Early Topdressing Days




Photo caption –

A Loader Driver’s 1950’s Memories

Dedicated to loader Drivers who lost their lives in aircraft accidents.

Looking back 52 years into the mid 1950’s it seemed a funny way to earn a living, but during those early Aerial Topdressing times as a loader driver it seemed perfectly normal to me, I had served 5 years as an apprentice mechanic but truck driving through Hawke’s Bay became more of an interest to me than being inside and wearing overalls during the hot summers.

Basil Fox was the company manager of HB Aerial Topdressing Co and Glen Patterson was the 2nd pilot, great guys to work with, to achieve the 40 hours flying time meant an early start most summer mornings, but around morning tea time the westerly wind would arrive making it unsuitable for flying and for accurate super spread, this meant that we would do light maintenance on the Tiger Moths or loader truck or perhaps help the farmer around his farm, all meals were provided by the farmers wife, she was almost always in good spirits although our being there to her working schedule, by 4 pm the wind would drop and flying could begin again ’till about 7pm usually flying home about 7:45 in the evening.

In those summer days I would get up at three o’clock in the morning, get dressed, wash, shave and have breakfast, I would look out the laundry window and it it was windy go back to bed as there was probably no work for that day, a big part of the problem was that we had no phone at home and there was an 18 month delay in getting a telephone installed so there was no way of knowing whether or not I would be picked up, I listened to each other passing car, ready to jump out of bed, put on my boots and be ready if basil drove up the driveway, The weather had a large impact on flying time bearing in mind the average flying time was 40 hours per month for each of the two Tiger Moths.

A normal day’s work would start at bridge Pa where we would untie the 2 Tiger Moths, ZK-ATK and ZK-AQH, I would swing on the Prop, start the motor and then my job was to climb into the sheet steel hopper, strap myself in, put on my goggles, flying helmet and scarf and enjoy the take off and flight to the airstrip that we were going to work from, these varied from Porangahau in the south up to Willow Flat north of Tutira, some of those airstrips were high wide and handsome, the other type were narrow and steep with little turning room for the plane and loader to work together, as the Tiger Moths had no brakes it is a credit to the skill of the pilots who managed to land and takeoff from these marginal strips so many times without accident.

The loader driver’s aircraft seat usually consisted of a tube frame with plywood infill and held in place by quick release clips, it was removed when we arrived at the airstrip, I sat where the front cockpit normally would have been, now replaced by a hopper , close to the engine and about 1 metre below the petrol tank, perhaps on reflection not the best seat in the house but exciting nonetheless, there was only one occasion after the plane had been serviced that caused me some concern, I noticed after climbing into the hopper after a service check that had twisted the fuel pipe perhaps causing a restriction to the fuel flow but there was no trouble on take off, it was quickly changed later when Temp Martin noticed it..no doubt the mechanic who had serviced the aircraft was spoken to.

My wage’s were quite good, fifteen pounds retainer per week and ten shillings per flying hour per aircraft, if the two tiger Moths were flying that meant on pound an hour, not bad money for those days, part of my job was to record flying time as we worked, I think the charge out rate was fifteen Pounds, Ten shillings per flying hour per aircraft for the Tiger Moths, later when the  company changed to a piper Super Cub the rate changed to Seventeen pounds Ten shillings per flying hour.


The first job when I arrived at the Airstrip we were working from was to put up the windsock and prepare the loader truck for work, this entailed fitting the hopper to the lifting frame and making sure all was ready.

Heading home after a days work meant climbing back into the Hopper, dressed to kill with two scarves, flying helmet and two pair of goggles, thumbs up to the pilot, when I was strapped in, it was full throttle and away, with my eyes shut tight as the super dust swirled everywhere which was hard to eliminate, bump..bump…bump down the airstrip we went then we were airborne, after a few minutes I could open my eyes and enjoy the flight home.

My first loader truck was an ex Army Ford V 8 4×4, it had an A frame behind and above the cab and a wire cable ran from a hydraulic ram mounted in the chassis just above the gearbox to a pulley assembly above the cab then on to the front loader boom which also held the hopper, there was no weighing device and it was a little hit and miss as to how much fertiliser was in the hopper, also the weight depended on how damp the superphosphate was, the danger with this cable system was that sometimes the cable snapped but luckily for me and the pilots it always happened just when I started to lift the load from the super bin, some time later I had a newer ex Army Ford V8 which came with hydraulic lifting rams and fitted with a pressure gauge to weigh each load, it was adapted by HB Machinery and Engineering in Hastings and was a pleasure to use and much safer for the pilots.

