Rae, Kenneth Brian (Ken) & Margaret Maureen Interview
24th May 2017
Today I’m interviewing Ken and Margaret Rae of Hastings on the life and times of their family.
Ken, would you like to tell us something about your family?
Yes – my name is Ken Rae and I am one of the Rae brothers – I had my brother John. We were in business, but we must start back at my parents. My parents came from Whatatutu in Gisborne where my father had five horse teams, and he had the first solid-tyred truck in the area. He used to go up the rivers with all the teams in the summertime as there was [were] no roads around those days. And they would get the wool out of the wool sheds or farm properties and bring it back to Whatatutu – where it went from there, I don’t know, as I was not around myself. But that was in the 1920s. And sister Olive – she was born in Whatatutu, and my brother John was born in Whatatutu.
Just where is Whatatutu?
This side of Gisborne. And they were in the carrying business, and I was not around those days myself.
They moved to Petone in Wellington, as far as I know, about 1929 or early thirties. They bought a wood and coal business and they were in quite a big way there. But in 1931 the Depression came along, and the people came to them begging for wood and coal, and they were good-hearted people and in the end they couldn’t turn them down, so they gave it to them. And naturally they went broke. So once they were broke I’m not sure what my father did, in those days but they moved to Miramar, and I was born there on the 1st of January 1936. And I don’t know what Dad was doing in those days – I think it was driving – and he must have had a mind about moving on from Miramar. And there was a person in the paper put an ad, called G M Spencer – he was a topdressing contractor. And Dad had never been topdressing, but he wanted a driver, so Dad applied for the job and he got the job. So we duly came to live in Hastings. Now that would have been, I think, about late 1937.
He soon found out about topdressing. And in those days, all the lime and super was in bags. Now the Paki Paki Lime Company – their bags of lime – they looked half-full, but when you tried to pick up the first one – I soon found out that it was heavy. And they were twelve bags to the ton. And moving further south – on lime – we go to Onga Onga-Tiko [Tikokino] Lime Company, which does not exist today, and they were fourteen to the ton. And I thought, this is getting better. And then we moved on to Hatuma where they were sixteen to the ton. I thought ‘this is my job all right’.
And all super came from Aramoho in Whanganui, and it was all railed here to Hawke’s Bay, and those bags were twelve bags to the ton. The first one that I went to move, I really thought it was welded to the floor. I soon learnt to put your knee into it, and yeah, it did move. So I learnt the job as I went along. But ‘course I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there.
But Dad worked with G M Spencer up until about 1947. But as the war had started in 1939, at the weekends my father, Ollie Rae, he had to take one of the trucks on Army manoeuvres. Now that was … you started Saturday morning and you got home on Sunday night. And he was not impressed working all week and then being with the Army on manoeuvres.
But with the war come to an end in ‘45, the government was looking for businesses to put these Army blokes in as they came back. And there was [were] two people, one called Brody and one called Horton, and they took over the trucks in ‘47. Brody was not a worker – he liked to be the boss, and Horton was a worker. Now you can’t have one one way and one the other way. So things were not running along too well – they weren’t getting to the customers that Dad had actually built up, and he decided in 1949 that it was time that he let these two blokes sort themselves out, and he would go and get a job elsewhere. He got one with Jim Wattie – Wattie Canneries. He stayed there for two years. And he always still liked the topdressing, but it wasn’t to be.
But the big jobs in Waipukurau where a lot of the work was, was McNutt Farms, and they were big farms in those days, and Arlington Station, that is Mr Hooper – his was a big holding, and Mackies – Mackies came in on the Arlington Station side of it. But Brody and Horton were not getting to these jobs, and McNutt rang up my father and said to him about it, and he said well he can’t do nothing about it ‘cause he’s not there. And any rate, to cut the matter short, McNutt’s backed my father into buying a couple of the trucks and licences, because you had to have licences. No licences – no work.
So the trucks that were offered – well they’d run them out too far – they were worn out, these trucks. So Dad didn’t take those, he bought a Bedford truck which he’d never known about in Auckland, and that was turned into a spreader. And he bought a brand-new Comer truck. The Bedford became the spreader. Now we had a Monroe box that fitted on the back end of the spreader and that was fourteen-foot wide, and it had a hopper in the middle. And my job was to keep that hopper full. And the small part of the hopper was super, because super went on at a wider rate, and the big part of it was lime. And that took a bit of keeping up, and being just a young bloke, I didn’t keep it full all the time. One of the days Dad stopped and got out of the truck, he came back to me and he said, “what’s the problem?” “What are you talking about?” I said, “well – what?” He said “the hopper box has got no lime in it”. “Oh. Oh yeah, right. I can’t keep up”. He said “I’ll go a little bit slower, but you keep that box up and if I stop again we’re going to have a talk about this”.
Super for these big jobs arrived in Waipukurau and they had their own carriages – Winloves or somebody down there. And the super would be taken out to the paddocks months ahead of … before it’s going to be used, and they would put down posts and that on the ground there to keep the bags off the ground, and then they’d run big tarpaulins around them and ropes around them, and it was … when you came to undo it all it was quite a masterful job. It was.
And sometimes the bags got a little bit of moisture and you had to drop them to try and break it up.
The main thing is though, Frank – you’ve done yourself, you know what I’m talking about. So those jobs were big jobs, those days. These people always had to put the lime and the super on in the summer because in winter time – once the wet came, the trucks could not get on the ground. And aeroplanes were too dear against a truck.
‘Course it’s such lovely rolling country, so I can imagine what it was like, you know, running a business down there.
There was a lot of work down there and there was also a lot of work up here in the Hastings area. There was. So we would do three months at least down in Waipukurau. Good people to work for, and good association with everybody. Down there, contractors were not opposition to one another. If anything, they’d try and give you some of their work because they had too much of it, and you couldn’t take it because you had too much. But – one of those things, you just get on with it.
We stayed in a boarding house down there, called Leviathan, and it was right by the railway station and we parked the trucks opposite. And in those days the trucks could be parked opposite and nobody would touch them. Nobody. Being a young bloke myself it was quite an experience for me. It was. It was a learning factor.
So both you and your brother worked for your father?
Yes. John, he drove the big truck … carting truck. And ‘course naturally Dad had the smaller truck for the topdresser and I drove a Federal, a Federal Knight and on the oil gauge it had 1917. And I’m not sure whether that was the year of manufacture, but that was what was on the oil gauge.
Well Joe Pickering in Havelock had one.
His was a later model. The Federal that I drove was a moving loading bank. We could move it from one paddock to the next paddock. It done [did] a wonderful job for those years. You needed this Federal there because the carting truck could come in and unload its load so it could get away for another one – it was away for quite a while at different times. Hatuma … well, we were carting out of – we used to cart out of Hatuma in the day time, and Onga-Tiko Lime Company … we used to go over there after tea and load up the Comer and the Bedford, all ready for the next morning because Hatuma could not keep up. They still worked seven days a week, twenty-four hours, but they could not keep up. And without Onga-Tiko we wouldn’t have been able to keep working all day. And Onga-Tiko knew what we were doing. We were getting loads at night from them, they knew that, and they knew that we were carting out of Hatuma, but we – in those days you spoke to one another about what you were doing – there was nothing private. And they couldn’t have supplied us in any case, they told us that. “We’ll give you the night load, but that’s it”.
I didn’t realise you had an S Bedford too.
