was obviously plenty of work up there. Poporangi, another area which – obviously day work or Council work … County Council work it would be, there. He mentions here Salisbury Road, Olrig, so the whole area to the west of town – west-south – was being well catered for.
Then later on round the August it’s obvious that Whirinaki, north of Napier Pulp Mill, where a lot of work was being carried out on the Napier-Wairoa Road – the area was prone to slip work, and I know that there was a lot of work – it was usually always emergency work – where the Napier-Wairoa Road would be closed because of slips. And there is plenty of information where they were required to go up there and open the roads because there only being the one road from Wairoa to Napier.
At the same time, 1945, Dad had spent a lot of time thinking while he was in the Air Force, in his spare time I assume, working out that it was time to build another power shovel, and no doubt that from what I read in his diaries that they started on this work. And references are made here to his second power shovel, the new one which they nicknamed Mary Anne after a famous children’s book of which I have a copy, of a place in the UK where this power shovel dug a big hole and ended up in the bottom, and ended up as running a power station, so the nickname Mary Anne came about. And in March of 1945 there’s reference here – he went to Palmerston North to purchase an ex-Army International 4 x 4 truck which he paid £625 for. What happened is that truck – they came home and it immediately went into the workshop and it was converted over and they built the second power shovel to fit on the back of this particular vehicle. At some point, or during the process, he purchased an extra axle and they converted it to a six-wheel unit. And subsequently, right through 1945, they worked extensively on this, the building of this power shovel. So ’45 saw him now with two power shovels. And obviously the work was there, so it was a big boost to have this second power shovel. And from references in here, also the truck fleet increased. We’re up to by the look of things, six trucks by this time, which as usual with him, he wouldn’t have them unless he could pay for them. There’s a note here that Mary Anne, the No 2 power shovel was completed on the 26th of July 1945. There’s a reference here – “Mary Anne finished off and then to work”.
It’s obvious that at that time that … there’s references they’re off to Auckland, which I assume would be to look at purchasing trucks or what-have-you, because August the 15th and 16th is labelled as VJ Day. So that was victory in Japan. And I remember it was well celebrated – I was at Mahora School at the time and school was closed off. And I can remember going into town with all the celebrations on, and being a young boy, not that it interested me, but all the hotels in town had their windows wide open, and instead of being a closed shop they were wide open because I can remember vividly Heretaunga Street, particularly at the Town Clock which was the centre of town, they had a large place there that they had built up with sandbags to represent where you could buy war bonds and goodness knows what.
Now at that time there is a reference here to a D33 job. Now I believe and I think I’m right here, that he had won a contract in Napier, and I have some photos of the new power shovel plus two of the trucks, where he excavated what is now known as Logan Avenue, parallel to George’s Drive. So he must have won a contract with the Napier Borough Council, and right throughout, through a long period of time … it was a very long road. Today we’d call it the Onekawa area – it would have been doing a subdivision. He would have dug out all the roads I assume, and metalled them – the Council’s would have carried in, and that became a housing development for Napier. So we weren’t only confined to working in Hastings and the Hawke’s Bay County Council.
At this point in time, the power shovel as it was was only what they referred to as a front and backhoe attachment, because during November 1945 they had constructed what they call a drag line boom, which on today’s standards you wouldn’t be allowed to build your own, but in those days they built it, and it was another attachment that could be used on this shovel, so it was very universal.
No doubt that a lot of these ideas he’d either seen in books, or perhaps may have seen ex-War assets equipment. And much later on in latter years, we purchased ex-Army or ex-Public Works Department … today known as the Ministry of Works … equipment, which was purchased – John Burns & Company – they sent a representative up to the Islands after the War and purchased a lot of equipment for the New Zealand Government. A lot of it was near brand new, and with the War being over – well, she was ours and we made full use of it.
Now in 1947 I have references here to rope construction. Now this was the construction of the Fernhill Bridge. Originally there was a wooden bridge which had reached its use by date, and this firm of rope construction from Auckland came down here and I can recall going numerous times with Dad out to the bridge where obviously, with the amount of equipment that’s listed – and over the period time we obviously had the only equipment available. And they made full use of it and excavated the piers and what-have-you where they drove piles and diverted the river etcetera, etcetera. And we worked on that for quite some time and we then had the Fernhill Bridge.
At that same time Dad had secured a contract down Takapau for the metalling of the Takapau Plains. To my knowledge the quarry where the metal came from is now the present site for – I think it’s called Silver Fern Farms. I know we had an Army camp there, we had built our own huts, and as I said earlier on camping was the only way – ’cause in those days you wouldn’t have travelled from Takapau to Hastings every day to go to work. And I notice here that the contract for the Takapau Plains was finished on May the 9th and they had crushed and spread six thousand two hundred and fifty-four yards of metal on what is now the Takapau Plains. Also, at the same time it was just another job going on, and the diversification that he had was pretty good.
Now, also round that period there’s reference where he started the hospital job. Now if my memory’s correct this was the excavations for what is now the present Memorial Hospital and, if I’ve got my dates right, that was built by W M Angus Limited. But I have references of much later with the completion of the job – no, wait a minute, that’s not correct. He started the hospital job – I now remember what it was.
Also at the end of 1947, particularly in December, again the cartage of peas for J Wattie Canneries is listed here, starting on December the 4th 1947 right up ’til 28th of January, so obviously peas were a big thing then. Now in those days there must have been a big labour force available, because to my recollection all those peas were hand forked on, whereas I know later in my period, we used mobile to pick up the peas. But it was the early days of pea cartage. It is recognised that Dad pioneered the peas with Jim Wattie.
Now obviously things were going pretty well because on January the 26th 1948 he purchased a brand new Ruston Bucyrus 10RB power shovel. We have reference here where it arrived on the rail on the 26th of January and I remember in those days we had no way of transporting it so it had to be walked along the road. Now these machines were very, very slow, and I know that the 10RB as it was known, weighed ten tons, and the Borough Council at the time were very – what they called conscious of the loading on the roads. The railway yards in those days ran between St Aubyn Street and Heretaunga Street, and it had to be walked out in Avenue Road, down Avenue Road to Nelson Street, Nelson Street to Heretaunga Street, Heretaunga Street to Tomoana Road. Now the Borough Council had used the surplus material from the earthquake to rebuild these roads and they classed them as the only substantial roads that there were. It becomes a bit farcical when you think today of what they classed as first class roads. I remember the night in particular – we weren’t allowed to leave the railway yard till after five o’clock, and we had to have because a track machine was on the road, a Transport Department traffic officer by the name of Errol Bunny … was a well-known traffic cop and a very nice guy. And he piloted and diverted the traffic for this machine trundling along the road – was a sight to see. When the machine arrived on the rail it was devoid of cab and super and most super structure. So the following days afterwards I remember the extra equipment was unloaded in large cases, ’cause this machine had actually come from the United Kingdom and obviously arrived Wellington, and was transported by rail. And the days following its arrival were spent gleefully getting it back together and getting it ready for work.
