Reuben Wilbur Lowe Interview
Today is 1st July 2016, and I’m interviewing Reuben Lowe, a retired orchardist. They originally founded the Sunnybank Orchard in Maraekakaho Road. Reuben, would you like to tell me about the life and times of your family?
Well, it gets back to 1845. 1845 was the beginnings of the Lowe Family, I guess, from my point of view. Francis Lowe, who would be my great grandfather, born in Lincolnshire in England. And with his parents … with their family of four sons and one daughter, emigrated to Tasmania. In 1864, Frank, Thomas and Fredrick came to New Zealand. I believe they came … I can’t guarantee the story, but the story I’ve always known is they came with a boat load of horses, and they came to help look after the horses on the journey. It’s just what the stories have been over the years. There certainly are Lowes with similar names still in Tasmania that have gone down … Harold and Gerald and one or two names like that have gone through.
My grandmother – she was born in 1845 in London, and she intended to emigrate to New Zealand … the whole family intended to, but she came first with friends, landing at Lyttelton. Later on the family abandoned the plans to come to New Zealand so she was here on her own. She eventually met my grandfather Frank, and they married … they married in the Durham Street Methodist Church in Christchurch in 1868. They lived in Christchurch for 3 years and then they took up land at Mt Hutt. And that’s where the family pretty much originates from. There were twelve children in the family and my father, Arch, was number eight in the family. Most of the family eventually moved to the North Island. Uncle Bill, one of the older ones, remained as a farmer in the Ashburton area, but Lowes became a fairly prominent name in the Mahora area, or Pakowhai Road in particular, around about here, in Hastings. In 1998  they moved to Waipawa where Frank Lowe worked on the new railway.
They drew a block of land in Mahora North settlement, and that’s where the … one of those properties was named Lowecroft, and to this day as far as I know it still goes under the name of Lowecroft. Mr and Mrs Lowe lived there for the rest of their lives. Francis Lowe died at Lowecroft in his 57th year in 1903. They didn’t live long in those years. His wife died at the age of 81 in 1927.
Two pioneers … there were twelve children, seventy-five grandchildren, and interestingly enough, number seventy-three and seventy-four and seventy-five, which is Tom Lowe, me and then Ted Hill. And they’re the last three of the generation and they’re all in the same Probus Club together. And as far as I know, probably the last three are alive. See I’ve got first cousins who went to the First World War – that’s David Phillips, uncle.
Well, that’s fascinating. So then when your family came back to Hastings and had the land, they stayed on that land. What did they do with the land?
Lowecroft stayed in the family until the second World War. It was in two blocks. There were the three right beside. There was Sid whose property was called Lowecroft, and next door was Uncle Arthur who I don’t remember – he died very young. He’s the father of Sandy and Colin and Sid and Tom, who’s still alive.
So Sandy – he was the boat builder, with the West Wind?
That’s right. Yes they carried on with orchard, Sandy was on the orchard, and Uncle Sid was on the Lowecroft orchard, side by side. Uncle Sid was more inclined to muck the mechanical things than the orchard …
… and which – I’ve the same bent myself. And David. They all went off to war … or Sandy went to war … they tossed as to who would volunteer and who wouldn’t. They both wanted to volunteer or both felt they should one way or another, and certainly Sandy went off first. And Colin … I think – yes, he did go into the military but he was never very healthy. And the so the orchards were pulled out about 1941.
Did you grow up on Lowecroft?
No, no – Dad was always separate. There was Sid and Arthur and … a bit further, and Auntie Mabel, the Mardons … beginnings, and the Beeches. And I don’t know how it came about but Dad ended up …
With the block and …
Oh, and then there’s Uncle George. And Uncle George was in Nottingley Road. And then Dad and Uncle George built the butcher’s shop at Stortford Lodge. And that was there until it was sold to Vogtherrs.
Well that’s a long time ago it was sold to Vogtherrs. ‘Cause that was old Charles Vogtherr, was it? My father knew him.
Something of the sort – yeah. The story of all that’s in the “City of Plains” I think, and there’s been other publications. One of those little booklets turned out … I’ve got it in there, or parts of it. It’s got a picture of the cool stores and Uncle George in the machine shop, and it’s got a picture of Dad in the ice making part of it. Talking about the cool stores … it said how successful it was that apples were taken out completely fresh after two seasons in storage. [Speaking together]
[Chuckle] Somebody got a bit carried away there. [Laughter]
I think so.
I think it actually said two years – after two years of storage.
So I’m one of seventy-five direct grandchildren, and then it goes to one hundred and eighty-nine great-grandchildren. This was in the 1940s I think it was.
So you father then – he grew up in Hastings?
No, Dad was 33 when they got married. They all moved up … he was born in Tinwald.
That’s in Ashburton area.
And so – they’d be all part of the shifting up to Waipawa. They came up to the flax industry – is what brought them up to this area. Don’t know that Foxton got involved, but it said there they lived in Tinwald. ‘In 1897 the family came to the North Island and set up a flax mill in Oroua Bridge where they remained for a year. In 1998  they moved to Waipawa’. Now where the hang is Oroua Bridge?
That must be in Foxton somewhere isn’t it?
Well that must be the Foxton … see that was the centre of the flax industry where Frank Lowe worked on the new railway.
In 1998  they arrived in Waipawa and in 1899 they came to Hastings and drew a block of land in the Mahora north settlement block – ballot.
And would that have been the Sunnybank ..?
No that would have been Lowecroft.
That was your father?
No, no – that would be … just how Dad … probably when he and Uncle George got into the butchery business and built the.. The butchery went broke I understand in 1916 and that’s when they sold it to Vogtherrs. In the meantime Dad had taken over a small block where Sunnybank is. He only had the portion of it – front portion – and then eventually bought the back section.
So you were born at Sunnybank then?
Yeah. Dad got … they got married in 1912 so I take it for granted that that would have been 1912 when they … see Dad stopped to look after his mother I understand, so they would must have gone on to Sunnybank in – when they got married in 1912. And certainly they only had a small portion to start with at the front, and then they bought further back.
And so he planted the orchard that was there?
