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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989

2. Crushed Agricultural Lime

2. Crushed Agricultural Lime

(a) Farmers Union Lime Co. Ltd.

It appears that, in 1920, the first production of crushed agricultural lime was undertaken at Kaka, by the Farmers Union Lime Co. Ltd. At Kaka there is a deposit of high grade tertiary limestone, with a calcium carbonate content averaging 96%. The quarry and works were about a kilometre from the Kaka railway station, over the Tadmor River, up a side gully containing Cave Creek.

John W. Christian, who lived between Kaka and Tui, was awarded a contract to build a tramline from the works to the railway station. George Hall was responsible for construction of the high wooden bridge, spanning the river. The tramline was under construction when Armistice was declared in 1918.

Official figures from this period do not distinguish production tonnages from individual works but, in 1929, 1654 tons of lime were produced in Nelson-Westland.

A railway waybill, dated 25th November 1921, shows the consignment of 1 truck of lime from Kaka to W. D. Dron at Spring Grove, for which the railage was 8 shillings and demurrage for 2 days was £1. The lime was sown on a paddock at Waimea West, but the supply ran out before the paddock was finished. The difference in the growth of grass subsequently, between the two areas, totally convinced Mr Dron of the benefits of the crushed lime.

This was just as well, because earlier in 1921 he had purchased 5 more shares in the Company, in addition to 50 shares bought in 1919 for £2.10.0.

Sometime immediately after World War I, the plant was sold to Norman E. Wilkinson and leased to Jack R. Oldham, who ran it for some time. Then it was leased for a while by Otto Bauer, and finally run by Wilkinson himself, until closed permanently in 1959. Output for 1958 was 242 tons and, in 1959, 22 tons.

Until soon after World War II, in about 1949, agricultural lime was carried on the railway free of charge, and this enabled farmers all over the Waimeas to purchase a relatively cheap product.

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(b) Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd.

At about the same time as the Kaka works commenced in 1920, Alex Drummond Snr. of the Wangapeka Plains seem to have recognised the importance of lime to agriculture. He arranged for Tom Hewetson to visit the Wangapeka with a portable crushing plant, driven by a Samson tractor. The tractor is now in the Wakefield Steam Museum. His sons, Alex and Basil, produced lime and used it on their farms prior to World War II. After the war they formed the Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd. with Vic Tomlinson, and established a permanent plant on the western hillside, overlooking the Wangapeka Plain. Peak production was 1962 tons in 1959, but the works was finally closed in 1966. In the last few years it was run by Kirbys Carriers Limited, but inadequate maintenance and a very difficult quarry seem to have led to its closure.

(c) Hall's Limeworks

As noted earlier, the first limestone to be quarried in the area was from a site which is now at the end of View Mount, in Stoke. Sometime prior to World War II, George Hall established a plant at the quarry, to produce crushed agricultural lime. Tracy Brown of Stoke worked at the site and Claud Best of Stoke remembers caning bagged lime, in loads of 1 1/2 tons at a time, to the Stoke Railway Station. The quality of the lime varied from 65 to 90% of calcium carbonate, and its composition is largely shells and barnacle plates.

The crushing plant was purchased by W. L. Lawry in 1936 and shifted to the Lee Valley. The floor of the quarry is now used as a tennis court, on the property currently owned by Mrs W. Bullivant.

(d) Murchison

Another operation started in the early 1920's, at Murchison, on the initiative of the local Farmers Union. The quarry and plant were initially situated on the hill, close to the present main road bridge over the Matakitaki river. Unfortunately, the quality of the limestone was not good, so the works was shifted to Newton Flat in 1929. High transport costs made this uneconomic and the works soon closed.

Later it was bought by Alex Thomson, subsequently a Nelson butcher, and well-known Nelson accountant Bert Hodgson. They shifted the works to their property, Forest Home, on the Four Fiver Plain near Murchison, and the lime they produced was used solely on their own farm.

Bert C. Spiers, who was working in the firm of B. S. Spiers and Sons, found himself without a job when this firm of carriers was taken over by Transport (Nelson) Limited in 1939. He purchased the lime crushing plant from Thomson and Hodgson, paying for it with lime supplied to them in the following two years. In that first year he produced about 500 tons of agricultural lime.

He spread lime for farmers, with a truck and a Munro spreader attached to the back. In 1942 he shifted the plant back to Newton Flat, where it is still operating. The works was sold to Lime & Marble Limited in 1976. This firm was interested in using the very high quality stone for industrial purposes, as well as the agricultural production. From 1958 to the present, this has averaged 4671 tons a year, with a peak of 7835 tons in 1980. In general, a similar quantity has been produced for industrial use over the years by both Bert Spiers and Lime & Marble Ltd.

The quarrying of the stone is a very difficult operation, as the seam is only about 15 metres thick, and disappears into the hillside, like meat in a sandwich of granite on either side. This makes extraction tedious and expensive.

(e) Motueka Lime Co. Ltd

The Motueka Lime Co. Ltd. was another works which started soon after World War I, using a deposit of limestone at the foot of the hills in Riwaka. As noted earlier, it was set up on the site of an old burnt lime kiln, on a property owned for many years by John Francois, and his father before him. In the 1970's economic difficulties were encountered, and the works was sold and operated in turn by Keith Fry, Fred Moss, Andy Whiting and Lime & Marble Limited. It was finally closed in 1979. In the period from 1958 to 1979, the average annual production was 1625 tons, with a peak of 2695 tons in 1958.

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(f) Pokororo Lime Co.

Also sometime before World War II, probably about 1934, a crushing operation was established in the valley of the Big Pokororo River by Percy Parkes. He had a quarry up the hillside and sent stone on a tramway system to the plant, which was set up on a small river flat. Parkes was also a local contractor. Unfortunately, in 1938, his son Ormond Parkes was killed by a rock-fall in the quarry.

