William John Emmerson & Isobel Jean Emmerson Interview
Today is the 1st February 2018. I’m interviewing John and Jean Emmerson of Hastings on the life and times of their families. John, would you like to tell us something about your family and your life?
My father came from Newcastle-on-[upon] Tyne in the United Kingdom, and he trained to be an engineer and he got a job on a sailing ship, so that’s how he arrived in New Zealand. And when he got to New Zealand he liked it very much and decided to stay here, so he signed off his contract as an engineer on the ship and lived in New Zealand for the rest of his life.
Where did he land, do you know?
I think he landed in Hawke’s Bay … in Napier. And eventually he met my mother. She was Elizabeth Wall and she was born in Norsewood, just south [north] of Dannevirke, and her father was James Wall and he was a farmer there and farmed for many years. And when Mum was only fourteen years of age, unfortunately her mother passed away, and of course she was the youngest in the family. And the rest of her family had moved away from Norsewood and got married, and set their lives up, and Mum was left to look after Grandad. So a few years later Grandad bought the property where we live, here now … where we’re speaking from … from his son, Willie Hall. And they shifted up here, and I was born here in 1933 and I’ve lived here ever since.
That’s quite unique really, for people to still live on the same land that they were born on.
Jean: He reckons he will till the end.
And ‘course Mum and Dad, as was inevitable, they became older. And when the second World War came along my eldest brother who volunteered to go, joined the forces. And he served for the duration of the war on the ‘Achilles’ ship in the Navy. And so Mum and Dad were elderly by that stage and Dad decided to lease the farm for five years, and they built a house at Haumoana and we moved to Haumoana. But prior to that I went to West School for my primary education – Hastings West – and then when we were at Haumoana I did one year’s secondary school at Hastings Boys’ High, and I left school at fourteen. And I had a job with Hugh McKeesick who was a farmer at the Tuki Tuki Road – and a very successful farmer. And he taught me pretty well all I know, and it was a good grounding for me. And when the lease was terminated I moved back here and my oldest sister, Nola, she moved back here and looked after me, and we milked cows for about eighteen months.
So you were a dairy farmer too?
Yeah. And of course being a bit ambitious, it was not my kettle of fish so I decided to branch out and go into agricultural cropping.
So how many acres was the farm?
There was only fourteen acres in this property, and Dad had bought nine acres at the end of the River Road, so we had twenty-four acres. In 1996  there was fifteen acres that belonged to a neighbour, Dan Lynn, between the two properties, and I was able to purchase it from Dan so that gave us another fifteen acres. And then in 1970 Jim McCormick owned the property across the road and he decided to sell that property, and I was able to purchase that from Jim in 1970, and so we were able to crop the whole fifty acres. I leased several properties for growing process crops.
They were marked by onions. [Chuckle] What sort of crops did you grow? Peas, mainly?
Mainly process crops for the canneries in those days, and then we switched into producing onions and market vegetables.
‘Cause you used to grow export onions for Japan, didn’t you?
Yes. Yes. And we exported onions to Japan, Fiji, Australia and some to America. And I was fortunate to be invited to visit a firm in Japan in 1970, I think. And I went to Fiji several times to visit our buyers over there. And that … we supplied them in Fiji for a number of years.
Yes, neighbours of ours – they were good onion growers. ‘Course they had a truck too, with the drums on the back.
Yeah. ‘Cause they used to gather up tallow in forty-four-gallon drums.
And onions going by and then I heard the trouble sometimes you had when they arrived in Japan there was always a dispute over them. [Chuckle]
Now at what stage did you meet Jean?
Well, in … round about 1950 the Southland Road dairy was put on the market and Jean’s father, and aunty, and Jean, bought it. And I said to Dad – ‘cause we used to get our bread from there, and Mrs Lynn, the next-door neighbour, she used to pick up our bread one week and drop it off, and the next week we’d pick up her bread and drop it off. And I said to Dad “cripes, there’s a nice girl behind the counter”, [chuckle] “in that store”. And he sort of … he raised his eyebrows. [Chuckle] And so it was no problem for me to stop and pick up the bread. And anyhow, I plucked up enough courage to ask her about twelve months later – would she like to come out for an evening. So she agreed to that, and about three of us couples went to the Cabaret Cabana for the evening. And we had a very nice evening there, and that was the start of the courtship. We got engaged in 1955 and we got married in 1956.