No, he took over … the back portion was probably – those pear trees were real old ancient pears … Moore – Albert Moore was the name that he bought from. And there was a little cottage on … where the cemetery … in the middle of now the cemetery, and he used to talk about that Albert Moore could see across from his house. So he must have bought just a few acres at the front of Sunnybank for the house … [Speaking together]
Yes sure, sure.
… in 1912 when they married. And then in subsequent years they bought the back section which must have been … it would have been already planted because it had this mixture of … there was a definite line across that back boundary where the whole orchard pattern is different from there. And here was all new … was much younger trees. The front was a lucerne paddock, and of course in those days there was there was always two or three cows in the front paddock.
I know. And so you grew up and went to school from ..?
No – none of us kids ever knew anything other than living there. [?] across the road and Raureka School around the corner.
And so there was yourself; George ..?
Well, there was eight of us and I was the youngest. Betty was born in 1913 and I was born in 1926, so – and the other six in between.
Gosh, all our parents had big families, but yeah – it was just the way it was. And so growing up you had mainly sisters or brothers?
Four of each. One of mum’s stories was that first they had three girls … they had two daughters then the third daughter arrived. And mum’s story was that dad arrived to see her at the home after Mabel had been born, and she said “oh, you’ll be a bit disappointed having got a third girl and no boys.” And he just said “oh, no I’m not disappointed, but you’ve gotta even the score”. And it did happen, finished up with four of each.
So from there you went to … followed the rest of your brothers and sisters to Raureka School?
And of course in those years you grew up with sale day on Wednesdays at the sale yards. That was always an entertaining day.
A lot of the stock came by road those days didn’t it?
All of it came by road. Everything came by road. And it went from daylight to dusk … mobs …
Dogs, dust and …
Dogs and dust and drovers and the occasional break away of a cattle beast. Then you saw how good a riders they were – they were expert horsemen. Yeah, and full tilt.
So at primary school did you play any sports at all?
Personally I never played much sport at all – I suppose partly cause you had the orchard … and you didn’t… you know … and we had … it was quite separate from the town. There was nothing until you got right up till Southland road. But it was all …
But there were about four families that … we had stock paddocks, holding paddocks across the road and behind us. There was Malcolm Luke, then the Bairds, and then the Welshs and then old Herbie. Percy Lascelles’ father I believe it was, owned a whole lot of property from Orchard Road to Kaiapo Road and he sold these half acre sections. Obviously dad had a bigger block, but the Welshes and the Bairds and the Lukes and Herbie were four. So we were a little community pretty much There were three Baird boys, there were the Welsh family with I think two girls and two boys at least.
Was that Fred Welsh?
Yeah, Fred was one of them.
Fred and Vic, yeah.
Yes, I knew Fred well and his wife.
Nola was his sister.
Yes. She married Bob – oh, isn’t it funny, I’ve forgotten … he used to have the bike shop in Havelock. She was a red head, wasn’t she?
Now, are you talking about Nola or …
No, I’m talking about the …
The older one – Jean.
Jean. And isn’t it interesting – Percy Lascelles – I haven’t heard that name for years. When we were young, Percy Lascelles used to drive this … think it was a little Model A truck, and he used to lease some land out in our area and we were all dairy farmers in that area. He used to come out with some dogs in the back of his truck and he was a very nice man, Percy Lascelles.
Very involved in the Presbyterian Church I think, yeah.
Yes. So then you went on – did you go to High School?
Personally I went about 3 months. I’d never played much sport because I think in the younger days – well we didn’t have sports – there was no such thing as Saturday sports and all that. But your weekends were spent kicking the ball around with your neighbours’ kids, the Baird family and the Welsh family.
And you were never encouraged to climb mountains or hills?
No, well none of us were, but George – he took to it after he’d left home and gone to training college.
Oh, did he? Yes.
I’ve seen it recorded that he got his beginnings in the Heretaunga [?] Club, which is nonsense. He didn’t start there – he took a great interest in the club but …
They would have invited him along to talk to them probably and …
But having gone to training college and looking for something to do in the holidays, and they got the opportunity to find a job, and one of the jobs they got was packing supplies at The Hermitage, and he fell in love with climbing mountains.
So coming back then, you came home to work on the orchard. You had to learn to prune, you had to learn to spray. Were you spraying with hoses in the orchard or ..?
In those days Dad did all the spraying and he did it with a little horse drawn single [?] engine. And my brothers would – my older brothers in those days – they would fill up 44 gallon drums of spray in the back of the Model T truck and take it down to where they were spraying, and then tip a drum in and come back and prepare another …
Mix another one.
That place that we took over at Havelock had hoses, but we didn’t use it hardly at all. We took the sprayer over from home. By the time I left school we’d taken over an old crawler sprayer from Uncle Sid that he’d made up out of an old truck so actually I never personally got involved with spraying from the start. It was always either mechanically driven something … [chuckle] An old Evers truck with an extra gear box in it so that it crawled very slowly.
Yes, I saw one of those made up by the Milnes at St Georges Road. They were great people for innovating and doing things with those huge guns with – what, ten or twelve nozzles on them.
Personally I never ever took to them. I never went away from anything but a simple nozzle gun. With about an 8 inch hole in the nozzle, and you could feather it. I never took to broom guns at all but they were pretty generally used.
So then working at home, I guess your father was still there running the ship, so you probably …
Yeah, he was driving the ship and my brother was there. But my latter years at primary school, probably the last four to five years at primary school I was hampered by a bung leg, which if I gave it any severe exercise like playing a game of football, it would become swollen and inflamed. And the only cure was to lie on my back for a day or two and let it settle down. And it was a real mystery problem. And it went on for … well it would have been probably since I was about 9 year old. So around about four years. And it was a real problem to my parents obviously, and a bloomin’ nuisance to me. And I was taken – my mother took me to every doctor in Hastings through those later years, except one – one she wouldn’t go to because of his known crude ways, Dr Cashmore.
That’s interesting – carry on.
I was never taken to Dr Cashmore. But Cobrey, Bathgate … and I can’t remember all the other names.
Probably went to White.
