IN THE MIX - THE LATEST CONCRETE NEWS

CONCRETE RECOLLECTIONS FROM NORTHLAND 06 Jul 2014

Maurie Hooper, a former director at Wharehine Contractors Ltd and current NZRMCA Northland Region Chair, looks back on his time in the road transport and ready mixed concrete industries in the Rodney district.  

Some of my earliest memories involve riding with my Dad in his truck to collect the cream cans from local farmers and then transporting them to the Warkworth butter factory. As a little boy the truck seemed huge, although a trip to the Bill Richardson Truck Museum many years later revealed that in fact it wasn’t.

From that time on family, friends, farming, church, and of course trucks and concrete have played major roles in my life. Over the decades it seems that change across all areas of human endeavour has occurred at an unprecedented rate. That is certainly the case in terms of transport, construction and ready mixed concrete.

 

THE EARLY YEARS AT WHAREHINE

Wharehine Contractors Ltd was formed in 1957 primarily as a quarry operation. I joined the Company in 1961, having family connections and previous work experience in their quarry, as well as time driving an S Model Bedford tipper. At that time Wharehine had two quarry operations, a Caterpillar D4 bulldozer (with scoop) and a 5 yard BMC diesel tipper truck purchased from Auckland operators J.J. Craig.

The demand for roading aggregates hit a high when central government offered subsidies to local councils to have the lateral roads from SH1 local sealed. Larger contracts meant a new truck and trailer, hiring in other owner drivers (one being a young Reg Jackson) and opening another quarry pit. While the Waikato had Class 2 roading, Rodney was still Class 3. This meant 2 axle trucks were 4½ yards plus single axle dog trailers 3½ yards, for a total of 6m3 / 9 tonne. Today’s loads are nearly three times as great with enhanced efficiency and less environmental impact.

THE EMERGENCE OF READY MIXED CONCRETE

Around this time two local owner drivers had formed a new company in Wellsford to manufacture ready mixed concrete. In 1967 Wharehine purchased this business, and with a few shares as added incentive, I signed on as General Manager.

I had driven army GMC 6-wheelers in my compulsory military training days, so the decision to buy two ex-army GMCs and a Thames Trader with a 2½ yard mixer bowl seemed appropriate. The old Commer with a 4 yard Helena hydraulic bowl was however quite another story.

Other assets were a ½ yard Fordson FE loader, with wrist breaking steering, and a 3 yard bin on Toledo scales. Aggregates and sand were “all in” and the cement bagged, while containers of Teepol dish washing liquid worked to sweeten the mix. The drivers knew the mix design weights, how to add water and cement, as well as the truck mixer process. Volumes centred on whether the boxing was full.

We had been developing our skills in terms of testing and quality control measures when tenders to supply High Grade concrete to a railway bridge at Kaipara Flats came out. A friend at United Concrete, now Stevenson’s Penrose plant, put me in touch with Mr Lew Thomas, their plant engineer. Samples of two grades of stone, crusher fines and sand gave us our first official mix design, as well as some valuable knowledge of formulas for myself. The job was completed using a couple of new Commer trucks with 6 yard Fowler Rex Bowls.

WARKWORTH SATELLITE EARTH STATION

The next major challenge for the fledgling concrete division of Wharehine was to supply the Warkworth Satellite Earth Station. We competed with Hoppers at Silverdale (later to become Stevenson’s) to secure the job, with distance from the plant as well as the price being primary considerations.

As Wharehine did not have a graded plant the Ministry of Works required that a technician from Auckland visit the construction site to test, while another technician visited our plant at Wellsford to record the batch weights for every load. I recall that on one day we only had 3 yards to do, but still he came up. However, the information yielded was invaluable, and along with the batching accuracy, good stone and sand, the test results meant we were allowed to reduce cement content to Special Grade status.

