Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969


Before 1890, Dan Campbell established the first Coach service from Waihi, but in the latter part of the Victorian era, Mr. Charlie Short who had his headquarters in Paeroa, opened coaching stables next to the Commercial Hotel at Waihi. The trade mark after l899 when the Ohinemuri Coaching Company was formed was O.C.C. It was designed to catch the eye of the large moving populace and mounted high overhead in front of the conspicuous notice board on the stable front was a wooden replica of a white horse.

Soon a number of coach drivers were prominent in the Waihi area, and such names as Charles and Ernie Short, Ernie Fathers, Oscar and George Smith, Bill Bain, Mick Crosbie, Maurice Crimmins and Harry Deverell were well known. Harry Deverell, Maurice Crimmins and Ernie Fathers were employed by Short& Co., and these drivers spent some years on the Thames-Waihi run. The extremely cold winter conditions through the newly opened gorge region and the heat and dust of summer must have been a trial with considerable responsibility resting on the drivers.

About 1906, Short & Co., sold out to Maurice Crimmins and Ernie Fathers. After a year or two Mr. Crimmins retired from the firm and Harry Deverell took his place for a payment of £400 approximately, so the firm changed from Short & Co., to Crimmins & Fathers then to Deverell & Fathers. This partnership was to continue for only another year or so, as Mr. Fathers moved to Napier and took control of the Celedonian [Caledonian ? – E] Hotel, a three story ferro-concrete building of 100 bedrooms with a staff of 25 at that time. Then Mr. Crimmins decided to fill this vacancy and was accepted for a payment of about £500. This is where the partnership began of Deverell & Crimmins, who ran a passenger and mail service to Tauranga but had their main Livery and Bait Stables in Waihi. A large number of gigs, double buggies, coaches, cartage vehicles, harness etc., with 24 light working horses made a complete and well established business calling for a partnership to operate a day and night service to an ever growing public. The term "Livery and Bait'' refers to the stabling and feeding of horses and to the provision of their refreshment on a journey. The partners were clearing about £10 a week each after paying expenses during these busy years of increasing Gold mining activities. Unfortunately, during the horrible soul-destroying period of the Waihi Strike the firm nearly went broke, because though coaches were used extensively yet few could pay their bills.

Maurice Crimmins had been driving coaches elsewhere when he and his widowed Mother came from Opotiki to Waihi where he married Miss Toomey. He was tall, dark and handsome, with his moustache pointed and waxed to perfection, a man about town, admired by everyone, clean to an immaculate degree and smartly dressed. He could best be described as a very debonair gentleman, who did exceedingly well for himself in all business transactions and never appeared to be financially embarrassed. Always a lover of really good horse-flesh, he had over some years several thoroughbred race horses which gave a good account of themselves on the track and at Show-rings. Several high spirited horses were introduced to the stables and caused many a stir when as leaders in the mail-coach they took some time to settle down to work. Their prancing and neighing caused great excitement, with Maurice on the seat and always a popular showman. After the miles from Katikati had been left behind, and the Tauranga bridge crossed it is reported that Maurice would come up to the Waihi Post Office at a gallop, the coach rattling and swaying in an alarming way. The short sprint as a grand finale to a steady journey over hard stony roads seemed to be a tonic.

Harry Deverell, my father, was of an opposite nature and preferred quiet horses, often driving with a loose rein and going at a steady pace. Attention to his passengers came first, under conditions which were not always the easiest.

The time-table for the alternate trips Waihi-Tauranga, was, depart Waihi 9.30 a.m. arrive Katikati 12 noon (l8 miles). Lunch and, change of horses, transfer to lighter coach, arrive Tauranga 5 p.m. (25 miles). Next day depart Tauranga 7.15 a.m. arrive Katikati 11.30 a.m., lunch and change to larger coach and fresh team, arrive Waihi 5 p.m. The horses were sometimes weary and footsore on this section with more metal surfaces to cover, but time lost in one place would be made up on the easier going stretches. The horses were hard fed and tough to stand up to this constant task. The regular coach time-table ran till about 19l6 when cars were used increasingly as the roads gradually improved, but coaches were necessary in bad weather, up to about 1920, though for some years after this, the hilly winding highway was often in the news as being in very poor condition and hard-going. (Newmans of the South Island ran their last coach Murchison to Glenhope in 1918.)

Feeding and grooming the horses, and preparing the coach and harness necessitated early rising which during the winter was no joke. Permanent rooms for the drivers were kept at Sam Tanner's Hotel, agents at Tauranga being George Baigents Land Agents in Wharf Street. The routine from there in bad weather meant rising early, piling luggage and passengers and mail into a launch and heading up the harbour to pick up the service car somewhere north of the worst part of the road, transferring everything, then trying to catch the Auckland train at Waihi Station, 9.30 a.m. The Katikati Postmistress would 'phone the Waihi Station master, who was very obliging and would often hold the train up half an hour, though many times the connection would be missed. The fares on this journey were 30/- single and 45/- return, pretty stiff by today's standards, but precious little profit in it then. On one occasion Bert Carter came into the stable yard in pitch darkness and walked right into the back of one of the horses which lashed out and knocked most of his teeth down his throat. After the Great War everybody was in and fares were cut to pieces.

There was very little local work in Waihi and the business depended largely on the Tauranga run, the firm having a mail contract which was renewed every three years for about 15 years with no opposition. The first car was a 1910 Buick 4 Cylinder bought in 1911.

Many cars followed. This list will give some idea of the money spent to keep going. 1912 Buick 4 Cylinder, Model T. Ford, 1915 Buick 4 Cylinder, 1914 Cutting, 1913 Model T. Ford, 1915 Studebaker 4 Cylinder, 7 passenger, 19l6 Dodge and 6 Cylinder Buick, 1917 Ford bus with chain drive rear end and solid tyres, 1921 Chandler, 7 passengers, 1922 Hudson Super six, 7 passenger, 1923 Chandler 7 passenger, International Bus plus several Fords, dates lost, from 1912 onwards.

Very cold conditions were experienced in Waihi during the wet hard winters. It was a never ending job repairing cars and working on tyres and wheels. The split rim was general [common – E] which caused no end of trouble in spite of a machine designed to make things easy. Then also coaches had to be carefully washed down, which called for patience and good water pressure which we had. The horses were in a mess in stormy weather and would be taken out of the coach with mud and grit well coated on their backs and tummies. This required a thorough hose down, then all surplus water was removed with a hoop iron tool to prevent chills, before the horses could be covered and fed.

For valuable recent information towards the compiling of this article I thank my old friends Bill Roycroft, Len Pike and my brother Harry. During the long years since those active stable days have passed, the stench of horse manure and urine countered by the fancy smells of neatsfoot oil [spelt differently I think, a leather dressing – E], chaff, oats and bran, have faded away, but not the memory of the grooming, feeding, washing and harness maintenance indulged in by some, and the belting of tyres and wheels, the grease and grime of engine repairs carried out by the drivers, which was routine when time permitted.

[see also Journal 5: Era of the Horse - E]