Warwick in for the long haul
Warwick Johnson has moved more than 30,000 buildings in his 82 years, including some iconic Waikato ones.
Born in Hamilton and now retired in Tirau, Johnson has been in the business of building removal since he was about 15.
It all started when his school closed down due to an outbreak of polio and he was sent to a farm to work.
But he was a bit of a misfit in school, he said, so when he got his roll-call to come back he opted to move buildings instead – starting with the transit huts that were used by American soldiers who were here during World War II.
‘‘They needed to be used to rehab the New Zealand soldiers when they came home, so we picked up the huts and took them to rural areas,’’ he said. ‘‘There were 400 to be shifted.’’ His family owned the first trailer built in the Waikato, which was what they used for the relocations.
‘‘It was cumbersome for what it was, but it did the job,’’ he said.
After working with his father and grandfather for some years, he broke away from the family to start his own business – Johnson’s House Removals.
The Heritage Village at Mystery Creek is one of his ‘‘babies’’. He has shifted almost all of the those buildings from their original location to where they are now, including the Ngatea Church, the old Waikato Hospital, Kihikihi Jail, Whitehall School and the Bledisloe Hall.
But that’s not the only big project Johnson has taken on.
In 1958 he was tasked with taking 200 houses from Meremere and transporting them to Mangakino to provide the dambuilders with accommodation. From there, the houses went to Matahina, then back to Mangakino.
‘‘Some families I shifted up to five times,’’ he laughed.
Johnson not only moved buildings around the Waikato, but all over the North Island. He said his most famous one was St Mary’s Cathedral in Auckland which he moved in 1982.
‘‘I was averaging about seven churches a year because by that stage the small towns were growing, and they wanted the churches where the people were.’’
Warwick Johnson has moved more than 30,000 Waikato buildings in his 82 years. He has many scrapbooks and photographs of his time in the business.