And Wilson was the family doctor, Dr Wilson. And not one of them ever … they pretty well all did similar things. They all poked around the groin area and all apparently suspected something to do with hernia. And all issued a bottle of medicine and nothing ever … nobody ever did anything about it. And then in 1941, there used to be a bloke that lived in Pakowhai Rd called Hope Pearson, about 5’6” high, wore a bow tie and white spats. Always put his photograph in the paper with a little advertisement. He was a … osteopath and he at that stage was in the same category of the eyes of the BMA, British Medical Association as a chiropractor.
Wouldn’t have anything to do with him. And seeing the ad in the paper repeatedly, mum said to dad – and I put this all together eventually – she said to dad “we’ll go and see that chap”. And he said “what do we want to see that quack for?” And she said “well, look – we’ve got to go somewhere – nobody else has figured this out.” ‘Cause I’d be out of action for several days for it to settle down. So she took me on Thursday afternoon in June 1941 – I went in to Hope Pearson’s rooms. And he said “have you ever had a picture taken of it?” Well, I was only a kid and I sort of [?] take photos of it with a camera. I looked a bit dumb and he said “I mean an x-ray”. “Oh, oh no – nobody’s ever x-rayed”. He said “oh, come on, we’ll take some pictures of it”. Took me into an x-ray machine, took some pictures, gave mother a long talk on inflammation and what to do etc etc, and off we went home. And the phone went later in the afternoon and he said ‘look, I’ve had another look at those pictures and I’d like to take some more”. She said “we’ll come in” and he said “look, if you don’t mind I’ll come and pick him up now and do it straight away.” So he came and put me in his car, took me up to his rooms in Queen Street, took some more pictures, took me back home. I got out of the car and said “thanks very much”, and he said “oh, I’ll come and see your parents”. So in he goes – they all trot off to another room to have a chit chat. And he said “look, I cure most things in other ways”. They’re not an enthusiastic surgeons. He said “that boy’s leg needs a knife and needs it quick.” Oh well – so the upshot was that it would have to have a knife in it, and who would do it? Well Dr Berry’s name was brought into the picture. Do you know the Berry’s?
Yes, yes, yes.
Harold Berry and Alan Berry. He said “well they’ve got consultations tonight”. He said “if you don’t mind I’ll take him through now”. This happened … 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. Put me in his car, with mum. We drove through to Napier, went into the Berry’s … you know, they talked and on Monday morning, Queen’s birthday, 1941, I was in hospital in Napier. On Tuesday morning it was [? sounds like ‘wiped’] open, and they told me – Sister Dingle was the sister in charge – she said in the theatre they estimated … and she said they can only guess, but their guess was 6 months and I would have lost the ankle joint. What was happening it had a Brodie’s abscess. Now I’ve said Brodie’s abscess to plenty of medical people and they’ve said “ooh, I think I’ve heard about them”. I mentioned it to a doctor in Norfolk Island. I said “oh, back in 1941 I had a Brodie’s abscess”. And he said “well, well, well.” He said “you might see one in a lifetime.”
Is that right? And you had one?
Yeah. So I was a month on crutches. Could have lost the joint but you can’t see it nearly so much now. But they took a piece of meat out there about that wide and about that long, pulled the skin over it and stuffed it full of rags.
Till it healed?
Yeah. And it’s the outside of the bone rotting. And when George came home to the school centenary – he was a prefect – and on the Sunday afternoon three or four of the prefects got together and one of them was … the head prefect was Phil Cassin, and he by then was a retired doctor. So I did it deliberately – I said “I had a Brodie’s Abscess once”. He said “you would have had to have bruised the bone four or five years beforehand”. He said “at 15” as I was, “your bones would have hardened enough. But” he said “if you do it to quite a young child” he said “I would say before 9, you would have done something, and you’ve bruised the bone inside, and it just quietly goes from there”.
And that abscess was on the bone. [Speaking together]
So no, I didn’t play sport.
But isn’t it interesting that, you know, the very person that everyone and all the doctors didn’t want was the man that actually did the job.
He was a guy that was shunned by the …
But he must have had a fair amount of good medical knowledge.
I was told afterwards that at that point in time they were accepted and acknowledged into the medical profession with the American military and they had some of them in the military.
Well I know there were two brothers in Hastings, the Luxfords, Morris Luxford and Sylvane Luxford who are both osteopaths who both trained in the States.
This bloke did too.
Who … doctors said “don’t you ever go to those people”. We used to still go ‘cause I would put my neck out on the tractor sometimes, and I’d go along and they would give it a bit of crunch and I’d be … walk out good as gold again. But it’s funny they are recognized now. In fact they give a lot of people a lot of relief from all sorts of things. Yeah, that would have been a real … ’cause you were probably a big lad even then.
I suppose I was – I didn’t even think about it.
Yes. So once that was fixed you were away laughing.
I’ve never owned a pair of boots. It didn’t mind the ladder work – didn’t mind, you know – now and again. I’d still have an elastic bandage which I could pop onto it. Occasionally if it got a bit tired or a bit weak I’d just support it with an elastic bandage. But not continuously. I always had one available.
Well, going back to the orchard then, you would have been in your early 20s. Had you met your wife at that stage?
I would have by 20, yeah.
So where did she come from? Is she a local person?
Yeah. My mother was … had grown up in the Salvation Army – my dad was Methodist, so in our younger years we got taken along to the Salvation Army and I continued to be sort of involved as a teenager. And my first wife was one of the others. So that’s how we came to be. She grew up in Puketitiri like a lot of Hastings connections.
So what was their family name?
Her name was Cole, and her father drove the truck – there was a little settlement of houses a few miles away from the bush area and he drove the truck that took all the other householders to work each day and brought them home again – and worked in the mills too. My dad’s … he was very enthusiastic about the native bush and nature, and on the rare occasions when there was an opportunity for a family picnic, we either went to Tangoio or Puketitiri. So I would have gone to Puketitiri at times when we were just kids, and my first wife would have been one of those local kids running around. But that’s where she grew up.
We also used to go to Puketitiri. I’ve taken so many friends and their kids and my kids to Ball’s Clearing, ‘cause Ball’s Clearing’s the only place you can go to now with bush that close. It has some beautiful … it’s a lovely bush walk through there.
Beautiful trees up there.
