New Zealand Logger - - Breaking Out -

THE EARLY FORESTRY BUSI­NESS IN NEW ZEALAND WAS al­most en­tirely fo­cused on the giant Kauri trees that pro­vided the masts and spars for the Royal Navy, as well as tim­ber for build­ing houses.

But once Kauri was logged out, sawmillers’ eyes turned else­where.

There was an abun­dance of tim­ber in the cen­tral North Is­land, much of it un­touched. How­ever, ac­cess was the main prob­lem, and un­til the main trunk rail­way line was com­pleted in 1908 sawmills in those parts could only cut to sup­ply the lo­cal mar­ket.

That suited one sawmiller, The Eg­mont Box Com­pany, which was orig­i­nally formed in 1906 in the Taranaki town of Eltham by a group of 60 dairy fac­to­ries as share­hold­ers. The orig­i­nal pur­pose of the com­pany was to man­u­fac­ture but­ter boxes and cheese crates from Kahikatea (Dacrycar­pus dacry­diodes), or as it was com­monly known, White Pine.

Although the com­pany had been formed to mainly man­u­fac­ture boxes for dairy prod­ucts, it was also per­mit­ted to ex­pand into other ar­eas of tim­ber pro­duc­tion, such as join­ery, sawmilling, tim­ber grow­ing and the mak­ing of other kinds of wooden boxes. The com­pany was also au­tho­rised to pre­pare but­ter and cheese for ex­port.

This led to The Eg­mont Box Com­pany branch­ing out from its Taranaki roots to es­tab­lish sawmills and box­ing/bat­ten fac­to­ries across the cen­tral North Is­land, nearer to where ma­jor sources of Kahikatea were to be found.


A lit­tle bit about Kahikatea. This tree of such im­por­tance to the Eg­mont Box Com­pany is New Zealand’s tallest na­tive tree and can grow up to 60m in height. The trunk is of­ten flared and but­tressed at the base to give the tree sta­bil­ity due to its pref­er­ence of grow­ing in wet ground lo­ca­tions.

Orig­i­nally, large amounts of sawn Kahikatea were ex­ported to Aus­tralia in the early 1900s where it was well re­ceived but needed treat­ment for borer be­fore use. Be­cause of its use in the dairy in­dus­try, the New Zealand govern­ment put an ar­range­ment in place that re­quired the needs of our lo­cal dairy in­dus­try to be

met first be­fore ex­port was al­lowed, so this took prece­dence.

Kahikatea was com­pletely free from taint and odour, hence its im­por­tance for the pack­ag­ing of but­ter and cheese, along with tal­low and other food­stuffs that re­quired taint-free con­tain­ers.

By the end of the Sec­ond World War some six mil­lion but­ter boxes were be­ing made each year. This re­quired around 60,000 cu­bic me­tres of Kahikatea and helps to ex­plain why the Eg­mont Box Com­pany looked to ac­quire cut­ting rights for bush blocks where the trees were present and es­tab­lish mills in those ar­eas.

It was not an abun­dant tree, usu­ally found scat­tered amongst the more com­mon trees such as Rimu, To­tara and Matai. How­ever, it could be found grow­ing more pro­lif­i­cally in its pre­ferred lo­ca­tions around swampy ground and by the banks of rivers and lakes.

Ton­garirio For­est

One of the ar­eas where Kahikatea grew well was Ton­gariro For­est, which drew the in­ter­est of The Eg­mont Box Com­pany.

The orig­i­nal cut­ting rights for Ton­gariro For­est were granted to WH and E Grace in 1903 for some 11,300 hectares of Maori land in the Tau­rewa block.

This block was to form the con­ces­sion of a lease of some 7,588 hectares granted to The Eg­mont Box Com­pany in 1920. The com­pany com­menced log­ging op­er­a­tions in the north-west cor­ner of the for­est and shifted its sawmilling op­er­a­tions to a mill at Tau­rewa, just to the east of Na­tional Park head­quar­ters. This mill op­er­ated un­til 1941.

