Archive for category 1952

Cars and gravel roads

I had my first driving lesson in 1952, when I was ten.  That probably sounds very young, but being able to drive was important in a rural area like Maungaturoto.


vauxhall-veloxI can actually remember that first lesson quite well.  We had a Vauxhall Velox at the time, which looked something like the one in the picture.

I was too short to reach the foot pedals, so dad sat in the driver’s seat with me on his knee.  He operated the accelerator and the footbrake and I steered.  I told him when I wanted to change gear and he pressed the clutch pedal down while I moved the gear lever.  In those days, the gear lever was a “stalk” on the steering column, similar to the indicator and windscreen wiper stalks on a modern car (but much larger), so I could reach it easily.

I clearly remember that I got the car up to 45 miles per hour (about 70kph), which the ten year old Dale thought was very fast indeed.  But I also remember how disappointed I was, afterwards, when we visited my parent’s friends, the Brooks family (they owned the local bus company).  When I boasted about how fast I’d driven, Brooksie (as she was known) totally deflated me by pointing out that speedometers in those days were unreliable and, since I’d been driving up a hill at the time, it would have overstated the car’s speed.  It’s now 65 years later and I still haven’t forgiven her for ruining my proud story!!!


Cars were a bit different in those days.  The front seat used to be a “bench” across the whole width of the car, rather than two individual seats, so you tended to sway a bit when you went round corners as there was less lateral support.  And there were no electrically-operated windows or wing mirrors (you had to wind a handle to get the windows to go up and down).  And, of course, there was no air conditioning (if you’re hot, open the window).


indicatingCars didn’t have indicators, either.  To indicate you were turning right, the driver had to wind down their window and put their arm out, like in the first photo on the right.

Later on, what were known as trafficators were introduced, like the one in the second photo on the right.  They weren’t very successful, mainly because it was very easy to break them.

Not many years later, trafficators were replaced with the modern blinking-light indicators.



In those days, many country roads weren’t tar sealed, so car trips took a lot longer.  You had to drive much more slowly, because otherwise it was really bumpy.  Anyway, it was too dangerous if you went fast, as the car could skid and you could end up crashing off the side of the road.

Gravel roads also made it more difficult going up hills.  You still sometimes see a road sign asking downhill traffic to give way to uphill traffic.  That’s because, in the olden days, if you stopped to give way while driving up a hill, it was much more difficult to get started again (partly because of the skiddy gravel and partly because cars were less powerful).


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Fags and hats

In 1952 (when I was ten), New Zealanders smoked more cigarettes per person than at any other time in our whole history.  Nearly all men smoked and most women.  The fact that smoking caused cancer and terrible respiratory diseases like asthma and emphysema was only just becoming widely known.

About the only public places that banned smoking were cinemas.  You could smoke nearly everywhere else;  at sports games, in bars and restaurants, and in most family homes.  There was no such thing as smoke free zones.

You can imagine the stinky smell.  Yuck.


I know it’s hard to believe, but, because smoking was everywhere, we didn’t really notice it at the time.  It was only years later, when smoking was banned in public places, that non-smokers started to notice the awful smell (and to demand even more smoke free areas).  Perhaps surprisingly, many smokers also started to appreciate the benefits.


Now, I’ve got an awful confession to make.  When Grandad Dale was ten, he and his friend Robin Hargraves decided they were going to smoke a cigarette.  Robin pinched one of his mother’s fags and off we went to smoke it.

But where could we go where we wouldn’t be seen?  Well, we had a small shed behind our house which was used for storing hay bales, to feed the cow.  So Robin and I went down there and stacked up some of the bales and made a secret cubby hole.  Then we crawled into this little space and lit the cigarette and smoked it.

Now, this was probably the second most stupid thing I ever did when I was a kid.  Hay bales are super dry and can catch fire really easily.  If there’d been even one spark when we lit up and smoked the cigarette, the hay would have caught fire and we would have been trapped inside.  Dumb, eh.

And, would you believe it, we didn’t even like the cigarette;  it tasted horrible and made us cough like mad.  They really do taste awful.


election-night-crowd-wearing-hatsAnother thing that was different in those days, was that men and women wore hats much more than they do now.  Have a look at this picture of a crowd in Wellington and you’ll see that practically everyone is wearing a hat (and a suit).

We’re much less formal nowadays.

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Again, apologies for this blog entry being rather long, but it includes lots of related stuff which it made sense to put together.


