Peter Fraser – The House of Fraser
Joyce Barry: Welcome everyone, lovely to see you tonight. The House of Fraser started many, many years ago with his father, Jock – he was one of eleven siblings from Aberdeenshire, and can you imagine coming here with eleven children? So there must have been a spark of entrepreneurship there because Jock went into business, and Peter took over. It’s all over to him. Thank you, Peter.
Peter: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. [Applause] Thank you very much for the opportunity, and I hope I don’t bore you. What I am starting out to do is to relate the business my father started in 1933 as a contractor. He worked in Hutchinson’s building across on the corner here, which is now Hutchinson’s – that was Fraser’s garage, and he was there the day of the earthquake which we all know about.
Now Dad started business on Friday 13th January 1933. [Chuckles] I will say this that Friday the 13th was a lucky day for him in more than one way … if there was ever a raffle going to get ticket No 13 he could win it. He was working for his brother in the garage. The brother had a truck there, and Dad looked at it and thought well, ‘I can do something with that’, so he waited ‘til his brother went away on holiday and then he took the truck and he went to Taupo, and he loaded up with cases of peaches and tins of petrol. Now petrol in those days was in four gallon tins not drums and he went to Taupo. He sold it in Taupo and brought back split batons for de Pelichet McLeod. On his first trip his profit was ten pounds and six shillings.
In 1934/35 he started into the crushing business, crushing road metal, because he had an inkling for aggregate and his first job that he won successfully for the County was at the Bridge Pa pit. Now believe it or believe it not, they camped there because he couldn’t afford to travel between Omahu Road where he lived and Bridge Pa. The type of life that they led there as you can well imagine in those days, was pretty tough, and they lived in a caravan. And then later on he bought a bus which he converted over, and they lived in that bus with his staff.
Everything in those days was done with a pick and a shovel, and one of the mottos my father always had was he had two big hands, a pick, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Now if we think back 1933, the earthquake was just over, and to get into business in those days it must have been hard work, because there was no such thing as power shovels, front end loaders, diggers … you name it … everything was a pick, a shovel, a crowbar and a wheelbarrow. Now he did pretty well, because in 1936 he went to Auckland and he purchased a Diamond T truck. Now believe it or believe it not, and I don’t know whether I’m proud of it or not, but I feel fairly good about it.
In 1936 Mum and he went to Auckland to the Exhibition, and he ordered a truck. That truck … 1936 according to his diaries which I’ve got … I had to look up the date that he ordered it, and then I turned it over to December, and I was born. So [laughter] I’m the result of a Diamond T truck. [Laughter]
He must have done pretty well because in 1937 he ordered a second truck and he paid £468 pounds for it – a far cry from today. In 1937 he was successful in winning a contract to crush metal at Haumoana/Te Awanga and he metalled all the roads from Clifton to Haumoana to Te Awanga and all round there and from his diaries I can tell you exactly how much a yard he got for it and how much he delivered to each road, and it’s quite amazing. I was at Haumoana last weekend and I’ve camped at Clifton now for forty-eight years – me and my wife – and ‘course travelling those roads each day as we have done – it’s amazing. How they did it I do not know, because it was still pick, shovel and wheelbarrow.
He had done very well from ‘33, ‘cause in 1938 he purchased a section on the corner of Tomoana Road and Heretaunga Street which is where Firestone were, and in 1938 Ossie Simmonds built him a house. Now his income was the results of the big flood we had in ‘38, where he was able as a contractor to stop the Ngaruroro river from bursting its banks and coming back through the old course right through here, and he did say that’s where he made a lot of his money.
Now from 1939 to ‘40 they did what they called day work – a lot for the Public Works Department, and he won some contracts down in Patangata for the County Council. And it was during that time [with] his own ability, that he thought this pick and shovel business is not too good so he designed and built a power shovel of which he mounted on an old Leyland solid-tyred truck. Now I do know, and I have proof of it, where the major manufacturers in the UK sent two people out to New Zealand because they’d heard about this guy out there with a power shovel, and they came all the way out from the UK to have a look. And they just couldn’t believe that he had made it himself and used his own engineering ability to do it.
