Friday, 16 February 2018


Scott Bainbridge writes about The Great New Zealand Robbery of 1956

Largely forgotten today, the waterfront payroll robbery of 1956 gripped the nation at the time and for decades after.

But that was only after details of the crime could no longer be suppressed. This was a crime on a scale that threatened to embarrass the government less than a year out from a crucial general election. The political atmosphere at the time was one of the government losing its grip, regarding unsolved crimes, and Minister of Justice Jack Marshall put pressure on police to solve the waterfront robbery quickly.

The Great New Zealand Robbery published by Allen & Unwin, is a masterly work by leading true crime author Scott Bainbridge. It is a well-researched story of the most audacious and meticulously executed heist in New Zealand’s history. Scott Bainbridge is the author of four true crime books.

Only one man, small-time crook Trevor Edward Nash, was ever convicted for the crime, and he may have only been called in at the last minute when the main perpetrators were unable to open the safe that contained the payroll for Auckland’s waterside workers.

Nash became a legend in his own lifetime as a man who could escape from prison while serving a seven-year sentence, stay on the run for months and leave the country, only to be arrested by a foreign cop with a photographic memory.

Interestingly, while Trevor Nash was serving time in the Big House (Mount Eden prison) another Nash (no relation) was serving time as New Zealand’s oldest prime minister. Both were elected within months of each other (one with only 12 votes) and both escaped their sentence within months of each other.

Nash never acted alone in the robbery, or with his escape from prison. Many high-profile gangsters of the time were investigated but none was ever charged with the payroll robbery or with assisting with Nash’s escape. Nash alone took the rap, and in 2001 he took his secrets, and the names of his co-offenders, to his grave. He was a poker-faced criminal who carried out his crimes and covered his tracks with meticulous care. Apart from one fateful episode, Trevor Nash never drew attention to himself. But that one episode changed the course of the police investigation and put Trevor Nash behind bars. Bainbridge describes it all brilliantly.

Nash was elevated from an over-looked, small-time crook with few skills or connections, to a daring highly organised criminal who would be closely scrutinised by police for the rest of his days. Despite that, he was only ever charged with one other robbery. But on that occasion the jury found him not guilty.

In the book, Bainbridge names the criminals who most likely organised New Zealand’s greatest ever robbery and helped Nash escape. A fascinating read that conveys the strong message that there is loyalty among thieves, sometimes, even if it come with a price tag.

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Don't kid yourself it won't happen to you, because if you think that way, it will happen to you

If you think that you are the exception to the rule, watch this video:

Drink/drug driving kills. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunday, 7 January 2018


The history of the Piako Gliding Club, Matamata

That day in December 1956, when a small group of gliding enthusiasts met at Bedford Park, Matamata, became a legend that would be retold many times over the following decades. It was the beginning of the Piako Gliding Club.

Lew Hale, a 24-year old bank employee from Ngarua a few miles north of Matamata, was the instigator. Hale was a model aircraft flyer who had also made some flights with the Auckland Gliding Club and he was smitten with the then novelty of motorless flight. He decided that glider flying should be available closer to home where the conditions for sustained lift in thermals, ridge and wave, were legendary. Hale placed an advertisement in a local newspaper and posted a copy of the advertisement on the notice board at the Piako Aero Club at Matamata’s Waharoa airfield. The result, a few weeks later, was the meeting in Bedford Park. They sat in the shade of the trees on a Sunday afternoon and laid the foundations for one of New Zealand’s aviation success stories.
ZK-GBO at Invercargill in 1968
Photo: Tom Smellie
The minutes of the meeting have been lost over time, perhaps carried away by a super thermal of the Thames Valley kind, or ripped away downwind by a mighty Kaimai easterly wave to later reside on the sea floor somewhere near Tasmania. Who knows? Interviewed recently, Lew Hale was able to recall from memory that about twelve people were present, including Bob Connor, Tony Fowke, Brian Kosoof, Harold Oates, Bill Pipe, Eric Pulman, Clive Walden, Ivan Whitehead, Brian Balme and possibly two others.

It was agreed that a gliding club should be formed, and a plan should be drawn up for financing the purchase of a sailplane. They needed £960 (approximately the price of a house at the time) for a new Schleicher Rhonlerche II from the factory in Poppenhausen, Germany, through local agent Roy Russell. The group didn’t have £960 but that didn’t deter them. They decided to meet again in the new year.
ZK-AQA before being owned by Piako
Photo: Peter Lewis
The group, then numbering about twenty, met again on February 18, 1957, formed the Piako Gliding Club and elected the first committee: Bob Connor, chairman; Lew Hale, secretary/treasurer. The committee is believed to have included Eric Pulman, Bill Pipe, Ivan Whitehead, Bill Monteith, Brian Balme and Don Chismon. Bob Connor was a radio technician and a quiet considerate man who would lead the club as chairman, through good times and bad, until his untimely death in 1965. Lew Hale remained on the committee for several years and continued his career in banking and local government until retirement. Bill Pipe was a Morrinsville engineer and remained on the committee until the 1960’s. Don Chismon was a charismatic south Waikato car dealer. Little is now known of the other foundation committee members.

The first committee was mostly young with lots of enthusiasm and a wide range of skills. They made some good decisions, thereby assuring a long, stable future for the club. A gliding club without a glider is not ideal, or one that could be expected to survive long, so the foundation committee tackled the non-existent fleet problem in a business-like way. The bank account at the Bank of New Zealand was as dry as a desert thermal, but they were sure they could find the lift with some lateral thinking. Someone made a £500 loan to the club and ten members provided guarantees of £100 each. The bank then provided the funds for the glider purchase and an order was placed with Roy Russell in August or September 1957.