In 1952, I got my own horse.  I was ill at the time, with quite serious “blight” (which nowadays is called bacterial conjunctivitis).  Blight causes red and itchy eyes, but you also get sticky guck in them while you’re sleeping.  One morning I woke up and my eyes were so stuck together I couldn’t even open them.  I panicked a bit, thinking that maybe I’d gone blind, but mum cleaned my eyes and calmed me down and all was well.

Antibiotics weren’t widely used in 1952, so blight had much worse symptoms and it took much longer to recover.


Anyway, back to the horse.  I stayed in bed all day, on my birthday, because of the blight.  But, late that afternoon, mum came in and said there was something unusual on our front lawn so, quick, put on your dressing gown and come and have a look.  I wasn’t keen, because I felt so crook, but mum was obviously excited so I did what I was told.

And, there, on our front lawn, was “Punch”.  My very own horse.  What a birthday present!!!

dale-maungatoroto-1952-ishPunch was about 15 “hands” high (1 hand = 4 inches, so about 150 centimetres high at the base of the neck).  He was a dark bay (brown) gelding, and he was all mine!

He was pretty old when I got him, but we became best mates very quickly.  Mind you, he had a few idiosyncrasies.  For example, he could be exceptionally lazy, so he got slower and slower the further you went from home.  But then, miraculously, he would speed up as you got nearer and nearer to home.

The picture shows Grandad Dale proudly showing off Punch’s bridle and saddle.


We had five acres at the back of our house where we kept Punch, my older brother Max’s horse, and a milking cow.  Max’s horse was much bigger (17 hands) and called “Gay Step” (in those days, the word “gay” meant happy, light‑hearted, or cheerful).

Max had taught me to ride (before I got Punch) in quite an exciting way.  He put me up on the back of Gay Step (bareback) and told me to hold the mane tight.  Then he slapped Gay Step on the rump, really hard, and the horse bolted across the paddock, jumped a wee creek, and only came to a halt when it reached the garage in the corner of the paddock.  An exciting start to my equestrian career.


I did most of my riding with farming friends;  mainly with Bradley McRae, whose farm was quite close (on Griffin Road), and Doug Snelling, who lived on their farm at the base of the Brynderwyn (opposite where Atlas Quarries are now).

My longest ever ride was with Doug.  We started at their place, by the Brynderwyn Hill, and rode across the farm and all the way into Maungaturoto (about 10km).  We took a picnic and I remember we stopped at a lovely little oxbow and ate lunch under the trees, listening to the babbling river and the horses munching on grass.  Sixty-five years later I can still clearly remember lying on my back and the dappled light as I looked up through the trees.  Lovely memories.

They also occasionally held “hunts” at the Snelling farm, although I just watched and never rode.  A hunt in New Zealand is similar to English hunts, but there is no fox.  Instead, someone goes around the farm beforehand laying a smelly trail for the dogs to follow.  The dogs think they’re chasing something interesting, and the riders follow the dogs.  It’s quite challenging, because the horses have to jump fences on the way, often on quite difficult terrain.


dale-punch-dales-horse-with-gymkhana-ribbons-around-neck-lynne-maungatoroto-1952-ishI also competed in gymkhanas for children.  A gymkhana is like an athletics meeting, but for horses and their riders.  This website has pictures showing some typical events:

I don’t think I was particularly good at riding, but the photo on the right shows that Punch and I must have done reasonably well in some of the events.  It’s really hard to see (because the photo is so old and faded), but there are a couple of ribbons wrapped around Punch’s neck.  In those days, when you did well in a gymkhana event, they gave you a certificate and a ribbon to be tied around the horse’s neck.

By the way, that’s me (Grandad Dale) holding Punch’s reins and my sister (Lynne) in the saddle.


Domesticated horses have metal “shoes” to protect their feet and, in those days, many country towns would have a blacksmith who worked with iron (mending metal implements, like harrows, and shoeing horses).

blacksmithThe picture shows an old-fashioned blacksmith working on a horseshoe.  The blacksmith would heat the iron “shoe” until it was red hot, then hammer it to fit the shape of the horse’s hoof.  Then he would cool the horseshoe in cold water and nail it onto the horse’s hoof.

Yes, horseshoes are nailed in place, but this doesn’t hurt the horse.  The hoof of a horse is a bit like an enormously thick toenail and doesn’t have any pain sensors.  Here is a video showing a modern farrier at work:

I remember going to a blacksmith’s, once (somewhere near the Maungaturoto railway station, I think).  It was quite scary, because of the fiercely hot forge in a dark smelly shed, and there were sparks flying and really loud clanking as he hammered a red hot piece of metal.  The horse didn’t seem to mind.