Whilst it arrived on the 26th of January, the way of transporting it – he managed to hire from the Ministry of Works or the Public Works Department in Napier – they had a trailer-type transporter which the Government used for transporting their machines. We hired the thing, and there’s reference on February the 9th of one of the men learning to drive the power shovel as it was, because it was in that configuration a drag line. We had one which we had constructed ourselves, and the same machine ended up … part of it … here at Fernhill for rope construction again on the construction of the Fernhill Bridge.
Now at this time it’s quite obvious that he makes reference to a different type of crusher, so I assume that he had more than one portable crusher. There again, all these designs were all his own. The actual stone crusher in itself was one piece of equipment. These he would have mounted on portable chassis ex trucks, or possibly pneumatic tyred – maybe solid, I’m not aware – and he there again designed and constructed his own crusher, which he was well known for. He mentions one here, then a few days later he mentions another. I am aware that later on he had three or four. They weren’t excessively expensive. They would all probably [have] been at 1948 post-War importations by various firms.
Also in May there is reference to the RD4 bulldozer, which is a Caterpillar, which obviously he had had well need for. It was certainly not brand new, it was second-hand because there is plenty of references that here – “dismantling, cleaning up, painting and getting ready to go”. So he added to the fleet which at that time was certainly growing year by year.
Around this time he secured a contract with Ray Davies, which later because Wilkins & Davies, to supply the aggregate to build the Tukituki Bridge. Here again his design capabilities to construct a plant – an aggregate plant – at the Tukituki River where the bridge was being built, he had to have hoppers to wash and screen the different sized materials. And through his ingenuity he purchased Bren gun carriers – disused Bren gun carriers – of which the motors and the interior were stripped. And I remember spending nights after work welding up the holes where the bolts would have gone through, so that not everything would run out. And in the base of them they cut holes for the doors so that the material could be drained out onto the trucks and then carted to the site. The construction of it – he obviously had contacts somewhere in Napier, because there’s references made to – “excavating the girders”. So I assume these are steel girders which he used to build the substructure – the Bren gun bodies were set up on top, plus the washing and screening equipment. Therefore there again, his design ability to design a shingle plant were [was] well used.
There’s also reference about this time of a transporter. Now to the best of my recollection and the photos I have, Howard Percy – which later became Percy & Henderson Structural Engineers in Hastings – Howard Percy built him a transporter, and I have photos of the transporter, a side loader, using the wheel equipment from a Bren gun carrier. Whilst they ran on tracks they had a forward diff in them, and he used these diff assemblies together and they made the rear tyre equipment, which was a single row of eight tyres which were what they call single oscillating. In other words they had a shaft through the middle and two sets of duals on each side, and the transporter as I say, was a side loader. And the first photos I have is of it being pulled by a white truck. I know that the white truck was of very, very limited horsepower and it was soon replaced with another purchase of a short wheel base GMC, ex-Wellington again, of which I have many photos, certainly transported and that trailer was still going in the seventies and eighties. It had done great service.
With reference earlier on to the RD4, the same gentleman, Howard Percy, also built the bulldozer attachment on this RD4. The pair of them had worked this out, that Dad wanted a particular type of bulldozer blade on this – it was a modified copy of what was known in those days as a Blor Nox attachment – but Dad wanted it altered for a high-lift blade. The reason having a high-lift blade was that we used to remove, and part of his job, was a lot of trees, and to be able to get underneath, to be able to bulldoze these trees out the average bulldozer blade only went up probably half a meter maybe, but the high-lift blade – this went up about two metres and was very advantageous, and I know it did a lot of work. Later on we may find it.
I remember him purchasing a brand new D4 from Goff, Goff & Hamer in Hastings – I remember it arriving. In those days you could go and buy one off the floor. There was an ample supply of new equipment coming into New Zealand from America. Caterpillar was made in Peoria in United States. Many years later I visited Caterpillar with my wife, in Peoria.
Did you used to help your Dad with some work, when you were ..?
I tried to help. I was … I must admit, became a very good observer and he was never short of explaining what he was doing, the reasons he was doing it, and how and why he was doing it. As I say, I actually … when making reference to the welding up of the holes, I had an after-school job, or during the holidays, where I actually went and worked at Percy & Henderson’s … well, Howard Percy … sweeping the floor and probably making the morning and afternoon teas, and no doubt obviously earning some money. But they were a structural engineer firm and were well known for the refurbishment of tractors. I must admit – and I remember being taught how to weld properly by professional men that worked there, that had learnt their trade – and pretty proud of it and the fact that I was taught by good people. And it served me much later in life being able to do my own welding – not only electric, but gas. Which was because of my interest in engineering and having had a good man – it was just something I inherited, and it served me well right through life later on.
Yeah … in 1947, just going back to there, there’s a reference of the demolition of the air raid shelters. So ’47 the War was well over, no need for them and a lot of land was occupied. And with the progress it was back to normal again and away we went.
1948 – a lot of work on the Wairoa Road, not only in the metalling of the road, but slip clearing, and widening and corners removed, which would have been undertaken on either day work or contract work by the Ministry of Works of Napier.
Now between ’49 and ’50 I have no record of what actually happened. I do know that in 1949 he went to Wellington and purchased nineteen Second World War Guy ex-Army searchlight trucks. Now these vehicles were parked at Trentham and they had a big generator mounted on them and they used to carry a very large searchlight. These would have come up by public tender, and I remember him going down there and taking some of the mechanics with him. I went with him on the Saturday – there was room for a small boy in the car, and over two weekends we left early Saturday morning. We drove seventeen of the nineteen vehicles back to Hastings. Now it was quite a feat in those days. Somewhere I think I’ve got reference to how much he paid for them. He obviously had arranged a large overdraft with his bank manager to be able to do it, but as I say we went down there. I have photos of these vehicles. Now they had no cabs on them, they were an open vehicle. One of our staff members – in later years he went to the UK and he actually went to Guy Motors in England. Now when we purchased these vehicles they had ridiculously low mileage on them, and we worked out that the mileage on one of the vehicles – by the speedos which were still in them – was actually from the factory in the UK to the docks at Southampton, and from the Wellington wharf to Trentham. It wasn’t a very high mileage, and they had sat there from 1942 I assume right through ’til 1949. Some had been used. They were parked out in the weather. They didn’t look graceful, but I remember Dad saying that one of them … he was a great one for naming things … they called it Happy Harry, because all they did was – he selected this one vehicle and they checked the spark plugs, they were okay. Because they’d been standing so long they took the carburettor off, cleaned any petrol out and put fresh petrol in, checked the starter motor, put a battery in, and pressed the starter and away she went. So it was nicknamed Happy Harry, and that same vehicle I remember lasted for many, many years.