The club’s first machine, Schleicher Ka-4 Rhonlerche II, Reg. ZK-GBO (c/n 329/57), was assembled at Ardmore on March 3, 1958, and was test flown by Gordon Hookings, a University of Auckland mathematics professor and one of New Zealand’s most experienced glider pilots. However, another authority suggests the date may have been March 7 and the pilot, Ralph Court. ZK-GBO remained at Ardmore until March 23 so that Piako members could gain experience under supervision. During this time, Lew Hale became the club’s first instructor and was joined a month later by Tony Fowke.

The specifications for ZK-GBO (From Sailplane Directory) were: -
Seats: two
Length: 7.3 m (23ft 11in)
Wingspan: 13m (42ft 8in)
Wing area: 16.34 m2 (175.9 sq ft)
Aspect ratio 10.3:1
Empty weight: 107.5 kg (237lbs)
Max take-off weight: 400 kg (882 lbs)
Stall speed: 56 km/h (35 mph/30kn)
Never exceed speed: 170 km/h (106 mph/92 kn)
Max rough air speed 120 km/h (74.6 mph/64.8 kn)
Max aero tow speed: as above
Max winch speed: 90 km/h (55.9 mph/48.6 kn)
G force limits: +4.7 and -2.3 at max speed
Best glide ratio: 17.5 at 78 km/h (48 mph)
Rate of sink: 1.1 m/sec (220 ft/min) at 62 km/h (39 mph)
Wing loading: 24.5 kg/m2 (5.0 lb/sq ft)

With the purchase of de Havilland Tiger Moth ZK-AQA as the tow plane, the club was in business. Harold Oates, who would go on to have a longer continuous association with the club than any other member, became the first tow pilot. He was soon followed by Tony Fowke and Brian Kosoof. Sometime early in 1958 Tony Fowke became the first CFI. Brian Kosoof also became an instructor in 1958. Peter Blakeborough joined in April 1958, started towing in June, became an instructor in February 1960, and CFI later that year.

Other members who joined, or came as members of other clubs, between 1958 and 1962 included Les Marshall, Peter de Renzy, Ross Carmichael, John Cresswell, Tony Littlejohn, Jack Kivell, Norman Lord, Derek Miller, Pat Bashford, Stuart Graham, Bill Sayer, Con Clarkin, Alec Mowat, Keith Litchfield, Ron Dunford, Mike Feeney, Peter Bankart, Mike O’Grady, Iris Allan, Lesley Gibson, C. Mitchell, Stuart Rogerson, Alan Irving, A. Roponi, Joan de Renzy, G. Williams, P. Demler, Jack Bindon, J Williams, R. McIntyre, Ben Berg, John Gattenby, Ralph Fenton, H. Christie, Shirley Morrell, N. Williams, John Mercer, Don Rowlands, Ross Reid, Brian O’Leary, Gary Walker, P. Fuller, G. Russell, A Phillips, Jock Craddock, Dennis Hipperson, P. Martin, B. Marks, Jim Aitcheson, H. Elliffe, A. Shaw, Geoff Nelson, and Brian Thornton. Information, memories and photographs regarding these pilots and others is wanted for a book to mark the 60th anniversary of the club.
Because of its registration, ZK-GBO was known as the Little Stinker and it lived up to its nickname on July 20, 1958, when pilot Bob Connor found himself in a collision with ZK-AQA (Brian Kosoof) while landing. The tow plane had been parked with the engine running in readiness for the next launching. Some rapid throttle and rudder work by Brian saved the Tiger from major damage, but the Little Stinker needed a new wing. This incident proved to be a major set-back for the new club. After only four months of operations, the members faced eight months without their pride and joy. A new wing had to be imported from Germany, but the granting of an import licence seemed to drag on forever. Meanwhile, members kept the revenue flowing with private flights in the otherwise unemployed tow plane Gliding started again on February 21, 1959.

ZK-AQA was built at de Havilland’s Hatfield factory and assembled in New Zealand for the RNZAF in 1940 as NZ863. It was sold to J. Reid in 1947 and the Nelson Aero Club, before being acquired by Piako in 1958. In 1961 it was transferred to the Auckland Gliding Club where it came to a rather spectacular end on January 25, 1965. While taking-off in a cross-wind with Slingsby T-31 ZK-GAD on tow, pilot Len Hill lost control and drifted over the Ardmore Teachers Training College. The glider pilot released and landed on the airfield, but ZK-AQA finished up with its front-end poking through the principal’s ceiling where a meeting was in progress. At the last report it was in storage at Dairy Flat airfield.

ZK-GBO was sold to the Southland Gliding Club on August 14, 1965. At that time, it had flown 1,902 hours and completed 9,300 flights. Over the next several years the Little Stinker was involved in numerous incidents and was once damaged in a flood. The registration was cancelled in 1991. Despite the nickname, the Rhonlerche, or Lerche, was a study little machine with ideal handling characteristics for training. It was often said, that although it had the penetration of a brick between thermals, it could hold its own with the best in smaller thermals.

In this 60th year, the history of the Piako Gliding Club is soon to be published and assistance would be appreciated with photos of people, places, events and aircraft, along with documents, records and stories. If you can help, please contact Peter Blakeborough at or call on 021-115-0543.

Monday, 1 January 2018


New Zealand’s claim to first votes for women questioned

In her New Year message to New Zealanders, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, has hailed the country’s record of equality for women and spoke of New Zealand women being the first in the world to vote.

The year 1893 was a landmark year for New Zealand politics and the women’s suffrage movement around the world. Now, 125 years later, women still have much to achieve in their march to full equality and recognition, but they have achieved a lot, despite sometimes bitter opposition.

