Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978
By Joe Ashby
My grandfather may not have been the first carrier in Waihi, but if he wasn't there were very few before him. The family story has it that grandfather left the Thames area during the late 1890's for Waihi to help build Seddon Street, then just "The Main Street" and this I believe to be true. He bought a house and paddock in Devon Street, that connected Seddon Street and Kenny Street and now occupied by his great grandson Reece Ashby, Brown and Brown and Fenn Motors. This became his home and centre of operations until 1910 when he had a fatal accident while carting fill to Waihi Beach to road the stretch across Wilson's swamp adjacent to Wilson Road. In those days the old road left the present road at the "Devil's elbow" corner and followed down the ridge to the lower ground. The horse's cover slipped and began to flap, thus alarming it and when grandad got off the cart at the Devil's Elbow to refasten the cover the horse lashed out with both feet, caught grandad in the stomach, causing internal injuries which proved to be fatal.
Although my Dad was a moulder by trade having served his time at Prices Foundry at Thames, he returned to carrying after his apprenticeship and at the time of grandfather's death had established himself as a carrier in Thames. He had a team and dray and was carting quartz for the tributers who abounded in Thames. The tributers were prospectors or claim owners in a small way who had to get samples of their quartz crushed at a battery to "prove" that the ore was payable or otherwise, and as there were quite a few small batteries and many tributers carrying must have been a reasonable living. However as a result of the bereavement Dad came to Waihi to carry on the business established by grandfather. At this tine I was 13 or 14 years old and already was doing my bit after school by delivering horse manure to enthusiastic home gardeners for 5/- a load with the oldest dray and any spare horse. One of my best customers who had a wonderful garden as a result, lived where the parking area is behind the Commercial Hotel.
The stables were built where Reece Ashby's Funeral Parlour now is and consisted of stalls for about 25 horses, a loft for chaff, a feed room for oats, barley and mixing the feed, and a long open fronted shed for parking the vehicles. These consisted of 6 or 7 drays, 2 timber wagons and about 5 box wagons used for carting coal. We used about 6 tons of chaff, and about 1 ton of oats and 1 ton of barley a month for feed. At one stage Dad had a bit of a farm at Waitawheta and grew his own feed but relied on a travelling chaff cutter from Thames or the chaff cutter on the Borough farm by the Cemetery. In the winter the barley would be boiled up in an old copper at the end of the stables and molasses added to their feed.
In the summertime the horses were turned out into the paddock for the night and a kerosene tin of feed was put into each manger ready for the morning. At 3 a.m. I would get the horses in from the paddock, take their covers off, and each horse would go into its own stall to feed and wait for its driver to appear to brush it ready for its day's work that began at 6 a.m. hail, rain or shine. Dad was always on hand to see the teams go out and if any piece of harness was dirty or hadn't been cleaned with neatsfoot oil back went the driver to clean it. The hames [used to connect the collar to the harness, hames are metal or wooden. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hame , and http://horsedriver.com/Glossary.aspx#H – E] were kept bright too but the worst crime was to leave a collar unbuckled overnight. This meant that being wet with sweat when it was hung up, the collar would dry out misshapenly and thus be uncomfortable on the horse the next day and so create collar sores. The drays were kept up to the mark, repairs being done as needed and most got a coat of paint over the Christmas holidays. The wheels caused most trouble. In the very dry summers the wood would shrink and the iron tyres became loose. This meant a trip to Tom Dick, Jack Porter, or Harry Amour, smithies, where the tyres would be "cut and shut" i.e. a piece cut out of the iron tyre then shut together to make a tight fit. Occasionally we would do a temporary job by jamming a half horse shoe between the wood and the iron tyre. The horses were clipped every May so that they would dry off after sweating and not stay cold overnight. Most of the horses had to be "twitched" to get them to stay still and the drivers had competitions to see who could clip the straightest line and by the numbers of kids who turned up wanting to turn the clipper handles it was a popular day. Dad bought all his horses himself and was a very good judge, able to ascertain a horses good and bad points just as he was walking past. He broke in all his horses himself when they were 2 to 4 years old and was always careful never to break its spirit or its will to work even though he never hesitated to punish one if it needed it. He bought our harnesses that lasted upwards of 2 years locally from Mick Conway where Peter Brady's Florist shop now is, from George Mitchell, situated at Noel Lind's Real Estate, Roy Turner who was in Gardiners Bakers Shop, and from Jim McCall who lived in Kenny Street and also worked in the mine. Of course there were no vets in those days but Archie Leach would be on hand to file down teeth and give advice - salt petre in a hot wash, powdered ginger for 'crook' stomachs - milk for botts etc.