Finally, a not-quite-a-horse story.  When I was quite young, we kept a cow for milking and, one day, my older brother Max, who had obviously seen one too many cowboy films, decided we should have a bucking bronco contest.  For a reason I can’t quite remember, he decided we should use our poor old cow as the “horse”, so he looped a rope around it’s flank and pulled tight, just like they do at rodeos.  Unfortunately, the cow hadn’t seen the same movies as we had and it just stood there, refusing to buck.

We gave up and the cow went back to munching grass.

The pictures shows what Max had in mind and what actually happened!!!

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Bikes (and the stupidest boys in the history of the world)

lynne-nell-dale-auckland-maybe-1952-ishThe picture was taken in 1952, when I was 10, and shows my sister (Lynne), my mother (Nell) and me (Grandad Dale).  But let me tell you about some of my cycling adventures.


Lots of children had bikes in 1952.  This was partly because we lived in a country town and partly because parents didn’t chauffeur children around everywhere in those days, like many parents do today.  You either used your bike or you went by shanks’s pony.

I remember getting a “new” bike for my tenth birthday.  Well, it was nearly new and quite expensive.  It cost 12 pounds and 6 shillings, which would probably be worth several hundred dollars nowadays.  And, not only was it nearly new, it had gears!!!  (In those days, many bikes didn’t have any gears at all, and those that did had only three.)


whakapirau-rdMe and my mates used to go on long bike rides out on country roads.  I remember coming a cropper on one of those trips.  On that day we rode from Maungaturoroto to Whakapirau Road, up Ford Road to the Paparoa road, then back home (about 20km for the round trip, much of it on gravel roads).  We were haring down Whakapirau Road (see the picture), trying to get up plenty of speed for the hard pull up Ford Road, and I missed the right turn.  Just going too fast, I suppose.  Anyway, I ended up going a few more metres down Whakapirau Road before ending up in the little creek between the two roads.

Very embarrassing.  But, to be fair to myself, remember that both of these roads were covered in heavy gravel in those days (not many country roads were tar sealed).  It was very difficult turning to right or left because you got stuck in the “ruts” that formed from constant use.


My shortest ride to ignominy was going flat tack down the main road in Maungaturoto (now called Hurndall Street) towards the dairy factory.  We’d only got 500 metres down the hill when my mate’s front wheel clipped my back wheel and over I went.  Tar seal, this time, so I was a mess of bruises and grazes.  No helmets, in those days, and I was riding in a short‑sleeved shirt, shorts, and bare feet.  So we trudged back up to dad’s chemist shop and he patched me up.  I don’t remember, but I’m sure he said something reassuring like “stupid boy”.


bike-ride-gorge-rd-and-brynderwynThe longest trip we did was along Gorge Road to the Waipu side of the Brynderwyn Hill, up and over the hill, then back to Maungaturoto.  The ride was more than 30km long, the gorge road was very heavy gravel and seriously rough and rutted, and the Brynderwyn is 450 metres high (about the same as the Rimutaka Hill near Wellington).  It sure was a big trip for us boys.  (I wonder if we told mum where we were going that day?  Parents didn’t keep such a tight rein on their kids in those days.)


gorge-rd-main-rd-cornerAnd then there was the great no‑pedalling challenge of 1952!!!  My friend Robin Hargraves and I had noticed that it was downhill pretty much all the way from the Maungaturoto township to the railway station 3km away, so we invented this great game.  The idea was to start at the top of that small hill in the picture (in the distance, on Gorge Road).  The rules were that you were allowed to pedal down the hill as fast as you could, do a right turn into Hurndall St, but once you turned the corner you weren’t allowed to pedal anymore.  The idea was to try and coast all the way down to the railway station, so the faster you pedalled down the hill the more chance you had.

Of course, this was an unbelievably stupid thing to do.  There used to be a building on the corner (where there’s a parking area now), so when we did the right hand turn we had no possible way of knowing whether there was any traffic coming.  Now, there wasn’t nearly as much traffic in those days, but even so, this was possibly the most stupid thing I ever did as a kid.

By the way, we never made it all the way to the railway station, but we had a hell of a good time trying.


(PS:  Many thanks to the wonderful Google Maps, for the graphics.)

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