The loader truck carried ten 44 gallon drums of fuel [approx 2200 litres] seven drums aviation fuel and three drums for the loader truck, Shell supplied a hand operated fuel pump and hose with meter, the aviation fuel was picked up from J Mills Ltd, corner of Queen and Nelson Street in Hastings and  Merv De O’tt was on call seven days a week for more fuel if needed, each drum of Aviation fuel was water tested then resealed and the serial number of the drum was recorded, one of the perks of the job was that the last 2 gallons in each drum for safety reasons was not used as this was where water or sediment could collect although there was never a problem with the avgas and my car and lawnmower ran quite well on the leftovers.

Some of the airstrips were difficult to drive to, I remember at Waihau, Scott Horgan’s steep track up to the strip being wet and slippery, Scott towed me all the way up with his crawler and then had to let me down again with the crawler when the job was finished, the track had an outward slope and rain had made the track more slippery, he was worried that the loader truck would slip over the edge, another strip in that area was Bill Dooney’s at Dunloe farm, we had just finished a job there and when driving home through Dartmoor I glanced back and saw a trail of smoke, it didn’t take too long to work out that it was my truck leaving that smoke trail, with 10×44 gallon drums of fuel on board I quickly stopped, grabbed the large foam type fire extinguisher and leapt up onto the back of the loader truck, I played the foam  on to the oil drenched handbrake just behind the gearbox, it put the fire out straight away so I took the extinguisher still gushing foam over to the side of the road and let the messy foam go there, alas, when I looked back the fire had reignited and my main extinguisher was empty, I grabbed the small hand pump type of extinguisher from inside the cab and kept pumping till the fire was right out, exciting lifestyle, no boredom here.

Another airstrip track we had trouble getting to was Percy Jessup’s at White Pine Bush, there had been a lot of rain but Percy thought the track would be alright, when I arrived there Mahonys transport had three trucks stuck on the track and when I attempted to drive up I only got a quarter of the way before getting the loader bogged, fortunately a passing Ministry of Works 6 wheel drive GMC truck with winch was flagged down and winched me back onto the road, he then winched himself up the track and helped the trucks carrying the super, it was some days later before we could finish the job there.


News that the two Tiger Moths were being replaced with one Piper Super Cub was exciting, a new challenge for me as loader driver and perhaps the chance of sitting with the pilot as we flew to and fro from the airstrips, for me there was to be no reprieve from sitting in the hopper, as before, I would be sitting outside only this time above the wing and again being subjected to the weather.

[see photo]

A new Manager led to a change in my lifestyle and a move back to the motor trade for a year or two, then a new challenge for the next three years presented itself when I went back to Truck driving which finally resulted in my driving a concrete mixer truck for Pakowhai Shingle Carriers which was still a novelty in Hawke’s Bay, Jack Stewart was the first concrete mixer driver with an “S” Bedford and I was the second with a TK Bedford …but that’s a whole new story perhaps for later.

Jim Crook

Loader Driver Memories, Part 2

This is some more of the memories of the days when l was an Aircraft Loader driver back in the mid 1950’s, just to recap for those who missed the first article, I was 25 years old when I got the job of Loader driver working for the “Hawke’s Bay Aerial Topdressing Co”.

Basil Fox and Glenn Patterson were the two pilots flying Tiger Moths for the Company and I drove an ex Army Ford V8 4×4 loader truck, the truck was loaded with 7x 44 gallon drums of Aviation gas for the Tiger Moths and 3 x44 gallon drums of petrol for the truck, l was grateful for the CMT military training during the early 1950’s as it gave me experience in driving the Army Ford V 8s and 6×6 wheeled GMC‘s and while at Linton Army camp l got my Heavy traffic licence.

Strong winds and very wet winters made flying difficult for the Tiger Moths and very little super phosphate was delivered to the airstrips around Hawke’s Bay during these wet times, sometimes the weather was ok for flying but the trucks carting the super couldn’t deliver it as the tracks to the airstrip were too greasy but in summer it was a different story, early starts were of the order and l was picked up at 4 am with work all day and home again by 7-30pm, it was a great lifestyle and one I shall never forget.

