Home' Greymouth Star : August 29th 2015 Contents Greymou
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settler family at Fergusons Bush
south of Ross, joined forces in
1945 to form their first company,
Ferguson Brothers, initially
operating a TD9 bulldozer.
Such was the demand for their services they soon
added a new TD14A crawler.
Ferguson Brothers were heavily involved with
contract work, land clearing and logging, and
within two years the partnership was joined by a
third brother, Gordon, the trio forming Ferguson’s
Earthmoving Company Ltd of Greymouth. A little
later another brother, David, was also working for the
The company expanded in quick time and was soon
equipped with the best machines available, adding
a new TD9 dozer, excavators, draglines and dump
trucks to the expanding fleet.
As the operation grew so too did the workforce,
and before long the familiar red Ferguson brand was
firmly established throughout the West Coast.
The brothers built a large workshop at South Beach,
Greymouth, for servicing the vehicles and plant, and
this large complex became the ‘mother ship’ of their
The early years were largely involved in clearing
land for farmers and forging access roads for the New
Zealand Forest Service, and eventually led to major
road building, pile driving and bridge building.
Two major bridge jobs were the construction of
the William Stewart Bridge, near Kumara, and
the Stanley Goosman Bridge, near Jacksons, each
spanning the Taramakau River with 365m of concrete
Major road alignment contracts, rock excavation
and widening State highways, road construction,
flood damage and NZ Railways protection work
were routine, but it was the building of the Paringa-
Haast highway that set a benchmark of the Fergusons
operation. Sadly, the company that blazed the trail
to connect the road ends that closed the last gap in
the State highway in 1965, did not survive to take
its rightful place in the 50th year celebrations this
The rebuilding and realignment of 6km of
highway on the Rahu Saddle and Lewis Pass, major
realignment and protection of the South Westland
highway, and the construction of the Greymouth
Borough Council chambers in the 1970s were just
some of the other big contracts.
Mackley Ferguson’s two sons, Graham and Mackley
jnr, eventually sold the company to Canterbury-based
Sicon — owned by the Selwyn District Council — in
Eight years down the track, the recent upheaval of
the former family-owned company is a bitter pill to
swallow for the Ferguson brothers.
“It’s sad to see what has happened,” Graham said.
“When we sold to Sicon they bought our family
name and promised they would be here on the West
Coast for the duration. (But) they lost the roading
contract and when the going got tough they high-
tailed it back to Christchurch.”
Graham started work there as an apprentice diesel
mechanic in the late 1970s and after learning the
trade he joined the construction side of the business.
“I was working in earthmoving, road building and
river protection, but having the training was good for
me, knowing how the machines worked and keeping
them maintained on the job. Mackley and I basically
went straight out on to the construction side of the
business, but we had to work our way through the
ranks. We worked as operators until we actually took
over the business years later.
“Dad had his finger on the pulse the whole
way through. Each year he would take on three
apprentices — a carpenter, fitter and turner and a
mechanic. He built a good staff base around him
and always used to say, ‘train them the way you want
Graham has good memories of working under the
family banner and a sense of achievement when he
looks back at projects the company was involved in.
“The bridge construction work and earthworks at
White Bridge, on the west side of Arthur’s Pass, and
the Lake Wahapo power scheme was another big
project in the early days. It was always a good sense
of pride crossing a bridge built, and passing through
projects you were involved with. There’s a satisfaction
of knowing your name is on those jobs and you are
proud of it.
“Working for the business was an education in more
ways than one as dad was innovative and he treated
everything as a challenge — nothing ever beat him
and he instilled that into all his workers. He would
often say, ‘there’s no such thing as can’t’.
“I worked with some characters and good people.