And we used to go then up through Jack – he was shot a while back – farmer – up to Mohaka, back into the hot springs. We used to go all over that country. But it was wonderful. So you met your wife, and at that stage you were living on the orchard? Orcharding was different those days, wasn’t it? You said that eventually the orchard was planted in ninety varieties – just stone fruit, apples, pears …
Plums, a few quince trees.
Plums – the lot. You mentioned there was gate sales plus also you had a lot of mail order stuff.
Yeah. Mail order was a big … it was nothing to get a hundred letters in a day in the season. And I used to have one and I still wished I’d got it – I know I can’t find it now I don’t think – Dad would put out a postcard each year and just post it to all previous … you know, rail paid – a box of apples, 9/- … 8/- . [Laughter] And all those sort of figures, yeah. And every consignment that went out, I use to write the consignments notes out for the railway. It was nothing to be writing consignment notes out ‘til half past twelve, one o’clock, 2 o’clock in the morning for all the stuff we’d packed the previous day.
I know, and if you were sending them to the markets you had Leary’s, you had all the different labels to put on and …
David Bowry [?] was a good friend of dad’s – we’d see him every year, but the Learys and market gardeners. Some of the – one of the pages there’s got some of the old rubber stamps on it. My daughter got them off David Mardon actually.
So I carried on with orchard until 1957 – the area came into the city area. They’d always been very sympathetic to Dad or said they would be, but as soon as he died in 1959, suddenly and I mean grossly unfairly suddenly, they didn’t tell us or say anything. We read in the paper that the rural rating list had been established, or put out. And it named properties that were in the rural rating list and Sunnybank didn’t appear in it, although we’d been in the city from 1957. So we had an exemption thing because you were getting your living off the land. And my brother-in-law by that time went into the council office and said “oh, you haven’t got Sunnybank on there, did you forget about it?” “No, no. We haven’t forgot about it – it’s off.” This was Noel Harding … Hastings’ little dictator.
Yes, yes – yes, yes I know. I remember him.
They said “but hang on, hang on.” They said “but oh, no – we want them out”. So we appealed – just as Wards and Custons and three or four in Kaiapo Road all appealed. The boundary went through one of their houses but it halved their properties. And I was actually at the … when we went to the appeal committee to discuss the rates with … you know, an appeal of the city council. So I lost a lot of respect for some of the councillors.
Well, a lot of them had no idea what they were dealing with or the problems.
Ron Giorgi was the mayor, and Bailey was rude and ignorant.
It was par for the course.
And they turned us down flat. They listened to the other guys but they said no to us. What we found out afterwards was that they wanted the land – they wanted the back of our place for the Intermediate school. So from there we ended up in court. And there was Noel Harding, there was Harvey the city valuer, there was Bob Fish the engineer … five of them all told, and – think of the others sooner or later – Noel Harding, Bob Fish and a bloke called McClintock who was then purchasing officer for the Ministry of Works. And of all people we employed Eddie Bate as a lawyer, who was the mayor when the property came into the city. And without going into all the rigmarole of the court case, Harlow was the magistrate.
Mr Harlow – we all remember him.
Yeah. And as someone said, you knew by half way through a case which way it was going to go. And this literally happened. You know, it was my first experience of a court case. He went right through the whole rigmarole. Of the five, four of them were absolutely red faced and embarrassed. The only one who wasn’t was Bob Fish the engineer, because he was up front, straight and honest, and blew their case to smithereens. The others all tried to fudge and duck shove and all got found out. And the magistrate had two offsiders. It was an assessment court. And they went away to talk about it … and this is without a word of a lie … he came back into the Court and he Had two or three books, and he got – like that – [loud noise] and thrashed them onto the bench and – bang! And he said “I’m ordering the City Council to put Sunnybank property back on the rural rating list, and I’m ordering them to give them the maximum allowable rate reduction”. Boy did he shout at them!
He must have spent some time at the old pub at Fernhill.
He had his bit of whiskey in him.
He must have.
Yeah. And Holderness was their lawyer, and he said “I beg your pardon Your Honour, but on this hand you have no jurisdiction over the amount of the reduction.” And he said “What’s the matter with you man?” And he shouted “What’s the matter … if I don’t do it you’ll all be back here in here in three weeks. Give them the maximum allowable.” Oh cripes, was he wild!
Well, you must have been very impressed with the judicial …
Oh, crikey yeah, was an – oh, well they wanted full city rates from the beginning of that thing.
Yep – before it was even subdivided.
And didn’t even tell us. Ron Giorgi was the mayor and he was a decent enough bloke. And we knew we had to go, and it was thoroughly acceptable. They could have said one of two things – they could have said “look, you can stay there for the next 5 years – it’ll drop 10% a year. If you stay there it’ll go up and up and up. Or else look, you’re okay for another two or say three years, then it’s the full rates. We would have applicably accepted either.
So then coming back to the orchard, your father was still alive at that stage?
No, he’d died.
And you were running the orchard plus your…
I leased the orchard off my parents.
So you had total control of the orchard.
I had total control of the orchard.
And so ran the orchard then until it was sold and then you moved to….
I accepted that I had to look at somewhere else. So I had gone to my cousins in Nottingley Rd. Uncle George’s orchard by then was in the hands of two spinster daughters and they were extremely … the orchard should have gone to Buddy their brother and Buddy was killed at the war. Sentimental was the word. They were so sentimental about the orchard but they couldn’t let it go. And Molly – the one who looked after the orchard – it was quickly destroying her health trying to manage something she couldn’t manage.
What was their surname?
They were Lowe, they were both spinsters. Molly and Phoebe. And Molly went to … her health was in such a state after a number of breakdowns that she went to the doctor. I had seen her and said “look, if you ever think of needing to quit the orchard, I’m going to have to go sometime – you know, I’d be interested. And that was all that was said – more or less. And then, come 1963 she was in such a state that she went to the doctor. They’d gone through two or three managers – they’d gone through at least three other arrangements – but they’d all collapsed for a variety of reasons. And she went to doctor – it would have been in probably October or November in 1963 – and the doctor laid the law down pretty severely. He said “you either quit that orchard … you either sell it or get someone to look after it and you have nothing to do with it.” And so I was the lucky one. I was at least about the 4th in line to take it over.