Yes, and the best truck I ever drove. It was a good truck. We didn’t buy an S, but when we bought a new truck we were too young and too inexperienced to know that. Dad was always used to trucks with bonnets, so we followed in his lines and bought a truck with a long bonnet. And that was a D6 Bedford with a seven-ton motor. The D6 did the job, no trouble at all.
But we obtained a very good friend called David Walker. Now he was a carrier at Longlands, and he introduced S Bedfords to us. When I drove the first one I knew that those were the trucks. Naturally they could carry seven ton where we could only carry six ton, but you’ve got to learn as you go along. And it became that Ss were the job. A big carrier in Bay View, Russell Pettigrew – he bought Ss by the dozen.
And then he hung a trailer on the back of them too.
That would have been hard.
But they still worked, you know, I suppose because they had a two-speed diff they were able to wind their way over the hills.
Yeah, they did. But there was a limit too.
But actually – myself, being born in Wellington at Miramar on the first of first, thirty-six, I think I’ve told you that. I grew up through the years, always with trucks – trucks have always been there. And the thing is I might be jumping a bit round here – you sort of know about Waipukurau and all that.
Myself – I left Central School at age of fourteen years. And weekend work – I used to do lawns and jobs that were available. Money was not great, you weren’t paid a great deal, but what you did get you appreciated, and you used it accordingly. Moving from doing those jobs and working for my father on the back of the … tipping on the back of the truck … well as a school boy I was on the back of the truck but somebody else was doing the work. I knew how to do it. So I stayed with Dad ‘cause John was already working for him. And John used to like doing his own thing, and with a great relationship to Dave Walker, Dave Walker offered him a full-time job. He didn’t like to leave Dad, because he was there and I was there, and I didn’t have a licence to drive a truck. And that’d mean he’d be a man short. But Dave Walker being the man that he was, he rung Dad up one Sunday night and said that John had applied for the job. And he said “there’s a job here if he wants it, and I want to just tell you that he’s applied for the job, the job’s there, but if you think he should be staying with you to keep your business going, that’s fine”. But you see … ‘cause in those days, there was no work behind your back, you told people and …
Laid your cards on the table.
Absolutely, in or out.
John went to Dave Walker and he worked with him. So Dad advertised for a man and yeah, he got a truck driver named Jim Peveral, and he came from Te Awamutu. Big powerful bloke … you’ve got to be powerful. And he drove the truck as well as helped to tip the lime and everything as we went along. The box on the back of the truck was a Monroe box and Monroe goes back to Burt Monroe’s family.
Well, that’s from Invercargill.
Invercargill. de Pelichet McLeod in Hastings was the agent for them. And sometimes in the paddock one wheel will dip and the box will hit the ground, and when it hits the ground it usually snaps one of the pieces of wood. And it wouldn’t be … usually it’s not too badly broken, you could work the rest of the day and you’d get home in time to go to de Pelichet’s and get a piece of wood whether it was for the front of the box or the back of the box. You could go back to the yard and undo the screws and put the new board put on and you were in business … back to normal again. Amd they were a good box.
And because they were fourteen feet wide, as long as your overlap wasn’t too great you topdressed the whole paddock.
And once the spinners came you weren’t too sure whether you did all the paddock or not.
No, you weren’t. The only time you could find that out is in the ploughed paddock. And some of the spreaders – the bins were not all good bins. They were not. And my father, he was a great chain man … great with chains in the spreading bins. And there was an outfit in Masterton made up these bins that had three idle cogs in the front, and the drive cogs are at the back but it’s all chains with scraper bars, and he decided on that. Well that’s fair enough – I’m only a young bloke, and … his choice. So he started spreading with this bin and it didn’t work out too good, and he ended up … he took it off and went back to the Monroe. So we carried on with the Monroe for a while. He still went back to this chain bin and it worked, but not a hundred per cent.
The time came as I’m growing up myself, and I’m not frightened to work. In the winter time … work was patchy in the winter time because the paddocks were so wet. And so I got to know Dave Walker, and Dave was a man’s man. He taught you things. He taught me things – well, he taught me things that Dad couldn’t teach me because it was a different type of business. And so in those days the Traffic Department wasn’t too hard on truck drivers, and I can remember he said, “oh – down at Longlands Railway Station – take that truck there and go down, and there’s about a hundred ewes down there, get them on the … get ‘em – you’ve got plenty of room on that truck”. And I said, “well Dave, I haven’t got a licence”. “Oh”, he said, “we’re in the country.” He said, “you go down there. If you have a problem”, he said “get them to come down and see me”. And – you don’t have problems. So I thought this was Christmas – went down and brought it back to the yard – thought I was really made. It was, it was wonderful.
And he gave me jobs on hay on the weekend. And hay … it was hard work – the summers were hot, you would work into the night, every night, and you couldn’t start first thing in the morning, you had to wait for the dew to lift. So I sort of built a name up for myself, unfortunately – in a good way, but I didn’t think so. My stacks didn’t fall down that I put up. There was a chap called Jim Robertshaw up there at Taheke, and every time he had hay he said to Dave, “send Ken up”. And I said to Dave, “hey, I wouldn’t mind a spell on having a look at you know, other stuff”. He said “well no, I can’t do it, the guy wants you”. And I’ll give Jimmy and his wife his due, that the smokos and the lunches were phenomenal. They were – they were phenomenal. And you would work away there, and at night time you did have extra labour with you – you did. And when you came home at night, not all of you could fit in the cab – had to sit at the back of the cab. I don’t think you’re allowed to today. And we came to Dave’s yard, and Dave had a system there, that when you came in, “unless I came out to see you, you just carry on tomorrow”. And the blokes I had with me were freezing workers that lived at the freezing works. And when you came in you had to take Dave’s car, not your own – take his car, which would already gassed up and everything, and I would take them back to the freezing works and tell them “I’ll be there at eight o’clock in the morning”. And if I wanted to go the pictures or I wanted to go somewhere in the car, you just went. You just took the car. Next morning I’d go to the freezing works and pick up these people and back out to Dave’s yard, get the truck and back to the paddocks for the same procedure, which was great, I got extra money for it.
But the experience of going to different farms with him, even though some farms I went to with Dave, I’d been there topdressing with Dad. But topdressing was dead in the winter. Dead. Mind you, Dave wasn’t all that busy either, and he didn’t have a full crew. He never carried a full crew.
But he was a hands-on man wasn’t he? And he was always friendly. His big black eyebrows – big man.
Yeah, he was. He was strong. He was strong – a bale of wool was nothing. I’m only growing up, and the experiences that he gave myself – John was in front of me – he had already learnt … he’d already learnt all that. And it was a totally different scheme to what I was used to, and I take my hat off to Dave Walker and his wife, Molly. She was a solid worker.
One night there … one afternoon he said to me, “oh – what are you doing tonight?” “oh”, I said “nothing”. He said “I want you to come out here and … could you come out here and babysit the girls?” There was [were] eight daughters. Now not all of them were at home. They were not. So it was the first time I’d been into the house, and they had a long bench table and bench seats. I came in and the phone’s there and the books are there, and there was some papers to read and all that. And he said “we’ll be home by eleven”. This is eight, and I said “yep – fine”. And not one of those girls came out, he must have really drummed them. [Chuckle] Not one. Not a … nobody had a peep. They were good girls – they were … they were good girls. When he came home, I duly went out and got in my car and went home. Now he never paid you in money for that. What he used to do was – ‘cause what he always said, “leave the keys in your car in case we’ve got to move it”. And you’d come home, not that night after, but sometime, you’d look at the fuel gauge and it’s full up. Now he put that in as payment for what you did.
