Topic: Bright Ideas on a Bay of Plenty Farm (1940s) by Deirdre Eichler

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Bright Ideas on a Bay of Plenty Farm (1940s) by Deirdre Eichler was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

On the wall behind a door in Hector Clarke's old cowshed was a list of workers' names that had grown over the years as farm workers came and went. By 1941 it was over a foot long. That year eighteen-year-old Ken Eichler discovered his name on the list, but he never found out who wrote it there.

Hector Clarke's farm, where Ken worked, was on the Te Puna side of the Wairoa River not far from Tauranga. A 1929 Bay of Plenty Times article said the farm was ‘one of the finest in the Bay of Plenty district.’ Hector's grandfather was the first Clarke to live there from about 1876, when the area was known as Te Wairoa. Before that the high part of the farm was a pā, or fortified Maori village, but Hector had found no treasures there.

Hector, or ‘Clarkie’ as he was called, was married to Undine, and they had four daughters. Undine was a dance teacher, while the girls rode ponies and occasionally visited the cowshed to pick ticks off the cows. But most of the farm work was done by workers, and Ken said he never had dance lessons there.

Ken's work began before five each morning, when he caught a horse that he thinks was called Myrtle, and got the first herd of cows in for milking. Some cows liked to hide under overhanging barberry hedges around the paddocks.

“They'd stay there,” Ken said, “and you could miss getting some of them in.”

The horse had an answer to that. When a bull was hiding under the hedge the horse suddenly turned and kicked him in the ribs with her back hooves, and out he came, running.

There were 240 cows to get in and they were kept in two herds, with the younger cows separated from the older cows. Most dairy farms at the time had 60 to 80 cows, so Hector's herd may have been the largest in New Zealand. Hector's cowshed had two yards, one for each herd, and a 10-cow plant milking machine.

Most mornings Hector wasn't in the shed. He left the five milkers to sort themselves out, and some only stayed until they found other work.

While the milkers were milking, Ken would get the second herd. Some mornings he would also set up the cream separator. It had an electric motor, and several parts to assemble, including about 26 saucer-shaped discs to put on the spindle in the proper order. The separator had a top spout for cream, which went into cans, and a lower spout for the skim milk, which was piped to a container at the piggery, and bucketed out to feed the pigs.

The cream was popular with the ice cream maker in Tauranga because Clarke's milking machines were always well-cleaned. Every morning hot water and a brush were sucked through the machine. Ken said, “If the brush pushed out a plug at the other end, you could give someone a bath if they were standing on the cream separator.”

Finally, a hose from the wood-fired horizontal boiler was connected, sending steam through the machine as well.

When the cows were milked, it was Ken's job to take them away to the paddocks, which were all numbered. Hector wrote numbers on the cowshed blackboard, telling Ken where the cows should go, and all along the main farm lane, running from Highway 2 to Te Puna Station Road, numbers on the top bars of gates showed which paddocks were down the side lanes.

Hector cut up old car number plates to do the numbering. Every year at registration time cars had to get new plates, which was fortunate as Hector's farm was large.

“I reckon he must've had about five or six hundred acres in that piece of ground,” Ken said.

With the cows in their paddocks, Ken caught another horse, and loaded the cream cans onto the cart. He took them down the long farm lane that is now Clarke Road to the Highway 2 gate where a shaded tree stump served as a cream stand. The cream truck picked the cans up from there before taking them to the Eleventh Avenue dairy factory in Tauranga and returning them empty the next day.

When Ken was unloading the empty cans at the shed one day, another worker jumped on the cart. Grabbing the reins he tried to take off, leaving Ken to walk home. But the horse stopped suddenly, a few feet on, throwing the man onto his hands and knees. He couldn't go any further because Ken had tied the horse to the fence.

The cans were unloaded by breakfast time about eight o’clock. Ken had his meals with the cook at Clarke's big new house. There were two cottages for the milkers' families including their sons, about Ken's age, who were also milkers. Like them, Ken had lived with his parents, brothers and sisters in one of the cottages when he first came to the farm.

When the rest of Ken's family moved to another farm, Ken decided to stay at Clarke's. He moved into a bach on his own until the police rang Hector one day. They asked if a man who'd been in trouble, a worker from a boat in the harbour, could stay at Clarke's. The man was given a bed in Ken's bach, and wasn't allowed to leave the farm for three weeks. When the time was up he borrowed Ken's bike and never came back.

The bike was fairly new and Ken had paid about £27 for it. If he went to the pictures in Tauranga he always left it behind the bike shop on The Strand where he had bought it. He'd told the man to leave it there, and surprisingly he did, as Ken found out when he rang the bike shop owner. So, the next day, Ken went to town on the cream lorry and got his bike back.

This was just as well because Ken used his bike a lot. Once he went with the Home Guard to Mount Maunganui, where they dug trenches among the lupins on the beach. For a while he biked to Tauranga for piano lessons, although he had no piano to practise on at home.

Tauranga was about four miles away along a tar-sealed road, and crossed a one-lane bridge over the Wairoa River. Fuel was rationed because of the Second World War, and you could only get four gallons of petrol a month for your car. While some people travelled on horseback, the mail man had his car fitted with gas producers - charcoal burners that converted charcoal to gas.

Other local people caught the train to Tauranga. The Te Puna station was directly opposite the gate at one side of the farm. There was no station master, but people who wanted to go to the pictures would wave the train down.

When a load of sheep was coming by train from a boarding school at Paerata, the Tauranga station master rang Hector. He said a double-decker wagon would be unhooked and left in a siding at Te Puna for Hector to unload. Ken remembers crawling into that wagon to chase the rams out.

Ken thinks the railway bridge was also a shortcut and fishing spot for workers who lived across the river. Some of these men spoke Maori, and although Hector didn't speak Maori himself, he seemed to know what they were saying. These men and Ken helped with maize picking, cutting wood for the boiler, haymaking, and cutting rushes to thatch haystacks.

Hector had the latest haymaking equipment, including a ‘Big 6’ McCormick Deering mower and a Booth MacDonald swath turner for turning hay. He also had four-wheeled McCormick Deering and Booth MacDonald sweeps, instead of the usual two-wheeled sweeps. These implements were pulled by horses, apart from the stacker which Hector operated himself, using a truck to pull it and make it lift up.

Ken said, “Hector always used gravity if possible.”

He dug his insilage pit into a bank so it could be filled from the top, and emptied from the road below. He bought a Booth MacDonald stacker for stacking insilage and assembled it using a pamphlet. Ken said the stacker needed guy wires, but Hector said there was nothing in the pamphlet about guy wires. When the stacker tipped over, nearly landing on Ken, they had to get guy wires after all.

Ken had a few more ideas while he was on the farm, like knocking a swarm of bees off a tree. When they landed in the box it rolled down the hill, scattering bees everywhere, and he was told off for being late for tea. Then, finally, he heard he would be moving into smaller sleeping quarters, and decided it was time to leave.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Bright Ideas on a Bay of Plenty Farm (1940s) by Deirdre Eichler

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Bright Ideas on a Bay of Plenty Farm (1940s) by Deirdre Eichler by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License