So where was the orchard on Nottingley Rd?
If you go down Frimley Road, and you don’t turn the corner, you’d drive through the hedge … you’re driving into it. Now it’s houses of course.
Into Nottingley Road, Frimley Avenue – that was all orchard once.
Well, hang on – which is Frimley Avenue – there’s Frimley Avenue and Frimley Road – like … continuation of St Aubyn Street and straight on down.
And that’s Frimley Road isn’t it?
Yeah. And cross Nottingley Road and go through the hedge – you’re in the orchard.
So it was next to Donalds’ orchard was it? Donalds’?
Yeah – Bixleys’ on … across – is it Ikanui Road. And that’s on this side, yeah.
It’s Arbuckle Road – the little short road – well, it was a little short road.
Well, Buddy, the boy killed at the war – he had married and had two children and he had taken over a one acre quarter so that went onto a separate title. But otherwise the orchard went right round it. So I looked after it for – no, I didn’t take it over then. The doctor laid the law down on the spot – so much so that Molly left the doctor’s rooms, came to my place. And I saw her – she had to stop twice on the way walking in to get her breath back. She was just about ready to fall over. She said “the doctor’s told me I’m to quit the orchard or lease it.” She said “would you take it over?” I said “all right”. So I took it over on the 1st of December. Of all place – times … you know, and I had it for fourteen years. And in the meantime bought Twyford.
So what that another orchard of mixed varieties as well?
Not nearly like Sunny… nothing in comparison … it was not huge quantities compared to us. There were two or three varieties that … packed as many as we’d pack … just about all the pip fruit. Had a lot of Winter Cole pears, and quite a lot of delicious apples. And it was all planted in 40 foot spacings – pear trees – and an apple tree in between. Not all, but a lot of it. So you had big Winter Cole pear trees and Sturmer trees alternatively. You’d have a whole row of Sturmers and then a whole row of alternate apple/pear, apple/pear. I think the theory was the pear trees would get big eventually.
Well, it took about fifteen years for pears to bear didn’t it, in those days … the old stocks? So you’ve seen a few changes then in orcharding?
I sprayed apple trees for fifty seven years. When we had barrels of arsenic of lead and bare hands, and …
Spray in your face and a sou’wester. I used to watch Russell Robertson and he had a chap that worked for him for years spraying, and he just had a sou’wester and an old oil skin on, and …
You wore any old raggedy clothes.
… you’d see him going with the wind and the spray in front of the tractor. But they all lived to old ages. Kept the bugs out. You know even looking … spraying – it’s changed, pruning changed. And we went from multi leader tree to a single leader. And now I see they have all these dwarf trees.
Yeah. I was in England in 1976 and all the advice then was that you know, semi dwarf was the way to go. And when I went to England there were buckets of dwarf trees, and they were nonplussed, Britain. And I said “oh, no, they advised us at home that semi dwarf is better, but now it’s all dwarf.
And some of the trees with – you know, lovely sprinkler and irrigation on every tree – they grow that quickly. I noticed orchards that were planted two years ago, they were taking fruit this year off them. Incredible. Normally, you know – we were waiting.
And we used to be told “oh, don’t put the fruit in for the first three years – two or three years, you know, ’cause it doesn’t keep”.
That’s right, that’s right … and then five and six – just don’t overdo it, and … But anyway it’s changed. So you’ve seen a lot of changes then. Now, you and your wife had – how many children have you got?
Well we didn’t have any. So eventually we adopted three, fostered one.
Right. Well we have an adopted daughter too.
I think we have a marvellous family. They get on just like a family.
We’ve said to our daughter that she’s the only one that was chosen. I said the other two boys we’ve got – we had to take what came.
So we had a very happy family.
And are they all local?
Oh, well – like other things they were for a long time. We went up to Twyford in 1963 and the two girls we had by that time. And then I said to my wife, I said “we better start thinking about adopting a boy”, because you know, one day, if I had a son – if we had a son one day they might want to take over the orchard. So we ended up with an adopted boy. He gets his law degree and goes into the corporate world. The girls have both ended up on an orchard. They’re not now but they did initially in the early stages.
And so, we’ll pick up then when you left Nottingley Road, did you have Twyford ..?
We had – I’d leased the orchard off mum and dad, and then this happened with Molly my cousin. So that happened very suddenly ’bout 1964, although I had it for fourteen years if you go backward.
So that allowed you to release the orchard to the city council then, did it? Once you had Nottingley Road.
Yeah – we had Nottingley Road., running it through to about 1967. I ran the two orchards for a while. And then we bought at Twyford ’cause we knew we were only leasing the Nottingley Road orchard. And so, Sunnybank Orchard got put on the market, that’s a whole different story … a whole different chapter of events. ‘Cause it got put on the market through my father’s will which – there was nothing wrong with it – it was done quite … Wills can change in twenty years or circumstances can change. And Mum lived on and on. Dad left me the first right of purchase on the orchard. I’d bought Twyford – planned a move. The orchard was put on the market. It was put up for tender. A tender was accepted. The tenderer was notified so, and a back room boy in the Public Trust came out to the boss one day and he said “you can’t sell that orchard.” “How come?” I had the first right of purchase on mum’s death – no problems. I simply signed a document that I would forego that right. No more problems. But the way Dad’s will was, that in the event of me dying before mum, as with any children, my benefits would go to the children. It included the right to purchase.
At the time it was probably quite …
[?] And the back room boy said “you can’t sell that place”. Nothing could be decided ’til Mum or I died. As soon as Mum or I died, all fixed up. But until it did, that right of purchase … and I’d signed my right away, no problem. But I couldn’t take it away from my children. We had to notify the tenders that the sale couldn’t go through. I had to make the decision when the place was put on the market … Now I’m telling you the whole story, ’cause it is a bit interesting.