The trucking company that he had was a credit to him. When they had the big flood that went through Hawke’s Bay … what year would that be?
Was the sixties, wasn’t it? Earlier than that?
Earlier than that.
Oh, you’re talking about the one in the thirties?
Had to be, ‘cause …
… Dave Walker’s main business was in the Waihau. He hired a Tiger Moth, and he got loaves of bread and buns and he flew the Waihau, and he threw out bread and buns to every farm – even though he was not getting work off that farm – he would chuck out – they’d fly over and he’d throw that out to them. And of course no money was ever asked for. Nothing like that. And that was quite a thing – it was, it was quite a thing. This was before my time … took me years to find this out.
Dave with his eight daughters, which were lovely girls. He desperately wanted a son for the trucks. That’s what his ambition was, and it wasn’t to be … it wasn’t to be.
John and I were working there, I was only part time, and I was back working with Dad and unfortunately I lost my mother. She died at the age of forty-eight through a burst ulcer in her stomach. And my father had spent huge money on her in hospitals up in Auckland, and they would operate on her but they were just … missing. Because in those days, medicine … So that was what actually killed my mother. And even though I’m eighty-one years of age now, I have still have not forgotten my mother or my father, my sister and my brother, and I’m the only one left out of the family.
We were working on a station called Moteo Station, and Moteo was out there at Puketapu. Now there was no discretion [discrimination] between Pakeha and Maori in those days, and I hope there’s not too much today, but I don’t know. Now we were working out the back of Moteo and horses were the thing of the day, and one of the farm workers turned up on a horse. And he come [came] over to the truck and I couldn’t hear what their conversation … whatever it was. And I could see that Dad was upset, and when the horseman went away I got off the truck, and he said to me, “your mother has died”. And we were not home … we were not home.
That would be a terrible shock for you both.
It was. Yeah, it was a big shock for me and it was a big shock for him, because it was not expected. It was not. He said we’ve got to go back to the farm. Higgins had the farm.
So we went back to the farm and he used the telephone to the police, and we went home immediately and so forth.
And my sister Olive, had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl was called Robyn and the boy was Michael. And her marriage had come apart and the two children were put in Hillsbrook at Havelock North, because she couldn’t keep the house that she had. And so my father approached her and said “well, would you like to bring the children home and live at home, and we’ll live as a family”. And she’d just absolutely be delighted to get her children back. So she came home and lived with us as one big family – I think that would be for about five years.
My father – he decided … which is his business … that he would remarry. Now not having anything to do with stepmothers or anything like that, because I haven’t, I did find it hard to accept. But you accepted it and we carried on.
Dad decided that he would stop topdressing – he’d like to sell the business. But he didn’t offer it to us. He put it in the main papers in Wellington and Auckland. And there was nobody wanted a topdressing business. [Chuckle] I don’t blame them one bit. And so it was offered to us, and we didn’t have a lot of money. We did not. We were young men and neither of us were married, but we were on a weekly wage.
So we had a talk to Dave Walker. In those days if you wanted to talk to somebody, you usually went to your parents, but as your parents owned the business, they can’t discuss that. And Dave said to us, “how much?” We said the … it was in pounds – pounds, shillings and pence. To us it was a fortune – it was. Dave said, “how much you got?” We put it on the counter … not a lot. He said “well, if you like, I’ll become a shareholder in a small way, and that’ll be your deposit. And you work your way through the work.” He said “and naturally I’ll give you work.” And he said “you must pay every month.” He said “at the end of each month I want you to pay”. John was more advanced than me with figures, and he said “well, how much?” And the figure was put there.
And we took very low wages and the job went along, and the truck – the Comer truck – was not a good truck. It was at thirty thousand, it needed rings, bearings … it was not a good truck. It broke down one day and Bailey Motors was going in those days, and they knew how to sock you. They did. Any rate, I had it in there getting something done to it and Dave Walker went into Baileys there and seen [saw] the truck there, and must have enquired what was the matter with it. And it was going to be there for three days or something. And Dave rang me up and said … John was in contact with him but he seemed to ring me a lot – oh, when we were doing jobs for him – and said “what’s wrong with my trucks?” “What’s wrong with your trucks? Nothing”. “Well’, he said “why aren’t you out here using one while your truck is in dock?” And I … I would never think of asking for his truck. You just did not do that. You didn’t. And he said “there’s one out here for you”. And of course I was hesitant because I thought ‘well, how much have we got to pay for it?’ ‘Cause money was the way it was. And he said, “we don’t talk money, we talk work”. And so I used the truck for a couple of days, and when he gave it to me it was full of petrol … ‘cause it was all petrol trucks … and so I went to the pump in town and filled it up with petrol, and I took it back and put it in the yard and thanked him, and away I went. Well the next time he seen [saw] me he said, “you made a mistake with that truck”. I thought ‘how did I do that?’ He said “you filled it up with petrol”. He said “when I give you something I mean you to use that truck – don’t bring it back full of petrol”.
I see why you thought he was a very good friend and a boss and associate.
He was – he was. There’s no doubt about that one.
In the winter time in our job our licences were against us. We didn’t have general cartage. General cartage – we didn’t want stock, our trucks were too small. We used to go along and drive Dave’s trucks – sale day was only Wednesdays. And when you started early with the ewe figures in the morning you’d have your truck home at night – you took the truck home and the next morning you were gone about five. You might do two or three loads, because the last load – you’ve got to have it in there by eleven. We could use the phone that was at the sale yards, and you’d be told. And the recognized thing was when you took your last load in, you went over to the cookhouse and you had yourself a big breakfast and charged it to Dave. All you had to do was put the number of the truck down – that’s all. It was really, really great. You’d take the truck and go … go and have a haircut or something or other, and make sure you’re back there by one o’clock. One o’clock, and you’d start carting ewes out.
Dave had a system that you would have … He’d have most of the trucks there about five o’clock, and there’d be [the] odd one come back in after five … not too long. We would load these trucks and by that time the other trucks are there, and once we were all loaded and going to destinations – in those days it wasn’t a long way – Colin Crichton was the office boy … who was a man … he would arrive with a whopping big smoko – hot pies and sandwiches and all sorts of things. And in the back of the car in the boot was a crate of beer, and it was a two-dozen crate of beer with the wire around it. And he’d say to us, “well, come and eat”. Dave would say “have a beer”. One. That’s fair enough.
I was a good friend of Colin.
We would duly have our banquet, I’d call it, and the next morning be back at the sale yards at seven o’clock. You were always there. That was your last load – there was always one load for Saturday morning. You could leave the sheep in the yards – they’d be safe, those days.
Today they wouldn’t be [chuckle] – be nothing left.
But the education that Dave gave us was great. In the winter time there, Dave gave us a bit of work, but he couldn’t give us much ‘cause he didn’t have much for himself. We’d do an odd load like Cranbys around there at the Port. They gave us a bit of work off the wharf there, and we didn’t have a licence for that so somebody soon clicked off to that one and got us thrown off the wharf – and a ticket.
The biggest thing was, in the work Dave Walker was our supporter. We were still paying our father off, which we did eventually. The biggest thing that come [came] along for us in our lives, for John and myself – when there was no work at certain times of the year … towards Christmas time and around that … we got a job driving trucks for a man called Alan Graham. Now he was a shingle contractor, and he’s an ex-serviceman.