However, the often-made claim that New Zealand, as an independent country, discovered, or pioneered, votes for women is overstated because (1) New Zealand women were not the first to vote, and (2) In 1893, New Zealand was not an independent country. In some ways, the New Zealand claim detracts from the long, bitter struggle worldwide by women, because it gives the impression that New Zealand suddenly came up with the idea and the rest of the world followed. It wasn’t as simple or easy as that.

Firstly, women can blame the ancient Greeks, who are often cited as the founders of democracy. They decided that only adult males could vote, and then it was up to women to prove that they were capable of exercising that right too. Somewhere, sometime after that, the struggle began in earnest.

By the time the New Zealand people started debating the merits or otherwise of female voting, society had long ago settled for the woman’s role as being in the home as a dutiful housewife and mother. The man was the head of the house and the only one capable of making important decisions. Men were more likely to have an education and a career, whereas women from childhood had been raised to fill the role wife and mother only.
Kate Sheppard

But in New Zealand there was one woman who failed to adopt the stereotype. She was Catherine Wilson Sheppard (Kate), born in Liverpool, United Kingdom, in 1847. She arrived in New Zealand with her mother and sister after her banker/lawyer father had died in 1868. Kate Sheppard led a busy social life, joining and leading many women’s organizations. She edited New Zealand’s first all-female newspaper and produced many pamphlets on women’s issues including suffrage. She was a persuasive speaker and effective lobbyist. She was soon the central figure of the New Zealand suffragette movement and became widely known internationally for her leadership skills. The culmination of her campaign was the passage of the Electoral Act 1893 enabling all women over the age of 21 to vote in parliamentary and local government elections and to offer themselves for election. Kate Sheppard married twice and had one son, Douglas, who died in 1880. She died in Christchurch in 1934.

Kate Sheppard was perhaps the best-known driving force of the suffragette movement worldwide during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and after success in New Zealand she continued the campaign in other countries. But the movement did not originate with her. She took up the cause where others had left off.

The earliest known voting by women was during Sweden’s Age of Liberty (1718-1772) when women were conditionally allowed to vote. The women of the island of Corsica had long had the right to vote in local municipal elections before the island became an independent republic in 1755 and the constitution granted votes to women in national elections. But the island was invaded by France in 1767 and, after an extended war, Corsica became part of France in 1769 and the female vote law was revoked. In 1756, Lydia Taft became the first woman to vote in colonial America. She voted on at least three occasions in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, for a town council. The state of New Jersey in 1776 allowed women with assets valued at more than $250 to vote. The state later reconsidered, and the female franchise was revoked. In 1792, in Sierra Leone, a new British colony, all heads of households could vote, including African women. In 1837, Kentucky permitted women to vote in school elections. The tiny British territory of Pitcairn Island also claims to be the first place in the world to give women the vote, in 1838. In 2013, the year of the 175th anniversary of women’s votes on the island, the Pitcairn seven-member Council had a majority of women members.
British suffragettes in 1911

In the mid-1800’s, women formed suffragette organizations in Europe and North America and staged protests at their exclusion from politics. A common belief at the time was that a marriage comprised one flesh and therefore what the man wanted was also what the woman wanted and only one vote was necessary. Even many women subscribed to this belief. His vote was her vote. To challenge this concept was to challenge the foundations of marriage. Others argued that women were not intelligent enough to be trusted with a vote.

The Wyoming territory constitution in 1869 granted voting and public office rights to women. At the time Wyoming was a US colony in much the same way that New Zealand was a British colony in 1893. The debate in Wyoming had some interesting aspects. While some debated based on equal rights, others claimed women should not have fewer rights than African American men. Some men argued that the new law would bring more women to Wyoming where the ratio was one female to every six males. The territory of Utah followed in 1870 with full suffrage for women. But in 1887, the US Congress revoked the Utah law. In 1881 the Manx Election Act gave property-owning women a parliamentary franchise on the Isle of Man, and the claim is frequently made that that was a first. After failing get a two-thirds vote in 1877, the state of Colorado constitution was amended, and men voted Yes in 1893 with a 55% vote in favour. In the same year, the New Zealand, still a colony and technically subject to British authority, voted in favour of women votes.

There can be little doubt that the New Zealand decision was a major influence at the time, but even then, other countries were slow to follow: Australia 1902, Finland 1906, Norway 1913, Denmark 1915, Armenia 1917, Estonia 1917, Latvia 1917, Russia 1917, Canada in 1917, United Kingdom 1918 and Netherlands 1919. Full voting rights in the USA for women were granted in 1920.

Apart from dictatorships where all citizens are denied voting rights, only a handful of countries, all Muslim, now ban or restrict voting by women.

Sunday, 31 December 2017


Comparing this year with the state of the world a thousand years ago

The first 17 years of the twenty-first century have been unprecedented as a dangerous time for man and the planet. War, crime, political instability, sudden deaths, natural disasters and other disruptions appear to be breaking all records. Most people will agree we live in truly dangerous times.

Meanwhile, for the past week, commentators everywhere have been busy reviewing the year just closing, and the reviews paint a grim picture. It seems there has never been a year quite like 2017 with so much doom, gloom, violence, catastrophes, and predictions of even worse to come. Apart from 2017, the record of the twenty-first century to date must also appears to be unprecedented. Many are asking, what is the world coming to?

To put 2017 and the twenty-first century into perspective, let’s roll the clock back 1,017 years, and look at the events recorded in The Concise Encyclopaedia of World History, Rodney Castlelton (The Book Company, 1998), from 1000 AD to 1017 AD. Where possible, the birth and death dates of individuals have been added, just to illustrate how short and cheap life was in those far-off days.