Our staff turnover was never high and everyone
who worked for the company was content, which
is a good thing. My brother Mackley and I bought
into the company and took over in 1987 after the
Branch River power project had hit dad hard. It
nearly crippled the company and we had pride in our
name, pride in our company. We picked it up from
those tough times with the intention of keeping our
staff employed — it’s a West Coast thing I suppose,
and when we sold to Sicon eight years ago we had a
workforce of 66 staff.”
Barney Mahuika worked for Fergusons for many
years, working up and down the West Coast.
“I started back in the late 1960s. I was working at
the Punakaiki mill but it closed down. Mackley had
a bach out the Coast Road and offered us all a job.
Mackley and Ron (Ferguson) were my bosses back
“I remember the first job I did I was on the back of
a jack hammer working on the Spring Creek Road. I
was drilling and blasting, putting the road up. I’d set
up 10 shots and then put 10 matches in my mouth.
I’d strike a match and light the fuses as fast as and up
she’d go, the charges pretty much together. A couple
of times the stones and rocks would fly near the
bulldozer, but otherwise it was pretty basic. ”
Barney says there was never a dull moment working
for Fergusons and there was always a diverse range of
“The Fergusons had the Three Mile Mill back then
and I ended up driving the logging truck, carting
from Paringa, Kowhitirangi and Kokatahi, bringing
the logs to the mill. Leon Rochford, Tommy Muir,
Jack Hoffman and Ted Downing were down there
“I ended back working for Mackley driving the
D6C wide-track bulldozer and was doing a lot of the
humping and hollowing on farms. Looking back, I
did a lot of different jobs as well as putting roads in.
I was recovering boats which would run aground up
and down the length of the West Coast and at times
I would be away from home working down south for
up to two weeks. The wife was always pleased to see
me when I got home, and I was pleased to see her,
too,” he grinned.
“Boy Russ and I with a few of the other boys pulled
up the old Greymouth wharf, but a lot of the time
I would drive the transporter carting all the heavy
machinery out to the jobs. We covered the territory,
that ’s for sure. I drove the diggers, cranes and
bulldozers as you didn’t need a licence back then.
“Often I’d have a dozer on the back of the
transporter and unload it at the Taramakau Bridge,
drive the truck across then walk back and drive
the bulldozer across and load it back on to the
“Mackley had all the bridges mapped out and would
send me away at a set time when he new the police
weren’t about for weight restrictions, he was a master,”
“Mackley Ferguson was one of the best bosses I
have ever worked for, he cared for his workers and
treated them as family. ”
Graeme Stanton joined the company in the
early 1980s and is one of the last men standing as
Monday’s D-day looms.
“ W hat can I say, the Fergusons put so much into
the West Coast, showed true grit through tough
times and good times, and provided so many jobs
for local people. That changed when Graham and
Mackley left, and now look what ’s happened. ”
Graeme Stanton says he will walk away on Monday
with special memories of the staff and the work
carried out over many years.
“ W hen I first started I was working with Bill
Cashin on the Power Road subdivision and then
the Nolan Crescent land development. One of the
big projects was the Branch River power scheme, in
Blenheim, which was a tough contract as we were
hit twice by 100-year floods, which created havoc
tipped everything upside down. We lost gear and
basically had to start from scratch each time. Mackley,
Evan Jones and myself worked on that one, along
with a lot of local people in the area. The Fergusons
certainly created employment wherever they went.”
The general motto of the company was that nothing
was an issue.
“I was transport operator, digger driver and was
in the quarries — I did all the blasting for the
rock we needed. We spread ourselves wide and
far, from Kaikoura, South Canterbury, the back of
Christchurch and South Westland, which was huge.
When Bill Cassin, Johnny Pugh and Neville Pledger
were out bridge building I would be carting the
bridge beams and plant to the jobs. Later years the
company got more into roading and in a stage of rock
and river protection, and then they got the roading
contract, which we held for 17 years.