They’d be V8 trucks?
Inters. He did have a Thames – oh, shocking truck if I’ve ever seen one.
Yes, I had an uncle, Bill Wilson, who used to drive, he used to drive for Alan Graham.
The V8s went, because it was Collins and Graham. And Collins was not a well man. He was not a well man. And any rate, Graham – Alan Graham – he was a tough man but he was a fair man. John and I heard they were short of truck drivers and we’re not that pushy … went down there and Alan was out driving the pea truck. So he gave John a job, Alan did, and gave me a job on another carrying company that was there, because Alan had the contract. So we did a season with our trucks sitting outside the gate. After the season … ‘cause Alan was a man that was a man’s man … if there’s a problem, we sort it now. We didn’t have a problem, but one afternoon there Alan said to me, “why are your two trucks sitting out on the road?” I said “well Alan, we haven’t got a licence”. And he looked at me and he said, “and damn well do something about it and you’ve got a job next year”. So that was the start of the work.
So we went out and seen [saw] Dave and said that we’d been approached by Alan, which everybody knew went on. And he had a licence, and we needed a general goods licence – two. “How do we go about?” ‘Cause we didn’t know how to go about it. And so we advertised – you’ve got to advertise in the paper. It was Number 5 Area, and those days it took in right up to Gisborne and beyond. Not that we were going to Gisborne, because we weren’t – we were staying right here. So it’s in the paper, and Dave said to us, he said “in the Court when it comes time, I will stand up for you”. Said “yeah, great” – we were nervous, ‘cause we’d never been through the system, and nobody really advised us on the system. John and I used to take turns at Court because we did get caught with loads that we were not supposed to have on. So John and I would take turns, and it was my turn. [Chuckle]
So Court time comes along and there’s a lot of people there. That didn’t mean anything to me ‘cause there is other people getting licences. And I never clicked up what the … lot of people were there for. On the bench was Air Vice Marshal Calder – I shall never forget him. And he was a gentleman. It came up that Rae Brothers, that’s John and myself, wanted general goods licences for the Number 5 Area. And as I stated before, we were just local, Waipukurau. “Is [are] there any objections?” Well, it astounded me – the whole Court nearly stood up. [Chuckle] I thought, ‘crikey!’ So Air Vice Marshal Calder – I was in the box next door to him, he wore glasses which I do myself – he brought his glasses down a bit and looked at all these people, and he looked at the papers that are [were] on his desk and he said, “any objections?” Well there was – there was [were] objections there, from different other people I don’t even know. And they’d come from Gisborne [chuckle] … So anyway, we only wanted two licences – you’d think we were going up into Gisborne to take all the work. But we weren’t. So Air Vice Marshal said, “is anybody here to say something for the boys?” And Dave Walker stood up and said that we had worked for him, and are still working for him on and off … “and I’ve got work I can give them on general – I can’t give it to them because they haven’t got a licence”. And he added a bit here and there for us. And he then said to me, “Mr Rae”, he said “why do you want these licences?” I told him about … the pea work was the main obstacle [to] what we wanted to do, and general goods but no livestock, we did not want livestock. And so he wanted to know about the peas – how it was done and the days of the mills that shelled the peas, and the days of when we took the vines in. And we had a great chat, and I found him so easy to talk to because with his accreditation of what he was doing, where he was, he was very understanding.
So I explained to him that one farmer, Dudley Chambers up the Taihape Road … we took fertiliser up there … and he said to us “you can take home as much wool as you can get on”. One truck couldn’t take wool because it had the spreading box on it, and the carting truck could take wool. He said “you can take home as much as you can get on, and I’ll pay you a pound a bale”. A pound a bale! And I thought ‘what a lot of money!’ And of course I got twenty four bales on. This is one of the jobs that I got fined on. And we left there and we’re coming down the old Taihape Road there and I met Taihape Transport, and that was it with me. When they got back to their depot they rang up the Ministry, and the Ministry sat at Fernhill waiting for me. But I got through before they got [there], and I didn’t take the wool to the store because I had no work tomorrow. So I took it home – I parked it in the backyard there at Dad’s property. And the next morning I took the wool to Napier and dumped it off, and got me [my] docket and went back to the old Spencer yard. And with the transport and all that, we all knew what … [Speaking together] And there was Harry Walker and Jeff Rutter. They were the county blokes, and they always sat at Farndon there, and always waved. Jeff Rutter come [came] into the yard, you see, and … “how’s it going boys?” “Oh yeah, not bad Jeff, not bad”. He said, “you’ve got a problem”. “Problem? Have we?” “Yes, you’ve got a problem. You brought a load of wool down the Taihape Road yesterday”. I said “how the hell do you know that?” Any rate – told me they waited at Fernhill, and they waited for me at Farndon, and they missed. And the thing was, I didn’t start early the next morning because I had all day. So they gave up waiting and I dumped the wool off, and he said … because you could talk to people – you could talk to people. And he said “I’ve been to the wool store, I’ve got a copy of the docket that … of the wool”. And he said, “I’m sorry fellas, but you’re going to be fined”. “Yeah okay then, yeah okay”. But he also said who potted us, and he said “I think you should know. And of course that’s another thing – you haven’t got a licence”.
Mr Harlow was on the bench in those days. And we were not forward people, but we were taught by Dave Walker, doesn’t matter if you’re right or you’re wrong – always speak … always speak. Yep, so – it was John’s turn, so he stood up and said to Mr Harlow that “well, it was a backload, and it brought the price down of the fertiliser we took up”. It’s a good thing that they didn’t get on to that because we didn’t have a licence to be in that area in any case … once you cross that Rangitikei bridge. The fine was not big, we still had some money over, and of course, the County cops – you’re still all friends. They’re doing their business, but that’s it.
But with the peas and the fertiliser increasing, ‘course the farmer had more money and we had to buy more trucks. Now we bought second-hand trucks, only because we couldn’t afford new ones. MacGregor’s Spreaders in Waipukurau were a big firm, and it was a wet weekday and I was in Waipukurau and … not much you can do. And I’m wandering down the main street there and I run into Jim MacGregor … because we’re all friends – whole lot of us. And he said “Ken, I want you to go to Feilding to Domett’s and buy two brand new trucks”. I said “Jim, can’t do that”. Because we still owed money. I said “no, I can’t do that”. He said “look, my friend is a good bank manager – now is the time to buy”, because the interest rate was low. We were frightened of overspending … you know, you shouldn’t have it? So I said “no, no”. He said “you think about this because” he said “things are getting busy”. And he was right. He was right. But we ended up buying second-hand trucks, and we got a reasonable run … no, we did.
But the topdressing became bigger and bigger. We eventually ended up with a contract with Unilever – we got the contract to cart the peas. So we were in control there and the topdressing was mounting and I stopped carting peas. John took over doing all that, and drivers. And so I kept topdressing, and then I got a bloke to drive the topdresser. I always said to him, “now, have you driven a topdresser?” “Oh, yeah”. “Yes, well I’m afraid some will tell …”
And I used to test them out. I’d say to them, “well when you get to the paddock and you get to the gate, when you go through the gate which way do you turn to go topdressing?” And there’s only one way to go, and nine of out ten would go the wrong way. I’d say, “why’re you going that way?” “Well that’s the way you go”. I said “well you don’t see your line too good when come you come around again”. So okay, I took on some of these windbags, but oh, they weren’t any good. But never mind, you can’t have perfect. But John done [did] the peas.