Looking back there was the time that Basil said that we were to be dressed in our best clothes as we had to meet one of the shareholders of the company, little did I know just who that famous man was to be, Basil picked up Glenn and myself and we proceeded to the Gentlemen’s Club on the corner of Market and Eastbourne streets, a ring of the doorbell brought an attendant who enquired what we wanted, Basil told him we were expected by Keith Park, he closed the door but minutes later we were ushered into the lounge of the club, there stood our shareholder, ramrod straight and tall, we all shook hands with him and had a drink, he discussed the weather and flying times with the two pilots and asked how things were going, twenty minutes or so later it was all over and we were outside again, I had always thought that the shareholder was Keith Park later to be Sir Keith Park but couldn’t prove this until 56 years on when Bev [wife of the late Glenn Patterson] verified she has in her possession an original letter [dated Dec 1956] written and signed by Keith Park which relates the connection to the Hawke’s Bay Aerial Topdressing Company.

Just what the connection Sir Keith had with a small topdressing company with two Tiger Moths, two pilots and a loader driver I just can’t fathom but maybe there was a tie up with R.D Brown who perhaps recommended shares in the topdressing company, most of my contact with R.D Brown Webb & Co was with the late Gordon Black whose job it was to organise my paycheck and a more pleasant person would be hard to meet.

There was no Drivers Union for loader drivers at that time because of the odd hours and irregular days we worked, but there was move by some drivers who wanted to form a loader drivers Union and be Union members, they wanted to be paid from pick up time to drop off time, this would resulted in our being paid more than the pilots.

R D Brown & Co were the company accountants and R D. called me into his office one day to explain that the topdressing Company wouldn‘t pay the Union rate if it was imposed, he suggested instead a rise in my weekly retainer which I accepted, my pay rate for loading the Tiger Moths was still ten shillings per flying hour per aircraft plus my increased retainer and we all worked hard to achieve the 40 flying hours per month per aircraft.

l recall one early morning flight in the Tiger Moth just north of the Napier aerodrome, it was a cool damp morning with the sun just rising out of the sea to our right, looking towards the left wing a large circular rainbow perhaps 20 metres in diameter and about 50 metres to the left was moving along with the plane and was quite a sight to see, although this was our regular flight path to Tangoio and Ridgemount Station I never saw this sight again.

Strong winds and narrow airstrips often limited the ability of the Tiger Moths to fly, occasionally we would stay perhaps two or three nights at a farmhouse as happened in Porangahau, because of the limited flying time owing to the gusty winds during the day there would be several hours flying time in the morning then the aircraft would be tied to a fence as the strong winds arrived, flying wouldn’t commence again ’till late in the afternoon.

Three extra people being there did not go down well with the home help who was also the cook as she had extra work to do catering for us, we sometimes lazed around the farm or helped with whatever we could , one day we decided to go to the Porangahau township and to sweeten up the scowling old lady cook, Basil asked her if there was anything she wanted, “All I want is a large cake of chocolate” she stormed, “I haven’t had any for years.”

Even though it was windy it was one of those hot days, the first thing Basil did when we arrived in Porangahau was to buy the cook the chocolate she wanted, throw it on the back window ledge of the car and we spent the next couple of hours in the pub, getting back in the car I noticed the chocolate had melted and lost its shape, by then we had started off back to the farmhouse and Basil wasn’t inclined to turn back to get a replacement, it’s a laugh now but it was a pretty scary scene when the cook berated Basil when he passed over the deformed half melted chocolate. Time passed and the company changed, Basil and Glenn had left to form their own company “Airswathe” and gone also were the closeness that l had with these two pilots, they were great men doing a dangerous job in small fragile aircraft working long hours in fickle weather.

Bill Reeves, a local transport operator also had a topdressing company using a Cessna, one day his loader driver asked me to stand in for him as he wanted a weekend off, this l did and at last got to sit with the pilot on the flight out to Mangelton [Mangleton], it was a challenge to work a different type of aircraft and loader and something I enjoyed.