I’d signed a document that I would forgo my right, and the purchaser was notified that the place was theirs. Then – “sorry, we’ve made a mistake, we can’t sell it to you”. I had a decision to make, about this time of year I suppose. I also signed it … if it sold when I’d put a lot of work into the pre-season spraying etc, I would just forget about it, write it off, no trouble. So my decision was, do I bank on it being sold and losing the input of work or do I gamble that it’ll sell, and don’t waste time spraying it. I was pretty sure it would sell and I gambled on – don’t do any spraying. And it would have been, you know, I think it would have been about October, might have been November and it hadn’t had any spraying or any preparation and suddenly I’ve got it back on my hands. So I got hit with a heap of black spot in the Winter Nelis pears but other than that I got out of it pretty lightly. I got out of it pretty lightly. So we had to wait ‘til me or Mum died.
So was that many years?
No it wasn’t many years. We had to go to the Supreme Court in Wellington and I had to be represented, children had to be represented, children unborn had to be represented and we had his will altered. But it was a – you know, it was a Supreme Court thing in Wellington to have his will changed, yeah. So – but for a season I had three orchards. I had my first year at Twyford. I still had Nottingley Road and I had Sunnybank without any spray on it.
Yes, so then once that was settled and you were able to release Sunnybank to the council …
Took another year.
… for Camberley. It wasn’t just Camberley was it?
Yeah, I think it was Camberley.
Yes, it went – you went down to where the Elms’ land …
… and the school too.
And the school. Oh, well none of that was in our place. Probably the boundary of the school was probably about the back of our place. I could look at it and figure it out.
So then you were back to running two orchards?
Yeah, I was back to two.
And did you live on either of the other orchards?
Oh, we moved out in 1963 to Twyford, and I’d leased Nottingley Road for six years with right of renewal for six. I was still in the first six years when we’d gone to Twyford. And I’d – ‘oh, I’ll be jolly glad to get rid of this and just concentrate on Twyford.’ And then out of the blue one day, I kinda though ‘well, hang on – I’m running Nottingley Road with all the gear I’ve got. It’s….. if I stick with that for the second six years, every bit I get out of that is off the mortgage’. So I opted to take the second six years.
My cousin Sandy, the boat builder, he was a trustee and Molly was a … well, I’ve been twice in my life linked up to elderly spinsters who owned the properties. And it’s been two difficult situations to be in. And Molly and Phoebe was one of them. I learned a few tricks. Molly worried about things that most blokes wouldn’t worry about. I soon learned that when the quarterly rent was due to be paid – broken branches would upset her, and after … I fairly quickly discovered that if I got out with the tractor and mower and had a good clean up just before the rent was due – and it was a nuisance because one year it cut back into packing Dougherty’s and so on – but I’d make darn sure there was a good tidy up about four or five days before the rent was due. “I’m very pleased with the way you’re looking after the rent”.
So I got away pretty scot free after three or four different blokes. Morrie Cartwright was one. Morrie managed the place and that was a catastrophe. A nephew took it over and he was a fantastic worker – had the highest of recommendation from the neighbours, but he liked to go deer stalking. He liked to go big game hunting, and if he went hunting over the weekend, didn’t come back ‘til Tuesday, they saw that as total disinterest in the orchard, blah blah blah. The neighbours would say he worked his butt off to make up the time. But however, that’s … poor bugger, and there were a couple of other situations. So I was the lucky one who came in when things were so desperate.
And so you ran that until …
Well I carried on for the second six years, and then they wanted to quit it – or needed to quit it. And Sandy had the job of having to find a buyer. Molly might have died in the meantime, but he was responsible. And I said to Sandy – they couldn’t find a buyer for it – and I said to Sandy “look, I’ll carry on. I won’t walk out at the end of six years. I’ll see that it’s okay until you can find a buyer.” It took him another two years. So I had it for fourteen years. I hung on for another two years just to fit in with his situation.
And so was that sold on to a developer or did another orchardist buy it?
Now – you’ve got a good point. No, I think the neighbour took it over. I’m pretty sure that’s right. And a year or two later it went to a developer.
I went for a drive down Arbuckle Road recently and right at the end of Arbuckle Road, there’s the last lot being developed. Must have had a lot of pear trees and had a lot of arsenic and lead in it, ’cause I see they’re carting all the soil away.
Yeah, well Molly’s got that treatment – cart it away and mix it up. And I could go to Sunnybank and there’s a little cul de sac runs off Sunnybank … Lowe Street – oh, and there’s Sunnybank Crescent – and then there’s a little cul de sac, I don’t know what it’s name is. I could go and just knock on the door and say “look, just – in your back yard there, that’s where we had two walnut trees and the tank, and we used to spill arsenic of lead, and the back [?] 40 we would kill the sheep and hang them up on the wall”. If somebody knew that they’d have to go in there and dig the soil up and have it all tested. But it was in before they did all this stuff. Now at Molly and Phoebe’s, they dig it all down about three feet and mix it up.
Craziest thing – if they had’ve left it. See, they went in with big ploughs … swamp ploughs, and they brought it all up again. ‘Cause it had leached down deep into the soil. No, I used to watch, ’cause I’d been a contractor, ploughing and all … cultivation over the years. I use to smile when they would go in there – they had some of those big units they had on the road for putting limestone into the road. They had those in there mixing the soil up.
That’s what I understood, that – was to mix it all up, dilute it.
Yes – so fourteen years there, and then you went back and you only had one orchard.
By the end I just had Twyford.
And you farmed that orchard until…..
It would be about 19 … 2000 we went….. must have been 1990 that we sold to Creswell’s. First of all I leased it to Creswell’s for a ten year lease – a five year, and a further five years. They leased it for five years and they said they’d really like to buy it, and I said “well, you can buy it”. They were very easy to work with. Lou bought it in his own right, our place. But they only had it for about two years and sold it to Jeff Nicol. Yeah, no – sold it. They separated the house off, and Jeff just took it all over. Jeff was next door anyway. And Jeff only had it for a … probably only a couple of years and realized that he’s – a) he was getting on, and he didn’t have 100% health. And he sold the whole shooting match back to the Cresswell empire. We were nineteen acre blocks. He probably had thirty eight acres, ’cause ours was thirty eight acres, split down the middle and we had nineteen and David Curry. He sold out a year after I went there, and there were a couple of changes in my time.
So when would you have sold out then – about?
