Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 42, September 1998
By Fred Carbutt
I began driving when I left school in 1924 by taking Deverell's taxis, which were mainly Dodge Tourers, round to the wash then putting them back into the shed again. After many weekends of this I was able to handle the cars. In turn with my school mate, Stanley Deverell, who was a twin son of H. Deverell, we were able to drive the taxis and so could take three Chinamen, who had businesses in Waihi, to the huge vegetable gardens opposite the Paeroa cemetery. This was on alternate Sundays and they would return to Waihi by train on Monday morning.
At that stage Dad bought a Ford T car. It was secondhand and was purchased from a Mr Pearse, a car dealer in Karangahape Road in Auckland. It cost $100 and I drove it home. I tried to teach my Dad how to drive but he could never get right which way to turn the steering wheel, so I gave up on that. By February 1st, 1926, I must have convinced the Sergeant of Police that I could handle the car because when Sergeant McLean and Dr Cole, who was the Doctor here at the time, wanted to get to Whangamata to investigate a sudden death, they came for me. The Sergeant came along to Dad (we were two doors away from the Courthouse), and said, "Do you think Fred could take us to Whangamata?" Dad said, "Yes, I think he would like that." Of course Dad had no idea what the road was like for cars.
Anyway I can remember it well, February 1st, 1926. We left at 4am with tyre chains and axes and got to Whangamata by about 6pm, in time for tea. We had to cut teatree and make it into what were called fascines, which were bundles of teatree, tied with flax. These were laid on muddy ground to give the wheels of the vehicle traction. We cut teatree through the Pakowai [Parakiwai ? – E] Swamp and then cut more teatree in other places to get through to Whangamata. In a couple of places we had to ford creeks. It was tough driving from 4am until 6pm, as to drive a Ford T car in low gear, meant holding a pedal down. This needed one foot on top of the other after a while, as to continue holding the pedal down with one foot for that length of time was impossible.
We had tea at the Whangamata Pub which was at the top of the Pub channel at Whangamata, where it is today, but a different building as the original burnt down. I can still remember Mrs Shaw who was the proprietress of the Pub. She was a big woman and she had cancer of the skin. She had a blue gum leaf tied to her scalp across her forehead, which was supposed to be a cure. The Police Sergeant and Doctor found that the joker had got rid of himself alright. Dr Cole drove most of the way back the next day.
It was due to this drive to Whangamata that I earned the reputation that I could handle a vehicle and so with that, when Bonnici and Phillips started the Waihi - Paeroa bus service, my mate, Joe Quintal and I were the first paid drivers for the Waihi- Paeroa Bus Company. Sam Bonnici and Ray Phillips had both worked in the Waikino Battery before that. We did four return trips a day, six and a half days a week. We would start at half past six in the morning and drive out to the East End store to pick up the workers for the Waikino Battery. I would have a full bus by the time I got to the Battery at about 7.20am and would let them out at the Black Bridge at the Waikino Works. I would then carry on and pick up people in Waikino Main Street, Karangahake and Mackaytown and some side roads, so by the time we got to Paeroa on the first trip I would have a full bus of workers. The worker's ticket then, from here (Waihi) to Paeroa and back was three and sixpence a week. So that was the first trip down and we would come back with ordinary shopping passengers for Waihi.
The next trip would be to pick up the wives to do the shopping and so on. On the way back from the third trip down we would bring back some of the workers but would always stop at Black Bridge at Waikino at 4 o'clock to pick up the workers there and bring them home. On the last trip to Paeroa we stopped in front of the Criterion Pub and then we would go to the Paeroa Railway Station as that was our turning point, as we always met the train there. On this last trip we would pick up the shop workers for Karangahake and drop them off.
That constituted the first twelve months of my driving. The bus was a 20-seater Reo (4 Cylinder). Our pay for the six and a half day week was £2.10.0, and this pay rate lasted until Ray Phillips left and the firm became Waihi Transport. It was at time that Evan Thomas, of Paeroa, who ran the Paeroa - Auckland service joined in. The bus service was then known as the Waihi-Paeroa Transport Co. Ltd. The owners at that time were Evan Thomas, Frank Thomas (a son), Morris Crimmins and Jack Moorehead. After a while Joe Quintal left driving for the firm and so the drivers were then me, Jack Mair, Joe Carpenter and the relief driver and mechanic, Charlie Gracey. As Joe and I had then proved ourselves and the firm had bought two wide body Cadillac twelve seaters, we started the Auckland service. There was a Paeroa to Auckland service already going but not Waihi - Auckland.