The works apparently passed to Harry Pooley and Laurie Walker, but at the end of the war they were in financial difficulty. Laurie's brother, Keith Walker, who had a home appliance shop in Nelson, sought expert advice and decided to shift the plant to a new site, in the valley of the Little Pokororo. This venture also proved to be uneconomic and was closed down with Keith Walker ultimately losing about £2,000.

(g) W. L. Lawry Limited

This company's production of crushed agricultural lime has been the largest in the County to date. My father, W. L. Lawry, first manufactured lime-sulphur, a spray material, on a commercial basis in 1923 and, as noted earlier, became involved in the burning of lime a few years later. Quarrying for limestone for the kiln first commenced in the Lee Valley, in the deposit of Maitai limestone, in 1936. In fact, the first road to open a quarry passed over the site of George Williams' old kiln and filled it in. The quarry was at the bottom of the hill, and heavy overburden soon diverted attention to some large outcrops higher up the hill. A road to these outcrops was built in the same year, and quarrying commenced to supply stone for the Port Lukins kiln.

It was not long before substantial quantities of small stone accumulated. The decision was made to purchase George Hall's Stoke plant and convert this waste into crushed lime. The plant, which included a small jaw crusher originally used in the Roding Copper Mine, a pulveriser and air compressor, was all relocated up the hillside, near the site of the present works, in 1937. Foremen in the early years of operation were Bertram A. Ching of Stoke and Clarence L. Andrews of Brightwater.

In 1945 I joined my father in the business and, in 1946, we decided to split the operation, retaining a primary crushing plant at the quarry site and building a new pulverising plant in the railway yard at Brightwater, with its own private siding. At this time there was no reticulation of electricity in the Lee Valley, so it was advantageous, for this and other reasons, to shift the power-consuming pulverising operation to Brightwater. All the lime used in the Rai Valley at that time was loaded directly from bagging machines, straight into railway trucks, for despatch to Nelson.

One of the more unusual consignments at this time was to rail a scow-load of 60 tons of bagged lime to the Port for shipment to various private farm jetties in the Marlborough Sounds.

Bulk lime and a bulk sowing service, using a wheel tractor and trailer, were first introduced in 1950, with a consequent great saving in hard labour. It was not long before farmers recognised that, while machinery was covering a farm, it was just as easy to spread fertilizer at the same time as the lime. As a consequence, the Brightwater works soon became a very sophisticated lime and fertilizer despatch plant. With the continuing development of thousands of acres of Moutere hill country in the 1950's, the sowing service proved popular. Thousands of tons of lime were spread from trailers drawn by a crawler tractor. Finally, truck spreaders were introduced to cover flat farms.

Meantime there were developments in the quarry. A new primary crushing plant, including a much larger jaw crusher, was built on the present works site in the Lee Valley. Early quarrying was about 400 feet above the valley floor, but it was not long before the quarry face became dangerously high. In the 1950's a progressive programme of benching was introduced, so that quarrying proceeded from the top of the deposit downwards. A total quarry height of 400 feet was operated with a series of eight floors. Access by road to all floors ultimately required quite a network of roads on the hillside.

It was quite a delight that, in the 1957 Mines Statement to Parliament, it was noted that "the page 9development of a very high hillside by W. L. Lawry Limited into benches … could very well be copied to advantage by a number of other quarries in similar ground."

In 1978, the company was sold to Irvine's Freightlines Limited. Total production of crushed agricultural lime, from when the works at Brightwater commenced operating on 19th September 1946, to the end of 1982, was 350,790 tons, at an average of nearly 10,000 tons per year.

Lime from the Brightwater plant was always a little more costly than that of competitors, partly because transportation costs, for the five mile haulage from the Lee Valley, was included. On 1 January 1948 the price was raised to 27/6 per ton and, on 1 February 1961, it had progressed to 35/-.

(h) S. R. Irvine Limited

There is so much limestone in the County that there has always been competition to supply crushed lime. In the decade of the 1970's, three companies entered the market briefly. In 1971, S. R. Irvine Limited purchased the equipment of the defunct Tapawera Lime Co. Ltd. and set it up at the mouth of the Pearse River. In the three years to 1973, a total of 3151 tons were produced from stone won from slides in the Graham Valley, but the operation proved to be uneconomic and was abandoned.

(i) Sherry River Lime Co. Ltd.

In 1975, A. Jack Shirtcliff opened a limestone quarry in the Sherry River Valley, and carted stone to a limeworks near his home, on the Slippery Road. It operated until 1981 and then closed, after having produced 24,361 tons of crushed lime. The quarry has also supplied large quantities of stone, for river protection purposes, and is still operating. It is one of the best sited quarries in the district, being on top of a limestone ridge and north-facing. A second bench has recently been opened, about 40 feet below the original.

(j) Highways Construction Limited

In 1979, Highways Construction Limited, a subsidiary of Transport (Nelson) Limited, which operated a plant in the Collins Valley, producing crushed serpentine, decided to process travertine, a recrystallised limestone from the Teal Valley, through the same plant. Travertine is very porous and can contain up to 50% of water so, for agricultural lime, it has to be dried. The company produced 5215 tons of lime in the years 1979–80, most of which was used in the Rai Valley. The operation was again uneconomic and now the whole plant has been dismantled.

(k) Lime & Marble Limited

From the 1930 's to the present time, white marble has been quarried from Ngarua on the Takaka Hill and, although most has been crushed and used for industrial purposes, substantial tonnages have been used for agriculture. For the years 1958 to 1986, sales for agriculture have been highly variable, but have averaged 4869 tons per year. This has always been a finely ground, high-grade product.