1000 Olaf I Tryggvesson (963-1000) is killed in a battle with the kings of Sweden and Denmark. Norway is left without a king and the Danes take over the country. Boleslav King of Poland (992-1025) unites Bohemia and Moravia. Ceylon is invaded by the Cholas under their King Rajaraja the Great (947-1014). Seljuk Turks occupy Transoxiana, the territory east of the Oxus River. Basil II (958-1025), the Byzantine Emperor, attempts to conquer Bulgaria again. In North America, the Southern Cult evolves in the lower Mississippi valley. Mexican influenced, the people make objects of carved shell, metal and pottery showing a preoccupation with death; they focus on such sites as Emerald and Grand Village. The Iroquois people in north-east North America live in villages and cultivate beans and maize. Ethiopia is almost overrun by non-Christian, non-Islamic people from the south. The Polynesians have reached New Zealand in the last stage of the greatest migration and navigational feat in human history. Their ancestors began this migration in about 1500 BC from the East Indies, reaching Easter Island and Hawaii by about 400 AD; they are now the most widely dispersed racial group on earth. Churches are built, especially in France and Germany, to express gratitude for the postponement of the Day of Judgement; Duke Stephen I founds the monastery of Gran. The Indian mathematician Sridhara recognizes the importance of zero. Duke Stephen, who has been in power since 997, is crowned first King of Hungary with regalia sent by Pope Sylvester II (946-1003). The Bridge of Ten Thousand Ages is completed in Foochow (China).
Brian Boru

1001 The Mayan civilization in Central America is in retreat; overuse of land, soil erosion and malnutrition take their toll as the population levels drop.

1002 The Holy Roman Emperor Otto III dies of malaria at Paterno, aged 22, while on campaign against the Romans. He is succeeded as King of the Franks and Bavarians by his cousin Duke Henry of Bavaria (972-1024), who is now 28. The Vizier al-Mansur, chief minister of Caliph Hisham II of Cordova, dies aged 63, the Caliphate begins to decline without his guidance. The Byzantine armies of Basil II overrun Macedonia, defeating the Bulgarians at Vidin. Ethelred II (966-1016) orders a massacre of Danish settlers (racism is not new).

1003 The Danish King Sweyn (Forkbeard) (960-1014) ravishes the English coast and exacts tribute in recompense for the massacre last year. Thorfinn Karlsefni (980-1007) leaves Greenland with three ships for a three-year exploration of North America (500 years before Columbus). His attempts at colonization are unsuccessful. Pope Sylvester II dies (aged 57).

1004 Zhenzong, the Song Emperor of China (968-1022), concludes a peace treaty with the Laio empire of the Khitan Mongol nomads, which costs China 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk a year, an extortionate tribute many Song officials find humiliating and offensive. The Lombard King Ardoin is defeated by Henry King of Bavaria, who has himself crowned King of Lombardy at Pavia on 14 May. Ardoin nevertheless carries on fighting and much of Pavia is destroyed by burning and many of its citizens killed.

1005 Kenneth III (966-1005) King of Scotland dies and is succeeded by Malcolm II (954-1034).

1006 Muslims settle in northern India. Mount Metrop in Java erupts; Hindu King Dharmawangsa is killed in the eruption and the Temple of Borbudar, the largest temple in South-East Asia, is badly damaged.

1007 Ethelred II King of England pays the Danes for two years free of attacks.

1008 Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030) defeats Hindu forces at Peshawar as he expands his empire. The Persian writer Al-Hamadhani dies at Harat (age 39); he invented the literary form called Maqamah, a cameo short story in rhyming prose.

1009 Egypt’s Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (985-1021) destroys the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There are demands across Christian Europe for a crusade to recover the Holy Land from Muslim control.

1010 Orders of King Rajaraja of Chola: Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur completed. Mansur Abu’l-Quasim Firdwasi The Book of the Kings written.

1011 Ichijo Emperor of Japan dies, aged 31, and is succeeded by his cousin Sanjo.

1012 Ethelred II pays the Danes another huge sum to stop them attacking England. ‘Heretics’ – Christians professing unorthodox beliefs – are for the first time persecuted in Germany.

1013 The Danes once more attack and conquer England; Ethelred II takes refuge in Normandy. Cordova’s Caliph Hisham II (966-1013) dies and is succeeded by Sulaiman al-Mustain.
Nathaniel's Bloodline

1014 Henry of Bavaria the German King recognizes Benedict VIII (980-1024) as Pope and is crowned by him as Holy Roman Emperor Henry II on 14 February. Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard dies suddenly at Gainsborough and is succeeded by his son Canute (994-1035). Canute, who is 20, returns to the safety of Denmark as Ethelred comes back from Normandy to reclaim his throne. April 23: Battle of Clontarf: fighting rages all day between two Irish factions. The victorious Munster army is led by Brian Boru (941-1014), the 87-year old High King of Ireland; the other, led by Mael Morda King of Leinster, is aided by the Vikings. Morda himself breaks through Brian Boru’s bodyguard and stabs Boru to death. Morda is later tortured to death by the High King’s army. Basil II, the Byzantine Emperor, annexes part of Bulgaria and orders that the Bulgarian army is to be blinded.

1015 Olaf II (995-1030) of Norway re-establishes Norwegian independence. Canute returns to England and is recognized as King of Wessex.