Right. Now I’m going to ask Jean to tell us about meeting, and where your folks came from, and where you went to school.
Jean: Well I was born in Woodville and went to school right through there. And my father was a farmer, or he worked on a farm. And my mother, she … I think they came from Norsewood initially, and then she worked in Woodville and met my father and they got married. And I was the youngest of four children. And eventually the farm that my father worked on was sold and he had to find other work, so that was when we shifted to Hastings in about 1952. And we had a corner dairy, and that’s where I met John.
He used to come in with the pretence of picking up the bread.
Yes, yes, that’s right. [Chuckle] Well, sort of, yes – he might get a Pinky bar on the way. [Chuckle] So I lived then, only a mile from John so it was very handy. And as you’ve heard we’ve been married sixty-one years now.
And so – your children?
Oh yes. We’ve had three children, two boys and a girl, and they went to school in Hastings. And my daughter now lives in Auckland and the two boys are still in Hastings and are both with the Transport Company. My daughter’s got one family … one boy who’s now sixteen. Yes. She’s not married. Her name? Julie. Yes, Julie lives in Auckland – she’s been there since from … oh, since she was twenty-one, I think.
Right, and her son’s name?
Ruben. But he goes under Ruben Emmerson-Heeney, which is the father’s name.
And then your two sons?
Ian, the eldest, he’s had two children who are still living in Hastings, a boy and a girl. And Peter has a partner but he has no children of his own.
And so, over the sixty years, do you have any special hobbies?
Not really. Over the years I’ve worked in packing sheds and the orchard and the paddocks. And I did enjoy … when I belonged to the Golf Club I enjoyed my golf. I’m not able to do that any more, so otherwise I’ve just been a housewife.
Most important role. So anyway thank you for that. I’ll come back to John – at some stage or other you stopped growing onions and horticultural crops?
Yeah. We gradually planted twenty-five acres in fruit trees. We had some stone fruit, and mostly apples, and we built a packing shed and set it up so we could pack our own fruit, for the Apple & Pear Board in those days. And that was very successful, and I can’t speak too highly for our association with the Apple & Pear Board. It was a great organisation, and of course it was grower-owned virtually, and it was very successful until the wrong people got in charge of it and it all fell apart.
So then you carried on with the orchard until – there must have been a time when you took the orchard out? [Traffic noise in background] There was a transition somewhere in the family about trucks.
Yeah. Well of course we started off with a ’48 TK Bedford to cart our produce to Wellington. And then we got approaches … and of course the transport industry was regulated in those days, and of course we could cart agricultural machinery exempt from the rail … from the regulations … anywhere throughout the country. And a friend of mine, Jack Black, he was the salesman for Bailey Motors in those days, and they had the P & D Duncan Agency. And Jack used to get me to cart this machinery all round the North Island. And I quite enjoyed that, and then of course it developed from there and we finished up with a couple of TK Bedfords, and in 1977 we formed the Transport Company.
And of course it was very difficult to get a Transport Licence ‘cause you got opposed every time you applied to get a licence. But anyhow, we carried on and we worked in association with Bushett’s Transport, and we worked under their banner. It was quite legal and all the accounts and everything were charged out by Bushett’s.
And about quarter to five one Friday night, I got a message from a friend of mine that an operator in Havelock North was going to shut the doors that night. And this person said “I think his licence will be available to purchase”. So I rang this guy, and he said “yeah, I’m closing the doors. Oh, well, that’s all right with me and I’ll sell my licence and sell the trucks”. And I said “well, I’ll come out and have a talk to you”. He said “no,” he said “I live in Hastings”, and he said “I’ll drop the licence and you have a look through it over the weekend”. Anyhow I bought the licence from him, so we were able to operate legally on our own account.
[Speaking together] So whose licence was that then?
It belonged to Philip Anderson. He was in a smallish way. Nowhere near as big as round here. Yeah. Very young … oh, I suppose – ‘bout my age. So that’s how we got started, with the two TK Bedfords.
In 1979 I think it was, we bought our first brand new truck ERF290. And of course the two boys had left school by then, and ‘course Peter – he only used to work on the farm with us, but Peter was mad keen on trucks. And so it was him in mind that we sort of leant towards giving him a start in the transport industry. And of course when we bought the new ERF really, he took that truck over, and he was that thrilled to have a brand new truck. Pretty smart in those days.
