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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2000

The Good Old Days

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The Good Old Days

Carluke is in the Rai Valley, approximately mid-way between Blenheim and Nelson and a mile off the main highway. Many years ago it was the site of a big band-saw timber mill, and a town where hundreds of workmen, bushmen and saw mill workers lived. There were thousands of acres of timber; beautiful big totara, rimu, white pine, matai, miro, birch and many other kinds of trees. I went there with my family at the age of seven. We travelled to Carluke from Blenheim by Newman's stage coach service. What beautiful horses they were. Their first change was at Okaramio, the next at Canvastown, and we got off at Flat Creek in Rai Valley to walk along a bush track to our destination.

The three storied saw-mill had been erected on a flat at the mouth of the Ronga and Opouri Valleys by Brownlee and Co. of Havelock to cut up the trees in the area, some of which were over six feet through and over a hundred feet high. The mill was fed by three steam winches. The felled trees were hauled in by a steel wire rope 60 to 80 chains long. Teams of up to six heavy draught horses hauled the ropes, depending on distance and the condition of the country. When the ground was too steep for horses, the logs were jacked and skidded down into a gully where they could be got at.

After felling the trees, the bushmen cut off the heads with their cross-cut saws to remove the branches, leaving as much of the trunk as they could. The next job was that of the dogger, who rounded the trees off at one end and drove doggs into them. These were heavy steel grasps which were driven into the tree with a maul, one on each side. The wire ropes attached to them, which were five to six feet long, would then be connected to the toggle chain. Very big trees had a groove cut in them where the rope was placed, instead of being dogged.

They were now ready to be hauled in and connected to the main rope and I have seen as many as four and five smaller trees hauled in one pull, but only one or two with the bigger, heavier ones. They used what we called the pan, a large thick steel plate with one end curbed up and rounded off at the two front corners, for protection under the snout of the trees. My father drove the team at one of the haulers.

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On each hauler there was a whistle attached to a wire which was run out into the bush within hearing distance of the men working. When I left school, the first job I had was whistle-boy at one of these haulers. Once the rope was attached to the trees, the men would call out "Go-Ahead" and I would give the wire a pull and sound the whistle to notify the hauler driver to start up. When the trees came to a block they would call out "Stop her" and I would sound the whistle again. After they had tripped the rope I would blow to start up again and this went on until they got the trees into the land. For this work I received five shillings a day.

When the trees arrived at the land they were hauled up on to the skids and sawn into logs which varied in length from 10 feet to as much as 22 feet. The logs were then jacked down the skidway to be sent to the mill. They had just started working in the Ronga Valley when we went there to live and the haulers there were about forty chains apart. To get these logs to the saw-mill they had engaged a gang of men, the trammies, to construct a steel-rail tramway.

Four locomotives hauled the trucks onto which the logs had been loaded. The tramway was also used to take the timber to Brownlie's other mill at Blackball at the head of Pelorus Sound. When the logs arrived at the mill they were unloaded by cant-hooks onto skids, loaded onto another truck and hauled by steam winch up to the middle storey of the mill.

The machinery which drove the big band saw, the two breast bench saws and the three goose saws was powered by a big twin cylinder steam engine fed from two boilers. There was a whistle on which the engine-driver gave two short blasts ten minutes before starting time, to remind the men, and one long blast at twenty past seven each morning. There would be another long blast at noon to knock off, at one o'clock to start work again and at five to knock off for the day. The clock was kept half an hour ahead of mean time, and the men worked eight hours forty minutes on weekdays and four hours forty minutes on Saturdays.

The logs were cleaned before being loaded onto a steam carriage for breaking down, when they were cut into flitches and boards by the big band-saw. Boards, some as wide as five feet and of various thicknesses, beautiful clean totara, rimu, white pine and matai. As the log was rounded off and squared up, the flitches coming off the band-saw were sent along steam driven rollers to the breast benches. When there were enough, they would be retrieved and piled on the steam carriage to be cut into various sizes, sometimes as many as six or eight boards at a time.

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A scene at Carluke (c.late 1920s) after the main milling and bushfelling era. The railway formation to the Ronga and other valleys is to the right of the road. (Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum).

A scene at Carluke (c.late 1920s) after the main milling and bushfelling era. The railway formation to the Ronga and other valleys is to the right of the road. (Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum).

These boards and those from the circular saws then went along rollers to be docked, classed, tallied and loaded onto a trolley. Beautiful clean white pine was used for the tally boards, which were 12 or 14 inches wide and an inch thick. They were lined off for the men to mark the class of timber, size and length and the number of boards. After the day's work the tally-boards were sent to the office. They were made by the mill carpenter, who also made the handles for the cant-hooks and various other things.

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The sawn timber was pushed out along a high staging from where it was loaded onto trucks for transport. The off cuts, or slabs we called them, were cut into shorter lengths by the goose-saws and sent down a chute to the ground floor. They were loaded onto trucks and pushed out along three slab lines, which could have thousands of cords stacked on each side to dry for use in stoking the mill's two boilers. Loads were also sent out into the bush for steaming the log-haulers.