1016 Sanjo, the blind Emperor of Japan, abdicates, aged 40, and is succeeded by Ichijo’s eight-year old son Goichijo (1008-1036). Ethelred II King of England dies, aged 48, and is succeeded by his son Edmund Ironside (990-1016), who is chosen by the people of London; Canute is chosen to succeed by the witan at Southampton. Battle of Ashingdon in Essex: Canute routs Edmund’s army but permits him to reign in the south until his death. Edmund dies later in the year, aged 26; Canute rules all England.

1017 Canute divides England into four earldoms for ease of administration.

Other research reveals that the year 1000 AD was a time of major upheaval and extraordinary suffering. For example, in France, the whole country was seized with panic and despair, people feared that the world would end during the millennial year. People went on pilgrimages, leaving their homes, crops and animals, throwing into chaos the normal course of living. Fields were unploughed, crops untended, and when the world didn’t end, there was widespread starvation, disease and death. Does that ring a bell with Y2K? Then there was drought in 1002 followed by unprecedented rain storms and flooding in 1003. The years 950-1250 was the period of Medieval Climate Optimum, a time of global warming, but inside the Optimum, 1000-1017 was mostly cold, dry and harsh, an abrupt and seemingly inexplicable climate reversal.

From 1004-1016 England experienced, ‘such a famine prevailed as no man can remember.’ Although the wars between Ethelred and Sweyn the Dane took the lives of thousands, famine took thousands too. Some authorities have estimated that England lost half its population during this period. In 1008 there was famine in Wales. In 1009 Italian troops had to march on frozen rivers. In 10111 the River Nile was frozen. In 1012 many European cities were flooded by the sea. In 1013 England had a hurricane, an earthquake, and severe flooding. The year 1014 was notable for many English towns being destroyed by the sea with the loss of many lives. The climate was erratic and unpredictable, just as it is now.

In the period 1000-1017, war, violence, and sickness were a way of life. Almost half of deaths recorded by early coroners were due to violence. But by far the greatest number of deaths were due to infectious diseases. Life expectancy from birth at the time was 20-30 years. From the birth and death dates for the famous people above, it can be seen how much longer the privileged classes lived, and even they did not live long by today’s standards.

A thousand years ago, crime was not a major worry to the citizenry at large – they just lived and died with it. Crime statistics and research data gathering did not start until much later, but there is anecdotal evidence of widespread crime a thousand years ago. It was a dangerous time to be alive.  However, there is a discernible downward trend from 1300 onward in the European homicide rate and it is now barely 10% of 1300 rates based on the number of homicides per 100,000 population. In short, the world is not falling apart because of crime.

Whether we compare the world situation now with that of a thousand years ago, or of ten years ago, it will always appear to be worse now. But it isn’t. A thousand years ago there was no newspapers, radio, television or internet to prime the crime fear. A thousand years ago entire populations were illiterate. Ten years ago? Well, it’s not easy to remember everything from ten years ago, even many major events and experiences are lost in the mists of time.

Like the years 2000-2017, the years 1000-1017 were normal in their own wild and erratic ways, but we can be assured of some things; there is now less poverty and more security than a thousand years ago. We have welfare services, fair justice systems, education systems, and employment and business and leisure time opportunities like never before. More people now live full lives with secure retirements at the end of their days than ever before. But then, we wouldn’t be people if we didn’t have something to gossip or complain about, would we?

All in all, 2017 has been a good year, and I can’t wait for the sun to rise on 2018.

Thursday, 28 December 2017


Life on the road is rarely boring with a CB radio

An excerpt from Highway America – the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver, by Peter Blakeborough, and available as an eBook from

The smooth, rounded hills of Pennsylvania gave way to the flat plains of Ohio and Indiana as I continued west listening to the CB. Anything and everything can be heard on the CB. It’s a great way to keep up with the latest traffic situations, the location of highway patrols, accidents, gossip and humor. In the southern suburbs of Chicago I switched off the music and turned up the CB for a change of entertainment as a truck convoy gradually caught up with me. In my mirror a big red Peterbuilt was drawing closer and in the following convoy a big-mouthed ladies man was doing most of the talking.
‘That’s a mighty fine rig you got there, gal.’
‘Yeah, mister, it’s gets me everywhere I wanna go. What you driving?’
‘You just passed me. I’m in the white KW. Where you headed?’
‘I’ve got a load here for Elmhurst up there by O’Hare International.’
‘Hows about that. I’m going to East Romans Road, Elmhurst, right next to the I-294. What time is your appointment?’
‘Not till eleven.’
‘I’ve got plenty of time. They don’t want to see me until six in the morning. We could meet someplace for a coffee and whatever else that happens to rear its head.’
‘You married?’
‘Yeah but that don’t matter. We pretty much live separate lives. I’ve got all the freedom a man needs. You married?’
‘I was till I kicked him out last year. I’m a free agent now and enjoying every minute of it.’
‘You sound like just my kind of lady.’
‘I like a big man with a big heart and an outgoing friendly personality and willing to live it up, have fun and not afraid to spend a buck. I’ll bet you’re a pretty impressive guy.’
As the red Peterbuilt drew alongside my truck, Old Bluey, I saw a feminine hand hanging up the microphone and then she looked my way, gave a big smile and waved. She was an attractive lady in her thirties and mistress of her own destiny. As she pulled ahead, the white KW was right behind her trailer doors and the rest of the dog pack followed closely, fearing that they might lose the scent. The man in the KW was a big man in his early forties and good-looking with a flash cowboy hat to complete the image.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Sandra. What’s yours?’
‘I’m Randy.’
‘Yeah, I’ll believe that.’
We were nearing the point where three lanes curved around to the right to become the I-294 North through Chicago while the far-right lane went onto a flyover to continue westward as the I-80 to Iowa and eventually to San Fransisco. Approaching the interchange Sandra was in the far left hammer-lane with the hammer down and Randy was still hanging on right behind her trailer doors. Suddenly the red Peterbuilt veered across three lanes at the last moment and shot up the flyover and onto the I-80 West. Sandra came on the CB radio again.
‘Bye Randy. It was nice talking with you.’
The CB was silent for about three seconds before all hell broke loose as the rest of the convoy took the Mickey out of Randy.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017


Leg amputations and other horror stories of Australia’s legendary spider

Australia’s white-tailed spider is a little critter with a gruesome reputation for attacks on humans, according to media stories and legends that abound on the internet.