So 1940 was the time of it, with their work. Then in 1942 he lost two of his trucks to the Army. They were commandeered, which every contractor had to contribute, and so he lost his trucks but later on he got them back again, which was a big thing. I did notice in the diaries that in 1941 he fitted a gas burner to one of his Diamond T Trucks so the fuel shortage must have been the same. Now he joined the RNZAF and he went overseas to New Caledonia but unfortunately he was only there for sixty-six days before he was invalided home with a double hernia. After 1943 he was passed for light duties and back into the Air Force, and he was posted to Ohakea. He then went to Tauranga and operated the Air/Sea rescue launch from Tauranga to the Mount because there was no road. It was something like I believe about three or four hours to get there, so he used to ferry the Air Force personnel from Tauranga across to the Mount. But he did tell me this – that he spent more of his time deep sea fishing [chuckles] than he did there. And one of the things I do know, I had it proved to me, that when you went on board Jock’s boat, the ‘Latex’ as it was called, he would say “my name is Jock Fraser – what you? I’m not interested in whether you’re a squadron leader or who you are, what’s your name?” So as long as they knew by Christian names, that’s the way he did it. How he did it – don’t ask me.
In 1944 when he came out from the Air Force he was at Tauranga, and because he was running a contracting business it meant that the business kept going … which my mother and my uncle kept going. And we worked for the Hawke’s Bay County, the Borough Council as it was then, and Napier Borough Council, not City Council, and because he’d built his power shovel the staff used to religiously take it off the river. But the first weekend Dad was home, he said “she’ll be right – I’m home – it can stay on the river.” Unfortunately he got a ring from van Asch on Sunday morning to tell him he’d better come out – his power shovel’s in the river. I vividly remember going out there and having a look, and here we could just see the top of the radiator and the Tuki Tuki was from bank to bank. We then went up to Bruce Webster’s Lime Works … who was a friend of Dads … and when we left at five o’clock to come home there was no radiator. We couldn’t see a thing. He said to me during the week, “be home from school early if you can, I’m going out to the river.” We went out to the river, but what could we see? Nothing. Not a thing. She was just dead flat – no power shovel, no nothing. Any rate, we went across the river and sure enough we found an oil slick, and away we went … yep, that’s where it is. That Saturday he went to Wellington to GT Gillies, of which you may’ve heard – he had all the GMC trucks from the second World War – and he bought one from him. He paid £265 for it. Gillies paid £18. [Chuckles] But that was the rule of the day. And then when they dragged it out they took the carburettor, the generator and the starter and everything off it, but Dad says “you don’t have to take it off”. They’d left it on his one because it was that badly smashed around, but that’s he way he liked to do things.
In August 1944, believe it or not – the war was still on – he started the excavation of St Aubyn Street from Grays Road to Pakowhai Road. It was one of the many, many jobs. And in October 1944 he started digging the Convent swimming pool baths.
Now just to go back a bit … 1942. One of the problems we had here – and he had the only excavator in the district – he was engaged by the Borough Councils to dig air raid shelters. Now he spent eighty-six days nonstop, seven days a week, and I’ll quickly run through some of the sites: St Andrew’s Hall, Catholic School, Parkvale School, Queenswood School, Mahora School, Memorial Hospital … six hundred feet of trenches he dug there. The library site, Gill & Fenton, Peter Razos, Redgrave’s, Smith & Smith’s, FL Bone, Griffith’s and Ranfurly House, then the Hawke’s Bay Education Board, the Napier Port School, Intermediate School and Hastings Street School, Tomoana Works, Alec Kirkpatrick. They dug six hundred feet of trenches in the paddocks at Tomoana Freezing Works for there. And then the Hastings Borough Council started what they called double shelters. They were the big ones, and I vividly remember the one in Queen Street where Big Save’s car park is now, because I lived on the corner of Tomoana Road, and it was just round the corner. I have in a folder there, photos of him digging a big one in the grounds of the Catholic Church, right next door to the Church in Heretaunga Street. There was another one which is now the car parking area for New World, and I have a list here of double shelters – says ‘Hastings Street, Queen Street, Gospel Hall, Powdrell’s, Westshore School, Nelson Park School’ … and these were Goodman Shelters. That was ‘42.
During 1944 he was heavily engaged … the war was still on … by the Public Works Department on the Napier-Taupo Road. 1946 was the start of the Fernhill Bridge, road construction it was.