Some other sawmilling com­pa­nies sub-leased cut­ting ar­eas from The Eg­mont Box Com­pany. Th­ese in­cluded Hutt Tim­ber and Hard­ware, Kete­tahi Tim­ber Milling Com­pany, Pokaka Tim­ber Com­pany and the Do­min­ion Tim­ber Com­pany.

The Eg­mont Box Com­pany cut­ting rights ex­pired on Jan­uary 3, 1956 and the sale of the re­main­ing tim­ber came un­der the con­trol of the New Zealand For­est Ser­vice.

Af­ter 1956, all the orig­i­nal cut­ting rights of the Eg­mont Box Com­pany Con­ces­sion area were taken over by sub­sidiary com­pa­nies of Carter Con­sol­i­dated. Log­ging ceased in Ton­gariro For­est in 1978.

The Tau­rewa Sawmill

In its hey­day, The Eg­mont Box Com­pany’s Mill Num­ber 75, lo­cated at Tau­rewa between Na­tional Park and Tu­rangi, was one of the largest mills in New Zealand with a cut­ting ca­pac­ity of 35,000 board feet per day.

The com­pany was well known for keep­ing its mills up to date and Tau­rewa was equipped with mod­ern saws and gear.

The mill was pow­ered by a steam-driven elec­tric gen­er­a­tor fired by Dutch ovens, which burnt wet saw­dust fed by ei­ther con­veyor belts through­out the mill or from stor­age bins. The power plant con­sisted of a twin Tangye steam engine with a cylin­der bore of 14 inches and a stroke of 28 inches, gen­er­at­ing 134kW (180hp). A multi-tubu­lar boiler pow­ered a log turner for the break-down bench.

There was a Pa­cific car­riage feed­ing twin break-down saws of the in­serted teeth type, which was ca­pa­ble of tak­ing logs up to 11m (36ft) in length. There were also four breast benches and a deal frame. A deal frame was a saw­ing sys­tem equipped with mul­ti­ple saws that could cut a flitch of tim­ber into sev­eral boards at once.

A 1913 Bedford di­rect cou­pled steam-driven elec­tric gen­er­a­tor sup­plied 400 Volts of three-phrase AC power. This elec­tric gen­er­a­tor drove eleven sep­a­rate mo­tors.

The sawn tim­ber was graded on a cov­ered sort­ing ta­ble with a mov­ing chain – one of the first in New Zealand – and the yard was worked by a Wil­liamette Hy­draulic Hoist Strad­dle car­rier, the first of its type in New Zealand.

The mill started op­er­at­ing in 1936 and at its peak em­ployed more than 100 work­ers. The first ver­sion of the mill was de­stroyed by fire on Sun­day April 2, 1939, which was started by the Dutch ovens. Un­for­tu­nately, at the time the water sup­ply was off, leav­ing mill staff un­able to fight the fire and they could only stand by and watch as their work­place was de­stroyed.

Af­ter it was re­built in a smaller form that same year, it con­tin­ued

cut­ting un­til Au­gust 8, 1941, when it was forced to close due to con­tin­ued losses sus­tained by the com­pany in other ar­eas and tim­ber sourc­ing is­sues.

The cut­ting rights in the east­ern por­tion of the con­ces­sion were sold to the Kete­tahi Tim­ber Com­pany and the Pokaka Tim­ber Com­pany.

Ef­forts to sell the mill to the For­est Ser­vice were un­suc­cess­ful, but other parts of the for­est block were sold to the Do­min­ion Tim­ber Com­pany at Owhango, amount­ing to an area of 3,237 hectares.

In early 1942, the ma­jor­ity of the firm’s equip­ment was ad­ver­tised for sale. The Eg­mont Box Com­pany mill was sold to well-known sawmiller FJ Carter along with the re­main­ing cut­ting rights for £33,000. The mill was dis­man­tled and some items of equip­ment were moved to the Puke­hinau clear­ing and re­built along with equip­ment from the Carter mill at Pokaka. This mill was op­er­ated un­der the name of the Pokaka Tim­ber Com­pany.

