Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 40, September 1996
Ken McCormick who died at Waihi, aged 64, on 2 March 1994 was known to many as "The Tramp", a seemingly destitute person, who spent his time clearing weeds from the Waihi - Waikino railway track. But what was the story behind this man, who could neither read nor write and had a severe speech impediment?
In the mid 1980s Ken was placed in a Salvation Army home and his old bike was taken away from him. After a short while he had his bike returned and promptly took off to Waihi. One day in 1986 he was noticed by Karen Gaffney, of Waihi, wandering around the Water Lily Gardens where she worked. He had been roaming the country sleeping rough under hedges and in old railway carriages down at the station in Waihi. Karen invited him to use the sleep out in their back garden, an offer which he eventually took up.
Dressed up in an old woollen jumper and knitted hats, Ken would roam the streets, pushing his rickety old bike. He loved to stop and talk to people, but few wanted to stop and talk to him. Despite his lack of reading and writing skills he was clever in his own way. Many a Waihi household had one of Ken's Television 3 aerials - rough looking but certainly built well enough to do the job.
He was also keenly interested in the Goldfield's Railway. A member of the Goldfield's Steam Train Society, Robin Millen, said Ken was one for doing the jobs no one else wanted to do. Before the Keith Wrigley Bridge was built across State Highway 2, Ken would get out with the hedge-clippers and cut the grass which threatened to overcome the then unattended railway tracks at the Waikino end of the line. Later, he became the brakeman on the steam train, a job he performed with much skill. He would also dry out the sand needed for the engine sand box on little fires he'd get going down at the station.
A newspaper clipping dating from the mid 1960's reports another of his inventions. This was a miniature hovercraft, designed and built by Ken when he lived at Papakura. The purpose of his invention was to dry out the ground at the Papatoetoe Cricket Club. The machine, driven by a two stroke motor, was built of plywood and canvas. When started, four blades rotated, creating a draught. The action of the air broke up the water on the ground making it evaporate quicker.
But for all his worth, much of Ken's life went unrecognised and unrewarded, most of all by himself. Although seemingly destitute, Ken had $16000 in his bank account when he died and had, on one occasion, won $8000 in Lotto. This he promptly banked. Perhaps, for Ken, life's riches could not be counted in terms of dollars and cents.