And so of course it’s grown a bit like Topsy. ‘Course, we got the opportunity to buy another licence from a chap that was going to retire and he had the [?Section A?] transport district which is a southern part of the North Island so that gave us pretty well all coverage of the east coast.
That was just to operate one truck, was it?
No, they had six … I think they had four or six [speaking together] … vehicle authorities. And how I came to get that was Robin White was a truck wrecker, and this old chap said to Robin “buy my trucks, and could you wreck them for me?” So Robin said “well, these trucks have still got their licences and the VAs in them, so are you interested in them?” [Chuckle] I said “I’ll come straight and see you now”. And so I purchased them for I think $10.
And so all of a sudden you had all these licences, and you had these authorities, and everything.
And yeah, it was quite strange, because I know, in the background, quite a few people laughed and said “well, they’ll never make it”, you know. But our business has been very successful even though I say it myself.
I see your truck[s] and trailers everywhere. It’s as if it’s the only carrying company, because they stand out.
John: Well we quite like the colour scheme. And of course both the boys … well I said to Ian, “you’ll have to go up to the depot and help run it”, because it was getting a bit out of hand. We had a full-time manager at one stage but – he was good manager, he helped the business along very well. And of course he needed more money, and more money, and it got to the stage where I said “well, I think we’re paying you a good salary now”, but he gave me a month to make my mind up. And so anyhow, I said to Ian “well, you’d better go up there and help at the transport company, and I’ll look after the orchard”.
Were you up at Orchard Road at that stage?
We were in …
Jean: Omahu Road.
John: Omahu Road – leased the premises from P J Britton. But then we got the opportunity to lease the old Farmers’ Transport depot, and of course all that blew up, and that finished up belonging to that finance company who went into receivership and the old depot was put on the market. And I was able to purchase that for would you believe … oh, we offered $285,000 for it and they messed around for fourteen months before we could get an answer. So our solicitor wrote to them and said “you’ve got fourteen days to make your mind up, and now the offer is $265,000 – take it or leave it”. And they took it.
And that was buildings … everything?
Buildings – lock, stock and barrel.
You wouldn’t get it for that today.
And of course it’s perfectly positioned.
Oh, yeah – all set up for us. And of course in actual fact it was too big for us in those days but of course now we’ve outgrown it.
And was the office at the front part of it as well?
No, not at that stage. We operated out of an office over in the store. But then eventually the office came up because the iwi built the office block. And then eventually they bought the Heretaunga Hotel and they put the office block on the market, so we bought that. And of course Peter, my youngest son, he only wants to drive the trucks and he runs away when we mention you know, going in the office. So anyhow, Ian’s adapted very well to running the business, and Ian now is Managing Director and Peter is the other – and myself – are the only other two directors. It’s still privately owned.
So how many trucks in all?
We’ve got … varies a little bit, but we’ve got a minimum of ninety truck and trailer units.
Yeah. And we’ve got five depots. One in Levin, Whanganui – a sub branch in Whanganui – this branch is the head branch in Hastings. We’ve got one in Cambridge, one in Auckland …
John: … one in Tauranga, and a sub branch in Paeroa.
So that must make for a pretty big maintenance organisation too – where are all your trucks serviced?
We do the bulk of them here. We’ve got five mechanics based in Hastings at the Hastings depot, but a lot of our work is done by …
…Yeah, to the agents in Napier – the Kenworth agents. But of course the whole transport industry’s got a tremendous problem now getting good drivers. It’s almost impossible to get them, and you know, they’ll change jobs – you know, for a dollar an hour. And you can’t blame them because it’s a tough industry, and you get so many of these cowboys come into the industry and they really don’t do their homework and they don’t know what it costs to run a truck. And next thing, they’ve gone.
I suppose it’s job satisfaction, it’s job security – all of those things they’ve got to take into account, but it was never a high paying job.
There was a limit to …
Yeah, what you could pay them. But in actual fact now, it’s a profession with the units, and you know, all the licences are classed and you’ve got to have class 5 for towing a trailer. And of course you see, there’s a lot of money at stake. A brand new truck and a five vehicle trailer, and especially stock units, you’re looking at about a million dollars, on the road.
And it’s got to be working almost night and day to make it.
Now the thing that has amazed me about the transport business – how quickly it adapts to change. When we went to the five-axle trailers, within weeks every big carrier had trailers with five axles.
I think the manufacturers were in the know.
