Karangahake School and District 70th Jubilee 1889-1959
The urgent needs of the mining industry made Paeroa an entrepot of great importance, the goldfields then having neither railway nor seaport. Supplies of all kinds, from needles to tube mills, from dungarees to dainty frocks, things to eat, and especially things to drink, were brought by steamer to Paeroa and thence transported by road to Karangahake and beyond.
Old residents will recall the "convoys" of coal and other wagons which constantly travelled the rough roads and the difficulties they encountered negotiating Turner's Hill, not then easily graded as it is today. It was a common sight to see 40 or more great draught horses straining and toiling up the hill, or awaiting their turn to do so, the leaders of the various teams being used to help others up the steep incline.
It is little wonder that the road often had to be repaired at nights, when it is realised how very heavy the traffic was. Even the heaviest and bulkiest machinery was conveyed by this means, and the mud at times and in places was awe inspiring. In Paeroa itself the road from the Junction Wharf to this end of the town became such a quagmire that rails were laid in order to facilitate transport and then the loads were transferred from the horse-drawn trucks to the waiting wagons.
The horses were magnificent and the drivers wonderful. Clarkin's eight horse teams were on the road in 1889, that firm being contractors for the Waihi Gold Mining Company, so they travelled both the old Rahu Road and then the perilous Gorge Road, which was opened shortly afterwards.
The drivers loved their splendid horses and spared no pains to groom them, keeping their harness spic and span, some men having such nick-names as "Shiny Shilling" and "Brasso" because of the pride they took in their equipment. Each horse had a "nose-bag" for its "lunch" and it does not require much calculation to realise the quantity of "hard feed" needed.
About 1909 Clarkin's teams ended their twenty-odd years of service on the Paeroa-Waihi Road. The mines and batteries, which had literally "gorged" hundreds of tons of machinery, became less demanding and the railway proved a formidable competitor for the carriage of goods. The entire plant, including over 100 fine draught horses, was moved to Hamilton.
Brenans were blacksmiths and coach builders in the early days but they too soon played a prominent part in the transport business and have continued to do so right up till the present day, now operating a fleet of motor lorries. They must have transported thousands of tons of coal over the years and even after the railway opened they had the contract for carting the coal from the station to the big steam plants. In the Karangahake township they had an important depot and George Dent was in charge of the stables there. It is a matter of interest that his son, George, now has a transport business of his own in Paeroa.
There were also other carriers on the road and it will be remembered that Hague Smiths provided all the explosives for the mines, carting it to the magazines. Short's had a big business too and have continued as carriers throughout the years. Some of the intrepid drivers were: Tom and Bill Thrupp, Shorty Moore, Herman Cain, Bill and Harry Turner, George Sarjant, Jim Gavin, Alec Bourne, Bill Farrow, Jim Butterworth, Scotty, Jack Higginson, George Dent, Frank Tierney, Jack Twathe [Thwaite? - E], George Wickliff, Gillard, L. Shaw, E. Sims, Head, George Neil, and a host of others.
There were often incidents along the narrow tortuous road, and quite a few happened in our own locality. It was not easy to "back" an eight horse team to a safe place for passing, nor to gauge just how near the edge of a bank one might go with safety. Ingenuity was often called for. There was the time when the Waihi Company, unable to arrange with the railway, owing to the tunnel being inadequate to accommodate some large tubular metal tanks, entrusted the delivery to Clarkins. They met a major difficulty at the Railway Bridge, there being no possibility of passing under it, so the road had to he sunk two or three feet. A newspaper clipping tells us that notwithstanding this, the goods were delivered on time.
One of Mr Jack Clarkin's worst personal ordeals occurred in the gorge. He was driving a seven-horse team to Waikino and just beyond the Woodstock Dam, two logs came crashing down the hill-side frightening the horses. As they swerved, one wheel went over the bank and the next minute all had gone, Mr Clarkin being pinned among the horses, one of which was badly hurt. He always considered he had a miraculous escape, for both he and the injured horse were at work again after six weeks of being "laid up." Luckily another wagon was handy and the driver was able to render quick assistance. Half the load was in the river but the next day that somewhat smashed wagon was on the road again.
The gorge in those days presented terrific hazards, there being so few places where vehicles could pass. Usually the heavier traffic was timed to pass through in a convoy and if it was returning after dark at night, the driver of the leading wagon would put a lantern or "a candle in a bottle" at the more dangerous corners. However, apart from sudden mishaps the horses could be relied on to negotiate the road in safety (even if one Charlie Griffiths did once find himself in the river).
The passing of the teams concluded a saga of great valour in the annals of transport.