And John was becoming ill – he actually had cancer. I did not know that he had cancer, and so we went through the years mostly with me doing the topdressing with other people working for us. He’d come out to the paddock in his own spreader and stay for half a day maybe. He’d come out because he wanted to be there, and it was good to have him there. But the topdressing … he became too ill to stay on the job. And I’d go down and have a chat to him when I could, and winter time I used to go down – I’d go down and have a cup of tea with him, you know, ‘bout half past nine, and he’d have the fire going and the room was nice and warm.
And I didn’t know it, but his wife used to buy him two of the Art Union tickets. And she used to actually buy three – one for herself and two for John. And I’m down there one of these mornings, and I never knew it was the draw of the lottery, and it got to ten o’clock there and John said to me, “now ssh, ssh, ssh, ssh, ssh”. And so I sort of butted in – the news used to come on first, and then … I said “what for?” He said “the lottery’s going to be drawn”. And I’m like … ah okay. And any rate, his syndicate which was for himself, was ‘Away Syndicate’, and lo and behold ‘Away Syndicate’ won the first prize, and that was £100,000. And I said to him, “wow! You’ve done pretty well!” And he turned around and he said to me, “ssh, ssh, ssh, ssh, ssh”. I said “what’s all this ‘shush, shush, shush’ business?” He said, “the ticket one-off”. And ‘course they drew the one-off, and he got £101,000. And I said to myself after it had sort of sunk in, I said “you’ve had a good morning”. I said “I’ll go back to work”. And I thought to myself “you’re crook – I know you’re crook”. And he did not have a lot of money. He did not. Actually, neither of us did. But never mind, we got by. We got by.
And that meant that he could go on trips, and he could get another car. And he did, he went on trips, but he got violently ill while he was away and he had to cut the trips short and come home. I went down there as much as I could. Margaret was doing the bookwork and everything, which was a great help, having her to be able to do all this work.
The time went by with John and I knew the end was coming – I knew that. And I started going down there after work every day. I went and got his last lot of medicine from Noel Wilson the chemist who was on Heretaunga Street, and I paid a very heavy sum of money – which I was reimbursed. And I took it down there but he never used any of it. The support people were coming in and on the Sunday … it was the fateful day, the Sunday … my sister and myself, and Marg, and so forth were there. And the people that were handling John in the bedroom – I think it was a doctor – he said “we’ll transfer him to the hospice”. And so he went to the hospice and then it was only a matter of hours.
And the hospice … I couldn’t speak highly enough of them about ‘em, and they done [did] absolutely everything – they did. And they prepared him, and you wouldn’t even think he was gone. Looking at him in bed you would not think ‘you’re gone’. No, you would not. I’ll never forget they way they treated us – they treated you well. They did. They were very understanding, which made it you know, quite a big thing. It was, there’s no doubt about that one.
But John passed, and Marg and I – well, it was either sell the business complete, or buy it. So we went into hock again, and we bought it. And we bought the trucks, and we had to renew trucks. We bought two new ones but not from the same year.
Drivers – topdressing drivers – they’re hard to get. I got one called John Carlson, and he was an ex-farmer from Dannevirke who went broke. He’d driven tractors and all that, and he came and he said to me straight, he said “I’ve never topdressed”. And I said “well that’s okay – we’ll go and have a go”. And I took him out to a property called Ben Lomond on the back road to Tiko and they’re good rolling hills. And I said “now, I’ll open the paddock up”, and I showed him the width. “If you get somewhere and you don’t like it, stop. Just stop there and I’ll come and get you”. Any rate, he didn’t do too well the first few rounds, and he stopped in one paddock. So I went over to him, and he said “no, no – I can’t do that”. I said “that’s okay – that’s fine”. I said “you go and take my truck, it’s down there” I said, “and do that flat paddock”. So I drove his truck in the hills there, and over a period of time I got him into it. Did. And he did a good job, there’s no doubt about that.
And it was Marg doing the bookwork plus answering the phone, we got along there, but my age was creeping up. It was. And I was having a few health problems myself – nothing serious – and we topdressed on and then the day came when I … I could see it coming. I said to Marg, “it’s time to go … time to go”.
So we were like Dad – we advertised it for sale, and … heard nothing. [Chuckle] We had tyre kickers. We got one reply from a chap called Bill and Jo Mullet, which is Mangaorapa Station at Porangahau. They are big farmers, and good farmers. And they were interested in buying the business for their son who was away overseas on his OE. And my figures and his figures didn’t correspond, but that’s to be expected. He made a flat offer for the business, and I wanted to keep the truck yard. I did. I wanted to keep the truck yard as … lease it out and … something coming in each month. And he would not have that, the truck yard had to go with it. That was a bit dampening, but Bill was the sort of bloke you could talk to, and he’d asked me “why do you want – why do you want that truck yard?” And I’d tell him. And he said “well, I’ll tell you why I want the truck yard”. “Okay then”. He wanted a permanent base, and Mangaorapa Station was his, they can use that as a base.
So his price that he gave me was under what I expected – not that I wanted a high price, ‘cause I didn’t, ‘cause some of the trucks were worn. But when you think about it, it was a fair price. It was – no, it was a fair price. And they were such nice people to deal with, and you could talk to them about different things.
So I run [ran] the business for twelve months and Will was still away on his OE. He’s a young man – you must remember … young man. And Bill said to me, “he’s not coming home – can you stay and run it a bit longer?” I said “yeah, that doesn’t worry me”. And so I run it a bit longer, and then Will came home. Will had the best education you could ever get, and topdressing was really not in their field – not with your [his] education. So he came home and he took over. I got him in the office there one day and I introduced him to all the blokes, and I said to them “now, he is the boss. That’s your new boss. I’m here if you want to talk to me”. So I guided him along on the jobs and all that.
They bought another topdressing company from over in Taradale. The trucks were worn out – they were. But Bill said to me about it and I said “no, I wouldn’t touch it”. They bought it. That meant more people in the yard and that meant more drivers. They started having problems. They started tipping trucks over. And they leased two John Deere tractors and they had big hoppers … trailers. One of those bolted on a hill there and jack-knifed, and – these are leased tractors – and put the tractor on its side. The bloke was okay – we must remember you must look after the driver.
Bill said to me one day, “Ken, I’ve got a Mercedes coming this afternoon – spreader”. [I] said “oh, yeah, yeah righto, Bill”. I never ever thought about a new one, ‘cause I think second-hand. Well this brand new Mercedes truck turned up and it absolutely blew me over – I‘d never seen a thing so nice. And it was painted blue. And I said “wow! That’s nice” So, there we go.
I was not doing the employing, but Bill was doing the employing, and Will was there when he was doing it. And this bloke came along that had topdressed New Zealand wide – sideways, backwards, sideways. And could he talk – I was not there for the interview but I happened to come into a room when the interview was on, so naturally I left. And he didn’t strike me … people were … I can get a feel for them. And so he employed him. And okay, he got started there, but he talked his way into everything, this bloke – I could see it. And so Bill gave him a brand new Mercedes, and hey had the big tyres on and everything. He was out doing the jobs, and I didn’t care for the way he drove – I did not. But I can only relate to Will or Bill, and I said, “I’m not keen on the way he drives”. I said “I don’t like the places he’s going”. He said “Oh, yeah, but the truck’s got the tyres – it’s made for it”. I said, “yeah, but there’s such a thing as an aeroplane”. He said “no, no, you are right in what you’re saying – just let me know”.