To meet demand during the project we used three 6 yard mixer bowls, the older 2½ yard Thames Trader and tipper trucks that could carry accurately batched material as well as the correct number of unopened bags of cement. On site, we had a metered bulk water tank, plus a portable conveyer that could load from the tippers into the mixerbowls. In all, 2,600 yards were delivered (2,000m3 ); with one pour starting at 5.00am and not finishing until 1.00am the next morning. The immense challenges posed by this project where mirrored by the huge sense of satisfaction the team felt upon its safe and successful completion.

However, one challenge in particular was unable to be overcome. The well-meaning but misdirected 40 mile law, designed to protect the railways, meant that we could not road freight bagged cement from Portland to Wellsford, missing out by about by 7 miles. As the risk of prosecution was too great, the bagged cement was transported down in 10 and 15 tonne rail wagon loads. These were then unloaded by hand onto a truck, transported one mile to our yard and then unloaded by hand into storage. The demise of subsidises and protection for NZ Railways did not come soon enough as far as I was concerned.

WHAREHINE CONCRETE EXPANDS

As 1969-70 rolled around Wharehine had started building a 50 tonne bulk cement silo and a 5m3 loader fed weigh hopper at the Wellsford yard. This was designed and constructed by our own engineering staff and still operates today, all-be-it with a fresh coat of paint and enhanced environmental controls.

The slow but steady growth of the Warkworth, Matakana / Mahurangi / Omaha area with beach subdivisions and lifestyle blocks meant trucking ready mixed concrete over 20km from Wellsford was not efficient. As such, a decision was made to invest in another plant at Matakana. This was followed some years later by the purchase of Colin Wintle’s business at Mangawhai, and the construction of a new plant.

REGULATION AND MORE REGULATION

Restrictive regulations have been mentioned earlier. The protection offered the railways by the Transport Licensing Act of 1931 meant that on many occasions truck operators faced off in licensing court. At the same time the prescribed cartage rates schedule was so restrictive that a company could potentially go out of business through lack of work if they tried to adhere to it.

Log books were introduced as it was believed drivers were exceeding their maximum hours and police found it difficult to prosecute. I don’t believe this regulatory development was well thought through, particularly in terms of how effective it was in fatigue management. I have yet to meet a driver who doesn’t fill out his log book “correctly”, despite what has happened during his work day. The transport industry is an efficient and responsible ‘service industry’, and does not need unproductive restraints.

Then there was RUC (Road User Charges). I was on the NZRMCA Council when it became law despite huge opposition. One wonders what would have happened if the trucking industry had said to the then government that the tax and a 10 percent administration fee would be passed onto customers to cover the cost of collection. I’m sure the influential farming and manufacturing sectors would have been hostile to such a move.

PLANT GRADING FOR WHAREHINE

During my time in the ready mixed concrete industry I have seen a very responsible approach to the development of technical standards, to the point where a quality product is now consistently produced. One outcome of this pan-industry commitment was Wharehine’s 1984 plant grading.

The grading scheme required regular product and materials testing. For us this meant investment in the correct equipment and a laboratory. As well as concrete testing there was an increased need to sieve and monitor our quarry aggregates, and conduct chip seal tests. The efforts of our plant engineer, the recently retired Martin Glew, at that time were greatly appreciated. Martin also conducted some well attended driver/batcher training courses in Northland.

Our next plant engineer was Don Ferguson. As manager for Stevenson’s TELERC registered laboratory, his knowledge of aggregates was particularly valuable as roading engineers began to demand more data. The last plant engineer in my time at Wharehine was Brett Beatson, again a well-schooled technical man. Although by that stage I thought I knew it all, Brett was always a very astute and diplomatic problem solver.

PEOPLE - THE INDUSTRY’S BIGGEST ASSET

I have learnt many lessons during my time in the industry, chief amongst which is that honest relationships reap rewards. Throughout my career, including representative roles in road transport and ready mixed concrete, I have never felt other than totally satisfied and respectful of the many people who I have worked with, rubbed shoulders with, and who so many of I can today call my friends.

Taken from the July 2014 NZRMCA Newsletter
Images - Maurie Hooper