Carters then made the de­ci­sion to not use the tram sys­tem for log trans­port but in­stead to use trucks. The rail­way was torn up and the track bed con­verted into a road for trucks to use. This road, known as John Mc­Don­ald Road, fol­lows closely the orig­i­nal tram for­ma­tion and to­day gives ac­cess to the Puke­hinau caves and at the end is the clear­ing where the Pokaka mill once stood. The re­main­ing items of sawmilling equip­ment from the mill were sold off to other in­ter­ested buy­ers.

The Down­fall Of The Eg­mont Box Com­pany

There were two is­sues that led to the demise of The Eg­mont Box Com­pany. The first was that the avail­able amount of Kahikatea in the Tau­rewa block had been grossly over es­ti­mated and it was sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered to be only 1% of all the ma­jor tim­ber trees present. The orig­i­nal es­ti­mate of block was; 33% Kahikatea, 30% Rimu, 20% To­tara and 17% Matai.

The com­pany knew by 1936 that “white pine is neg­li­gi­ble” and although it was au­tho­rised to ex­pand into the sawmilling of other na­tive species, this proved to be un­eco­nom­i­cal, and in­deed, con­trib­uted to the firm’s fi­nan­cial losses.

In ret­ro­spect, the com­pany would have been bet­ter off pur­chas­ing the needed Kahikatea from other saw milling firms.

Fol­low­ing the 1940 AGM, the di­rec­tors were in­structed to stop milling op­er­a­tions and dis­pose of the firm’s tim­ber rights and to con­cen­trate on the busi­ness of mak­ing and sell­ing but­ter and cheese con­tain­ers.

In­volve­ment With Ton­gariro Tim­ber

Much of the dif­fi­cul­ties ex­pe­ri­enced by The Eg­mont Box Com­pany can be traced to its deal­ings with the Ton­gariro Tim­ber Com­pany and, in par­tic­u­lar, that com­pany’s roy­alty pay­ments, as well as land ten­ure, labour and even the on­set of the First World War.

Ton­gariro Tim­ber had been granted ac­cess to some 55,000ha of bush on the con­di­tion it con­structed a light rail line of some 40 miles [65km] from the main truck line at Kakahi to Pukawa on the shores of Lake Taupo.

Eg­mont Box was ap­proached while it was milling at Te Rena and had gained cut­ting rights at Tau­rewa, with a pro­posal to con­struct a por­tion of the line from Kakahi of 5 miles [8 km] that both com­pa­nies could use to gain ac­cess to needed tim­ber blocks.

This was agreed on Septem­ber 9, 1914, but the start of the First World War put paid to the plans of Ton­gariro Tim­ber to raise the re­quired fi­nance in Eng­land.

Some­what fool­ishly, in hind­sight, Eg­mont Box car­ried on with construction us­ing its own labour force and equip­ment and by March 1916 had spent a con­sid­er­able sum on the rail line and bridg­ing.

Then, in July 1916, NZ Rail­ways changed the sit­ing of the start of the line from Kakahi sta­tion and wanted the line re-routed over the NZ Rail­way bridge, which would have cost Eg­mont Box some £2,000 – a sum the com­pany could not bear. Fur­ther­more, the com­pany’s lawyers con­sid­ered that Ton­gariro Tim­ber would be un­able to find its share of the costs.

Work on the line halted and a new agree­ment between the two firms was worked out in 1919-1920.

The Govern­ment in­ter­vened again and wanted the line to be con­structed of 40lb rails, rather than 30lb rails, any curves had to be of no less than 5 chains [100m] rather than 2 chains [44m] and all bridges were to be con­structed of steel. This was ob­vi­ously so that the line would be com­pat­i­ble with the main rail­way, en­abling it to be ab­sorbed into the net­work later on.

