Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971
By L. Hume
It was when the Road Services first took over from Deverell and Crimmins that Mr. Lee Hume first started driving in this district. He had previously driven the Tauranga/Rotorua and Tauranga/Matamata cars as well as in Hawkes Bay. Altogether he was driving for a total number of 15 years.
In those days there were no buses on the run, only cars such as the Packard and Hudson. They had hoods which could be put up or down, and many times the passengers had to sit along the hood. This happened quite frequently and cars were usually overloaded as they carried freight as well as the passengers.
All the Tauranga mail had to come through Waihi, but they were not allowed to carry any parcel heavier than 11 lbs. The merchants got round this restriction by sending several of these parcels to the same customer, in order to get the goods delivered. With no extra provision for parcels, the passengers had very often to sit with the parcels piled up round them, together with the mail and the newspapers. As the rail service was so bad at that time, they were still carrying mail to Tauranga three years after the rail went through. It was always worse on Thursdays as they had one hundredweight of Weekly News to Omokoroa on that day.
A launch ran from Tauranga for five years. It had, however, to run to suit the tide, and at times it did not get in until 2 am. and had to be met by a car. In bad weather the only way out of Tauranga was by boat, but if the weather was too bad, even the "Ngapuhi" couldn't run. Tauranga was very isolated in those days, but it did not matter what the weather was like, they had to try to get the mails through.
At that time the roads were not properly formed. From Waihi to Tauranga the road was marked by mile pegs and the drivers described the road according to such and such a peg. For instance, to Katikati it was not so many miles, but so many pegs. It took two hours to reach Katikati provided they did not get stuck on the way. One time an old chap complained that the fare of 30/- was a lot for two hours. They told him to come back in the Winter time as it took twice as long.
Between Waihi and Tauranga there were only two miles of the road which was metalled. In the Winter time the cars just travelled from one bog hole to another and, although they carried chains, they were usually not much good. Horses were stationed at regular intervals between Katikati and Tauranga ready to pull the cars out. On one trip Mr. Hume remembered hooking up three horses to pull a car out. However, these were not enough and they finished up with seven horses. The roads were so bad from the other side of Katikati that they had to have the horses on for ten miles before they could take them off. In some places it was easier to go across country. When the going was too hard and they got stuck, the passengers got out and walked. At times on a breakdown, the passengers had to walk from ten to twelve miles through mud. They reckoned a driver was no good if he couldn't get out of a hole in ten minutes.
It took four years experience for a driver to know the road. Not only did he have to know the road, but he had to be his own mechanic as well; and he had to know how to get the cars out when they were stuck. All repairs had to be done in the middle of the road.
Mr. Hume remembered knocking out a differential on the road. As he had no lights, they rolled up the Heralds and somebody went in front all the way with a lighted Herald to show the road. He said that he always carried a spare axle in case he broke one. It was generally the front axle that would break, but when one broke the other was certain to go within three months. Spare tyres and wheels were always carried flat in order to save space. The head of the Hudson had to be taken off every week or it was no good. Mr. Hume did the road with only Sunday off for five years - and he was never in bed before midnight. They would change the engine overnight. Quite frequently the whole of Sunday would be spent in repair work.
The brakes on the cars were seldom in working order and they just used the gears. It got to the stage where they had two wheel brakes. One time before he left Tauranga, he had had the external bands on the brakes tightened before he left Tauranga, but they worked loose so he took them off altogether. He put the gears down to low and that was all he had. He recalled that at one time he was approaching a bridge down a hill with no brakes, when he saw a man with horses and dray in the middle of the bridge. He couldn't stop in time, and the man and the dray couldn't have got over before he reached the bridge. He just had to hope that there would be enough clearance. He went as far over to the edge as he reasonably could and scraped through by only taking the side off the dray and all the bridge railings.
Mr. Hume recalled several other humorous incidents which occurred while he was on the run. During the middle of the Winter when the weather couldn't have been worse, a woman insisted on catching the Waihi train. He warned her that it would be very uncomfortable, but she was insistent. The weather was still bad when the time came to leave. To make matters worse, the woman arrived half an hour late with three small children one of whom she said got carsick. She would not change her mind.
There was a standing arrangement that the train would wait up to half an hour if the service cars were late. Mr. Hume had therefore rung the station to tell them the circumstances. With frequent stops for the child and the state of the road, both mother and children were very much the worse for wear by the time they eventually reached Waihi. They were over half an hour late and had just time to board the train before it was away.
Another time Mr. Hume was driving a special bus on a parliamentary tour from Tauranga to Rotorua and he could not get the engine to go at all well. Later, when they eventually arrived, one of them congratulated him on the nice even trip.
Mr. Hume said that the trip from Napier to Taupo took twelve hours either way. It was so cold at Rangitikei that they had to stand a kerosene tin of hot water by the engine to get it going.
Mr. Alan Carter and Mr. Hume are the only two original service car drivers for this district.
The above is a reported talk given by Mr. Hume to the Waihi Historical Society.