1947 he metalled the Takapau Plains. They actually camped at Fraser Road, which is I believe, now where the Freezing Works are. Back in 1947 they crushed and carted six thousand two hundred and fifty-four yards of metal, and spread it on the Takapau Plains. In December ‘47 he pioneered the peas with Jim Wattie, and in those days peas were forked on by hand. Also in December in that year he started to demolish the air raid shelters.
Now in 1948 he purchased his first power shovel from the same people that came from England, Ruston Bucyrus, and I remember it arriving on the rail here. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at – it was brand spanking new. The war had only been over three years. But when we got it going we had no means of transporting so they had to walk it. And it had to go down Avenue Road right down to Nelson Street, into Heretaunga Street, down Heretaunga Street and into Tomoana Road. Eric Shuker was the Traffic Officer, and it was done at seven o’clock at night. Later on he managed to purchase and build a transporter.
1956 we changed the name from John Fraser Contractors to John Fraser & Sons. At approximately the same time he purchased nineteen army trucks from Trentham Military Camp. Now these trucks – a lot of them had only just driven from the works in England down to the wharf at Southampton; from Wellington wharf to Trentham. That’s the only mileage they had on them. I think from memory he said about eleven hundred miles was the most that they’d travelled. And they had sat there right during the war and we drove every one of them from Trentham to Hastings. And with that, he modified them and put power shovels on them and what-have-you and sold a few. I can’t quite remember just how much he paid for them.
In 1960 I had the good fortune through being a member of the Hastings Fire Service to take an OE, [overseas experience] and everywhere I went I was lucky – I stayed on Fire Stations and got free accommodation and that was the way I did [it], having worked at the Freezing Works to earn enough money to go.
When I came home I asked Dad for a job, and he said “sorry, son”, he said “I haven’t got any work for you.” [Laughter] I said “thank you very much.” [Laughter] Then one morning he said to me “would you come and give me a hand? I need a hand on the concrete breaker.” I said “oh yeah”, I said “what are we doing?” He said “well … ” We were putting in Jervois Place, and my job was to go right down the man hole and blow a hole in the bottom to connect the sewer up, but unfortunately I was at the bottom at half past nine in the morning when everybody decided that Dr Paul had finished, and they all flushed the toilet. [Laughter] I was in the bottom. [Laughter] When I went to get in the truck to go home, he said “you’re not sitting here with me. Get on the back”. [Laughter] So I was hosed down with a fire hydrant, and when I got home my mother went ballistic. [Chuckle] I had a job next night. [Laughter]
I started work with Dad, and then through a misfortune in the office it was time to fold the business up. And I said to him “well look – for what’s happened, we can overcome this. And I think it would be best if I joined the team and took over.” He said “no way.” And I said “well – I’ll do it on two conditions.” “What’s that?” “I want the right to hire and fire.” He said “you can’t have that.” [Chuckle] “The second one I want the right to sign the cheque book, because that was your failing.” Mum said “the job’s yours.” [Laughter]
So the next morning I faced twenty-seven guys, and we broke the news to them of what had happened. Everybody put their best foot forward and away we went. We never looked back.
Then in ‘62, unfortunately as we all know, we had the big fire at Wattie’s. I was a little fortunate and unfortunate, in the fact that I was one of the first firemen inside, and like it or lump it, I nearly never came out of it. But through the good comradeship of fellow firemen we got out. Now during that fire we moved in as John Fraser and Sons at about half past four in the afternoon. We worked right through the night nonstop with front end loaders, and we carted all the burnt material away. Now Wattie’s was out of commission, but Dad being on the National Roads Board, was able to secure a compressor from the Ministry of Works in Napier which he had to pay them a deposit of £250, and that was a lot of money in those days. Anyway, I was in the office the next morning and the next minute I see the Bentley arriving, and Jim Wattie arrives in … ‘hell, what’s going on here?’ “Is Dad around?” “Yep.” “Would you give that to him. That’s his cheque for £250. I don’t owe anybody anything.” So we all know, at five o’clock that night Wattie’s was back in commission.
We stayed there for something like three months and did all the demolition work and everything. Now as far as Jim Wattie was concerned Dad and him were great mates. Harold Carr is a name a lot of you will know was Dad’s accountant, but he was also Jim Wattie’s accountant. And he said to Dad one day, “I’ve got a bloke in Nelson Street who needs some metal – could you go and see him?” So Dad went down to see him and he said “what’s your problem?” And he said “well – I’m making this jam here. There’s going to be a war on and I’ve got this big heap of mud in the yard. I want a load of metal to put in it to soak it up, but I’ve got a problem.” And Dad said “what is it?” He said “I can’t pay for it.” Dad said “don’t worry. If you’re game enough to give me a go, I’ll give you a go.” Then the phone went later on … “Jock, I’ve got your money.” Dad went down to pick it up, and he said “could I have another load of metal.” [Chuckles] “Sure.”