In the very early days when we were running to Paeroa and back, quite often we would pick up passengers early, drop them off in Paeroa and they would go to Evan Thomas's White Star and so would go on to Auckland with him. We found out that Evan couldn't cope with the number of passengers and so that gave Thomas, Crimmins and Moorehead the idea of a through trip so we started the run from here (Waihi) right to Auckland. The return fare then was twenty-five shillings. We did well because if you went by train to Auckland you left Waihi at twenty to nine and it took you all day, via Hamilton, to get to the Auckland Railway Station which was right behind the Post Office. You spent a day travelling and if you had a business deal, a day to do your business, and you came back the third day. Going with me, passengers caught the bus here at eight o'clock, had a ten minute break at Maramarua tea rooms, up over the Razorback and arrived in Auckland at 12 o'clock. We then left again at between quarter past and half past three, taking a big bundle of Auckland Star newspapers packed on our mudguards. We would get back by seven o'clock or half past seven. In those days, especially around Ngatea and the Hauraki Plains, if a woman was going up for shopping we would have to go out on the side roads and pick her up. We might bring the same person back and would have to go down the same side road and drop her off. Gosh, we used to curse those side roads! It altered our timetable and we didn't get any extra for it.
All the road service vehicles were inspected every twelve months and we had to take them to the Town Hall Traffic Department, who would give a Warrant of Fitness for the Service Cars. The tyre sizes were 32 x 6 inches and 34 x 7 inches, and eight and ten ply. By regulation, we were allowed to run down to the second layer of canvas, then we used to give them to the kids. There was no such thing in those days as tyre retreads. Also, at that time there was no such thing as Bowser petrol. It was all in four gallon tins and two tins to the case. I gave one of the old funnels, which was used to fill the vehicles, to the Paeroa Museum. It was a three quarter one and there was a stalk up the centre which automatically punched a hole in the tin and let the air in when we banged the four-gallon tin down. The petrol tank gauge then only read quarter, half, three quarters and full.
Petrol in those days wasn't a big item. The different brands of petrol were Shell, Eunaco, Texaco and one other, I can't remember. At the end of the week, at the far end of the garage, there would be three or four dozen empty four-gallon tins. The women used to send their kiddies up for them and they would use them for clothes washing buckets. A lot of the homes used them for making home brew in as well. Where Fenn's garage is in the main street now, there was a swamp then, and we were allowed to dump the surplus tins we couldn't get rid of. We had to punch a hole through the tins to make them rot away quicker. Old car chassis were dumped on that waste land as well.
As far as road conditions were concerned, Seddon Avenue was tar-sealed with tar from our local Gas Works as far as the first bridge, but once past that, it was metal road. As a result of driving on those metal roads I wrecked my right eye. The Service Cars only had hand wipers so we had to get our right eye just outside the door pillar and it was out in the slipstream all the time in the road dust. We didn't think anything of it of course and didn't think of the repercussions later on. That metal road carried on until the Jolly Farmer Pub at Drury. Just past there we started on the concrete road, the Great South Road. We used to think it was heaven once we got into Papakura on the concrete road. At that stage when I started driving they had just started doing that concreting. I remember because during the year we would have to deviate round Manurewa while they were working on the concrete. There were little tar sealed joints between the slabs and it was an excellent road.
The only other concrete road was at the Te Aroha West Dairy factory. They had the first electric lorries in New Zealand as far as I know. They put in that concrete road from the Te Aroha West Dairy Factory to the Te Aroha railway station. Us boys, on a Sunday afternoon, would go there if we were tuning up our "Lizzies". That was the only permanent surface road in the country side. We would go up there and do all the adjusting for speed and all that sort of thing. That concrete road was beautiful for us to drive on.
When we passed Waitakaruru there was, what we called, the Hill bridge, that little one-way bridge. Arriving there, where the dam is (not where the quarry is now on the main road), we used to turn off (down Steen's Road). It was there that we struck a wet patch. There was a piece of ground on the Pokeno side, a quarter or half of a mile, it would be hard to tell now, which we used to call "No Man's Land". All the drivers called it that. There was a bridge under which us drivers had hung tyre chains. We became good at putting on the chains after a while and were quite quick. We used to duck under the bridge, get the chains, lay them out on the bridge, drive the car over them, clip them up and then we only had to go another half or three quarters of a mile to the Halfway Tearooms. While the passengers were having a cup of tea there, we took the chains off the wheels. The joker who ran the tearooms had half a keg filled with water placed out the back for us. We dunked the chains in the water to get rid of the mud and then hung them on a nail. There were special nails there for all the Service cars.