The period from the purchase of the Guy trucks also changed the company and the fact that he was able to strip the bodies off and he converted them in our own workshop to fit power shovels, tip trucks, and various things. He sold some to locals, but they were a godsend and the fact that they were all brand new. They were a six-wheeler, but they were single tyres.
And one of the jobs that – here again his own design – was a pipe carrier as it was known for carting concrete pipes. Now he designed a set of forks on the back which were used by a hydraulic ram, and in the down position you could roll the pipe on, put it in the up position, then lifted the pipe up and you would roll it along the deck, put it down again, roll the next one on. Now in later times I drove many, many miles working and carting pipes – something like six months we spent just carting pipes to Napier, which is now the Onekawa industrial area. We had a job over there for laying stormwater and sewerage pipes.
Now at the same time Hastings Borough – their obviously underground work had all been carried out by hand, whereas now with the power shovels … And at the same other companies had bought excavators. There was a large amount of underground drainage. I can remember, I’m not sure of which year it was, when we went out to what is now Flaxmere and we laid the very first pipeline for the Hastings Borough Council which was in Wilson Road. And from then on a lot of work was carried out there.
Now 1956 was when obviously the business had got to a very substantial company – who did it I’m not sure – but the name then came from John Fraser, Contractor, to John Fraser & Sons Contractors Limited. Now the sons are just my brother and I, and I had a sister, Joan, but she was not part. I would guess at the time that was the thing to do, was to change your company, or you formed a company, and he would obviously have done it for tax purposes. And it was probably just the norm of the day, I think it’s just what happened, because work obviously was plenty, and his staff numbers must have been up fairly high to have done it. Because while my Mother had done all the books and the fact that she not only paid the wages and done [did] the invoicing, she was not only his right-hand man, or right-hand lady, love of his life – she was the brains behind the outfit and no doubt gave him all the encouragement to continue. Because as a husband and wife they supported each other, and it was part of what we call I suppose, growing up, and it was the aim of people to go ahead, and you could do it in those days. It’s a lot harder these days. So ’56 was when it was changed.
Now at that time obviously I was old enough – I went to Dannevirke High in 1950 and ’51, and I did an engineering course down there because Hastings Boys’ High – they had a supposed engineering course – but the reputation of Dannevirke was well known through other local businesses here who … their principals had attended Dannevirke High and done their trade training, and in those days night school and all that, and it was well known that they had a good engineering course, so away I went, and I must say that I probably needed the extra attention. And I think it was designed, and it did successfully work, that it helped me later on in life. I remember being homesick which is natural when you first leave home, but I have no regrets. We did refer to the Dannevirke High boarding establishment as being very much like Colditz. The new building, McDonald House that we went to, was brand spanking new. When you looked at it it was the nearest thing to a prisoner-of-war camp and the fact that it was a square area with a large tower, which we used to refer to as the search light and machine gun tower, but I can assure you it wasn’t. But it had the most modern facilities of any school on this side of the island.
Dannevirke was always referred to as a wet area, and yet for the time I was there … we had snow once … but the weather was perfect and the dreaded lurgy they always referred to as the rain – in my time there, I never experienced any more rain than I did when I lived in Hastings.
As far as my engineering course was concerned I was very lucky that we had a [an] engineering master by the name of Ted Hackle who was a brilliant man, and he had the ability to get his message across. And I was lucky and the fact that having been brought up in a workshop, that the engineering shop at Dannevirke High just fell into line. It had everything I wanted, and I was lucky that the tuition that Ted gave me … I got on extra, extra well with him because I was one of the … there was only nine boys in the engineering class … and I could talk the language of the equipment because I had already had the training, whereas fellow students came off farms or that – they had not been brought up in an engineering background. And the fact also that I had the ability to be able to gas and electric weld and solder, which he had to teach the others.
The one thing that I had always had a leaning for … and still am to this day a modeller … I used to build my own model aeroplanes, and I loved technical drawing. Ted Hackle was a master at tech drawing and I must say that what he taught me I never forgot, and it contributed to my later success which I’ll cover, the fact that a good grounding … I enjoyed what I did and I did it well, because I was rewarded at the end of each year with a first in class for engineering and tech drawing.
On the other side of it my maths was not that brilliant, and even to this day the one subject that I could never understand was algebra. I just could not see the meaning in it, but when it came to the maths that I required in drawing, which was longitudinal and vertical measurements, I can honestly say I excelled in that. And ‘course other that went with it, trig and that were all part of it. But as far as algebra was concerned it was dead loss. And I – to this day at my age – I still can’t understand it, and have never ever been interested in it. That was the way it went.
And your brother – what was he doing in the company?
No, my brother – what happened was that he actually, for his engineering, went to … my brother is four years older than I am … and he went to Palmerston North Boys’ High for his engineering course. But unfortunately – I think I’m correct here – 1948 poliomyelitis swept through New Zealand and they closed boarding establishments up, and he was sent home early. And he then went to Napier Boys’ High as an engineering course and when he completed his course at Napier Boys’ High he secured an apprenticeship with the Tourist Motor & Farming Company in the machine shop there and spent, I think it would have been four or five years as an apprentice there. And his leaning was that he wanted to be a turner and fitter – which he was well qualified, and he occupied part of the workshop, or Dad gave him part of the workshop, in Tomoana Road and I think Dad helped him purchase a Colchester lathe … he set up business and it was very beneficial to the company as well, because in the early days there is plenty of references of Dad having gone to local machine shops to get work done. There were references to Tourist Motor & Farming where he used to take work, and even when Maurice was there, of getting it done.
And as I said earlier on with the purchase of these Guy trucks, Dad also designed his first crane which was built in 1950. And we were very lucky and the fact that we had a very, very brilliant man by the name of Hector Wallace who was a Scotchman, [Scotsman] had come out to New Zealand for a better country. Hector was a great man, he actually was a navigator in Lancasters during the War. And I remember him telling me at the time, 1950 when I was at Dannevirke, the book ‘The Dambusters’ came out. Now Hector whilst he was a navigator, he spent … and told me … a lot of time with Barnes Wallis when they developed the bouncing bomb which was used to breach the Möhne And Eder Dams. Now I said to Hec one time, I said “did you ever meet Guy Gibson?” He said “no”, but he said “I did see him in a room”. And I said “well you didn’t do the Dambuster’s raid?” “No”, he didn’t. But I do know – and in latter years after he’d retired and that – he was a true Scotchman [Scotsman] and the fact that he, like most men, never said very much. But I do know that he did three and a half tours over Germany during the Second World War, and was one of the men that you must say that the bird was sitting on his shoulder, because ninety trips over Germany was just unheard of. I think if you completed ten you were lucky. Now the same gentleman – I remember him when the book, ‘The Dambusters’ come [came] out, hitting it – and whilst he did say a few things, not much. But from what I’ve studied since, I admire those guys.