Now I can honestly tell you from that time right up until later on when the merger with Transport Holdings, not one person ever dug a sod of dirt in J Wattie Canneries sites. It didn’t matter whether it was in the orchard – we pushed all the trees out. Every building that they decided to build I would get a phone call today – “want you to start tomorrow morning. Never mind what else you were doing – start.” And that went on, and the whole time never once was I asked for a price, and never once did I give a price. They never even said to me “that was too dear” – they just paid the bill and that was it.
During that period as we all know peas were carted. Now one year alone, I had eleven trucks on the cartage of peas. We used to start in September, and the only day we had off was Christmas Day. And the total mileage for those eleven trucks in eighty days, was the total of three and a half times round the world. We used to cart from Otane, and in those days the trucks we had – they had a twenty-eight gallon petrol tank on them – if you didn’t fill up before you went, you ran out. And it was twenty-eight gallons to Otane and back. But that’s the way we did it, and it was real good business. And we did cart peas for Wattie’s, Birds Eye and Fropax, but at the same time it was twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, non-stop. Did get into a bit of strife a few times with the Union, because not only did I drive myself, but the fact that being part of the managerial team you weren’t allowed to join the Union. And they wanted to join the Union, and I didn’t want to join the Union and … blah, blah, blah … away we went.
Business went pretty well and between 1965 and 1972 Dad was able to purchase … through a bit of work from me … we purchased twenty-eight Commer trucks. Now those were bought from Townsend Motors, and one of the things – Dad would never do anything unless he could pay for it. And when I decided it was time to get these trucks he said to me, “you’ve got one – how did you pay for it?” I said “I took it on hire purchase.” Well, man! [Laughter] He went ballistic. [Laughter] But the interest was 1.75%. After we’d bought twenty-eight Commers between ‘65 and ‘72 it was only 3.75% – but he got over it. [Chuckles]
In 1965 we won the contract for the Havelock North sewer which started at Whakatu, and was a twenty-four inch diameter sewer to Havelock North. Now also in ‘65 we were doing the Chesterhope Bridge – the new bridge across there – and we had a massive flood. And I can remember panic stations. Here we had a brand new bridge just been opened, but they had no riprap … what they called it … against the embankment, and … “hullo! The flood’s starting to scour it all away – what are we going to do?” And the Ministry of Works said to Dad “right – you’ve got to get concrete to put in there – broken concrete.” And Dad says “yeah, well that’s all right, but the first thing I want to know – who’s going to pay for it?” And they said “do the job and we’ll talk about it later,” and Dad said “no way.” [Chuckles] He said “I want to see what’s going to happen and how I’m going to get paid before I start work”. Duly we got into it.
Then in August that year he purchased a mobile crushing plant. Now prior to this, from when he first started business he built everything himself. He built all his own crushers. We had a contract with the Hawke’s Bay County Council for Waimarama, and we used to crush at the Tuki Tuki – there’s a good photo in the album there showing the power shovel and the crusher sitting in the river at the Tuki Tuki with the old Red Bridge in the background. Now we were probably working about a three metre high face. I think if you go out there today you’d be lucky to find 300 millimetres of metal in the river. And the thing about the Tuki Tuki was it was a river that would come up and go down as my Dad used to describe it, the Tuki Tuki would come up faster than you could pull your trousers up, [chuckles] but never go down the same way. [Laughter]
Also in 1965 we started a contract for the Aquatic Centre at Frimley. In September of that year the contract for the by-pass – that was from the Havelock bridge right through Karanema Drive – we won that contract as well. In ‘66, January 22nd, we started Fantasyland. Now Fantasyland was a project that Greater Hastings wanted, and they asked Dad for some money and he said “no way.” So what he did is, he said to the staff “we’re going to go down to Fantasyland and start there. I’m donating the machines. Anybody that wants to work there for nothing is more than welcome, but anybody that doesn’t want to work for nothing and get paid – I’ll pay them.” We had two men that decided they wanted the pay. We hadn’t completed on Saturday, so we went the following week. Those two didn’t want to be paid – they volunteered and they did it.