We had to go over the Pokeno Hills via the Razorback, and through the Bombay Hills. That was quite a drive. The Razorback was a good metal road but a stiff climb, in low gear, especially if the bus was full. That was part of the Great South Road.
I started off with AARD Motor Services. We were AARD and then later it was called the Waihi Paeroa Transport Company, and we all changed our badges to White Star badges. We ran on our own for quite a while and were always full with passengers. Later on the AARD crowd ran from Opotiki and had a connection from Gisborne right through. Coleman and Becket were the opposition firm but they didn't last long. Buck Mulhern, who was a farmer here for years, was driving Service cars on the Whakatane to Tauranga section when I was with the Service cars here.
Miller's Garage at the top of Khyber Pass was the first to have a row of bowsers and this was the first bowser I ever got petrol from, one night when I was doing the night shift. The poor blokes, I used to feel sorry for them. It was all hand crank handle work. Petrol was pumped up into the big glass containers, with gauze over them, on top of the bowser, delivering from half a gallon, to five gallons. The joker on the pump would say, "How many gallons?" If we said "five" then the poor bloke would have to pump up the five gallons, then he would trip it and fill the vehicle.
The oil we always used in our vehicles was WRG Castrol and nothing else. We did that for years and I learnt to use it privately, and would run the car on nothing else. It was a ritual on a Sunday morning to change the engine oil because we would do a thousand miles a week. It so happened that when we had these Cadillacs, with a V8 motor, there was a shipping strike on and the boss couldn't get his drum of Castrol Oil so the Texaco people talked him into buying a 44-gallon drum of Texaco oil. We started on this new oil and on the Monday morning, when I got out past Hughie Dents (the grocery shop in Ngatea), and around the corner, and just as I reached 42 mph, which was our maximum speed, I heard tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. The big end shells went, you see. I rang up the boss, Evan Thomas, and he brought out a spare car. When he picked me up, he said, "What have you been up to Fred?" I told him what the story was. He said, "You must have been doing too much". I said, "The moment I hit 42, tinkle, tinkle, it went, so I stopped so it didn't make it any worse". We reached the Jolly Farmer in this second vehicle, with Evan sitting on the back seat. He said, "You had better hurry it up a bit Fred. We are nearly an hour late." I said, "Alright Evan", so away we went. I can remember going past the Otahuhu Brewery and as I hit 45, the second vehicle for the day went tinkle, tinkle. The shells went as well. I slowed down and we made it to Auckland.
I never forget that day because during the lunch hour Evan Thomas walked up to Motor Specialties, who were the spare parts people in Anzac Avenue. He bought a new set of shells and he said to me, "What do you reckon the trouble is Fred?". I said that the only thing we did was to change the oil. I can remember Evan going all the way up Queen Street to wherever he could get it and he bought two of these green two gallon tins of Castrol Oil WRG. We put that in and came home with no trouble at all. The boys themselves wouldn't put Texaco oil in their cars. It seemed to lose its viscosity when it got hot. That was quite a good oil experience. When we filled the tank with petrol here, we could go to Auckland and back without refilling.
One time about the end of November, I had done the ordinary trip to Auckland and I had just arrived back in Waihi at about six or there-a-bouts when old Sam Bonnici (a Maltese bloke), came up and said, "Fred, I have made a mistake. I have booked a load of school teachers from the Auckland Training College to come back the same day and they haven't been picked up". We never received extra money then for overtime but I went straight back, all the way to Auckland, to pick up the load of school teachers. Coming back on the long straight on Pipiroa Road, a chap coming towards me in the distance left his lights on high so I had trouble seeing. I was about half way along the straight when another chap came towards me in a two horse waggon he used for carrying the cream, and I couldn't see that he was driving a mob of sheep ahead of him. There were no lights on the waggon and what upset the whole visibility was this guy right at the other end of the road with his lights on high. As we got closer, I saw all these little twinkly lights and I thought my eyes were packing up with too much driving. It was actually all these sheep's eyes and next minute I was amongst them, a mob of blasted sheep. It was terrible. There were sheep everywhere.