Th­ese re­quired changes quadru­pled the es­ti­mated cost of the rail­way. The English con­trac­tors who were to build Ton­gariro Tim­ber's part of the line then with­drew as there was in­suf­fi­cient fi­nance to build the rail­way to its new re­quired spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

It was the fi­nal blow and it led to the wind­ing up of Ton­gariro Tim­ber. This de­ci­sion to liq­ui­date also af­fected Eg­mont Box, which suf­fered heavy losses be­cause of its close as­so­ci­a­tion with Ton­gariro Tim­ber and other debtors. Fol­low­ing the liq­ui­da­tion of Ton­gariro, The Eg­mont Box Com­pany found it­self li­able for tens of thou­sands pounds worth of se­cu­ri­ties that had been raised but never ex­pected to have to pay.

If the di­rec­tors of The Eg­mont Box Com­pany had delved a lit­tle deeper they might never have got as­so­ci­ated with the Ton­garirio

Tim­ber Com­pany in the first place.

You see, a con­tract had been signed in 1906 with the Maori own­ers for the tim­ber cut­ting rights in forests around the Mokai area, west of Lake Taupo, for more than 40,160 acres with an op­tion over a fur­ther 19,285 acres at rates that would climb steeply.

Ton­gariro Tim­ber had to pay a start­ing amount of £10 per acre from 1906, which was to be in­creased to £12.10 per acre in 1936 and from 1956 to 1961 it would go up to £20 per acre. This was to in­crease to £100 per acre af­ter 1961. An ad­vance roy­alty of £2,500 was to be paid an­nu­ally re­gard­less of any tim­ber cut or not. This was to rise to £5,000 at a later date.

How­ever, bear in mind that the es­ti­mates of the tim­ber that was avail­able to be cut, par­tic­u­larly Kahikatea, was over-op­ti­mistic, this alone was a recipe for trou­ble.

So, build­ing a bush line to trans­port the sup­posed tim­ber to the mill was not a very sound fi­nan­cial de­ci­sion in light of those is­sues.

Why con­sider A Rail Or Tram Sys­tem?

Be­fore the use of trucks to cart logs most sawmills had their own ded­i­cated tram sys­tems. They were sturdy and re­li­able means of trans­port­ing large vol­umes of woods across very dif­fi­cult coun­try.

On the face of it, the agree­ment to jointly fund a line seemed a good idea. The Ton­gariro Tim­ber Com­pany’s side of the deal was to build a rail­way line from Kakahi to Pukawa on the shore of Lake Taupo. This would have been of 40 miles length and built to the same stan­dard of the Taupo To­tara Tim­ber com­pany line that was al­ready op­er­at­ing suc­cess­fully.

Left: Above:

Open­ing spread: The Eg­mont Box Com­pany head­quar­ters in 1906 taken from the book­let The EBC Ltd. A wooden cheese crate, this one is at the Pu­taruru Tim­ber Mu­seum. Photo: BM Gough. Kahikatea was abun­dant in the swampy West Coast, but spo­radic else­where...

Above: An aerial view of the EBC Tau­rewa sawmill from 1937. Be­low: The Cater­pil­lar 75 sim­i­lar to the one that helped push the rail line into the Tau­rewa For­est. Photo: Cater­pil­lar Gallery, Eric C. Or­le­mann.

Old Eg­mont Box Com­pany lo­cal, Cli­max 1317, that once lan­guished in the Te Awa­mutu Memo­rial Park NZ Rail (photo from NZ Rail Fan) now be­ing re­stored by the town’s Lions Club: Photo: Ian Jen­ner in NZ Rail­way Ob­server.

Fire de­stroyed the orig­i­nal sawmill at Tau­rewa in 1939.

But­ter boxes made from Kahikatea be­ing loaded from this Arahuri Dairy Com­pany truck onto a train for ex­port. Photo: Alexan­dra Turn­bull Li­brary.

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