Hec and I … some years later when I went to Auckland to get my boat, I took Hec with me because he was a boating man, and we went to Motat [Museum of Transport & Technology] where we have a Lancaster parked. And we went and had a look at it, and he actually showed me where he used to sit. And the Lancaster’s still there, and he sat in it that many times – that was just the trips over Germany. How many hours he spent, no one knows. My Dad tried to get his service medals but he would not join the RSA, he wanted nothing to do with the War or to remind him. But he actually served his time as a shipwright when he was in Scotland. But he was a brilliant welder. I used to watch the brilliant work he did, and as I say when they built this crane Hector just made … jointly … he would have done most of the work, Dad would have told him what he wanted and they had the ability to work things out. And nothing was any problem, and the engineering feats that they undertook later on when we built our big transporter – Hec built it all – it was brilliant to do.
Now, I had done the usual thing and left school and I worked in various jobs. My first job was with the Hawke’s Bay Tyre & Rubber Company. Dad had the idea that he might, with a number of vehicles, set up his own tyre re-treading business, but from my point of view, whilst I enjoyed the job tyre re-treading was not my forte. I then managed to get a job with John Chambers & Sons who were importers of engineering equipment, and we had the all the motor vehicle agencies – Ford, Vauxhall, Bedford, the Rootes Group and what-have-you. The agency that they had proved very good because whilst Dad had a workshop it lacked a lot of equipment, and I was able to sell him and help him purchase most of the equipment that we had in the workshop in the way of a power hacksaw, sixty-ton drill press which to this day, 2016 … that equipment is still being used in our workshop today. I have recently been and seen some of it.
Now whilst I had the jobs, also in 1956 – because I turned eighteen, I had to do my compulsory military service. Because I’d been a model aeroplane fanatic I worked my butt off to make sure that I joined ATC, the Air Training Corps. We had a very good strong No 11 Squadron in Hastings, and I was lucky enough to be able to be selected in the model aeroplane team – we competed against the other ATCs in New Zealand. Our first trip was from Hastings to Palmerston, and then a Bristol freighter of all things from Ohakea to Whenuapai in Auckland, where we took part in the model aeroplane competition. And then the following year with 11 Squadron we went to Ohakea again and then to Wigram in Christchurch in a Bristol freighter again, and we were lucky enough to win the competition for Hastings – what they called the de Havilland Trophy.
Now after I came out of the Air Force – that was 1955 – in 1956 I joined the Hastings Fire Brigade as a volunteer fireman. I lived on station for eight years and spent a total of fourteen years in the Fire Service. I have no regrets, it was a great part of life.
Now whilst in the Fire Service – it was a great life, and with a friend, we decided to do our OE as it’s known, and we arranged through the Dominion Fire Chief Letters of Introduction, that if we went overseas that we could get an introduction to various Fire Stations. We took off in the 10th of March 1960 on the ‘Wanganella’ from Wellington to Sydney, and then we picked up P&O Line … the ‘Orion’. We left Sydney to Hobart, to Melbourne, to Adelaide, to Perth, to Colombo, Aden, Suez, Port Said, Naples, Marseilles, Gibraltar, and then onto England, which was a nearly two months’ trip, which we enjoyed. Visited countries like … when we got to the Suez Canal we were lucky that we could go through the Canal because the Canal had been closed through the War. President Nasser had closed it, and we were one of the first passenger ships to be able to go through, and it was an awesome sight to see all the ships that had been sunk in the Canal. But they were actually salvaging them and the Canal was open, which got us into Cairo – went to the Sphinx and the Pyramids and what-have-you, and did the thing – then onto the UK.
We stayed at the Overseas Visitors’ Club and we got a car. And my other love had always been motor racing, so it was off to all the motor racing circuits that we could. Then I purchased a motor bike and I did a trip round the Continent, crossed the straits Dover, to Calais and then went down to Paris, through to Spain – Barcelona, Madrid – up through Switzerland and through Austria and then into Germany where I had Letters of Introduction to Fire Service factories. And it was whilst I was staying at a Youth Hostel in Stuttgart where I visited the Mercedes Benz factory – I was there for two days – it was there that I spotted that the Le Mans 24-hour race was on, so I packed up there and then and headed to Calais again – left my gear, went down through Paris to Le Mans, camped there, sat up and watched the Le Mans for twenty-three of the twenty-four hours of the race, back to the UK.
Now during this time I had put a lot of thought on what I was going to do in the future, and it dawned on me that with Dad’s business … ‘who was going to carry it on?’ I mean, you have to be honest and face the facts in life. He was only a young man, but he wasn’t going to live forever, and who was going to look after the business?
Now, prior to going away I did a season at the Freezing Works to earn enough money and in those days, 1960, I’d got £1,010 in the bank, which was a lot of money. In those days we used to start work at half past two in the morning, work in the freezers till half past four in the afternoon, and I remember the best pay I took home was £48 clear a week, which was a lot of money. Now my trip overseas on the ship … the ‘Orion’ … was £112/10/0d.
As I say, while I was over there I thought ‘well, what’s going to happen with this business?’ So I wrote home and said that I was going to come home – duly got a letter back from my mother saying “no, don’t come home – stay there, enjoy yourself”. At the same time, parallel to this it would have been very easy to take on a permanent position in the English Fire Service. Parallel to this, with the motor racing I had the good fortune to go down to Surbiton, to the Cooper Car Company. I met up with Bruce McLaren, and because I could gas weld I was offered a job at the Cooper Car Company, and because I had a heavy traffic licence ’cause I could drive a truck, I was offered a job by them driving their car transporter.
Now, whilst over there I visited … twice I went to Silverstone … both times I met up with Bruce and the boys. I must admit when I say ‘the boys’ – all your racing drivers there. Because of the McLaren connection, Stirling Moss for argument’s sake – I’d met him in New Zealand – and because you were a Kiwi you were treated like a Lord. And the likes of Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier, John Surtees, all those guys would call you by your Christian name, Peter. The bond was there, and they were very, very nice – thorough gentlemen. And later on when I came home I had the good fortune to meet up with them again on three occasions at the then race circuit, Ardmore. And you were always welcomed with open arms.