One of my more memorable moments occurred when l was taking the loader truck to Haliburtons, over the Devils Elbow , down Willow flat road, turning off passed the Tutira store, l hadn’t been to this strip before and directions were hazy, ”just go down Willow flat road and theres a turning on the left, no there are no signposts but if you get to the timber mill you have gone too far” my new pilot manager said “it’s not a proper road but you’ll find it” Yeah right, I didn’t find it and finished up arriving at the mill, “Can you tell me where Haliburtons farm is” I said to a man at the mill..he replied “You go on down this road passing the mill and bear left” I replied that l was told not to go past the mill “Well you won”t get to Haliburtons if you don’t go this way” he said, It was getting well past the time I was expected at the airstrip but decided to take his advice anyway, I drove on for some time with no sighting of a farm, I resolved to turn back at the top of the next hill and backtrack, alas halfway up the hill the fan broke off the generator, clawed its way through the radiator with a dreadful metal to metal clatter and I came to a stop, not only was I running late but now realised l was probably lost as well.

I placed the broken fan on top of the trucks cab where the pilot could see it if he came looking for me and started walking to the top of the hill, I hadn’t gone far when I heard the sound of a car, it was the farmer and pilot who were waiting just over the top of the hill they could hear the truck approaching then they heard nothing so they decided to investigate, it was my lucky day.

A tow by tractor to the airstrip, the radiator and broken parts were given to the pilot who took off to get replacements as I continued assembling the hopper and fittings, looking up I saw a pig on the airstrip not too far away, l sat in the cab as the pig neared and worked out just how far l could travel with no fan or radiator, both my brothers are pig hunters and did it the hard way.. I’ll show them how it’s done. I lowered the hopper parallel to the ground and waited, GO NOW!, I started the motor and charged towards the pig who heard me coming and quickly jumped through the fence, blast! I’ve missed him.

Later that evening over dinner I mentioned that I had nearly caught a wild pig in the Hopper “Hope it wasn’t our family pet” said the farmer, l changed the subject, that was a lucky escape for both the pig and me.

By now the company was operating a Piper Super Cub and just as it was my job to swing the Tiger Moths propeller to start the engine the Piper was similar except that it had a steel propeller and they started more readily, “Just stand back a little when you swing the prop and you’ll be all right” was the message I was given..it worked I was never in any danger.

I was however disappointed in having to sit outside the cockpit in the hopper on a temporary seat rather than inside with the pilot, it was something you got used to and sitting outside above the wing wearing two pair of goggles and helmet ferrying to and from the airstrip became the norm, as with the Tiger Moths the moment the trottle [throttle] was opened for the first few minutes I just sat there in the hopper with eyes shut tight ‘till the super dust cleared, see photo of seat above wing.

The days of the closeness working with Basil Fox and Glenn Patterson who were pioneers in the Aerial topdressing industry were gone and somehow so was the joy of the job, married with children I became more aware of the dangers I could be facing, finally it took one flight to make up my mind that now was the time to move on, we had been working an airstrip at Waipukurau and the pilot worked so late the street lights were on when we left, there were no navigation lights on the Piper nor landing lights at Bridge Pa, sitting outside above the wing in the gloom was hair raising, I gave my notice and went back to working in a garage, the almost three years I spent as a loader driver have always been to me a special part of my life, I enjoyed meeting so many different people and have no regrets, it was while working in that garage that I was approached to drive for a shingle company which I did for the next three years, the last year driving a concrete mixer truck, there was fun and follies there but perhaps thats for later.




Glenns Story.

I finally passed the exams for my Commercial Pilots Licence and Flight Test on May 25th 1954. My Testing officer was Eric Omundson and the aircraft used was a Tiger Moth, ZK-BEX. At long last I had achieved a goal that I had set in 1951. In reality it had only taken 3 years. Pat Boyle told me later that Dad had told him that I didn’t have enough brains to pass the Exams. I have often wondered if he had said that knowing Pat would tell me and make me work just that much harder.  I like to think that was the case. I must confess that at times I had my own doubts. Having achieved my goal, getting a job was another thing altogether. There was still a surplus of Ex. war time pilots and they would get preference over a pilot with only 200 hours experience. It was not until December that Basil Fox (my first instructor) rang me and asked me if I would like to work with him. Basil was Pilot Manager for Hawke’s Bay Aerial Topdressing Co. Ltd. and they had two aircraft working. The 2nd pilot, Ron Snell had just been sacked and they needed a second pilot. Hawkes Bay Aerial Topdressing Co Ltd was owned by several farmers plus Sir Keith Park, who was decorated during the war as a pilot, but a person I did not particularly like because of his “officer” attitude in speaking to employees. R.D. Brown of R. D. Brown, Webb and Co was the Company Secretary.