We had quite a few experiences and always had to be on the alert because, being a metal road, after a while there were lanes of metal formed on the road. Different ones would shoot round the corner and we had to take care when shifting lanes because the bus steering then was direct steering. When we changed lanes, we really had to hang onto the wheel to climb that centre row of road metal. I remember the Ngatea bridge and the lifting span and was held up at times while it was lifted. What I also remember about Ngatea were the deep drains and that every shop had its footwalk.
We stopped at Pivac's in "Kino". Paeroa was the Bus Depot; the stop at Netherton was in front of the Farmer's store, Hughie Dents in Ngatea, the store over the bridge at Waitakaruru (Beaver's), and then the next stop was the Tea Rooms at Maramarua. The stretch of Waikato County road beyond Waitakaruru was mud road and this was all right in summer but, after say a week's rain, and with all the traffic, it just chewed up the mud. It was sort of greasy mud too.
We didn't carry much freight. Coming back, we were well loaded up though, with the Auckland Stars on the running boards. Near Maramarua, opposite what is now "Gielen's Rest", there was a dog kennel made out of several benzine cases. The story, as we knew it, was this chap had been going with a lady and they were to get married when all of a sudden she jilted him. Sadness set in so he used to sleep with the dog in this dog kennel beside the road. We knew he was there and as the Auckland Star people gave us some free papers, we would have them at the front. When we arrived there, this joker would always give us a wave and we would heave a Star out and give a wave back. Many years later when I told of this incident at an Historical Society meeting, there was a lady there, whose husband had been an electrician in Ngatea for ages, and she said, "Yes, I knew that joker well". That made my story valid.
The only "Bluey" I ever got in my life was the night the talking pictures started in Auckland. For some reason or other I was on the afternoon service and had to stop in Auckland. This particular night, going past the Brewery, a two-seater car passed me, then slowed down to fifteen to eighteen miles an hour, so I then had to pass him. That went on for quite a while. Later, on the Monday morning, Evan Thomas rang me and said, "What have you been up to Fred?" I said "Why". He said, "I've got a "Bluey" here for you speeding". I told Evan what the trouble was and he said, "Go and have a talk with him. He might drop the charge for you". So I went to his house in Papakura to see him, Barrett was his name, and I told him how he tricked me all the time by going past and slowing. The arrogant bloke didn't answer that, but said, "Mr Carbutt, I have put your speeding ticket into the Pukekohe Court. We will just have to leave it as a case of exceeding the speed limit". I let it go and didn't bother going to the Court. It came out in the Herald that this rotter said in the Court that I was a menace on the road. That is the only Court case I have ever had in my life. This H.H. Barrett was doing the same thing to all the Service Car drivers. Anyway, about fortnight or three weeks after my case came up, a couple of the drivers said to me, "Carb, we'll meet you in Fort Street on Wednesday at twelve o'clock. Don't be late". I said, "What's the story?". They said, "You'll see". This officer had been "doing" every Service Car driver around the area. Some of the drivers were married men and going to Court and paying a fine of five pounds in those days, was too much. We all gathered in Fort Street, outside the Auckland Star office. There was a lot, I didn't know, about twenty or thirty, and all Service Car drivers. This chap had caught the lot of us and put it across us. These jokers, I am telling you now, if the cops hadn't turned up, they would have done him in. Some were that wild. This chap Barrett came up and just as they started to get into him, the cops arrived. Within twenty-four hours they had shifted him to Wellington and we never saw him again.
On November 10th, 1931, on a return trip from Auckland, I was driving a 30-seater bus with all the heads of the Company on board, plus the normal passengers as well. This bus was a White, which was a lovely bus to drive and it was on its maiden trip. Just by the Otahuhu Monument I had an accident that upset me personally for quite a long while. I was young and impressive and I had always missed trouble. This young chap, by the name of Jack Mold, was riding his motor bike and he came up on my left and tried to pass in front of the bus, and between me and a truck I was following. His footrest must have caught the road in the turn and it threw him under the bus where the dual wheels broke his body in two. Fortunately for me, for my own mind, it came out in the evidence that although I had run over his body, I hadn't killed him. Apparently when he fell, he smashed his skull. The doctors said that the bus driver didn't actually kill him because he was dead when the bus ran over him. Personally I was very relieved when the boy's mother came up to me at the inquest and said how sorry she was that her son had caused me all that worry. This of course took quite a weight off my mind. This was especially when it came out that the boy had died before he went under the bus. A month after this I gave up driving buses and joined my Dad in the Rosemont Road grocery business that he had just taken over from J. Worm.