Everything worked on about the 10th year, about 1990 we shifted out to Poraiti. But that was after a five year lease to Cresswells. 1985 it must have been – we leased to Cresswells for five years plus five. Well, after the first five they bought it. And we moved out and built a house at Poraiti. And then we were there about 10 years – it was a complete new fresh start on the side of a hill and we established quite a big garden and one thing and another. Then realized that time was … you know, our years were slipping by, and so about 2000 – no, hang on – I got to work in ten years spaces – been here about six years, so we bought here about 2010. So we went to Poraiti year 2000, had ten years there and we came here about the year 2010. Then Ruth died three and a half years ago.
So you’ve had a long association with the fruit industry – well it’s been from cradle ‘til now. There’s been no let up. [Speaking together]
Cradle to grave almost. I had one year away from it. I had a year away from it either 1951 or ’52, and I went and drove a truck for the dairy company.
The Heretaunga Dairy Company?
Heretaunga Dairy – and when I did that, I really thought – I didn’t – it wouldn’t have mattered if I never saw the orchard again. But my dad was – well he – work it out, he was 47 when I was born. He’s in his 70s. My older brother Jock had made the same decision, and I said to Dad one day, “I think I’ll go look for a job.” “You sure, what do you want to do that for?” I said “oh, I think it would improve my education”. That was fair enough. We should have been told to do that in our first years.
I thought the same. But I was able to build a business within the farm, contracting.
All right, Fred Cooper of course, that’s a name … suddenly the name in this contracting work. [Speaking together]
So anyway, that’s how – as you said, sons should be allowed to go off and establish themselves. But coming back to the Heretaunga Dairy Company, I interviewed some people yesterday. Her name was Valerie Cash and she used to work in …
In the office.
… the Heretaunga Dairy Company.
Valerie is the name of one of the … he had about nine girls in the office at one stage.
Yes. Of course we were dairy – we were butterfat. Fred Abbott used to come and pick up our cream, and … and today they wouldn’t allow us to have 20 gallon cans would they? You had those little lifts which you …
Yeah, we had a little block and tackle.
But you still had to man handle them around.
The smaller ones we just chucked on the deck. Yeah, my brother-in-law Charlie was the secretary for the Heretaunga Dairy Company. [Speaking together]
Yes, yes. And it’s just interesting when you start talking about different people around.
The Ebbett boys all just lived down the road from Sunnybank.
Yes. Yes, well we always knew him as Darkie Ebbett. That was his nickname, or my father always called him Darkie. And the little red headed guy that use to do the testing, his father worked …
Johnny Dalton was one of the blokes on the cream platform….
Bill Timms was the manager and his son worked there.
[Speaking together] Timms, Timms – and his son – he was the red headed one.
That’s right. I’ve had – not direct, but contact with him. He ended up as a neighbour of people we knew well in Palmerston North, and just in recent years. And Freda Timms – that was his sister.
So you obviously enjoyed that, ’cause they were just little trucks weren’t they?
Well compared to today.
5 ton Bedfords.
That’s right, yeah. Somewhere I’d find a photo of … of the cream truck I drove.
So any other highlights?
There was a time, talking about spraying – you know, I said I sprayed fifty … it was the time when I was spraying approximately forty acres on my own, and I never thought about it. Today they’d have two machines and a couple of blokes employed I think.
It use to take me twenty eight fills on my orchard and vineyard. The family could never understand if I just finished spraying and we got rain that I would have to back and do it again.
I was always a risk taker with spraying. Chap that was a … yeah, he was something to do with the Apple and Pear Board, then he took over seventeen acres in Thompson Rd. Ru Collins. Ru introduced me to somebody once, and – ’cause I got involved with Ru. I was spraying a block across the road, then he bought it and then I got more involved with him. But he … he introduced me to somebody once and he said “oh, Reuben’s been practising … [?] IFP isn’t it? Reuben’s been practising IFP for years but he didn’t know it”. In other words I ran lots of risks, mostly got away with it.
Yes I think you had to calculate – you know, I had so much spraying to do – but when I did it, I did it properly. So that’s the life and times of …
I looked after Len Rawles’ orchard for several years. We knew what Len’s history was, but Len had a, you know, mental breakdown and he came and asked me would I look after the orchard for … I don’t know whether it was one year or two years, and then from there it went to another couple years. And then from there “well, would you buy it?” And we’d done everything except literally shake hands, and it was when orchard prices were going like this … and he said to me one day, we seriously talked about it. And I had a joke with – Jim Taylor worked for me, must have been for 16 years – and I many times said the only difference between Jim and I was I signed the cheques. Otherwise we made decisions together. He would make decisions if I wasn’t there to do it. He was a fantastic bloke, Jim.
Did you know Fred Bradshaw?
Oh reasonably well, you know, on sort of personal … Christian names.
Yes, I interviewed him recently. He’s still going strong.
Yes. We pruned his orchard in its early years on York Road. We pruned it in gum boots and flood conditions.
York Road used to get flooded from the back didn’t it? That drain.
We pruned it when … that would have been before Fred, in Bernie Sissons’ time – we pruned it for Bernie Sissons for several years. That was in 1954-’55. ‘Cause I took over Dad’s orchard in 1954, and to get from one season to the next without going belly up we’d go out and do pruning somewhere else.
And I pruned all of Fred Bradshaw’s trees – the Winter Cole trees, they’re huge big trees now, if they’re still there. But they were just flooded, and we were in gumboots. And Bernie said “oh, don’t worry about it until the growth starts”. And he said “once the growth starts, then down the back corner there’s a huge big flood pump that Bernie had put in”. He said “when you drain your own orchard, you’re draining your neighbours’ land too but you can’t do anything about that.
So is there anything else you can think of that were highlights?
Well, I don’t know, I suppose …. as I say, I was doing 40 odd acres. The year that I went to the dairy company, Dad was [?] along on his own. There was one chap that worked for us for twenty six years, and he stayed faithful to Dad. And at the dairy company we did the cream run, and it was common in the off season to finish at 2 o’clock … 3 o’clock, and you put your truck away and you washed it and everything, and you’d go home. So I was – often I’d be back over the fence and help Dad get the spraying done. So that’s why I can legitimately spray – I did spray every year for fifty seven years.
