War­wick in for the long haul

South Waikato News - - Your Paper, Your Place - EMMA JAMES

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.

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