History - Menacing motors

By: Jenny Schollum

One day in 1912, Matthew Wech, of Pohuehue, harnessed his two horses to his Portland wagon and set out for Puhoi. His travels took him through a series of hills and hollows as the road crossed each ridge running down to Hungry Creek. At the crest of a hill they met a car, which was on its way to Wellsford. The car was only being driven slowly or there would have been a collision. Nevertheless, the horses took fright. One managed to get itself out of its collar and fled back home. The other, with the wagon attached, went over the steep bank and down about 12 metres into the stream. Luckily, the horse landed on its feet as the water was over a metre deep. The harness was cut, and the horse led to solid ground unhurt. Bystanders pulled the wagon downstream until a landing could be made and all ended well.

This incident led to discussions in the papers and at Rodney Council as to whether motor traffic should be regulated to protect the public. Some residents were too timid to use the roads for fear of meeting cars. A speed limit of 15 miles per hour was suggested, with a reduction to 4 mph when turning corners. Maybe car drivers should be required to stop when they saw a horse approaching? A petition was presented requesting that motor traffic on steep roads be forbidden on four days of each week.

Rodney roads were generally unmetalled until the 1930s Depression, when gangs with wheelbarrows, picks and shovels were employed to crush the stone and spread it on the roads. Metal was scarce in the Puhoi area. Instead, large quantities of burnt clay, to be used as a road surfacing material, was produced there. A slip site was often used. All topsoil was removed and a large pit in the clay formed. This was filled with firewood and lit and the whole lot covered with clay. As the crust hardened it was broken with sticks and more clay added on top. When the firewood had all been consumed a number of days later, the clay was converted to a hard substance that was used to pave the roads. Alternatively, it was used in concrete to make house foundations or paths.

In the 1930s, it was still a rare occurrence to see a car on what is now State Highway 1. Children would stop and watch each one until it had passed from view. Even in the 1970s, stock could safely be driven along this road at dawn. Maybe when the Puhoi-Warkworth Motorway is open this road will return to a serene state.

Jenny Schollum, Puhoi Historical Society


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