The westerly winds were particularly bad that year and although Basil took me out to Mangarapa to Geoff White’s farm where the aircraft were parked we were not able to work before Xmas. I was employed at ₤750 a year plus ₤1.5.00 per productive hour, which in those days seemed like a fortune. The unit was based at Hastings aerodrome and when super was being flown on locally the aircraft were ferried to and from work each day. When working south of Waipawa it was customary to stay on the job until the work was completed. When the weather was bad we would tie the aircraft down and go home in the loader. On January 9 after spending about 4 days on the property the weather cleared sufficiently for the work to be started. My aircraft was a Tiger Moth, ZK-ATK, and I did 1 hour’s work that first day and 2.30 hours on January 10th. The weather was beginning to pack up, so Basil, because of his experience, finished on his own in ZK-AQH. We flew back to Hastings. Between January 18th and 31st we worked around the Waipawa area, flying off Rex Witherow’s airstrip, which was a good sized flat paddock, for a total of 23 hours. I wasn’t having any problems with the loads or flying at that time and thought I had the job mastered. The normal load was 2 ½ bags of super or if everything was perfect then we would carry 3 bags. A bag of super weighed 160 lbs.

The loader driver was Des O’Neill followed later in the year by Jimmy Crooks.

Then came the big shock. The next property at Tongoria [Tangoio], north of Napier, was on Mahoney’s airstrip. An airstrip carved of the top of a ridge in a gully. Flying over it for the first time I began to panic – how was I going to land on such a small strip. I flew around it a few times and


watched Basil land – he didn’t seem to have any trouble. It went through my mind that I could just fly back to Hastings and give topdressing away, but I had enjoyed the flying up until now and I had confidence in my flying ability, so what did I have to lose – the worst that could happen would be that I would go over the edge of the strip – so I approached the strip cautiously and made a perfect landing, however I must admit I was very tense and careful for several hours but by the time we had finished the work on that strip (13 hours) I found that I was able to handle custom made airstrips. After 3 months I had worked in all types of weather and on all types of airstrips and had amassed a grand total of 144 hours of topdressing. To this day I have never told anyone about my misgivings at landing on Mahoney’s airstrip.

Looking back through my log book I read the names of the farmers that I worked for and I can still see them in my mind and remember some incidents that happened or even some of the things that we did or talked about.

On one occasion we wanted to finish a job out to the east of Havelock North so by the time we left to come home it was dark. I kept close to Basil so as not to lose him in the dark, and upon reaching the Hastings airfield we dropped down low over the Golf Course to see if there were any other aircraft in the air. At that time there were about 20 -25 aircraft working from the airfield, but we expected that all other aircraft should have landed by this time. We didn’t see any show up in the light of the sky so Basil turned left from the East in to the airfield. All this time I am sticking within about 20 feet of his aircraft so as not to lose sight of it and followed in the turn on to the field. During the turn I happened to look out the other side to see the sparks from the exhaust of another plane doing the same thing as we were, but coming in from the West – we were so close we would have run into one another – he hadn’t seen me so I had to open the throttle and continue in a steep turn to get out of his way and come into land again. It turned out to be Syd Patterson  (Uncle) who worked for Bill Reeves. Basil said later that as he landed he looked out to the right and thought that my formation was a bit close for comfort. He didn’t know it was Syd and that I had been between them, and neither had Syd seen us.

Syd retired in about 1957 and he was probably one of the more successful aerial topdressing pilots who flew as long as he wanted without having an accident.

During my first year it came as a great shock to hear that Mort Vanderpump had been killed in his Cessna 180 while top dressing. Van was a very experienced pilot, had flown in the Pacific during the war and been an instructor for the years immediately after the war. It came to me that if a person with Vanderpump’s experience could get killed topdressing – what chance did I have ? The concern did not last long and I suppose I forgot about it, but the thought always surfaced when someone I knew was killed in an accident.


On November 5th 1955 Beverly and I married and after a weeks honeymoon I was back at work. We had rented a flat in King street in Hastings and had a very happy year living there.

At the end of the year I had flown 402 hours 55 min topdressing out of a total of 721 hours and 20 min. I had a very good year for my first year. It must be remembered that during that year Basil had made me all the decisions and all I had to do was to fly my aircraft.