The top story of the mill was solely used for saw sharpening and repair and all the saws were sharpened by machinery. If a saw became buckled it had to be hammered out, and this was done by the saw doctor. The works were closed down for ten minutes at ten o'clock each morning and three in the afternoon to change the band-saw and this was when we had Smoke Oh.

There were two managers in my time, one for the bush. Ern Coleman, and one for the mill, Hadfield Smith. One man at each one of the three haulers had the job of keeping a record of the gang's time sheets and noting any necessary repairs. There were two blacksmith shops for repair work, one in the bush and the other at the mill. A smithy was employed at each, with the one in the bush shoeing the horses, make the doggs and doing repairs for the haulers, while the other attended to the mill and locomotive repairs.

Shortly after we went there to live the Carluke Hall was built, and it had a beautiful clean heart matai floor to dance on. Our annual school and Sunday school concerts were held there, and it was where we children were taught the old time dances such as the waltz, veleta, schottische, polka, mazurka and quadrilles.

The men formed a football club and competed with teams at Canvastown, Havelock and Linkwater. Some of the older men formed the Ronga Rifle Club, which I joined later and belonged to for many years. I have miniature replicas of the cups that I won in those days.

An annual carnival was held, when the men would compete in chopping and cross-cut sawing events. White pine blocks 12, 14, 16 and 18 inches in diameter were used for these events. There were the standing and underhand chops and also a smaller block for the boys' chop. On New Year's Day the Pelorus Hack Racing Club meeting was held at Havelock Suburban and later at Canvastown.

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There was no store at Carluke at first and Fred Scott of Havelock would come up the tramway on one of the motor driven trollies one day a week to deliver goods and take orders for the next week's supplies. Shortly after we arrived a house and store was built for him at Carluke and the stores were brought up by the locomotives. There was no baker and I well remember the good old home made loaves my mother and other women used to bake. The township had a Post Office Savings Bank Office named Timatanga and I still have my first account book, which I opened for a shilling.

In fine weather a blanket of fog would come down over the valleys at night which would not clear off until the next morning, sometimes lasting until noon. It was mighty cold some mornings when going through the bush on the jiggers in pitch dark to get to the haulers in time to start work. A few of the men camped in whares up in the bush at various stands handy to the haulers.

Brownlees did not have the whole of the timber in the Opouri Valley and could only go up as far as Kaiuma gully, approximately six miles from the mill. Craig Brothers milled the top end of the valley and they did not make as much use of horses to pull the felled trees to the haulers. A smaller tail rope running off another drum of the hauler was used for this. The trees were then loaded onto trucks and hauled by a locomotive along a tramline to one of their two mills and sawn into logs.

To get their timber away, Craigs put a hauler on a saddle above Nydia Bay in Pelorus Sound and another a few chains along the Opouri side of the hill, at a point directly up from the mills. A steel-rail tramline was built and the trucks of timber were hauled up by one winch, then pulled along the line by horses to the other hauler and lowered down to the bay to be shipped away. A telephone system was used to notify the hauler drivers.

My father and I went to work there during the First World War, after Brownlees had shifted to the West Coast. We had to get there on horseback, and would leave home early Monday mornings, camp in a whare during the week and come home on Saturday afternoon.

Once the milling trees had been taken off this country, it was surveyed and divided into sections which were balloted for at intervals. What bush and scrub was left would be felled and left to dry until ready to burn off and I saw many a good fire. The land was then sown down, fenced into paddocks and stocked. The Rai Valley Dairy Factory was built and there were cheese factories at Canvastown, Havelock and Linkwater.

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My father took up farm work, milking cows on a farm in Rimu Gully for a few seasons and then on a farm for Bert Hughes, close to the factory. Both farms had a steam boiler to drive the milking machine. For the first two seasons at Rimu Gully we used the bucket system. It was an eight bailed milking shed and four buckets were used, with a pulsator on each. One would be placed between each two cows and the milk was carried out to the cans, to be carted to the factory. There was plenty of wood on the farms to stoke the boilers and cords would be cut up in the winter months, once the cows were dry.

The second farm we lived at is on the Nelson side of Rai Valley, fronting onto the main highway at the turnoff to Carluke. I was now in my early twenties and took up work at a small sawmill owned by Robertson Brothers of Nelson at the foot of the Rai Saddle, where I learnt to class and tally timber. We shifted back to Carluke and lived in the old store and house.

My father drove a six horse wagon team for Gosling and Son of Blenheim, carting timber out from the saw mill in the Kaiuma Valley. I took the job of stripping the timber to be seasoned and loading it onto lorries to be transported to Blenheim. Once this mill had cut all the timber out we went to live in Blenheim.

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Geo Wratt and Jim Amos felling an aged rimu in Ronga Valley for Brownlees. (Ellen Hebberd nee Wratt)

Geo Wratt and Jim Amos felling an aged rimu in Ronga Valley for Brownlees. (Ellen Hebberd nee Wratt)