But whilst that was going on, this niggling feeling to go home and as I say, Mum wrote and said “no, stay on”. So I decided to pack up and come home. Now as I said, I paid £112/10/0d for my ship fare. I still had enough money in the bank so my air fare was £252 …. exactly double. But – in those days, because of my love for aircraft, I arranged that I flew from what is now Heathrow to Frankfurt in a Britannia, then flew in a Comet, a de Havilland Comet, from flew from there to eventually end up at Singapore, but we broke down in Beirut and spent a day there in Beirut before we on-flew to Singapore. Then from Singapore to Sydney I was in a Boeing 707, from Sydney to Auckland was a DC6, and from Auckland to Tauranga, to Gisborne to Napier was in a DC3. So I’d actually flown in the best aircraft, to what NAC in those days – they were the aircraft we had. From memory it was Teal when we flew from …
I always remember leaving Sydney, there was not a full plane and the pilot came in and said “if you want to get on board we’ll go for a trip around Sydney by night”, which was very, very good, and from Sydney to there. The good luck I had in life was the fact that the Comet that we flew from Frankfurt to Singapore in … back in early 2000 I suppose it was, a friend of mine gave me a book on the Comet to read. My love for aircraft is still … and strangely enough in it, the flight records of Comets – the Comet was not a great plane. When you flew it you were like sardines in a tin. But I read about a certain de Havilland Comet that had – within twelve months of my flying home it had crashed, and all people were killed. Anyway, I managed to get out of the book the registration and serial of this Comet and I started to put two and two together. And because I’ve got a nickname ‘Steptoe’ – I don’t give anything away – I actually found my airline tickets from the aircraft that I flew from Frankfurt to Singapore in and it was the same aircraft that crashed – two hundred and something … so I was little lucky.
Anyway, I came home and whilst there was all the welcome home and the then girlfriend, which was part of the reason also, I had to find work. And I asked Dad for a job. He said he didn’t have a job for me. And I had decided ‘oh well, I’ve got … couple of alternatives, I can go back and earn some money at the Freezing Works and I could go back to the UK and get myself a job in the Fire Service in England’. But also, prior to going away I had built, with a friend, a boat – I had good relations in Rotorua and I had spent many, many hours with the boat water skiing at the Blue Lake in Rotorua, and Rotorua always had a soft spot for me. And I knew that there was a job going in Rotorua to train to be – under management of Firth Concrete, who had started to build the Aratiatia Dam at Taupo. So I said to Dad “could I borrow Mum’s car and go to Rotorua?” Because there was no job, and I was thinking about a job – but at the same time he said to me “when you go up there would you have a look around to see if there’s any second-hand trucks for sale?”
So I went to Rotorua and managed to make arrangements about this here job, and the long story short was that not only did I find some trucks for him – I came home on Sunday night, on Tuesday morning we were off back to Rotorua again to ferret out these trucks, second-hand trucks. And because of my ability, what had happened … going back to the Fire Service which I’d joined … I went to a fire in Havelock North and there was a Vauxhall car in a garage that caught fire, which I managed to purchase from the insurance company. And I rebuilt it – because I had worked at Baillie Motors, and I rebuilt the car. And Dad had helped me also with my funds for getting overseas, as well. I had an inkling for rebuildings, and what happened is Dad decided ‘well, somebody had to do these trucks and it would be a good idea if I felt like it, that I would take it over’. So I managed to join the firm in a workshop capacity.
My welding ability and mechanical knowledge, and the fact that I worked at Baillie Motors who were the Vauxhall Bedford agency, and I knew trucks inside out – and the fact that whilst at Dannevirke High, Dad bought his first Bedford truck which he called into high school to see me with on his way home from Wellington, ’cause he always brought his trucks home. Then later on he bought a second one and did the same, and it was very good to see your dad, because it was down to town for an extra meal and that, so it was quite good. So I started in the workshop rebuilding these trucks.
Now alongside the rebuilding these trucks, he had more in mind – that these Guy trucks that he’d bought, because they had dual drive at the back, it would be a good idea to graft a Bedford on the front and a Guy on the back. So my job was to rebuild the Bedfords, and Hec Wallace there – they joined the two chassis together and we managed to have a closed-in cab truck, which had a six cylinder instead of a four cylinder motor. And it was just one of the many things that we did. In the finish I actually rebuilt nineteen trucks. I ended up going partly round the North Island buying them up and bringing them home, and taking the team with us because I was now part of the team.
I started with Dad in 1960, he did send me to Wellington in December 1960 to pick up a brand new Commer petrol truck which I did the spray painting on, and we built a deck on, and I took it out and drove it brand new which was part of working in the workshop and driving there.
And then unfortunately in 1962 – unfortunately for us, the chap that Dad had employed in the office had been up to no good. And because the business was going ahead with these second-hand trucks and that, and we’d been doing very well – not all the money that belonged to the company was in the company funds. And it was only by a pure accident that a woman that Dad had working in the office knew that an account had been paid in cash, and she couldn’t find where the cash had been banked. And she confided in Dad and Dad disbelieved her, but he as usual always thought ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. So he confided in me, and I said to him “well, I knew things …” I didn’t trust this bloke – I never did actually – but I said I would help in any way I could because having worked on the outside I was only vaguely aware of what was going on on the inside. But Dad being who he was, contacted a gentleman, and not only did he have the keys for the office and that, we went back to work one night and it didn’t take this gentleman very long to discover that things weren’t good.
So sworn to secrecy as it was I actually, in conjunction with this bloke, went through and reconstructed five years of work. Now I was single at the time and I had all the time in the world and I believed in the company, and I was working on the outside by day and by night in the office. And the long and short of it – when it finally come [came] to fruition when the total was realised, Dad had advised the Tax Department and our so-called accountant that things weren’t good. We looked into it and it came to a sad conclusion, that things weren’t good.
Anyway, Dad had – I assume with long consultations with my mother – had made a decision that we could no longer continue in business, which he told me. And I said to him then … it was actually at the dining room table one night … when he said to me “well – we’ve come to the end of the road, it’s time to pack up – this and this and this had happened”. And ‘course I – knowing what was going on – I said to him “well, I don’t believe this”. I said “whilst I admit – and I have proof because I found it all out – that the company should be wound up, I believe that if you and I got into our suits and we went and visited our customers and explained the situation, we would learn something”. So we duly did. And it was amazing when we went and arranged interviews with prospective customers, and they all said the same thing – “Jock – couldn’t understand how you never knew what was going on.” Dad always had faith in men and he’d trusted this bloke, and unfortunately it had collapsed.