On August 3rd we sealed the by-pass, so from when we started it was a pretty good job and there was a lot of work done. Originally there was a second bridge to go in at Havelock, and Havelock to Hastings was to be four lanes. I actually sat in the car with the County engineer and counted every tree between Norton Road and Havelock – the idea was to buy a big bulldozer and push all the trees over. But that never came to fruition. And the original by-pass under Ron Nelson who was the mayor was to be four-laned all the way down, but it’s only two and it’s still only two.
Also at that time of doing the by-pass we won the contract for the Happy Tavern in Napier … the round tavern there. We were also at the same time building what is now the Expressway, and we won the contract for supplying all the metal to the first section from Pakowhai Road through to Meeanee Road. And at the same time we had the good fortune to link up with Mayhead Brothers from Wairoa, and we transported all the concrete beams that built and erected … with the cranes we had … the now Expressway bridge.
Now, as you are probably aware, Fraser Shingle came about. Now how Fraser Shingle came about was that Dad wanted to extract metal from the river but was up against a lot of opposition. And at that time, and through some cloak and dagger work, he found out that Mere Road at Fernhill was going in. So we went out there – we found out through the Catchment Board, and we traipsed across country until we found the pegs, and sure enough … we had a map and guess what section he picked … No 13. [Chuckles] We not only bought 13, but later on we bought 12, 11 and 10. Now that was a good buy, because the fact that we had our own access to the river, and we still had to pay a royalty to the Catchment Board but we had a permanent supply, whereas everybody else could use any river, and if you were first in you were lucky. And you could be half and the other contractors move in and … blah, blah, blah … and away it went.
And at the same time as we not only purchased the land … the start of the Apple & Pear Board contracts in Williams Street with Mackersey and WM Angus Limited.
Now in 1972 we were approached by Cyril Wilkie of Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Transport about a merger. And unfortunately in ‘66 when Mum passed away at a very young age of fifty-six, Dad was sort of … he was okay, but he’d lost his best partner and he’d sort of lost a lot of interest. And I was in the box seat, and he said to me when they approached, “what do you reckon?” And I said “well, it’s over to you.’ He said “I’ll tell you what – you hold the trump card. Whichever way we go I’ll stick with you.” So we did a negotiation with Farmers’ Transport and in July 1972 we signed a merger.
From that I was given the job … I was only thirty-six years old … to build a shingle plant. So I got stuck in, and luckily for me with having the good fortune of a good father who knew what to do, and my ability as a technical drawer – I’d learnt my trade at Dannevirke Boys’ High which I attended – I was able to design, do the drawings, get them certified, and we built Fraser Shingle at Fernhill.
Now at thirty-six, I was the youngest in New Zealand to do it, and I’m proud still today that in 1987 it was bought by Milburn, which is now Holcim. And in 1988 after the share market crash, Milburn arrived one day at work and they broke the news to me that I was to be made redundant. Well there was twenty-eight of Milburn staff right throughout New Zealand that they made redundant because the share market crashed, so that came to the end of my tenure at Fraser Shingle. My son who I had employed – he spent twenty-eight years there. And just a few years ago – he now works for Higgins – but he stayed in the aggregate industry right through. And I must say that from my point of view that the aggregate industry is one of the greatest industries that are going, and what I’d put to you is that … is there anybody here that can tell me if they can do without concrete? [Chuckles] It doesn’t matter what we do or where we go. I’ve spoken to people before and asked them if they can tell me what we’d do without it, because we can’t drive anywhere, we can’t live, we can’t build, ‘cause it’s concrete all the way.
Now one of the things a lot of you women don’t know is to make good concrete it has to have a percentage of powder in it. Now that powder is finer than women’s face powder, and that’s really fine, ‘cause when they’ve got it on you can’t even see it. [Laughter] And to make good concrete it has to have a percentage of it. And it’s a hard job to get it to it, but the technology the way it is we manage to do it, and when you look around town and see all these new buildings and precast concrete slabs up, I feel pretty good because I know that what I built and designed out there is still going today and supplying a major portion of the readymix concrete that’s used in Napier and Hastings. So it’s one thing that I feel pretty proud about.