Some 35 species of white-tails have been identified, the most common being Lampona cylindrata and Lampona murina. They are native to southern and eastern Australia and found their way to New Zealand about 1886. A typical white-tail is small to medium size and looks much like any other dark-coloured spider, except for a distinctive white spot on its tail. These spiders live in gardens beneath rocks and bark and inside houses, where they often hide in dark places like inside clothes, shoes and bedclothes. They are mobile hunters by night, preying on other spiders, rather than building webs to snare passing traffic.

A White-tailed spider
From their identification as a species in 1866, the white-tail, although common, attracted little attention until about 1982 when horror stories started appearing in news media about near death incidents in which severe necrosis (wasting of flesh) occurred with victims of white-tailed spider bites. Reports of leg amputations and eaten flesh spread quickly along with reports of victims taking years to recover from bites. Almost everyone knew someone who had suffered at the fangs of a white-tail spider. It was often said that the white-tail venom was so powerful because its meal of choice was the daddy longlegs, which it was claimed would be the world’s most deadly spider, if only its fangs were stronger. But that claim is unproven and most likely false.

The New Zealand Tour Commentary
The first reported case in Australia of necrotising archaism (severe ulcers and lesions because of a white-tail bite) appears to have been in 1982 and the medical profession was caught on the hop. Newspapers and television programs quickly took up the cause and the reputation of the white-tailed spider was damaged, it seemed, forever. But science, including medical science, frequently takes wrong turnings, even if only briefly, which, incidentally, is the only way science can advance. The problem with the white-tail scare was that no one who was suffering those symptoms had arrested the suspect and submitted it for trial by a jury of scientists. There was nothing to prove that a white-tail was involved.

Meanwhile, research by Dr Geoff Isbister of the University of Newcastle, NSW, and Mike Gray, a spider expert at the Australian Museum, suggests the opposite. Their study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2003. They studied 130 white-tail spider bites where the culprit was positively identified and found no evidence of the so-called necrotising archaism. In all the cases studied by Isbister and Gray the patients experienced pain like a bee sting, puncture marks with redness, swelling and itchiness around the sting. All recovered fully within hours, or days at the most, and none suffered any other symptoms or long-term injury. Only 27% of victims reported pain more severe than a bee sting.

According to Isbister, misdiagnosis by the medical profession is still common. But that is understandable. They are medical doctors not arachnologists. Meanwhile, the claims of horrific spider injuries continue and often the claims are supported by gruesome photos published in newspapers or on social media. But the white-tail spider, although aggressive toward other spiders, does not attack humans unless cornered or provoked.
A Sydney funnel web spider

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when gardening and to shake clothes and towels before use. Shoes should be given a good shake before inserting the feet, just to make sure there are no white-tails in there, or any other critters that could be more harmful than a white-tail. In Australia, you wouldn’t want to place your foot on a Sydney funnel-web spider. The venom of a funnel-web can kill a human within 15 minutes to an hour. Of 10,000 species of spiders in Australia, the Sydney funnel-web is the deadliest.

Spiders have evolved throughout the world during the last 280 million years and there is estimated to be 43,000 species. Most spiders are relatively harmless to humans and less than 30 species have been responsible for human loss of life.

Sunday, 24 December 2017


New Zealand’s Mount Cook Denning was the 20th Century premier tour coach
The MCD (Mount Cook Denning) coaches that plied New Zealand’s highways from the late 1970’s were built by the Mount Cook Company in Christchurch. They had a long and proud pedigree, starting in part with the Winnipeg, Canada, company Motor Coach Industries (MCI) and the PD410 Highway Traveler that was familiar to Greyhound travelers of the time. By this time, MCI had expanded into the USA and had been acquired by Greyhound.
An MCI PD410 Greyhound motor coach from which
the New Zealand MCD's are descended
The Highway Traveler had a semi monocoque structure and a light weight GM DD 6-71 two-stroke diesel engine and they dominated the US intercity routes from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s. They were easily recognized from their corrugated ‘Silversides’ and the unique sound of the two-stroke engines. For the first time, the US bus industry had a motor coach that was sturdy, reliable and economical.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Alan B. Denning (1930-2013), left school at 14 and became an apprentice sheet metal worker at Brisbane’s Archerfield airport, working on WWII combat aircraft. When that work dried up his apprenticeship was continued with a truck and bus body builder. He established his own panel business in South Brisbane in 1950, and from 1956 he started building bus bodies as A. B. Denning & Company.
In 1960, Greyhound Australia (no connection with Greyhound in North America, despite the name and logo) arranged with Denning to build MCI/Greyhound look-alike coaches for Greyhound services in Australia. The first Brisbane built Denning Highway Traveller was delivered in 1962 and operated the Gold Coast – Brisbane – Toowoomba daily return service. Unlike its American ancestor, Denning’s first Highway Traveller featured a Commer TS3 two-stroke engine and a four-speed synchromesh transmission.
The Denning  Highway Traveler
In the following years, Denning built and delivered several versions of the Highway Traveller to a range of clients. The company moved to larger premises at Acacia Ridge and in 1966 the first Squareliner appeared with a GM two-stroke engine. By this time Denning was building long distance coaches as well as municipal buses; 136 for Brisbane City Council and 291 for Adelaide City Council.
In 1976 Alan Denning left the company he founded, became a coach building consultant and designed buses and coaches for clients in numerous countries.  About this time, he teamed up with Mount Cook Landlines in Christchurch and designed the Mount Cook Denning (MCD).
Mount Cook Denning 502 at Parliament
Mount Cook imported two Dennings from Australia in 1974 but import restrictions and opposition from an existing body builder prevented them from importing any more.  The two imported coaches were C45F models with 283 hp GM V6 engines with Allison automatic transmissions and air conditioning. Chassis number D199-74 became Mount Cook fleet number 216 and was registered as GS9251 on December 6, 1974. In 1978 is was re-assigned the fleet number 500 to fit with the MCD fleet numbers. It was used on the Auckland – Wellington scheduled service for several years. It was transferred to Tasman Coachlines in 1994 and was last registered to McGrath Buses, Taumarunui in 2005 as TK3937. Fleet number 217 was registered as GS9250 and later as TE1987. In 2000 it became a motor home.
To get around the import licencing restrictions, it was decided to build a New Zealand version of the Denning, designed by Alan Denning, in Christchurch. The company appointed Ted Tank as production manager of Mount Cook Denning Limited. The factory employed up to 28 people including Ken Ward as chassis & frame foreman, Murray Evans as body foreman, and Pat Chapman, Norman Dolamore, John O'Hara, Merv Papakura and Gary Fahey.