I couldn’t believe how quickly ……… then I saw one the other day with four trailing axles out the back.
Oh, is that right?
Yes. Some of the ones from the Hub …
… container trailers, look as if they’ve added on the back.
No. Because you see, they’re artics.
So do you build of your own trailers? They’re all coming from manufacturers.
Manufacturers … Fruehauf built all our trailers. We’ve dealt with Fruehauf for pretty well since the company’s been going.
Now just thinking back into the past about when you started out with your Nuffield tractors. That side has changed a lot, hasn’t it? You must look when – is this Apatu Farms? You must look when they come in with their machinery.
Oh – the transition is unbelievable. Apatus are marvellous operators. Good people to deal with. ‘Course I knew Wilson’s grandfather and …
Jean: Nice guy.
John: … such a gentleman. And when we pulled the orchard out … when we started pulling it out … I approached Ken and said “well – you know, our land will be available for you people at least”. And seeing the transition since year 2000 to their machinery today – you know, they two swipes over the batting and it’s ready to plant.
Jean: Oh, just amazing.
John: You know, they used to plough, roll …
And then try and beat it down.
Jean: No – it takes no time to cover the – you know, fifty acres or so.
They’ve got half a million dollars worth of plant, plus.
John: And you know, it’s a time saver.
Young Stewart, he’s the youngest of the Apatu boys isn’t he?
I deal mainly with Mark and Paul.
Was Mark Ken’s son?
Yeah. Mark and Paul are Ken’s sons. And I think Stewart’s the grandson, isn’t he? Yeah, I think so.
You have some other farming operations – I know you’ve got something up at Maraetotara, you’ve got something at Poukawa, and I know that you’ve got some stock … doing a bit of grazing at Pakipaki. So you still keep your hand in as a farmer?
Yes. Yeah, at the present time I’ve got oh, roughly five hundred head of cows, and I’ve got ‘bout two hundred and fifty acres at Pakipaki, and it’s hill country. The boundary’s the lime quarry.
That’s got a set of yards on it, hasn’t it?
Yeah. Yeah, it used to be leased by Richmond’s when Bill Pickup … and they used to put a lot of livestock through there.
Yeah, two hundred acres out there. It’s up the Maraetotara Road – it boundaries on to Waitere Station which belongs to Snow Stewart.
How far up are you – past Chestermans?
We boundary Chestermans. When you go out Maraetotara Road you veer to the left at Waipoapoa and you come down the spiral and we’re just down the bottom, on the left.
Waipoapoa – that’s Williams, isn’t it?
Yeah … yeah. That’s a nice station.
So that’s your farming enterprise, and your trucking enterprise, and you contract out your horticultural to the Apatus. What do you do for relaxation?
Jean: Sleep. [Chuckle]
John: I have a couple of stubbies at night. [Chuckle] Switches me off. I’ve got to admit I really haven’t got any hobbies. I belong to the Masonic Lodge. I’ve been a member – this year I’m due for my sixty-year badge, I’ve been a member for sixty years – I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve been second to the top in that Order. I’ve been Deputy Grand Master for two years and I’ve been very involved in the political side of the transport industry. I was on the Forum Board for seven years and I was Chairman of the Central Area Branch for two years, but apart from that I don’t have very many other interests.
You never got the urge to jump up in a truck and go for a ride?
Oh yeah – oh yeah, seeing the countryside from both sides of the cab.
You’ve still got your licences?
Yes, I’ve still got them for this current year … I don’t know about next year.
Jean: You’ve got your heavy traffic licence.
So now apart from looking after the stock and Jean and the family this is it?
Yeah – yeah, well I do find I’ve got more time to relax off and on, but I can say – well, it can wait ‘til tomorrow.
Now you missed something, Jean, and that was your interest in golf?
Jean: Yes that was my relaxation.
And you stopped playing how long ago?
Three years ago. Yes – I used to do eighteen but then I finished up with nine holes. It was just – you know, company, and I enjoyed the fresh air. As a child I was very interested in sport but … well, I didn’t carry on – [chuckle] I didn’t have time for that as you get older.
John: You used to like going to the races.
Jean: Oh, occasionally.
All right, that has probably pretty well covered most of the things. So John and Jean, thank you very much for giving us this picture of the Emmerson family in Hawke’s Bay.
Jean: Thank you.
John: I’d like to thank you very much, Frank, for the opportunity.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper