Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 27, September 1983

By Athol MacKinnon

The recent closure of the Waihi - Tauranga railway line has brought to my mind events which occurred during its construction and of one that involved my grandfather, Charles William Ludwig. He had been a carpenter in the Karangahake Battery for many years but the Waihi Strike came and those who would have worked were not permitted to do so. Neighbour had conflict with neighbour; an agitating element infiltrated and Waihi became a town of hate.

Having a family to support and very little money, grandfather decided to uplift a small farming block on the Waihi plains (price £5 an acre to be paid on the "never never"). This was seen by the militant unionists as a "blackleg" move to escape involvement in the strike and threats were made against him and against his family, but Grandfather was a determined man, so he just went along with his plans. "You'll starve out there" he was told and, as he was to recall later, he almost did, but this story is not of all of that struggle but of only one small section. Grandfather had very little money but strong hands and a strong will and what he could not buy, he would make or do without. He slashed away that scrubby ti-tree on the farm which now fills the north-west corner of the intersection of Waihi Beach Road and Trig Road and burned it in heaps, working far into the nights.

Fencing wire had to be bought - three precious wires to a fence - but posts could be cut from the bush with no other outlay than hard sweat. This is why Grandfather was elated to find a huge kauri log just on ground level out in the bush somewhere beyond where Woodlands Road is now. This should give him upward of a hundred posts of excellent quality with very little monetary outlay so with great excitement, he purchased blasting powder and fuse and made his preparations carefully testing the fuse and timing its rate of burning, for he was a careful man.

Came the morning and he started out with the cart and his equipment of axes, wedges, saw etc. but he was not too happy about using the flighty young mare that he had and he was still worried about that fuse. As he was going into the bush he could hear in the distance, the sound of the railwaymen, beginning their days work of laying the tracks towards KatiKati and by about eight a.m. he was at the log, unharnessing his horse and short tethering her.

The morning passed and the auger worked along the log's grain - the tea flask and the crib on the cart forgotten as he strived to make that first load of posts to carry home by nightfall. A look at the sun and then the watch - almost noon. In went the powder, tamp it. Bite the cap onto the fuse and in she goes. "Careful now. Gently. That's one done". And so he went on - one charge after another and gathering the fuses together. Half past twelve now.

"I'll fire the charges now and then have my crib later" he decided, "Have to hold that young mares head, though, or she'll be away and off home without me". Out came the vestas - a check around to make sure that everything was safe - and then to light the main fuse - it has caught - then to run to the mare -

The whole world seemed to explode as his body was caught in the devastating blast and he was never sure how long he lay there but at last consciousness came filtering through, then disbelief and finally, an assessment. His right leg was shattered (found later to be broken in five places), his left hand was a pulpy mess (three fingers broken), he breathed with difficulty and he knew that his ribs were broken and his eye lay on his cheek.

Very carefully, with his sound hand, he replaced his eye, then taking a nearby sliver of timber and some bracken, he straightened and bound his injured leg to that timber with strips of his shirt. He edged over to the cart to get his tea flask and, after taking what drink he needed he straightened his broken fingers and bound them with strips of shirt to the empty tea bottle.

The horse was, of course, gone, bolted; so at this stage, grim determination took over from bravery and on his back, and using his elbows he started towards home, some five miles away, stopping only occasionally to call for help to the railwaymen now so far away.

Time ceased to have measure and distance unknown as he painfully inched his way along, his jacket elbows long since disappeared and blood now ringing where they had been, his shattered leg now probably partly numbed, but he knew, of a certainty that he would make it and, at three thirty on that 4th day of May so long ago, a gang of railwaymen came upon the wreck of a man who had shuffled his painful way along for just three hours.

Four men went back for the cart and one man, so it is said, ran non-stop to Waihi to summon the doctor. Grandfather, propped on the men's clothing in the cart was drawn by the railwaymen who took turns in the shafts and, travelling in this fashion, they met the doctor somewhere out by Ford Road. I am pleased to report that Grandfather lived quite a few years after this and, when he sold his farm to Messrs Hoyle & Bracewill it had that good, productive appearance that it has today.