Ted Tank received the keys to 181 Blenheim Road, Christchurch, on April 1, 1976. The first deliveries from the Blenheim Road, Christchurch, factory were made to Mount Cook Landlines in 1977.  Coach numbers 501 to 532 were built here. The company purchased a property at 94 Shands Road, Hornby, and fleet numbers 533 to 562 were assembled there.
First to wear the MCD badge was fleet number 501, construction number 01-17-06-77, on July 5, 1977, registered as IK4663. Like 500 (216) it operated the Auckland – Wellington service. The coaches operating this service were called Landliners, a name derived from the company Luxury Landlines after WWII. 501 was re-registered as TE1995 in 1995. It had several owners before being acquired by the Otago Heritage Bus Society in 2012. It has since been fully restored and returned to its original Mount Cook livery.
MCD number 540 now in the Bus With Us fleet
Fleet number 501 was a C42F model (42 indicating the seating capacity), three axle 12.4 metre coach with under-floor luggage bins, floor to ceiling rear boot, rear-engine 286 hp 6V92 Detroit two-stroke engine and Allison auto transmission, 42 seats, air conditioning and toilet. Number 501 ushered in a new era in long distance, luxury coach travel in New Zealand. It featured an air suspension and gave passengers a smooth, quiet ride over sometimes rough and winding roads. Over the next few years, numbers 502, 525, 526, 541, 542, 543, 544, 545 and 546 were built to the same plans as 501 and were seen on scheduled runs and later on tours throughout the country.
The SC45 model in the same coachwork as the C42F had minor differences and included fleet numbers 503, 504 and 533. They were produced from 1977 to 1982.
Next came the CC25 model of which only two were built, numbers 505 and 506. They were composite coaches used on night services with a large freight area and reduced seating. Fleet number 536 was similar to the CC25 model above but was designated a CC22. Only one was built and was registered as LD7338 on August 22, 1983.  It was later re-registered as TE2064. 
Continued below . . . 

The TE registration changes appear to have been inspired by the history of Mount Cook group’s new owners, Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand had previously been known as TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) and Air New Zealand flights had continued to use the TE prefix for many years after the name change.
Then came the TC45 11.3 metre model starting with the completion of number 507 in 1978. It was a two-axle mid-mounted tour coach with modernistic-sounding Jet Air Ventilation that was later replaced with air conditioning. It had 45 seats and a mid-mounted Detroit 53 engine with Allison automatic. It was followed by fleet numbers 508-512. The last of this series, 512, was destroyed by fire in 1983 when the Webasto diesel heater decided it could create some global warming of its own.
Starting production in 1978 also was the TCR45 model with fleet number 513 hitting the road first. This model was like the TC45 above but with a rear mounted engine and a tag axle. The coachwork styling was unchanged from the first MCD. This series included numbers 513, 514, 515, 516, 517, 518, 519, 420, 521, 523, 527, 528, 529 and 530. Coach 528 was the only MCD with a 10-speed Spicer transmission and the only MCD to be delivered new to an operator other than Mount Cook. Number 517 was rebuilt several years ago and now operates as SW7150 in the Bus With Us fleet at Waitakaruru, near Thames.
Next, we come to the TCR49 MCD model. This was a stretched version of the TCR45 with 49 seats instead of 45 and was the last model to have the original coachwork styling derived from 501, but without the rear luggage space. The fleet numbers were 531,532, 534, 535, 537, 538, 539 and 540. The National Transport and Toy Museum at Wanaka now owns 539. Bus With Us now operates 540 in its fleet. The TCR49 series was the last to use the Mk I Landliner coachwork styling.
The year 1985 saw the introduction of the MCD Jumboliner series with the TCR49 Mk II model. The main changes were the replacement of the corrugated Silversides with flush side panelling and paint. This model also had a modernized cockpit layout. The fleet numbers were 547, 548 and 549. They had toilets and they were used initially on the Landliner services.
In 1986 Mount Cook Denning moved away from the GM two stroke engines and installed a Duetz air-cooled engine with a ZF automatic transmission with the model TCR50 Mk II Jumboliner. These included fleet numbers 550, 551, 552, 553, 554 and 555.
The TCR50 model continued as a Mk III with a redesigned body and modern appearance. The fleet numbers were 556, 557, 558, 559, 560, 561 and 562. After the completion of 562, the factory remained open until 1996, but work was confined to rebuilding nine earlier coaches as the 600 series.
In later years, the import restrictions have been removed and Australian-built Dennings now share the highways with the locally built MCD’s. Of the 62 MCD’s built approximately half were still registered as recently as five years ago, and the unique sounds of a Detroit two-stroke accelerating or being Jacobs braked has not been entirely forgotten. It is a sound that still thrills former MCD drivers and fans alike.
Thanks to Ken Ward and other members of NZ Tour Drivers & Guides Facebook group, and to the Omnibus Society