I still hold a strong interest towards it but you’re now of the age group that … it’s all computers and digital but it still doesn’t have any of the think tank that we used to use in my day. But the industry as it’s been has been good to me and to my wife. My son, as I say, still works there. I only have one son and he enjoys it just as much as I did.
But I must say this that thanks to a good father who had the knowledge of how to deal with aggregate, I did inherit it it’s quite obvious, and I think my son has done the same thing. But his mechanical ability and the things that he was able to design and build – I know for a fact from many of the contractors I’ve met, they all said “how the hell did he do it?” Well, all he used to do as far as I can remember was … we had a meccano set, he had a three foot rule and a pencil, and that’s all he did. He would grab the back of the good old calendars – we all remember those big ones we used to get – that’s the only white paper he had, and he would religiously grab that and start drawing out, and a bit of meccano here and make this here and measure this, and “yeah”. And then out to the workshop and we could construct it.
I remember vividly one night when we were in Tomoana Road I could smell rubber burning – “what’s going on here?” And I knew Dad was working out in the workshop so I went out to him and I said “I’ve got a problem inside.” He said “what’s that?” I said “I can smell rubber burning”. And of course what happened – in those days the mains for the welder went through the house and that was the old rubber wiring. And of course here he is sitting with his welder going, and everything got heated up. [Laughter] And “oh, the house!” You know, “are we going to have a house?” So he had to stop there, and we had the house rewired. [Laughter] He then bought another welder.
And at the same time as this was going on, I remember we had a cocker spaniel dog, and that dog was one of the greatest dogs out. And it used to sit there and look at him, and of course he’s welding with a full face helmet on because of the arc and that … the dog was sitting there looking, and the tears [laughter] would be rolling down his face. And he’d put his hand on it and give it a pat … ‘you’ll be right’. Poor old dog would wander around for a couple of days blind. [Laughter]
Never mind ladies and gentlemen. I hope I haven’t bored you. There’s a lot more I could tell you, and I must say this, that with Dad keeping his diaries – he was a shocking writer. I’m a good writer. [Laughter] I’ve been right through his diaries from 1933 right up into the seventies, and I’ve gone through page by page. And I have eighty-eight foolscap pages that I’ve hand written. And whether you like it or not, I can sort of recollect back to about ‘42, but in going through this … it’s great the way by reading a few notes, what jogs your memory. And there’s little phrases in there that he’s written … then there’s this particular truck or that particular truck. The good old GMCs after the war where we took a motor out and put it in something else. I remember a truck that he had, it was a Fargo and he repowered it. And the boys were coming home from Maraekakaho along the Maraekakaho straight there, and Dad was driving a Chev car. |And he’s sort of tootling home, and the next minute this truck shot past him. [Chuckles] “That’s mine!” [Laughter] He buried his hoof, and he … in the Chev he got up to seventy-six miles an hour and he bailed out. [Chuckles] When he got home he approached the driver and they had words. But then they sat down and worked it out later on, that that truck with the motor and the gear ratio and the diff, was exactly the same as the Mark 7 Jag. [Laughter] And Dad only drove the Chev. [Laughter]
Thank you very much. Any questions?
Questioner: Peter – one thing you didn’t touch on was the loyalty your father attracted from his staff. I think he was admired by anybody who was in business.
Peter: Yes, you’re dead right there, Selwyn. One of the great things that I noticed, that – didn’t matter who you were in the staff, you were all equal. If there was a job to be done and it was dirty, Dad would do it. The faith that the guys had in him. To get employment in those days was easy – we could all go for a job. And I remember Dad telling me that the ruling rate of pay when he first started off was 1/10d [one shilling and tenpence] an hour, and he paid 2/6d [two shillings and sixpence]. And I said why did you pay 2/6d? He said “well work it out – forty half-crowns is round money, but at 1/10d it’s too hard to work out.” [Laughter]
In the references through his diaries I found where petrol was 1/10d a gallon. Oil was 2/6d a quart. A pick from Bull & Hodgins was 7/6d. A barrow was £1/12/6d. He talks about 32×6 tyres.
