Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968


Probably because both my Father and Brother were among the drivers of Clarkin's famous teams, I acquired a great passion for horses at a very early age. We lived near the Paeroa Stables and my greatest delight was to be taken on one of the exciting journeys to Karangahake, Waitekauri, Waikino or Waihi. If the loaded wagon was too high for me to climb up my brother Harry, who was very strong, would toss me up on top where I would grab a rope or sack and find myself a secure seat. Occasionally I was given what seemed to me the very important job of walking behind the wagon up the steep hills in order to place a piece of wood or rock behind a wheel when the horses were stopped for a rest.

Another task that intrigued we younger members of the family was to meet our home-coming team with a lantern when it had not returned before dark. We would sometimes go as far as the Catholic Church and wait till perhaps eight or nine o'clock at night so that there would be no infringement of the law when driving through the town. I asked my father how he drove through the Gorge without a light, and he said he left it to the horses and their judgement never failed. Yet there must have been considerable danger because I remember that Ernie Sim met his death when he and his team disappeared over a cliff in the Rotokohu Gorge. We were all grief stricken because they were our neighbours in Junction Road and Mrs. Sim and her daughters, Essie, Avis and Ivy moved to Thames afterwards. My only solace was that my favourite horse "Violet" survived the ordeal.

I will never forget the two-horse huge drays that used to carry coal from the Railway yards to the Karangahake Mines; the rumble of the iron wheels on the metal roads, the dust, the sweating straining horses and the very black faces of the drivers! And again, Junction Road brings vivid memories because as a boy I was fascinated by the teams that pulled the tram-rail-trucks that used to bring great logs from the river to Le Manquia, Lamb & Co.'s Timber Mill situated where the Te Aroha Dairy Coy's Factory is now. Log rafts used to be towed on the rivers, to the end of Junction Road, winched up the river bank on skids and then loaded by timber-jacks on to the tramway trucks - (no lifting cranes or bulldozers in those days of crow-bars and man and horse power). One man I remember on this job was Mr. Joe Davis. His son was a School mate of mine and to my horror was drowned from a muddy bank. We had a considerable respect for the potential danger of the river after that.

After my School days horses still had a great attraction for me and I sought such jobs as driving a baker's cart or delivering meat on horseback from Mr. Wight's butchers shop which was managed by Mr. Robert Usher whose son Len is now Mayor of Suva. Mr. Medhurst had a livery stable, next to the Royal Mail Hotel and for a time I drove for him. On one occasion it was my turn to take the mail and three passengers from Paeroa to the S.S. Waimarie at the Netherton Wharf. She was due to sail on the tide at 8 p.m. and when returning in the dark "Lassie" who always pulled hard on the home journey stumbled over a small bridge which the flood had raised above the Puke Road level, I landed on her back but was most concerned lest she had cut her knees as Mr. Medhurst had warned me to hold the reigns tightly, and never let this happen. However on inspection I was relieved to find that only her nose was grazed so I was forgiven.

One of my jobs was to carry the mail to the Netherton Store-cum-Post Office every week day and often during the winter months the road in places would be under water. In fact there were certain parts where the flood water would be up to the tops of the fences and up to my boots while riding. Sometimes when I drove (with passengers) it would come on to the floor of the sulky (gig). On one such occasion I saw the late Mr. Ben Gwilliam (sen.) paddling a canoe over his farm to cut the wires of the fences to allow his cattle to swim to the road which was higher than the farm land. It was a sad sight to see cows caught on the fences while trying to swim to safety.

While working at the Livery Stable I happened to be there one Sunday afternoon when a man came and asked for a car to take him to Morrinsville as he had to report for work at the Railway Station there. The few cars being on order he was told he could have a horse and sulky and I was deputed to accompany him, and drive home afterwards. I mixed a good supply of oats and chaff for "Nugget" a small but robust unclipped horse whose long hair made him look scraggy but I knew how willing he was. Imagine my dismay soon after we had left the Criterion Bridge when the driver got out and furnished himself with a long willow stick which he applied vigorously. In spite of my boyish protests be insisted that he would "shake up the old goat" and proceeded to punish Nugget all the way to Te Aroha. It is a wonder he didn't do the same to me, but he must have heeded my threats to report him because about half a mile from Morrinsville he got out and said he'd rather walk. I knew that the horse must rest for a while so after turning round, I took off his blinkers and offered him his food. He merely took one look at the sulky behind him and prepared to bolt for home. It was sheer good luck that I was able to stop him, and lost no time in retrieving those blinkers from between his front legs. Then we settled down to get over our fright and indignation but even the good food could not compensate for his exhaustion and we returned at a slow pace, darkness overtaking us. It was then that I remembered my Dad's advice about relying on the horse's instinct. Quite a little crowd of people was waiting at the stables to greet us, there being some fear for our safety, and Mr. Medhurst questioned the marks of the stick on Nugget's back. He reported the matter to Morrinsville next day.

Early Shows in Paeroa were held in Clarkins' Paddocks but I remember the later ones held in the Domain when I used to watch my father and other drivers prepare their teams and vehicles. The time and work involved was terrific and the grooming of the big 18 hands high draught horses a work of art. With manes and tails plaited with ribbon, and hoofs painted with Stockholm tar they were a sight worth seeing in the ring parade. Besides all the best stock in Ohinemuri there were beautiful black, grey and bay ponies brought from the Waikato by relatives of Mr. Clarkin. My brother, Jim and I sometimes rode in the shows and some of the men who worked so hard to make them a success were: Messrs Wyn Edwards, Jim Silcock, Phil Brenan, Billy Marsh, Maurice Crimmins, Hal Thorp, Norman Beattie, Ernie Fathers and sons, and the Clarkin Brothers and their teamsters.