The day came, up at Mangatahi, right at the end of the road. And I was not on the job. I was in Mangleton, and Mangleton is facing direct. And this truck was with another spreader of the firm’s and I didn’t know it, but these two trucks were racing one another. And they got their loads from up the top of the hill, and they’ve got to go down a track to get into big country and that – beautiful country. And they were racing one another. So the first bloke got away and went down the track, and this other bloke that had done a lot of talking – he took to the hills. And it was not in four-wheel drive. I could see where one truck … where I was at Mangleton ‘cause I was coming out … I could see that one truck was down in good country coming down the track, and this other bloke … up there in the hills. And I thought, “where the hang are you going?” And in front of me [my] eyes, all I seen [saw] was lime going left right and centre and a big cloud, and I knew what had happened. That truck had just gone over. And the truck had done four thousand kilometres, and it was written off. Absolutely written off. I do not get involved in those things unless you include me, and nobody called me so I just … so I didn’t know if he was alive or he’s not. And apparently he jumped out at the top, and just let her go. Where you were, you could have stopped … you could have stopped and just think this one over. So any rate, the word goes out, and the truck is … had to get a tractor to tow it out of where it was. Linton’s from Napier came with a transporter and took it to Linton’s …
Took it away. [Speaking together]
… and they took it to Napier. And it wasn’t that night, but Bill knew all about it. I spoke to Bill – the next morning he got us to go over to where the truck was and give a hand to undo the bin … take the bin off the truck. And when I seen [saw] it – holy mackerel! Heartbreak. And so I didn’t say … it’s not my point to say something to the driver, it’s not mine. It’s not mine. And I looked at it and I said, “this is a mess, isn’t it?” “Oh – yeah. Yeah”. So – stayed for a while – yeah, we got the bin undone and it’s going to be lifted off. That day … Bill was not the sort of person who complains – he does not. He does not complain. But he – different things, if it got at him, he would say something. And this time he said to me, “you know Ken, he never rang me last night” – that’s the driver – and that’s all he said. He said “he never rang me”. So any rate, that truck is written off – four thousand kilometres.
So they gave him another older spreader and Bill bought a three-axle trailer from up in the Waikato. It was brand new, but it had a screw – instead of scraper bars it had a screw in it. And that is not good, because going to the job, the stuff packs down on the screw and the screw won’t turn. So any rate, you’ve got to try these things out. As time went by … within months … this bloke – they put the three-axle trailer behind him. And the first load out to Puketitiri, he come down the Waihau Road to turn into the Dartmoor Road, which is all flat – it is flat. There’s nothing wrong with it. He rolled it. On the corner. And I said to myself, “man! This is not on”. And so [truck reversing in background] at the weekend I think I took Marg, and went out there and had a look, or went out there that day. And I could see where the truck – coming around the corner was absolute – the marks were in the road, the speed was so great. That bent that trailer.
You can’t sack people. And he was challenged about it, and … something was wrong with the truck, it sort of … it didn’t steer properly and he had to swing it back. [Excessive background noise] I said to Bill, “why don’t you go out there and have a look … what I looked at”. He said “there’s no sense in going and having a look”, and he said “I’ll handle it my way”. So he did, he handled it that way. But the bloke went, and he was out of it. But they had rollovers, and they did have problems, and some of the problems … shouldn’t have been. And I could see that young Will didn’t like it. He didn’t like the trucks – not his calibre. So with all credit to him – I mean, he tried it but it was a different thing, and Bill put it up for sale. Ravensdown bought a part of it, and a firm called Sanford’s in Taranaki – they bought part of it, and Ravensdown were the biggest shareholders. And that’s how they come [came] to build the sheds on Ravensdown land. And that is where Rae Brothers’ spreaders all went. You keep the name on for a certain length of time.
‘Cause I did … I had good clients up in Puketitiri there, and I had one, the Lewis family. They were very old fashioned people but very genuine. And they used to write to me, you know, wanting different things. And on one of the letters when I’d sold, they said – on their letter they said, ‘it’s good to see the name Rae Brothers still on the doors’.
But of course time has changed, years have gone by, customers have come, customers have gone. So that is where the trucks are today.
So when you finished with the company, then you did some driving with Sherwood’s?
No, Farmer’s. It was Sherwood’s. Yeah – they rung me up and wanted to know if I’d cart some grapes. And – never carted grapes in my life. It’s a bulk water load, as you know.
Yep – shift – you can just feel the movement.
Yeah, they had some of those. Yeah, I went up there and didn’t take too long to see how the grapes were loaded and all that. Yeah, I’m used to a bulk load, and yeah, I might … I like this. So I done [did] a season, and when the season finished, they give [gave] me a bit of freight to cart, but not every day. And yeah, so I stayed there on and off places. I done a couple of grape seasons – good education, and a different job. It was. That was when they said “oh, can you go and spread with that one tomorrow?” At least – “go and spread with a truck” – they’d never say which one. I said “yeah, sure”.
So any rate, this truck wasn’t where it was supposed to be, but it was in Waipawa. So I went to Waipawa with one of their men and picked this truck up. And the truck belonged to – it had Farmers on the door, but they were a subcontractor to Farmers. The bloke that owned it – I can’t tell you his name – any rate, he said to me, “you’ve done a bit of topdressing?” I said, “yeah, I’ve done a bit”. [Chuckle] He said “you know how to run over the hills and all that?” I said “yeah, I’ve had a bit of practice”. So he said “do you look after gear?” I said, “I looked after my own and yours is the same”. “Yeah, I know, I know, I know”. So I done [did] topdressing for Farmers, and one afternoon there they sent me out to a job, and I said to him, “it’s too late in the day”. And you know, I don’t argue with you. They said “no, you’ve got rolling country and you’ll have it done by dark”. And I had to go and load up, and any rate I got out to the farm there, and the farm manager – decent sort. And the country was – it was rolling country, but there was a bottom plateau and a top plateau. And so he said “I want you to run the bottom plateaus out”, and he said “you go up that ridge to get to … there’s no track, you go up that ridge”, which was a good ridge. And any rate I got up there and I’m scraping away, and the dark’s coming. And I ended up in the dark, and I topdressed as much as I had on board, and I’m up on the plateau and I came to come back – and I couldn’t find that ridge. I could not. It was dark.
Their lights go straight out, they don’t bend.
So I sat up there, and I moved around the hills. And the manager – he seen [saw] me up there driving around the top, so he came out on his motorbike. And he said, “are you having a problem?” I said “yeah, I don’t know how to get down”. He said, “follow me”. And I followed him because I would not go over the side because I mightn’t get back. Any rate, we got down to the house and he said, “come in, we’ll have a glass of beer”. I said “no, I can’t do that”. I said “the company doesn’t let you drink drive”. “Oh, well,” he said “here’s a couple of bottles, take them home”. I said, “yeah, I will”.
But it was good – I carted general freight for them. I did … I only done [did] one load of stock for them. The truck was in Wairoa, so they took me up by car to Wairoa. Got this truck, and they said “there’s an agent down at the sale yards. He’ll load you”. I said “where’s the sale yards?” ‘Cause I didn’t know, I was in Wairoa. “Down there”. Well okay, so I went down this road there and I missed the turn off, you see. And there was a bloke making a sheep race … least, a cattle race … on the side of the road, and I said, “where’s the sale yards?” “Oh”, he said “they’re back down that side street”. He said “I thought you’d come for a load here – I haven’t quite finished”. I said “no, I can’t wait two or three days”.