But, at the same time I said to him “well what about letting me take over? We’re at a point – nothing gained, nothing lost. So if I can’t make it work, so be it”. But I said “I believe the company is so strong and we have such a work staff, that the work is there”. It’s just poor management that had done it on not – it was not Dad’s fault. He had put faith in a bloke, and he had done what we refer to as ‘the dirty’. But the company was still viable and we could go ahead. So what happened was – Dad said no, Mum said yes. So it was agreed there and then that night, that I take over the company next morning.
So how long was he trying to retire from ..?
No, no, no – he had agreed with Mum’s help that we’d give it a go. And I said to him “I want it under two conditions”. And he said “no one makes any conditions to me”, and I said “well the two conditions are quite simple”. One – I wanted the right to sign the cheques, because in my findings and the accountant’s, that was one of the failings – Dad would sign a cheque for this bloke if he said so, and he didn’t sign one, he’d sign half a dozen. You know, at a time. And I also said “I want the right to hire and fire” – in other words terminate staff’s employment. “Oohh”, he said “I’m not too keen about that”. I said “well, you’ll learn”.
Anyway next morning at seven o’clock with a staff of thirty-six, we gathered all the staff together and Dad told them what had happened. He didn’t tell them the finite details, but he said that the situation we’re in, that I’m going to take over the company and these are the conditions, to the staff. And Dad said “Well, Peter’s in charge, and I’ll back him”. And with that the boys knew that I was in charge. And I feel quite proud – I just stood there in front of the blokes and said “well, we’ve all worked together on the outside, now I’m on the inside”. And I looked at two gentlemen and I said “you and you are fired” – just like that. Now they never said a word. None of the others said a word because there’s an old saying, you know, ‘if you’re guilty, the cap fits’. With that these two guys walked out and that was that.
So were they responsible ..?
They weren’t. These two gentlemen were not honest workers. And in my workings out of … reconstructing, one in particular – from his wage sheets he always knocked off at four-thirty as far as his wage sheets were concerned, but I knew he knocked off at four o’clock ‘cause I knew where he went to work – he was a barman. But he was booking up an extra half an hour. And the other bloke – his way of conducting life was not conducive to being part of the company, and I had no room for him. And they walked out and they never said a word. No one said a word, because … guilty man.
Anyway, what happened was the changeover went ahead, and from then on those thirty-six or thirty-four employees had all suffered through irregularities in their wages through this bloke. And one of the things in those days, you worked a forty-hour week, but we had plenty of overtime, like – we never used to do an eight hour day, it was either a nine or a nine and a half hour day and a five and a half day week, always worked Saturday morning from half past seven till midday. And we had the work, but the boys … the staff in those days … they never put in for any overtime. I mean I was running the show, and we’re going to work ’til you know, half past five, whatever it be, but when their time sheets come [came] in they only had eight hours on them. And I confronted a lot of the guys – I got them together and said “look, hang on – you guys are doing the work, you’re entitled to the pay”. They said “no. Jock gave us a job, we will enjoy it, we work as a team. We suffered this, it’s not yours or his fault, we’ll go ahead”. So we did. And those guys worked through thick and thin. We did not change our work pattern but they rallied around, and they I will say are the success – with Jock’s ability to lead men, because he couldn’t have done what he did if he had [hadn’t had] a good staff, and having a good staff meant a lot of things.
And from my point of view I was enjoying leading the team, I don’t know – I don’t think it would have gone to my head – it was a challenge, and I loved a challenge. And we just went ahead in leaps and bounds. It was a great era, and the fact is that I was able with the rebuilding programme and purchasing trucks … that we changed the fleet from the old to the new, and they all got a new lift in colour scheme as well. They weren’t the standard red and grey truck as I described before, I added a white band round the middle which we called the bandage, and where the name was John Fraser & Sons Contractors Limited, I applied through the channels to be able to shorten the displayed name – the rules and regulations in those days were … Because what had become known is if anybody wanted something done – “oh, ring Frasers”. So what happened is I still had to retain John Fraser & Sons as a registered company, but the displayed name on the vehicles just became ‘Frasers Hastings’. And because the vehicles were all identical, more than once people said to me – “how many trucks have you got on the road?” I remember one particular job we did where the bloke concerned said to me – “you’ve got about twenty trucks on the road”. Well we didn’t. What actually happened was because they were going round the block and he saw them each time, he never looked at the number on the side, and he just counted them. But they were all identical, all painted the same colour, and they were the same wheelbase, same everything. But a great crew of staff.
Now that takes up to when I took over. We took over in ’62 and things just carried on, and we ended up with plenty of work. Really from the sixties on the economy in my opinion was pretty good, and I don’t ever recall being short of work. We moved … in 1960 we moved from Tomoana Road where we were on the corner of Heretaunga Street, up to Omahu Road, 600 Omahu Road. And we were lucky there that the property up there next to what was United Empire Box Company, needed a lot of work and it also was a double whammy for us in that all along Omahu Road is the old riverbed. And the good parts of owing the land was that we could excavate the metal from the property and at the same time, with selected material from earthworks and demolition sites, we were able to rebuild the land back to what it was. At the time we moved up there Orchard Road only went so far, and funnily enough Orchard Road as it was was the south bank of what was the old river course. And we were able to excavate from the back of Omahu Road virtually right to Orchard Road, and excavate the material out. So as I said it was a double whammy, and the fact that we not only tidied the property up and levelled it up, we did the same at numerous properties along Omahu Road where we could get the metal virtually for nothing provided we backfilled it again.
Now in ’63 I think it was, we had J Wattie’s Canneries’ fire. I was a fireman as I have already said, and I had the good and bad fortune of … we had a fire call in Caroline Road. And I was in town at the time and I went to the Station as we normally did, when at – I think it was five past three in the afternoon, the phone went and we turned out to J Wattie Canneries which was on fire, and oh boy … it was a big fire. Now I had, as I said, the good and the bad fortune – I was one of the younger crew at the time and I actually went right through the building to the back where the fire had started. And the photos of the fire will show – I can show where … I was with the then Deputy Chief Fire Officer Lou Jillings … and the fire was in the roof. Now the roof of Wattie’s was a sarked roof, which had bitumen malthoid coating. Now bitumen as you know … how the fire had started we believe was from blossom decorations that were stored in the roof, and it’s possible that somebody might have been smoking up there. And the problem we were faced with was that whilst the roof was on fire and burning profusely, it was also raining hot bitumen, which didn’t help. As I said unfortunately the hands and the neck which were exposed suffered from hot bitumen and ended up with some superficial injuries. Very painful because hot bitumen and then water makes things blister very quickly.