At the end of the year Basil had decided to retire and I was asked to carry on and run the operation for the company. This was indeed something new as now the decisions were mine to make. It was a bit scary, at first, as I had never done any organising for the operation before, nor did I have a lot of experience, but it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Slowly it all came together, but getting used to the farmers all wanting us on the airstrip at the same time was the main problem. Time seemed to overcome most things.

At about this time Bev and I bought our first house at 202 Townsend Street, Hastings, for which we paid  ₤750, and all we had to put down on it was ₤50.00.0.

On October 29th 1956 Krystina Sue Patterson was born, so I now had an added responsibility.

It was not until March that we were able to replace Basil and hire another pilot – by the name John Nash, who was not very successful as a topdressing pilot and left after a few months. Some of the things we used to do while working in the Tiger Moths was to report anything that was abnormal on the farm to the owner and we would often land on a hillside and pick up a cast ewe.

I continued on for a time as the sole pilot, and on September 13 1956 the company bought a new Aircraft – Piper PA 18A. This aircraft would carry 8-10 cwt, was faster and had an enclosed cockpit. This aircraft would do the same amount of work as the two Tiger Moths. I went to Christchurch to pick up ZK-BJP and flew back to Hastings in this lovely aircraft. The PA 18A was a pleasure to fly – inside out of the cold and in a comfortable seat. The motor still had to be hand started by the propeller, but it had a cabin heater and on cold mornings this was fantastic. This reminds me just how cold a Tiger Moth was in the winter – you could just not put on enough clothes to keep warm. It took a little time for me to get the most out of the Piper as it was a different aeroplane and had different characteristics.

During the later part of that year Basil had been talking to Bill Reeves, a carrier who also had a topdressing business, and who had a spare licence that he was not using and had offered it to him to lease – would I like to join him? After thinking about it for a while I agreed providing I could arrange my share of the finance, ₤500 which Dad agreed to lend me.


“Airswath” was formed and we started flying a Tiger Moth ZK-AVZ. With just the two of us – one would fly and the other would drive the loader and this was going to continue until we could afford to buy another aircraft. We had hired the loader from Bill Reeves. Around the middle of April a westerly gale blew up and ZK-AVZ ended up in the neighbouring Golf Course, damaged beyond repair. Although many other aircraft were also damaged ours was the worst.

We then bought ZK-BBL from Cookson Airspread in Gisborne and continued with this aircraft.

At this time Licensing was a big issue and for six months a battle went on as to whether we were acting legally or not. Eventually we were told that if we didn’t stop we would be prosecuted, so at the end of July the operation ceased. We had flown something like 200 hours and had been making good headway. By the time we had sold up we only just got our money back. I had to find another job. Although making the decision to have a go on our own turned out to be a mistake, 25 years later deregulation came into force, and the industry became mostly owner operators. We were just a few years before our time !!

One interesting incident can now be told of a happening that occurred during this time. We shared the flying and driving duties and had an agreement that whoever was driving the loader would get to fly the aircraft to and from airstrips. On one particular occasion in July I was doing the flying when the wind got up and stopped work. As the wind became stronger it was decided to fly home and Basil, with me standing in the Hopper as the passenger, taxied down the strip to turn around to take off into the wind. As he got airborne he was caught in a down draft from a pine plantation and I could see that we were going to crash into the trees. Basil was also aware of what was going to happen so stalled the aircraft, which then sank down and hit the ground. From my position in the Hopper I could see all that was happening and as I was not tied in I put my arms, folded in front of me on the Hopper mouth. As we crashed I was pushed down in the Hopper and all sorts of noises happened. When silence arrived I popped my head out the top in time to see the aircraft start to topple over onto its back, so I quickly got back inside. When the plane stopped I dropped out on the grass to see Basil also getting out. Neither of us was hurt except Basil’s ego, but I had torn a new pair of Bedford cord trousers.  My being in the hopper without an approved seat was against regulations so it was never mentioned that I was in the aircraft at the time of the accident. When Bev asked what had happened to my trousers I told a white lie and said that I had torn them jumping over a fence getting to the aircraft. I hope I have been forgiven for that fib, but I did not want her worrying about my flying. I then started to work for Vern Petersen – who had a second hand car yard and was starting up a Charter Service. He bought a Mooney aircraft and a Cessna 172 and was trying to get the Dominion paper run from Hastings to Gisborne every morning. Peter Wolff also worked for him and as the business did not appear to be very healthy I left at the end of the year. So 1957 had been an eventful year. Not really very profitable.