And then after a year away, Mum came – Dad was in his mid 70s – she said “look, would you consider coming home, coming back onto the orchard?” And I said – well I couldn’t not – I couldn’t say no. He could just bog in the mud. And I did go back. And it was the same – we never had quarrels – we didn’t have arguments in any shape or form really. But I always had a – I’m very much like David Mardon – I’ve built a lot of my own gear. I built three forklifts, and I converted two tractors, a truck and a forklift. We built two cherry pickers – quite unconventional ones, quite different. And as I say, very similar to David. Well he’s more advanced than me in some of the stuff he’s built. I had a brother that could be very helpful. And when Dad saw me figuring out a way to do it mechanically, he could only see that as being lazy. He wanted to be lazy.
I said to him once, “you’re like a draft horse with blinkers on, and as long as you’ve got a load behind you – as long as you feel a load, you feel you’re achieving. But if you get rid of those blinkers and have a think ‘now is there a better way of doing this’?” But he could only see that as being lazy.
But I went back to the orchard after a year on the truck, and then after the end of one full year on that, I said to Dad, “look, this is not going to work.” I said you know “we’re too different.” I said “it won’t work.” And they – give them full marks – went away and talked about it between Mum and him and my brother-in-law who had an outside view, and did the books. And they came back and said, “look, well okay, we’ll lease you the orchard. And we’ll lease it to you for so much and we should get so much – £400, and you should be able to get £400 out of it and if we get £400 we should all manage” – you know. And so that is what happened.
And he never ever, ever criticised me ever, and I knew that I had to do things. At that time, 150 count, 163 count in a wooden box – which today is 163 and 175 – was the top of the scale, price scale. And I found him down the orchard one day doing a bit of thinning – he looked after the cow, and he was thinning the apples and going to feed the cow. And we never ever had any words about how I looked after things. And I would say to George, when he came home, you know “how’s Dad feeling?” I said “he won’t be happy about something”. He said “oh well no, but” you know, he said “he can’t …” I was down spraying one morning and he was down thinning an apple tree. So I stopped the sprayer and I strolled over, and I said “look Dad – don’t worry about those, they’ll be all right”. And he just stopped and turned around and put his hand up and said “well son, I just want to tell you one thing. You’re heading for disaster and you’re heading there fast.” And I said, “well, if that’s the case, best I get there and learn my lesson.” I was quite inspired by my reply. And I walked away. And we never – there was never a word of criticism either before or since. And I knew it wasn’t easy for him but I’ve given him 100% full marks for accepting the situation – and I asked for it. I went over and said “look, they’ll be ok”. He answered me straight and fair. And I was sorry that he didn’t live long enough to see that well, I didn’t exactly end up in the dog box. However.
That’s really quite interesting. And although I’m ten years younger than you are, we’ve both seen some of the changes and some of the changes today, when I see some of the new John Deeres and some of the equipment they have, it makes me shudder to think ‘how does it pay?’
How do you buy a tractor for $150,000?
But they do without even blinking.
My neighbour Jeff, you know, ‘course Jeff was a school boy on a little … when we went there and then he grew up. His dad died at fifty – boom – with a heart attack, and so he took over. George Sage was my neighbour by that stage. And he said, “oh, he won’t manage, he’s too young.” But I said “no, he’ll just learn quick.” And Jeff did learn quick, you know – he was jolly good orchardist – jolly thorough.
So I always remember when he moved out to Mount Erin Road. He had the asparagus block, and I …
That’s right – he went from … my neighbour.
I used to spray it for him two or three times a year for different things. George never stopped running. He was always in a hurry, George. But he was a nice fellow.
Oh, he was good bloke, yeah. Isabel was a bit of a different kettle of fish. She was a bit of a screamer.
So anyway, I think that’s probably … we’ve captured most. If there is anything really important, we can always come back and do an addendum.
Yeah, if you want to ask me about something, but …
Thank you very much Reuben.
I’ve seen from umbrella shaped trees, completely gone, you know, from when we took over at Twyford. We had thousands of crops that got put out each year under the Sturmer trees, and taken in again.
And the trees … sometimes you needed twenty foot ladders.
We had thirteen foot. We actually ended up buying one of the Bixleys’ ten acres in Thompson Road which we just cut across country to get to it, and thirteen foot ladders in there. We needed for the apple trees.
I always remember Les Jones was one our neighbours in Thompson Road. He had Gravensteins’s and he had twenty foot ladders. By the time you climbed up and picked, and came down with a bag full, the apples were probably over mature. [Chuckle]
Yeah. We did well. I built a cherry picker, hydro ladder by the time – in the early stages of having the ten acres, one of the Bixley plots and they were the thirteen foot ladders. And the board by then had instituted that Gravensteins could be Gravensteins / Albany Beauty or Oratia Beauty and we could pick all the apples at whatever colour level they’re at. Jim used to pick the apples and then I had a trolley … a platform with wheels on it. and he would just empty the hyper ladder onto that. From there I just produced Gravenstein, Oratia Beauty or Albany Beauty if there was a colour. So they went well that way.
And when you think back to the varieties, you know, with everyone had a big planting of Sturmers, there were Rome Beauties, Jonathans, Frimley Beauties.
Twyford had two blocks of Sturmers and a big block of Jonathons. And Robin Findlay was talking the growers one time and he said “if you’re growing Jonathons and if you’re growing Ballarats, I’ll guarantee that you’re spending money to do it. Look, there’s all those beautiful apples there, the Johnthans. They must be.” And while I wasn’t, you know, a fanatical figure keeper … but it was interesting that every time I pulled one of the blocks out by end of year it was a bit better.
But, you know – old Jonathon’s – they used to finger bruise very easily. I had nine hundred Sturmers. I had the biggest planting at one stage.
I‘ve had a whole load of Sturmers turned down for bruising. Take ’em away and put them in the shed and on the last day of acceptance, get in the queue with all the others. One year I went in with this load of Sturmers, you know, and Jim Cullen got a knife and picked up an apple, and he quietly cut the peeling. “You know Reuben” he said … he said “they don’t go away, they only disappear”. [Laughter] But they – they took ’em.
All right, well thank you very much for sharing that.
Oh, I don’t know whether there’s a lot of …
No, that’s great actually.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper