Home' Greymouth Star : September 23rd 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 7
Behind the wheel
ohn Hayden, 77, has been on
or around the roads most of his
“I don’t know how many
thousands of miles I would have
done, by gosh there would have
been a lot.”
These days he lives in Fox Street,
literally just around the corner
from the house he grew up in, at
Cardwell Street, Cobden.
“That ’s how I started off.”
His mother Rhoda, worked in the
Greymouth telephone exchange, while
his father, Sam, worked in the Post Office
deciphering Morse Code.
“Dad worked in the Post Office for 41
years, right through.”
He remembers being at home as his
father received the news that America
had bombed their own troops during the
At 15, John also took up a job at the
Post Office, working there for three years,
initially as a telegram boy and eventually
helping to sort the mail.
“(Dad) was upstairs, I was downstairs.”
The big old Greymouth Post Office was a
tight ship run by the postmaster.
“He’d come downstairs and I’d say ‘good
morning, sir’. It wasn’t mister, it was sir.”
John moved on to the job of taking the
mail from the Post Office around to the
railway station to catch the railcar and the
“I missed the train one day, I was too long
at the railway station and I missed the train
“In those days we used to send gold away,
you’d get a special bag for the gold, it was
an ordinary mail bag but it had a red label
on it and you knew the gold was in that,
and we stacked that underneath.”
He later got a delivery route as a postman.
“No cars in those days, it was all pushbike.
Bags would be delivered to Cobden, the
bags were delivered and you’d pick it up as
you were going past.”
He would faithfully be out on his bike
delivering the mail around the riverside
“Rain or shine, that ’s for sure and it used
to rain fairly good in those days, too.”
However, his route was short-lived. “I’m
not sure if I was sacked or I left, because I
was too slow ... I used to talk to everybody,
that was the trouble.”
While at the Post Office one day he had
a health scare. “I was tying off the bags
and I picked the bag up and next thing I
collapsed on the floor and I thought ‘what ’s
He was taken to hospital and found to
be in a more serious condition than he
“I had appendicitis. They operated and I
didn’t realise for many years afterwards —
they ’d given me 12 hours to live.”
The doctor came to inspect him the next
day : “He pulled the bandage off me to have
a look, and pulled everything out again
out! It was awful, I had 16 stitches, it was a
He was put out in the sun every day for a
“It healed up slowly, slowly. I would have
liked to have asked the nurses what they
thought when he did it.”
Back on the road, John swapped the
bike for a truck, taking 90-pound bags of
cement and hand loading them on to a
truck, four tonnes at a time.
“I was delivering cement — and I still
laugh about this — I used to carry three
bags in at a time, one under each arm and
one on my shoulder.”
Next, he changed cement for coal and
started trucking from the Strongman Mine.
“Those days we’d knock off for lunch and
we’d come down to Seven Mile (Rapahoe)
and go for a swim.”
Some time in between he worked for the
Greymouth Harbour Board to maintain
He got a shock one morning when, as he
prepared to light the kerosine ignition on
his steam crane into action, he was blown
clean out of it by the blow-back.
“There was a thump and a flash and it
blew me down on the concrete.”
Despite being a bit shaken up he didn’t go
to the doctor, and carried on working.
He went on to a stint as a delivery man
carrying baths, coal ranges, wall boards and
everything in between, followed by time
in South Westland working with Ferguson
Brothers for three years helping to build
the first State highway from Paringa to
Haast. His job was to take pea metal from
Bruce Bay to Paringa — and to add to the
challenge, he did it all without brakes.
“Fifty miles an hour, not a brake in there
.. . We were carting through rivers, through
creeks, everything, that ’s why we had the
brakes taken out. My boss used to say to me
‘anyone can drive a truck with brakes.’”
In the late 1970s John changed
transporting cargo to transporting people,
when he decided on his next career change
buying a taxi which he drove for 10
“I still don’t know why I bought a taxi, but
I enjoyed it. It was quite good.”
He could notch up about 1000 miles a
week ferrying people around about.
“I just used to sit in the car and go.”
In those days a trip from the taxi stand in
Mackay Street to the hospital, Cobden or
Blaketown would cost $2, while heading
out to Runanga was $6, and for the
occasional trip to Christchurch, $112.
Taxi driving meant long hours.
“I used to start work on the night shift at
4pm and finish at 6am. Some cars would
start at 6am and finish at 6pm.”
He even featured in a television
documentary Through the Eyes of a Taxi
Driver, which stirred some controversy,
featuring plenty of drunk patrons, and was
repeated recently on the Heartland channel.
By age 50, his varied careers had taken a
toll on the body.
“I sold my taxi, walked out and dropped
on the road.”
Despite that, he walked home and the
next day he visited the doctor.
He walked home again but was in hospital
the next day. Transferred to D unedin for
heart surgery, he woke up with six tubes
in his mouth and having undergone five
All the heavy lifting earlier in life has also
left him with two screws in his spine.
“I’ve had a few knocks,” he says as an
PICTURE: Nicholas McBride
John Hayden now lives just down the road from the house he grew up in, in heartland Cobden.
John Hayden knows his way around the streets of Cobden — and all over the West Coast — like the back of his hand. This true blue Coaster spent a lifetime behind the wheel, notching
up thousands of miles along the way. NICHOLAS McBRIDE caught a ride back in time with the former Greymouth taxi driver, truck driver and postman about life on the road.
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