Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969
By J. P. SINNETT.
Probably the first car to be owned by a Paeroa resident would be a one cylinder De Dion - Bouton driven by John Harper who ran an engineering business in Belmont Road. He later owned a two-seater Hupmobile Roadster which he used for some years, and Mr. W. Medhurst had a 1912 Studebaker Roadster.
The first commercial vehicle to be based in Paeroa was a LACRE truck owned by the Thames Valley Dairy Co., and used to carry butter from their factory, which stood on the present site of the N.Z. Dairy Co.'s office building, to the railway station and to the steamer at the Puke Wharf. This truck was replaced after many years of service by a Walker electric truck, powered by storage batteries. Both of these trucks were driven by the late Dave McKee for the whole of their operative life.
A little later but still in the early teens Brenan & Co. brought another LACRE truck, their first, to Paeroa and with it commenced their change over from horse teams to motors. Paeroa at the time was part of the Ohinemuri County and the Dairy Co.'s truck had a registration number O.H.R.1, while Brenan & Co.'s vehicle was O.H.R.2, and W.B.C. (Waihi Borough Council) for each Local Body imposed a licence fee on motor vehicles.
Another LACRE to come to Paeroa during this period was a char-a-banc for Wm. Medhurst. It seated about twenty on full width seats each seat being entered by a side door. The vehicle was built as an oversize touring car with a canvas hood which could be folded down. The LACRE vehicles were built in England by the Lanchester Motor Co. and supplied by Hoiland and Gillet of Auckland who sent one of their staff to give driving lessons on each one.
Brenan & Co.'s LACRE was at first driven by Ernie Simms who bad been a horse team driver, and after some months of trials and tribulations as a truck driver he decided to go back to horses. Ernie was afterwards killed on the hill section of Rotokohu Road in an accident while hauling logs with a horse team. The truck was taken over by Jim Sinnett, senior, who drove it for some years and then transferred to another of Brenan & Co.'s trucks, a JEFFREY QUAD an unusual vehicle in that it drove and steered on all four wheels. Another feature was that it had its motor in the cab. It did not have a speedometer but had an odometer built into a hub cap. Most trucks of the period had only hand throttles but this one had an accelerator operated by the driver's right heel.
The JEFFREY truck was not Brenan & Co.'s second truck but their third for they had previously bought a DENNIS an ex-bus from Te Awamutu. The feature in this one was that it ran on petrol or kerosene and had two separate fuel systems. It was driven by George Wickliffe who though he claimed to be almost tongue tied, was in fact a polished speaker, and a most interesting person to meet. On one occasion when asked to address the people present he spoke in Maori for 45 minutes and then repeated his speech in English.
The story of commercial motoring as it began in Paeroa is inevitably parallel with that of Brenan & Co. A list of their early truck drivers contains such names as: John Thwaites, Jack Moon, Geo. Dent, Bert Neil, Fred Hicks, Bill Draffin and Harry Karu, who came to the firm in about that order. One other driver whose name comes to mind is Nui Williams who would have been preceded by all those mentioned.
These truck drivers must all have had a common quality of durability for the trucks they drove had solid rubber tyres and cabs whose architecture called only for a seat and overhead cover. The minus fittings were windscreens, cab sides, seat upholstery and in most cases backs to the cabs. The lighting systems ranged from kerosene to acetylene and rock gas. All loads were handled on and off, for tip trucks did not arrive for some years.
The early taxi services were provided by:
- Wm. Medhurst LANGIA & PAIGE,
- Wm. Moore GLIDE;
- Wm. Fleming & Son STUDEBAKER;
- Ted Hart OLDSMOBILE;
- Brenan & Company STUDEBAKER.
These were more in the nature of hire cars and although trains and boats were met, Paeroa did not have a taxi rank. Paeroa was "dry" by virtue of local prohibition between 1908 and 1925 and much of the taxi business was done in errands of mercy between Paeroa and Hikutaia where a moister climate prevailed.
One of the earliest passenger bus services operated to and through Paeroa was that of Sam Bonnici who in after years entered Local Body politics and became deputy Mayor of Waihi. His sons are still operating buses in the Eastern Beaches area of Auckland. Another service was the Waihi - Paeroa Transport Co. managed by Evan Thomas who extended his run to give a regular service from Waihi to Auckland. The business was eventually bought out by N.Z.R. Road Services and now forms part of their network. The first through freight service by road between Auckland and Paeroa was run by Les Shaw our recently retired Mayor. This business was also bought by the N.Z.R. Road Services and is still operated under their management.
Private motoring developed in about the same period and at about the same rate as commercial motoring, and cars while not plentiful were not uncommon. Some of the owners of the first cars to be seen here were Philip Brenan, Percy Vuglar, John Cochrane, Allan Gorrie, a Solicitor; Archie White, and George Sarjant, Senior. No doubt there were others but memory stretched over a period of 55 years is apt to contain the occasional gap.