But as far as his staff … it was a loyal staff, and one of the members of our staff, a guy by the name of Jack Hesketh from Bridge Pa – he was a labourer for Dad. And Jack was one of these ones … “oh good, it’s raining – no work today”. And Dad got that sick of it he said to him one day “you’re fired.” Next day at Bridge Pa – it wasn’t raining – and Jack Hesketh was sitting on the top of the quarry looking down at them … “come on you guys – do this, do that.” Dad got that sick of him! He said “look, if you know so much get down here and start work again.” Now Jack worked for my Dad for longer than he did for the company. I used to give him a brand new truck at regular intervals every time his truck reached a hundred thousand miles. It was never a problem, but I could go to that truck every night and here sitting on the passenger side was the newspaper folded, and a beautifully polished pair of black boots sat there. Now he lived at Bridge Pa but he used to bike in to Tomoana Road. Later on – he still lived in Bridge Pa – he came into Omahu Road where we moved in 1960, and I said to Jack one day “you know – what about holidays?” He said “what are they?” [Chuckle] And as long as I can remember he never took a holiday – I always paid him for it, though. But he knew nothing else in life other than working for Jock Fraser and driving a truck, and he looked after every one of them too. They were a pleasure. You could have gone to work in your best navy blue suit and rolled around on the floor, and you never had a piece of dust on it, no matter where he had been in the day. But that truck was always clean. I believe he used to come in sometimes at four or five o’clock in the morning and clean his truck, but no one new about it. He was always gone before everybody else, and we started at half past seven – he was gone at seven. He knew what he was doing and that was the way it went.
Questioner: Peter you’ll be aware that there’s one of the old company trucks at Bill Richardson’s museum in Invercargill?
Peter: Yes, you’re dead right. There’s some photos in there, Graham, of the transporter that Dad built when we had the Napier Airport contract and that was an Atkinson truck that he bought. I drove it for about thirty thousand miles. Margaret and I had the good fortune to go to Invercargill a few years ago, and I’d prearranged with Ian Rudd, the Curator there, if I could come and see it. I took a lot of photos of the original truck down there. We met him and in we went. We came to the truck and I said to him “do you mind if I get up into it?” He said “help yourself.” And I hopped into the seat, sat down and looked up and there on the top on the parcel shelf, which is above the windscreen, was ZLCC32, and that was the little name plate that we had put up there for the two-way radios that we had. And I’ll tell you what – it brought a lump to my throat. [Chuckles] They got that truck from Mangapapa Station and it’s down there. It’s the only one of its kind. It had a Gardner motor in it, and it could go just as fast empty as it could loaded.
When we had the Napier Airport contract I was a bit lucky in the fact when I was overseas I was at a camping ground on the Seine in Paris and there was this guy with a Zephyr. And if you think back … ‘60, a Zephyr car in Paris … and Zephyr was New Zealand, it wasn’t in England, and it had an NZ plate on it. I had an NZ plate on my motor bike. I met this guy and his name was Norm McKenzie and we toured around Paris, and that was it. And then later on, a letter arrived asking for Mr John Fraser and Peter Fraser to attend a meeting at the Napier Airport. And I said to Dad, “I don’t know what they want me for.” He said “said in the letter – you come.” I walked in and who did I walk into – Norman McKenzie who I had met in Paris. Now I must say this, that that meeting was worth megabucks because we did all the transporting of the heavy equipment for Downer & Co right throughout the North Island – and other companies as well.
But the one that really was the most important … I got a ring one day, would I come over and pick up a twenty-one ton bulldozer from Napier and take it to Wellington, to the Maungaraki subdivision, which I did. Some months later the phone goes – “go to Wellington and pick up that HD21, will you?” Which we did. We were south of Hastings here … the phone goes – “where’s the transporter?” I said “south of Hastings.” He said “right – tell it to park up at Pettigrew’s yard at Bay View.” I said “why there – it’s past the airport.” He said “yeah, well you’re going through to Marsden Point.” [Laughter] I said “I beg your pardon?” He said “yeah – you’ve got to take it to Marsden Point.” So two and a half days later we arrived at Marsden Point, [chuckles] then we were on the way home and the phone goes again. “Peter, I want you to pick up a big carryall from the Airport and load it on the transporter when he gets home, and go back to Marsden Point.” [Laughter] Just charge her up.