But good people. I got a load of stock there and brought it back to Putorino there, and dropped it off and took the truck back home and parked it up. They have something to do – that company has something to do with Waste Management. They took me to Masterton one day and I picked up one of Waste Management’s six-wheelers.
So you’ve had a crack at everything, haven’t you?
So I brought the truck home to the yard and parked it – that was my job. In time the job changed, and I just stopped working for them. But they did get me back when they had their … on the topdressing, their certification. I gave them a hand on that for three days. And that was the last of …
It was interesting probably working back from the days of the bagged fertiliser to the palletised fertiliser.
And of course moving from the old Monroe type topdresser to spinners. Now they use these beams that they follow and they don’t have any overlap. It’s perfect – except when they slip off the hills.
And they have, they have. They have. I’ve shown a lot of people how I do it, and I do follow these topdressing accidents. I do, and I look at the situation. And I do, and some of the things I’ve seen where they’ve gone is just …
Now, during all this happening, you’ve mentioned Margaret – now where did you meet Margaret?
[Margaret joins them]
I’ve just asked him where did you meet …
Margaret: And he said?
Ken: Well, my brother was a bagpiper in the band. And Margaret’s brother, Sandy, he played the bag pipes too. And it was through the band that we actually met because … is that right? No, no. We sort of went along to their dos, and you were included in the band. And we sort of got to know one another a bit better, and they were going here and there and going to different things. And Margaret would come with me on the peas, on the night shift, and I’d drop her off home at a ridiculous hour of the morning. It was just – well, she being a farm girl, it was a matter of … just both of us going together there, and we thought ‘this is not too bad’.
Now we’ll get Margaret’s side of the story. Margaret, I have got some inside information on you from last week, and that is that you are one of the Trotters of Raupare.
Margaret:Yes, that is correct.
You’re Bob Trotter’s daughter.
So you grew up in Raupare?
Yes, I grew up in Raupare. I must admit I was driving tractors from the age of about eleven … twelve. I have a photo to prove it but my older brother tried to pass it off as him, but it wasn’t. And I was still … yeah, I was probably Dad’s right-hand man a lot of times because Sandy and he fought and … so it goes.
So you went to school at ..?
I went to school at Twyford. I did right through ‘til high school then went to the Girl’s High School. Dad’s sister was one of the first year pupils at Twyford from new, so we’ve sort of been with the Twyford School for quite some time.
Did you play any sports when you ..?
I played cricket at the Girl’s High. I was in the only girls’ cricket team … wanted me for Saturday sport but I was not allowed. I had sister’s behind me, but they were more favoured than I was, so I had to do the Saturday chores at home.
Did you ever have cows on your farm?
Dad did have cows when he went off to war. He was in the Pacific.
Yes I remember that he was a dairy farmer.
Only in a small way. And we separated the milk and put the cream out at the gate and got it back in butter.
So when you left school, what did you do?
When I left school I got a job at Wattie’s just until I found a proper job, and I went to work at Aerial Mapping. I was there for quite a number of years and left when we got married in ’65.
And you became the bookkeeper, the phone operator and the right-hand man for Lord Fauntleroy here?
Ken: You are correct.
Margaret: So when Jeanette … youngest … went off to school, I went and drove for Ken topdressing, just for a couple of months when the peas were on, then I was made redundant. [Chuckle] So then I went to work for John Trotter, pruning his grapes, and then I hopped the fence and I went on to Dad’s property. Dudley Curry had put in grapes. I planted grapes from there, and I was there with Dudley for fifteen plus years. In the off season I went to Alec Rainbow picking fruit.
So during all of this you had some children?
Just missing a wee bit here … before we were married, before I knew Ken, Dad had property next door to Dave Walker at his yard at Longlands there, and I can remember Dave many times sitting on the fence watching me drive the tractor around. I was usually the one dragging the mill around, however, and Dave was not a bad bloke. Yes, so we married in ’65. We had three daughters, Catherine, Fiona, Jeanette. They now live Waipuk, [Waipukurau] Tauranga and Wellington.
Grandchildren – Catherine’s got two – she lost a little boy very young. Fiona’s got two, a girl and a boy, and Jeanette’s got three girls.
And so here you are looking after the lad.
Well – do my damndest.
Ken: She certainly is looking after me, I do admit that.
There is not a thing you haven’t told me.
No, well, I hope I have.
Is there anything else you want to confess to?
Another good friend in the carrying business was John Macaulay from Elsthorpe. He was a man’s man, the same as Dave Walker. He done [did] exactly the same. He had sons – he was lucky to have sons. Going back to when the trucks were just four-wheelers and they were ‘46 Fords, and the kids … the boys were at school at Elsthorpe, and in those days John only had one driver and himself. And the stock was starting to come more. He had three boys I think it was – three – John and …
Ken: Yeah, that’s two, Ian. Jim – that’s three. And any rate, John got quite a lot of lambs came in, and of course the Works wouldn’t kill any lambs until the last lamb was there. And so John with his wisdom, while the kids were at school, he went and loaded four V8 truck with lambs [chuckle] and had them all in the yard. And when the boys – they did know that they were going to do something after school, but they didn’t know what. So when they got home, he said, “right – get your britches on and …” – ‘cause these kids could drive. So he said “and follow me”. So they came down the back road of Elsthorpe, which they could, and out to Whakatu works and they unloaded there. But what they didn’t know was there was an opposition bloke started up in opposition to John, in the same road. And he seen [saw] these kids go past driving these trucks. So what do you think he did?
He rang the cops.
He rang the Transport Department. So any rate, they unloaded all these lambs ‘cause the kids did exactly what he said – “you do this”. And of course … like going down hills … they went slow. And before the Tuki Tuki bridge on the Havelock side there’s a big row of gum trees – most of them are still there. So these kids are following John back home to Elsthorpe, and when they get to these gum trees The Transport Department is there, and of course they pull them in. And ‘course there was only one traffic person – you know, to the car – and he went up to John. And he knew John, and he said, “John, what are you doing?” And he said “we’re going home”. [Laugh] He said, “the boys behind you shouldn’t be there”. “Yeah”, he said, “I know that. I know that but”, he said “I can’t drive four trucks there. It’s going to take me hours”. And he said, “they’re capable, they’re following me and they’re doing what they should be doing”. And the Transport Department … was a good bloke and he said to him, “you’re out of order”. He said “I want you to take those kids home”, he said “and don’t ever come back with them, because” he said “I’ll have to give you an infringement”. And he said, “okay – well thanks very much”. And the cop said, “do you want to know something?” He said “what?” He said “they certainly can drive, can’t they?” [Chuckle] They could.
That’s a good story. Did Macaulay’s buy Powdrell’s?
No, Mills did. Powdrell’s only went broke because they kept all their men on in the winter and they paid them a full wage right through the winter and there was no work. Ernest was a good man, but he was not a truck operator. No he was not. But Macaulay’s would be the best … no, Dave Walker’s was the best, but Macaulay’s and Dave Walker were on a par. They were.