At the beginning of 1958 I started working for Derek Turnbull – Wings Fertiliser. He had ordered two new Piper PA 18A’s, and I was to fly one with Gerry Hooper while he flew the Cessna 180. The loader drivers were Robbie Young and Calvin August. Calvin had been my Best Man and Bev and I had known him for many years.

My first day flying with Derek was on February 14th 1957, my birthday, and  I worked for him for the next 4 years. My aircraft was ZK-BOZ. At times he was not easy to get on with but everything was OK until we had a row over pay and that is when I left. Derek paid a bonus of so much a ton dropped and as he insisted that we down load just to get work completed when the weather was marginal, we found that we were working for very little per hour. It was not until I had flown a thousand hours one year that I realised just how much I was being paid, compared with the pilots from other companies.

I approached him about the situation and he promised to look into it but he never did, so I left in September 1961.

In the meantime it was good to be back flying a Piper again and work was plentiful. Derek had two very strong areas that he worked – Elsthorpe and Tutira, and we found that if you couldn’t work in one area you could usually work in the other, although we often had some pretty rough rides home, being buffeted about by strong westerly winds. For two years I flew a total of over one thousand hours each year because of the areas in which we worked. I remember speaking to Peter Wolff who was then flying for Sherwood Aviation, and he was bemoaning the fact that he had only done 20 hours with only a few days of the month left. At that time I had done 105 hours but I ‘m sure he didn’t believe me until years later when we worked together I confirmed it. I met some great people in the farming community during my years topdressing, but I think the people in the Tutira district topped the lot. Tutira was Derek’s home territory and the people idolised his laid back and humourous manner. We used to be looked after tremendously well, with the meals and morning and afternoon teas being absolutely marvellous. The farmers were always trying to outdo one another. After a couple of years Gerry Hooper left and Derek sold the Cessna and flew the Piper. About this time he suggested that I work out of Waipawa where Calvin and I could work together. Although I shifted we still all worked together and then Calvin left to go farming. We sold our Townsend Street house for ₤1200, which was a good profit in a short time and rented a house from S.J.E. Stephenson, in Abbotsford Road, Waipawa and it was here that Darryl was born on September 29 1958.

In 1959 Bev and I built a house at 5 Guy street, Waipawa. It was a Beazley Home and the builder committed suicide part way through the job. I finally finished most of it myself. I recall one afternoon working on the bathroom to find I had locked myself in. The builder had put the door handle on the wrong way with the lock on the outside. I had previously noticed it was wrong but had not done anything about it at that time. Finding myself locked in and not being able to get out the window nor being able to attract anybodies attention to my predicament was quite frightening. It was only about 3 pm and Bev wouldn’t wonder where I was until about 7 pm – what was I going to do. Eventually I was


able to extract a nail from the Gibraltar board and used the head of the nail to undo the screws of the lock so I could open the door. Most of the painting and decorating was done at night. All my spare time was then put into the section and fencing and we lived in this house until 1966.

Derek bought a Piper Pawnee PA 25 ZK-BOQ in April 1960 and then in January he bought a second , ZK-BWQ. I was then given ZK-BOQ as my aircraft, and David Cleeton started as loader driver and from then on Derek and I flew separately. I continued to fly for Derek until the end of September 1961. The only reason that I left, was our continuing battle over pay rates. All I wanted was for my rates to be the same as everyone else. Derek was a very stubborn man and when I was approached by Sherwood Aviation, originally Aerial Projects, which was now owned by James Aviation, I decided to leave. Although he appeared upset that I was leaving I don’t think he really thought I would.



Photo captions –

























Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

The donor of this material does not allow commercial use.


Format of the original

Computer document


  • Calvin August
  • Pat Boyle
  • David Cleeton
  • Jim Crook
  • Merv De O'tt
  • Bill Dooney
  • Basil Fox
  • Gerry Hooper
  • Scott Horgan
  • Des O'Neill
  • Sir Keith Park
  • Bev Patterson
  • Darryl Patterson
  • Glenn Patterson
  • Krystina Sue Patterson
  • Syd Patterson
  • Vern Petersen
  • Bill Reeves
  • S J E Stephenson
  • Jack Stewart
  • Derek Turnbull
  • Mort Vanderpump
  • Geoff White
  • Rex Witherow
  • Peter Wolff
  • Robbie Young

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.