Sunday, 29 October 2017


Los Angeles to New York via Interstate 70 and the Colorado Rockies

With a big sleeper-cab and a 53-foot trailer, I was a paid tourist. Here is a sample read from my book Highway America - the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver.

CalArk, the Arkansas interstate trucking company that I was working for, allowed their drivers a fair amount of freedom when it comes to choosing routes. Most traffic between Los Angeles and New York uses Interstate 40 for most of the journey because of its lower altitude, gentler slopes and more frequent service and repair places. On the other hand taking the I-70 over the Rockies could lead to all kinds of costly misadventures and higher fuel consumption. I didn’t want to push my luck too far so I sent an OBC message to Little Rock asking, ‘I-70 or I-40?’  A few minutes later the reply came back, ‘I-15, I-70, I-76, I-78, I-287, I-80.’ It was exactly what I, a paid tourist, had hoped for.
At 4pm Tuesday I departed on my first coast to coast run. Four hours later I rested up for the night at a rest area in the Mojave Desert where the outside temperature was still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. According to radio reports some localities reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit that day. All praise to Old Bluey for its air conditioning and fast idle facility. The heat of the desert must also take a toll on the highway sign-writers; in the Mojave Desert I found a sign for a Zzyzx Road.
The nearby settlement of Zzyzx (pronounced Zikes) was established by one Curtis Springer in 1944 when he set up the local Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa on federal land. He created Zzyzx so that it would be the last word in the English language and everything went fine for Springer until he was sprung by the Federal Government for misusing government land.
On Wednesday morning I awoke to a beautiful desert sunrise and spent a few minutes taking photos before departing for Las Vegas, a TA breakfast and a flutter on a roulette wheel. By mid-morning Old Bluey was heading up Interstate 15 again through Nevada, a corner of Arizona and into Utah in brilliant sunshine.

At Fishlake National Forest I turned east onto the I-70 and started climbing towards the Rocky Mountains as cumulonimbus clouds gathered overhead. An hour later an enormous thunderhead hung menacingly over the landscape and triggered the most spectacular lightning displays imaginable. All around fiery, lightning bolts shot down from the sky, some striking the ground a mere fifty yards from the truck as I proceeded cautiously. The noise of the thunderclaps and torrential rain was deafening.
A few miles on the sky suddenly cleared and the only evidence of the storm was the steam rising from the still hot road and a few minutes after that the desert had the appearance of not having had rain for a hundred years.
I pulled into a rest area and took some more photos before going on to the West Winds Truck Stop at Green River, Utah, having completed 551 miles for the day.
A narrow strip of cultivated land on both sides of the river to the north of the town gave the locality a welcoming oasis appearance in spite of the uninviting surrounding desert. In the fading light I walked the main street, talked to some locals, and had a beer and a dinner and walked back to the truck where I studied the Rand McNally Road Atlas and the USA Rough Guide and wrote up the diary before putting the light out.
Green River is 4,000 feet above sea level and according to the Rand McNally Road Atlas a climb to over 11,100 feet (almost the height of New Zealand’s Mount Cook) was in store for Thursday and I rose early to prepare for one of the great adventures of North American motoring.
The sun had just risen when I crossed from Utah into Colorado and headed for Grand Junction (the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers), the largest city in western Colorado with 44,000 people. From there the I-70 follows the Colorado River through rugged gorges and settlements with names like Parachute and Rifle to Glenwood Springs which boasts the world’s largest outdoor hot springs pool. I’m not sure if Rotorua qualifies as part the ‘world’ or not. A one time famous resident of Glenwood Springs was Doc Holliday, a dentist, gambler and gunfighter (lead fillings?) who retired there at the ripe old age of 35 and died a short time later in 1887. The local graveyard also holds the remains of Kid Curry, a member of the Butch Cassidy gang.
Continuing east the interstate enters Glenwood Canyon and makes numerous crossings of the Colorado River as it flows in the shadow towering mountain peaks all around. The road climbs steadily to 8,000 feet at the modern ski resort of Vail where President Gerald Ford was living in retirement. East of Vail the I-70 climbs quickly to an initial high of 10,666 feet at Vail Pass where I pulled into a rest area for another photo stop. It was July and the weather was mostly fine and hot at lower elevations but at Vail Pass there was still plenty of snow above the interstate and the air was thin and cold. Even though the hair spray load weighed in at only 19,000lbs. I was surprised at how well Old Bluey performed on the steep grades. Two years later when I hauled ice cream over the same mountains it was a different story. More about that later.
From Vail Pass the interstate descended again to below 9,000 feet at Silverthorne before climbing again to the Rockies summit at the entrance to the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel at 11,125 feet above sea level. Then it plunged again to 7,500 feet at Idaho Springs and leveled off for a few winding miles before making a long descent to the busy mile-high city of Denver.

For another sample read, or to purchase, click HIGHWAY AMERICA