Now there is one thing you haven’t told me, and that was the time you were asked to take a truck load of gates and a trailer to pick up some grapes. We’d better have that ‘cause that was part of …
Okay. Well, working for Farmers’ Transport – they had Bushetts Transport as well which had Bushetts’ names on the doors – and Management said to me, “Oh, we’ve got one truck and trailer over at Farmlands in Napier, and he can’t get on all the stuff that’s there, and want you to plug in …” What was it – a four-axle trailer, Number such-and-so – “and ‘go over there and load up as general freight in gates”. I said “yeah”. And he said “and they’re to go up the Wairoa road and turn off at the Tutira store”. I said “yeah”. He said “the bloke in front, he knows where you’re going”, so he said, “you’re going to cross the Mohaka bridge at somewhere” – not on the Taupo road, but on this back road. So I went to Napier there and the other fellow was just finished loading, so we got the freight onto my truck, and gates and bits and pieces onto me [my] trailer, and said “right – let’s go”. But time was ticking, and you don’t stop for lunch – you have lunch while you’re going, which shouldn’t be but I’m afraid you’ve got tot do these things now and again.
We got to Tutira and we turned off there, and we went way in … places I’d never been up through – Bluebell Bush or something like that – very windy, shingly road. And we came down to the Mohaka River and this big bridge was there, a one-way bridge, and it’s like an island over the bridge. And I’d never been there, and the other guy said to me “oh, I’ve got to give him a call at the farmhouse because they’ve got to make sure the road’s clear for you people to get in, ‘cause” he said “there’s logging trucks”. So we sat on our side of the bridge and word came through that the bloke would be down. Well he did, he came down in a ute, and he said to us “when you go across the bridge”, he said “there’s an ‘S’ bend up there,” and he said “and the corrugations are huge”. So he was right – when you got there, they were huge. But it was only a matter of lifting your foot and going up around a hill, and we went away in through this forestry, and we come [came] to a farm house. And they said “right, you leave your trailer there”, and the other bloke leaves his trailer somewhere. And the two trucks – we went in and we go onto one of the logging pads which had been logged out, it was finished. And we had fertiliser in the ton bags – that was for the helicopter, and they unloaded that.
We came back … and time was ticking … and got all the gates off and we got our trailers plugged in, and we went back to Tutira store. I had to leave my trailer there and the other guy, he left his truck and trailer there. But when he got out of his truck, he went and unhooked my trailer, which is a normal thing to do, and then he hopped in on the left-hand side. It’s getting dark at this stage, and I went to a place which I’d never been to before – went to the Putorino Hotel and you turned into the right and you go down a shingle road, and you’re heading towards the coast. And it’s a black as Hades in there. And any rate, I come across this grape patch and there was [were] bins of grapes. And so any rate we got this forklift fired up and I got the grapes on board and tied them down, and away we went. So back to Tutira Store we went, plugged my trailer into me and he said to me, “look – do you mind if I go first, because I’ve got to start early in the morning and you’ve got to go and unload these grapes”. He said, “I really should stay with you”. He said, “will you be ok?” I said “yeah, I’ll be ok – you go”. So I wait for him to go. And I was sitting in my truck and I’m waiting, and he’s not going. And then he gets out of his truck and he comes around to me and said, “Ken”. “yeah?” “I’ve lost my keys”. I said, “you’ve lost your keys!” This is getting late at night, it’s dark. Tea time … don’t even talk about it. So I said “you have a look in your truck”, and I took the left hand seats out of my truck and I looked in everywhere and put it all back. And we looked on the outside of the trucks, on the ground. We just looked everywhere and there was just no keys. Now I can’t leave him there with no keys. So I called the depot and asked my supervisor and I was told he was out for the evening and he will contact me when he gets home. He said “do not ask you why you want to contact him”. And I said “fine, if he could just give me a call when he gets home”. So I said to the other guy, “well, it looks like we’re sitting here for a while then”. Our food had exceeded – Margaret had given me plenty. Thermoses were empty, store was shut, so just sat. And he got in his truck and I sat in mine, and I thought ‘this is lovely – I’ve got to get rid of this load tonight’. We’re sitting there and sitting there, and … oh, a good hour went past. I see him get out of his truck and mucking around there, and he come around opened up my side of the truck and said, “I found the keys”. I said, “you found the keys! How wonderful. Where were they?” He said, “you were carting grapes yesterday and there’s still grape juice on the back end of your truck”. I said “yeah.” He said “when I unplugged your trailer, I put the keys [chuckle] on the back end of your truck,” and he said “they stayed there to Putorino and back again”. And how they stayed there I don’t know, ‘cause the road I went into was shin… it was corrugations – it should have bounced off. I said, “wow!” And I said “this is great”. He said, “do you mind if I leave you?” I said, “you go”. He said, “I’ve got to be back in this yard,” he said “early in the morning”, he said, “you’re okay?” I said, “you go, you go”. So away he went. And I had the load on, he disappeared – I seen [saw] his lights disappearing – that didn’t worry me, the trucks you had were good trucks. And so I get down to – I was going down to Mangatahi to the American man that had got the …
Margaret: John Kemble.
Ken: And any rate, I get to Fernhill there and it’s getting pretty late, so I go down Highway 50 there and the trailer’s empty. Now I’m not dragging the trailer up to the vineyard there, so I dropped me [my] trailer outside Doug Twigg’s, and I got it off the road as far as I could ‘cause I had no lights. And I went on out there to Kemblefields, and he was a very nice bloke. He said “we’ve been waiting for you”. He said “we know you had problems up there”, and he said “we’ll empty you, but” he said “we’ve got to wash the bins and you’ve got to take them back to the vineyard”. I thought I’d unload it and I’d be gone, but no … no, no. But he was a man with foresight as far as looking after people went. He’d already said he had track of me, he knew I wasn’t far away. And he sent one of his men in the car to Hell’s Pizzas … Omahu Road … and he bought three big pizzas which – you know, they were already cut. And they started unloading me and these pizzas arrived, and he put them out on the table there and said, “come on, Ken – have some of this” and the others are helping themselves, and I thought “gee, this is nice”.
So any rate, I had me [my] pizzas and all that, and he put the bins on me and he thanked me for the hold up. I said, “that’s okay … oh, I don’t mind”. So I had to go to Crossroads Winery, so I came back and down Highway 50 and I got to Crossroads Winery and I parked on the side of the road and went over to the gates. And they had the biggest lock you could ever imagine on these gates and I was going to lift the gates off but they had turned one dog, and I couldn’t lift the gates off. And there was a light where I was, just away a bit, and I looked up and I looked at all the wires that were up there. So I backed up to the gates and I put me [my] hoist up, and the bins slid down and hit one another, and I moved forward and they just kept hitting one another, and that’s where the bins were. Time is running, Marg doesn’t know where I am, and I’m plugging my trailer in at one o’clock in the morning outside Doug Twigg’s. Log books … you wouldn’t want to talk about them.
The phone’s ringing, and it was Marg and she said, “where are you?” [Chuckle] “Where are you?” I said, “I’m just plugging me trailer in, and I’ll be about an hour” – from where I was. So I duly got back to the yard – ‘course there’s nobody there, and I duly parked the gear up and got in me [my] ute and came home, and Marg give [gave] me some tea, and went to bed.
And so that was a day in the life of a trucker. A retired trucker.
So anyway, well look, thank you very much for that. I think that’s probably covered most of the things.
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Format of the originalAudio recording
Interviewer: Frank Cooper