The drivers, each of whom always worked with and cared for their own teams, stayed for varying periods and I can remember Joe Brown, Tom Williams, Ted Follas, Vic Hancock, Bill Radford, Jock Porter, Jim Millen, "Chill" Lomas, Laurence Farley, Gilbert Folett, Bill Carter, Alan ("Ike") Carter.
One of our main jobs was carting about 100 tons a day of Huntly coal from the railway station to the different mines but mainly to the Junction. We did six trips a day each on the coal and the harder we worked the sooner we finished. This resulted in races in shovelling coal from the LR or LL wagons into our box carts with a No. 10 square mouth shovel. This took about 20 minutes and then a plod, up the hill with the 3½ tons and our 3 horse teams - 2 polers and a leader, - leaning into their collars, a trot back to the station, the whole trip taking about an hour. Unloading in dry weather was easy because we drove over the hoppers and removed about 4 or 5 hopper cover boards, pulled out the false bottom of the coal box and except for the ends of the box which we shovelled towards the centre, gravity did the rest. In wet weather however the coal packed down tight and we had to shovel or push it through the hole and at the same time make sure we didn't end up some 15 feet down in the hopper.
Carting metal and pumice for the roads was another big job. There were small hard pumice quarries along the Tauranga Road near Sandy McHardy's and the Borough Farm and the pumice was knapped by an old chap, measured up by the Ohinemuri Engineer and then carted out to form the roads. This work, plus general carrying took us out to Whangamata, through to Karangahake and south to the Ohinemuri Boundary, then about where Harvey Taylor's now is. Because of the oversupply of houses after the 1912 Strike and because the Waihi Plains were being balloted for farms, houses were available very cheaply in Waihi but had to be transported to the farms. Many of the ballot winners were miners who lived in Waihi but wanted their houses shifted to their new farms (about the same time many houses were railed to the Eureka and Morrinsville areas). Either way it meant alot of work for us. Some of the houses even went to the other side of Katikati. George Smith and Bob Harris were experts in preparing these houses for transport and in re-erecting them. First they would remove the roof and ceiling, next take out the windows and saw along where the walls met the floor and down the corners of the rooms letting these "sections" "fold in" onto each other on the floor. These sections followed by the floor sections and roof would be loaded up with the windows on top. The demolition of a house would take about a day but the re-erection 1 to 2 weeks. Some loads were too wide for the bridge, especially the Tuapiro Bridge and we either had to use timber jacks or more often than not just tighten the chains on the load and let the projecting boards be broken off, much to the carpenters annoyance. We could carry on the timber wagons, about 6 or 7 sections at a time so it would take a few days to completely shift a house. My longest shift was to Aongatete, south of Katikati and the biggest shift was carting the old Central Hotel to the station. The "Central" was pulled down board by board and denailed, and the job was overseen by a Brewery Representative, a Mr Rowe who walked around all day dressed in a "hard hitter" and a long tailed coat and did nothing but watch the job was done to his liking. Perhaps my longest job in more than one sense about 1926 was to cart the girders out to the rail bridges between Waihi and Athenree. This occupied me and my five-horse team for weeks taking two girders at a time. They varied in size and the smallest ones are in the span over Victoria Street and the longest span on the road into the present rubbish dump which are in two piece and were bolted together during erection. When some of these girders were to be used it was found that they were too light and had to go to the Public Works Department at the Mount to have extra ¼" plates welded to them. This meant a trip with them to the Tuapiro River where, after enough were assembled, they were picked up by scow. The girders were piled up where the present road bridge is and winched up a ramp sometimes with the help of the ever-present timber jack, and of course they had to be returned to Waihi the same way.
For us the beginning of the end of the horses came about 1924-5 when Dad bought a solid tyred Republic truck. When the Junction Mine closed down in 1926 with the consequential loss of the coal contract we sold more horses until by 1929 when we had a clearing sale there were only about 4-5 horses left but had graduated to two trucks and for me this marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.