Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962
EARLY GOODS TRANSPORT
By H. ARMOUR
The pack-horse came first, followed by bullock teams, old fashioned block-wood wheel vehicles, and buckboards. Then came Nat Dickey. With him it was a case of "the impossible just takes a little longer." He had settled in Paeroa about 1870 and after building up a carrying- business, he was engaged in conveying machinery to the various mines. Using eight-horse teams he took all the machinery to the Waitekauri Mine before the roads were finished. The Batteries for the Waihi and Crown mines were also conveyed by him.
Clarkin's eight-horse teams were on the road in 1889, that firm being contractors for the Waihi Gold Mining Company, so they travelled both the old Rahu Road and then the perilous Gorge Road. It is little wonder that the road often had to be repaired by night, when it is realised how very heavy the traffic was. Even the heaviest and bulkiest machinery was conveyed by this means either direct from Price's Foundry at Thames or from the Junction Wharf at Paeroa. The horses were magnificent and the drivers wonderful.
Then it became necessary to have more fuel in Waihi and those were the days of "coal convoys." It will be remembered that Hague Smith provided all the explosives for the mines and they did their own carting to the various magazines. The gorge in those days presented terrific hazards, there being so few places where vehicles could pass, and occasionally there were catastrophes.
There were other carriers too, though soon only the local ones maintained their teams, for the motor age was at hand. Such names as Short, Moore, Brenan, Berridge, Darlington and Hume, will be well remembered. With the decline in the need for horses, the business of the Blacksmith declined also. No longer was the forge one of the liveliest places in the town, and the ring of the hammer on the anvil gradually ceased to herald the iron shoes for the noble pioneers of the road.
Sixty or seventy years ago people were not so dependent on transport as they are today. They were in the habit of walking for miles so good boots were essentials. And horses came next — perhaps even first, when one thinks of long distances. Most of our grandmothers rode side-saddle. Gigs and buggies and bicycles were popular.
But there was a definite need for public conveyance, and Dan Campbell thought so too, for he was the first to run a passenger vehicle in the district. He had the first Mail Contract between Waihi and Paeroa and also ran a coach between Waihi and Tauranga. As early as 1884 it was possible to travel by coach from Thames to Waihi on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the journey taking 12 hours (6 a.m.-6 p.m.), but of course horses were changed en route. The return journey was made on alternate days. In 1886, Bradley and Company opened a service between Paeroa and Waihi and this made connections with other services.
Geo. Johnson and Alfred Rowe started a line of coaches between Waihi and Paeroa in 1896. Two years later Mr Johnson bought his partner's interest and conducted the business singly till 1899 when the plant was acquired by the Ohinemuri Coaching Co., Mr Johnson being the manager at Waihi.
This company, with George Crosby of Paeroa as Managing Director, conducted the business till after the opening of the railway. It had stables at Paeroa, Karangahake, Waihi, Katikati and Tauranga. There were about 120 horses, 10 coaches and 28 hands, including drivers and stablemen. Three coaches ran daily between Paeroa and Waihi. The company maintained a large plant of buggies and other vehicles for hire.
Most of the drivers of those days achieved a degree of fame, not only because of their skill on rough roads, but also because of their geniality. Names such as Geo. Smith, Mick Crosby, Ernie Fathers, Shorty Moore, Harry Deverill and Maurice Crimmins recall memorable personalities.
Some of our older people remember the big five-horse brakes that bore them proudly to Bowentown, to picnics, to races or to football matches. For a long time it was still necessary to travel by coach to Tauranga, and a few horse-drawn vehicles continued to ply for hire in Waihi, especially to and from the Railway Station, but the day of the motor car, the taxi and the bus was fast approaching.
Motoring on the excellent tar sealed highway of today, one is apt to overlook the engineering feats of yesterday. During the slump of the 1930's when hundreds of men were unemployed, the Main Highways Board, which had operated since 1924, decided to widen and seal the Gorge Road. During this period, traffic was diverted over the Rahu saddle, which proved a severe test for all vehicles, especially buses. However, it was worth the inconvenience to have at last a first class highway, which since 1936, the Ministry of Works has maintained, the work since 1954 being under the jurisdiction of the National Roads Board.
The gold-mining industry was the spur that hastened rail transportation. The Paeroa-Waihi branch presented great difficulties, the main obstruction being a sharp spur near the Karangahake Gorge. This had to be pierced by a tunnel 1188 yards in length on a 1 in 50 grade. In order to facilitate and lessen the cost of the project the Waihi Gold Mining Co., offered to finance the cost of construction and the offer of a loan for that purpose was accepted by the Government. The work was commenced in 1900 and proved extremely difficult, but the tunnel was pierced and the excavation and lining-completed by the end of 1904. The line was opened for traffic to Waihi on November 9, 1905.
This line gave valuable transport facilities to the mining-communities and in 1928 was extended to Taneatua and known as the East Coast Main Trunk Railway. It is used for goods and there is a railcar service between Auckland and Te Puke.