Now the fire took hold and could be seen from Napier, and was at that time a really big fire. Now John Fraser & Sons moved into Wattie’s Canneries about four o’clock in the afternoon, and with the fleet of trucks we worked right through the night with a front-end loader, and we were loading up burning material and carting away. Because the factory had suffered and of course it was right in the middle of the season – product was trucked and railed from Hastings to Gisborne. And unfortunately the building was in a very sorry state and we worked right through the night. And then the radio station put out a call for any contractors or people that had trucks the next day, because not only did we have our own work to do, but to clear the area so that we could get going again. People turned up with their trucks, we duly loaded them and in some cases I remember trucks were carting material that was still on fire. The Hastings Fire Brigade was also at these points where – the Hastings dump was one place, there was a place in Omahu Road – and they were there to extinguish this out.
Now, during the course of the fire we lost a compressor which supplied the air to the factory. That was in the southern … eastern area of the factory and we lost that, but my Dad was able to – through his connections with the Ministry of Works in Napier and the National Roads Board, he managed to secure a very, very large compressor from the Ministry of Works on hire. He had to pay a deposit of £250, which he duly did, and during the course of the next day which was the Tuesday, we transported the compressor from Napier to Hastings and set it up, and luckily for us we managed to get the factory up and going in the late afternoon. I believe that Jim Wattie actually was able to sound the big whistle at Tomoana Works [Wattie’s] at five o’clock that the factory was up and going again. As I say it was about five past three the previous day when it went up.
And one of the ironic things is … I think I said earlier on that Jim Wattie and my Dad were great mates … but Jim had found out, and he was no fool, that they had this compressor, and in doing so somehow or other he found out about the £250 that had been paid. And I can remember sitting in the office, the Bentley arriving and who walks out but Jim Wattie – ’cause he wasn’t Sir James then, he was Jim Wattie – and asked where Dad was. And I pointed him out and he said “I’ve come to give you your £250 back”. He said “there’s no way that you should pay that”, and Jim personally delivered the cheque for the compressor. But later on ‘course, naturally they would’ve paid for the hire of it.
And we stayed at Wattie’s for … I think from memory about seven months. And under the insurance company rebuild – J C Mackersey Limited did the rebuild – we also did the demolition because part of our company did have concrete breakers, and part of our contracting job was demolition. So we did the demolition of the factory in conjunction with the architect Paul Marks, from Hamilton, who was the architect for Wattie’s, and rebuilt the factory. And a lot of the concrete from the demolition was carted out to Clifton and used to help retain the erosion out there. I do know from various references, pre- and post-war, references being made to “carting material to Clifton”, under the direction of the Hawke’s Bay County Council for erosion work. And I recall when Tucker’s Woolwash was refurbished, that a lot of the large, very large concrete tanks that they had there which they used to process hides with, were being removed, they too – we craned them out of Tuckers onto transporters and articulated trucks and carted them – and they were placed at the beach at Clifton as well.
Now, that was about – I took over in ’62. Now at the same time, one of the outcomes of my OE … when I was in Paris I had a New Zealand AA plate on my motorbike and I spotted a car with a New Zealand plate on which happened to be a Zephyr, and I met the person concerned and his wife … was a man by the name of Norman McKenzie. Now in 1963 we received a letter from Downer & Company who had won the contract to construct the Napier airport. Now this letter stated that ‘Mr John and Peter Fraser are asked to attend a meeting at Downer & Company’s site at the proposed Napier Airport’. And I said to Dad “I don’t know why I am mentioned in it – who would know me?” He said “well, your name’s there, we’re going”. We went across to the airport and it was hard to believe – the person that had requested my presence was a Mr Norman McKenzie. Now, the idea was that they needed to hire equipment to carry out the earthworks and drainage and that, and us being a local firm … there were contractors in Napier, but Mr Norman McKenzie had found out where I lived, and perhaps I told him, I don’t know, it’s too long ago to remember.
Prior to this happening there was also the demand in the area to move heavy earthmoving equipment around, and Dad had decided that it was time to build a large transporter capable of caring up to thirty tons. He purchased brand new, an Atkinson 6LX Gardner powered truck from Wellington. And in our own workshops we built this transporter which Dad had designed. After visiting other heavy haulage operators in New Zealand he settled on the design. And one of the fortuitous parts of it was the fact that for the wheel equipment at the back we were able to use the back assemblies of the Guy trucks that he had purchased, because there were surplus ones of those. And what happened is, with my brother and his engineering abilities, and our own workshop, we constructed the rear assembly, which were two rows of four of what’s technically known as double oscillating axles – eight tyres across the back, but two rows of four single 920 tyres.
Now this transporter, through the good artwork of a particular signwriter, when it was signwritten it was nicknamed Big John. Now, what happened with the airport – Downer & Co moved a large amount of equipment – bulldozers, motor scrapers, rollers etcetera – to construct the runway, and we were engaged to cart lime from adjacent to the airport to construct the runway. And also, now Downers had established themselves in Napier airport – there were contracts on the Napier-Wairoa Road, also at Te Teko, and we, with the aid of Big John, transported a lot of Downers’ equipment round the East Coast.
At the same time this was happening, major earthworks were taking place on the Napier-Taupo Road and there were two firms – one, Egmont Land Development – they did earthworks at Terangakuma, and Fiester McJorrow which were from Wellington – they did works on the Titiokura section of the Napier-Taupo Road of which our company was involved, in minor hire in the way of trucks and cartage of metal etcetera, also at the same time moving heavy bulldozers for both these companies.
Egmont Land Development moved when they had finished their work, to the diversion of the Ngaruroro River at Pakowhai where the Pakowhai River travelled out through Clive, and was redirected to the present course which was known as the Overflow. What used to happen is when the Ngaruroro was in flood it would overflow down this course through Pakowhai. They used to close the road and you used to have to go via Fernhill to get to Hastings, because there was no way through Pakowhai. And at the same time that this was done a firm by the name of Williamson Construction constructed the new bridge over what’s known as the Pakowhai Dip. They constructed a new bridge and in doing so they brought heavy equipment down, which was beneficial to us – being resident here we got the job of moving their equipment round from one end of the site perhaps to the other, which was too far to walk the machine and it would be put on a transporter and moved.
