Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973
by M.A. GLEADOW
It is some thirty years since the Gleadow Sawmill first took shape, but those years have held so much of change that the memories and dates have become blurred with the passing of time.
The beginning of the Mill was in this way:
Charles James West Gleadow had been a builder of some repute since the early nineteen twenties. Having served an apprenticeship in Carpentry in Frankton he went back to his King Country area to build. One of his early contracts was the Mangaotaki School near Pio Pio. Passing through Paeroa in the mid 1920's he was caught up in the transitional relicensing period which after nearly twenty years was to bring the area "Wet" once more. After the renovations of the Hotels he stayed on and continued with his building operations.
He was a man of outstanding personality, allied to a quiet manner, cheerful and of great humour, knowing what he wanted, and sufficiently strong-willed to go after it. Towards the end of the Second World War, he was finding it increasingly difficult to procure timber for his building and joinery activities.
"There's only one thing to do", he said, "Get my own timber". So eventually, he obtained the lease of eight hundred acres of standing Native timber at Kiri Kiri, Thames.
There was a road for three or four miles at the commencement of the route to the property, to give access to farms, but private access of many more miles, over very rough country, had to be made. The Kopu - Hikuai highway follows the route for part of the way and at the Kiri Kiri No.1 Bridge the old logging road can be seen to the right hand side leading up to the bush. At one spot there was a drop of 400 feet from the road, when cut into the hillside. However, all roading difficulties were gradually surmounted, and a bush team selected, before attention could be turned to the building of the sawmill itself, and the procuring of the necessary machinery, trucks and trailers.
Mr. Edwin Edwards who had just built a new home in Waihi Road, had vacated the old family home, with its large grey tower, in Rye Lane (Now Towers Street), and this property, amounting to three acres, was bought as a nucleus for the all electric powered sawmill and its various requirements and activities. By this time both Charles Gleadow and his Bank Manager were suffering from shock and many headaches, but they knew they were "in for a penny, in for a pound" and just had to keep going.
In the meantime, interim arrangements were made to start the cutting of a small tract of Native bush nearer at hand, at Komata Reefs, which had belonged to Tom Scott. The first requirement was a large bulldozer and blade, a T.D. 18, and by the time the sawmill building had been erected, the machinery installed, tramway down, a large drying shed put up, and an office building at street level, there were sufficient trees felled to make a start. So the mill continued from strength to strength.
Then the small stand of timber at Komata was standing no longer, but had all been transferred to the mill, work was commenced at Kiri Kiri under the direction of Tom Scott, a very experienced bushman who continued in charge of the bush-cutting for the duration of the mill. It soon became a common sight to see a logging truck and trailer jogging down Belmont Road, with a traffic officer in full cry, siren screaming, to give unfortunate Len King a ticket for overloading.
The Office was run by Mrs. Gleadow, who stood shoulder to shoulder with her husband through all the trials and worries of the business.
At one stage of the life of the mill, in 1951, it suffered a Setback which could easily have caused it to close down. That was a large and spectacular fire, whose origin was at the time obscure. It was thought that sparks from a passing engine could have been the cause, as it was mid January and there was a drought with it's attendant dried-up vegetation. An official from the Railway Department subsequently visited the Mill, and the matter was thoroughly talked out, although no satisfactory solution was forthcoming.
The conflagration was tremendous, and water was scarce. Sufficient water for only one hose was obtained by shutting off the supply to the whole of the area. Had it not been almost a still day, with what little breeze there was blowing away from the mill building, the latter, with all its costly machinery, would have been lost, and the business would have been compelled to close down.
One other incident, also could have had very far-reaching effects, and that was that a large drum of Creosote standing on one end of a stack of timber, exploded, spraying the whole stack and other buildings. The fact that over the road were the premises and large storage tanks of the Atlantic Oil Bulk Depot also was the cause of much anxiety, but any major accident was fortunately averted.
Although the Mill and its contents were insured, through a misunderstanding the maximum amount was by no means collected. A very large building containing all the dressed heart timber (Kauri, Matai, Totara., Pine etc.) was, through a technical error, not included in the Policy. A six-berth, all-electric caravan, occupied as a dwelling by one of the carpenters on the staff, was also omitted from the Policy. However, within the space of a week, the Office was re-built, looking as if it had never been razed to the ground. As a matter of fact, one country customer, who had heard rumours but seen nothing, came in at the end of a week, and said: "I heard that the Office building had been burnt to the ground, and here it is! What rumours you hear!"
So the sawmill continued to be one of Paeroa's major industries, and to prosper in spite of various trials and setbacks, giving employment to a proportion of the surrounding population. After Mr. Gleadow's sudden and unexpected illness, and subsequent death, at the comparatively early age of fifty six, Mrs. Gleadow carried on for a further 2 years under the guidance of the Public Trustee with Fred McCaskill as Mill Manager. Curly Neil and Fred Patterson leased the mill for a short time but eventually the Machinery which included one of the largest electric motors at the time in Paeroa was sold to Christensens of Waihi and formed the nucleus of a Mill at Kati Kati and later Whangamata. The building was bought by Peter Voogt who used the materials for poultry sheds on his farm at the north end of town. The Mill site was vacant until it was purchased by Lawrence Gleadow in 1964. Concrete foundations are still evident in the corner of the yard.
The name still continues today in the form of Gleadow Timber& Joinery Ltd as a Joinery Timber & Building Supply business built up by our son Lawrence, from small beginnings as a Joinery manufacture the original workshop site in Miller Avenue.
Some of the names associated with the "Sawmill" era:
BUSH STAFF: Tom Scott, Harold Mitchell, Ian Hopper, Colin Mariner, Charlie Farmer, Len King, Ted Tunzelman, Watene & Eagan.
MILL STAFF: Archie Monteith, Fred McCaskill, Ed Te Moananui, John Te Moananui, Morrie Wickliffe, Bagge, Mick Castle, Warren Williams, Peter --, George -- , Wally Scott, Ces Sigglekow, Durbin, Buchanan, Percy Blows, Stewart Reid, - Prujean.
CARPENTRY, JOINERY: Frank Kinred, Les Davies, Vic Turner, Ray Heappey, Fon Furze, Trevor Weir.