Anyway about fifteen years ago, maybe more – not too sure, I ran into this bloke and we got talking, and he said “remember when you took the HD21 to Marsden Point?” I said “yes, I remember it well.” He said “you took the dozer up first, and then you took the carryall. Were you aware that when you delivered the carryall they coupled it up and it moved the first sod of dirt on the Marsden Point oil refinery?” “Hey, that was great. And in those days, you know, you didn’t have to fill out all this paraphernalia. [Laughter] And the beauty of it with Dad I remember, the numerous contracts were done on the shake of a hand. We didn’t fill in paper and sign it – I can remember vividly, sitting in the lounge of Jack Glenell, Trevor Wrightson, John Mackersey – they’d ring you up during the day … “what are you doing tonight?” “Why?” “Got to do this tender. Will you come round home?” And you’d sit on [at] their dining room table with the plans all laid out, and we’d do it. “She’ll be right. Yeah, yeah -okay”. They’d ring you up and say “you’ve got the job”.
And one of the great things about it in those days – if you did any extras, at the end of the month they’d ring you up and say “will you send an invoice for x number of dollars?” “What for?” “All the extras you did.” “Oh, I didn’t know we’d done it.” “Oh, we’ve got it there”. But they did it honestly, and a man’s word was his bond. And I can remember there was [were] a few contractors around here who thought they’d be a bit smart, but I tell you what – there was a hell of a lot got caught out. I was one of the lucky ones – Dad I think, had taught me the right way. He was as honest as the day he was born, and we never had the wool, to my knowledge, pulled over our eyes. More often than not … it wasn’t called a bonus in those days … but you got a bonus for the jobs you did. Everybody was happy. And Hastings as it was, and the Hawke’s Bay County Council, the Hawke’s Bay Catchment Board – you enjoyed working with them and nothing was ever a problem. Or if they had a problem they would come to you and say “hey – how can we solve this?” We would do it together, not one trying to pull the wool over the other one’s eyes to pull a fast one. None of that, in my time that I remember, ever happened.
But the gentlemen that I met there, the County Engineers and that, were all great honest straight forward guys, and you were always known by your Christian name. If you called them “Mister”, they’d sort of, you know … “no, my name’s Bill”, or whatever it be. It was a great era, and unfortunate[ly] today the contracting industry, whilst it’s a great industry I don’t think it enjoys what we enjoyed, because unless you’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s, there’s somebody there trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Whilst the computer age is here, one of the things that happened to me a while ago with a grandson – I thought I would pass off all my drawing equipment and everything to him and he would benefit because he’s doing an engineering course. And he looked at me and he said “Grampy”, he said “sorry, I don’t need it.” I said “how are you going to do it?” He said “we do it by CAD.” I said to him one thing – “CAD will only do what it tells you to do. CAD does not create”. And I feel proud of it, that I created a big shingle plant at Fernhill – the biggest on this side of the island. I didn’t do it with a computer. The only benefit I found from the computer was my daughter, who did a tech drawing course with the Ministry of Works. I had a conveyor I wanted to build, and she used to come out to the plant and use my drawing board and everything. But she was very good, and we were talking about it one day and she said “oh, give us the details”. So I gave her all the details. She came home the following weekend and said “here’s your plan.” I shook my head … I looked at her. I had decided ‘right, I’d build it using say, 6×3 channel.’ She said “Dad, you only need to use 5×2½.” I would allow say 6 inches to adjust it. She said “no, you can do it to half an inch.” And that was the beauty that I saw of it, but the same thing – CAD did not create it. You had to tell CAD what you wanted and CAD would do it, but it wouldn’t think for itself.
How’d we go? When you look what’s happening round here today I think it’s terrific, particularly … we’re not seeing a lot of roading done here. I’m a bit disappointed that the new road from Hastings to Havelock’s got more bumps in it than you would think, [chuckles] whereas I must say in my day, when we did the likes of the by-pass, that building was scrutineered, and there was only ever one bump in it. And I know where it is and it’s still there to today. [Chuckles] And that bump is because the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board would not put a pipe underneath the road when we were building it. They waited ‘til we were finished and then they cut a hole through it. That bump is still there today, and it’s right outside the BP Service Station. [Laughter]
Joyce: Peter it has been fantastic. That’s Scottish blood for you.
Peter: One of the things … I had the good fortune last year, New Zealand Contractors magazine asked me would I do an article for them. It came as a bolt out of the blue, and as you see it’s called ‘The House of Fraser.’ I didn’t know it was going to get called that, [music in background] but that also covered Dad’s history and a lot more as well.
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- Jock Fraser
- Peter Fraser