During the course of the construction at the airport, Downer & Co asked me to take one of the large bulldozers an Ellis Chalmers HD21 from the airport to Wellington to the Maungaraki subdivision, which was a housing development going on in Wellington at the time. And Downers being New Zealand wide, they worked all over the country, but the machines had become semi-surplus to Napier, so off to Wellington they went. Then sometime much later I was asked to go to Wellington and pick up this particular machine and bring it back, which we did. Now in doing so, when we were south of Hastings my phone went asking where we were, which I told him, and I was asked to park up and take it on to Marsden Point. I couldn’t believe the request, but two and a half days later we delivered the machine to Marsden Point, and on the way home I was rung and asked if I would tow a large earthmoving carryall from Napier airport to our depot in Omahu Road, and on the return from Auckland, load the piece of equipment and take it back to Marsden Point. Now of all this work that was done I was never ever asked to give a quotation. It was always “just do the job”. We duly loaded this up, back to Marsden Point. And some many years later through a conversation that I had, it was made known to me that the original bulldozer and carryall that we took to Marsden Point were used to remove the first sod of dirt on what is now and has been known as the Marsden Point Oil Refinery. I didn’t know at the time what was going on – it was just another job, but it’s part that John Fraser and his sons can put onto the record, that they took part in that.
Another historical piece of equipment was that when building the Kapuni gas project at New Plymouth, a lot of the equipment was constructed in Auckland but because of its size could not go down the East Coast, and had to come down from Auckland via Taupo, Napier, Hastings, and off to Kapuni. But in one of these trips down, George Dale Heavy Haulage from Auckland, their unit broke down on the Napier-Taupo Road, and we were asked if we could take over the load. So Big John, our tractor unit from the transporter, coupled up to this large piece of equipment with Dale’s trailer and we transported this piece – again, another couple of days – to Kapuni. So, with having worked … through the heavy haulage association we were able to take part in some of the major projects, even though they were only a small piece of it, it’s great to be able to look back and think ‘well hey – we did it’.
In ’65 – as I say the airport was ’63, in ’65 we won a public tender for the construction of a 600mm (24 inch) diameter sewer pipeline for Havelock North. Now this entailed laying a pipeline from Whakatu, right along the main Napier-Hastings Road from Mangateretere, taking the bend by the school and out through Napier Road, right to Havelock. Now parallel to this another tender came out for Havelock North under the mayoralty of Ron Nelson, of the development of an industrial area at Havelock North and what is now known as the by-pass, or Karanema Drive, from the Havelock bridge, over the Napier Road and through into Te Mata Road. So with larger equipment that we had purchased mainly for the start of the sewer job, we were able to utilise this equipment on the construction of the by-pass. Now, the work progress was going pretty … pretty well and things were looking up and it was time that trucks needed replacement. And I purchased a new Commer truck from Townsend Motors in Napier, much to my father’s surprise. He said to me “how was I going to pay for it?” And I told him that I had taken it on hire purchase. He was not happy in one sense of the word. But what he didn’t realise was the interest rate in 1965 was one and three quarter percent. Between 1965 and 1972 I purchased twenty-eight Commer trucks, and the very last one that I purchased in 1972, the interest rate was only three and three quarter percent. A bit different to today.
Now, ’65 was a really good year and we obviously had plenty of work. And Dad had decided that it was time to expand the plant, but instead of building he had decided that he could purchase a new portable crusher from Christchurch from Andrews & Bevan. He … with one of the drivers, the pair of them went to Christchurch by road and towed this portable crusher from Christchurch to Hastings. Now by doing this, it had all the modern technology in it, and whilst in the older days our crushing equipment could produce between a hundred and a hundred and fifty cubic yards per day, this new unit could produce three hundred per day, and depending on the size. It was a big boost to the company in our overall work, because road building had been our job, and from when Dad first started that was his love, and he just kept on going.
Now to go back a bit, unfortunately for us in 1965 we lost our Mother. Unfortunately in those days, cancer took her life. Now, she had been Dad’s right-hand man as we call it, and it was a really, really sad blow. And at a young age of fifty-six we lost a mother. And that became a big loss for Jock. He had lost his right-hand man. But once he overcame that, which was fairly quickly, he indulged himself in the running of the company, and together – as already pointed out the work situation was good and he was very good at tendering on these jobs – and he put his heart and soul into it, and as one could say, he became a very good not only father, but a right-hand man.
In the course of this he also had become a member of the No 5 District Roads Council, of which he ended up as the longest serving member. He was also on the National Roads Board. He had already for many years partaked [partaken] in the New Zealand Road Carriers’ Association … the Road Carriers’ from the trucking point of view, and also the New Zealand Contractors’ Federation of which he became a Council member representing No 5 District, which was Hawke’s Bay, and he served on that for many years.
The good things that happened – not only with the sewer contract, the Frimley Aquatic Centre was also another job, and from my point of view, I lived in Frimley Place and I couldn’t have got a job closer to home ’cause I could look out the bedroom window and see the site where the Aquatic Centre would be.
As I said we’d also won the contract for the by-pass. Now 1966 was obviously a good year, but one of the things that happened was also that Greater Hastings had decided that they wanted to establish Fantasyland. Now one of the things that Dad would not do was give large sums of money into any project. But what he did do was say that the – he would do the earthworks for Fantasyland as a donation. Now in doing so, we got the staff together and said “well Fantasyland is a project and we’re going to go down on a Saturday. Now any member of the staff that wishes to donate their time will be greatly received, but anybody that wants to get paid, I will pay”. So duly away we went. There was only two members of the staff that wanted to be paid. The magnitude of the job required that we would have to do it over a couple of weekends. On the following weekend everybody donated their time. The same crew that had been there the week before, but no one asked for any pay. So that was the establishment of Fantasyland.
Now also in August of ’66 another job was the building of the Happy Tavern in Napier, which is now today known as the Bluewater complex. Another major job. Also at the same time the building of the Expressway bridge which was undertaken by a company by the name of Mayhead Brothers from Wairoa. In doing so Mayhead’s concrete beams on the berms of the river, and our job was to use our cranes and transport the beams from their construction site to the new piers that had been constructed, and erect the bridge beams for what is now known as the Expressway Bridge. In doing so also, because being a bridge, one of the beams had to be carted from on site and transported to Napier of where the Ministry of Works undertook the testing of the structure and took it to the point of demolition. What was then left after they had destructed [de-constructed] the beam, was then carted again three times to the Napier Harbour Board and used in the reclamation.
Also in 1966, a good year, we started the excavations for what was then known as the NIMU building adjacent to the present Hastings Police Station. That job entailed concrete piles being driven in what was the then Heretaunga Bowling Club. That was on the corner and that was converted into a major building site and at the same time we were able to carry out earthworks and demolition of the old Hastings Police Station, and the two buildings were erected simultaneously, one by J C Mackersey Ltd, and the other one by P J Bridgman. And the arrangement between the two builders was very amicable and the fact Mackersey owned a tower crane, which they were able to share in the construction of both buildings.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Claire Peuvrier
Supporters and sponsors
We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.