“Looking back, we undertook some big contracts
and forged ahead, that’s the way the Ferguson boys
operated, just like old Mackley. ”
The Wahapo power project was a big one,
supervised by Colin Thompson; the flooding
protection work on the Waiho River at Franz Josef;
the Bruce Bay sea erosion wall; and constructing the
Pike River Mine access road all left an impression on
“ We had some huge jobs, but for me personally
putting in the Pike River access road was a huge job
for Fergusons. They were a great company to work for.
They got their pound of flesh out of you. We worked
hard and played hard, especially when we were
working down South Westland.
“I’ve worked with a lot of hard-case characters and
good people in my time. Gary Deans, Jimmy Arnold,
Michael Sullivan, Geoff and Tommy Nolan were all
hard-case characters down South Westland.
“O ver the years there have been some big snowfalls
on the passes and the team was kept busy braving
the conditions to keep the roads open. The Fenwick
family, especially, have put a lot of effort working for
the firm to keep the Arthur’s Pass hill open,” Graeme
Paul Comber started work there in 1975 after
working in the bush at Hari Hari. Working for
Mackley, Ron and Gordon Ferguson was good times,
“I drove the loader and digger and did a bit of
everything, but my first job was putting in the
Hokitika sewerage scheme. Ray and Frank Jones and
a few others were working with me on that contract.
It was a big one, putting the sewer pipes in around
town, the pump stations and the sewage ponds. We
worked a couple of years on that.
“The Dillmans power scheme was another. We
did all the pipes and earthworks, it was a pretty
big job. The subdivision on Arnott Heights — we
stripped the land down, did the sewerage, stormwater
and roads with Bill Cashin, Johnny Pugh and the
Jones boys. I was working on a lot of rock and river
protection work, flood damage, and we had quite a
big depot in Whataroa, with five or six trucks at a
Paul says there was plenty of entertainment working
for Fergusons, and characters aplenty.
“Russell Aldridge was a hard-case, Peter Brown and
Ron Ferguson — too many to name, but there are
good memories and a lot of laughs along the way.
“Ron Ferguson was operating the dozer up Arnott
Heights and next minute he lost it — the dozer slid
down the hill and stopped just before it got to the
houses. We had to get a bigger dozer to get it out,”
“I tore down a few of the old pubs in town and
pulled down the old council building before Mackley
built the new one. I recall knocking over the Park
Hotel and there were a crowd of onlookers peering
across from the cordoned off area. The wall came
down with the roof and landed in the middle of the
road — all their hats all blew off from the concussion
when it landed on the road!”
Graham Piner started at Fergusons at the time of
the 1968 Inangahua earthquake, which proved to
be a true baptism of fire. Overall, he spent 19 years
working for the company.
“I was on the bulldozer and you had to have
a worker there to tell you when there was an
earthquake as it was hard to tell with the bulldozer
vibrating and bouncing around,” Graham says.
“There was little accommodation up there, and with
shift work we were in hot beds — you got out of bed
and someone got straight in after you,” he chuckled.
There were many highlights working for Fergusons,
but putting the road into the Red Hills south of
Jackson Bay was memorable.
“It was in 1970 and we were driving the road in for
Cassia Exploration, who were looking at getting the
large ore deposits in the Red Hills. We cut the road
in, towing our accommodation huts behind us. It took
eight months — and when we finally got in, it was
decided asbestos was too dangerous! Nolans cut their
time driving their South Westland cattle by using
part of the road.
“ Working for the Fergusons was like family.
Mackley would buy all the staff tickets for cabarets
and events for whatever was going on. They were a
great bunch of fellows and a great firm to work for.
Russell Aldridge, Turi Mahuika, Dick Bell, Tim
Corson, Harry Griggs and Jimmy Grant were just
some of the team I worked with,” Graham says.
Tom Milne went straight into bridge building and
pile driving when he joined Fergusons in 1978.
“Initially, it was the bridges but I was driving the
excavator when the electric locomotive at Otira rolled
over due to the flood damage on the rails. A poor
fellow was killed that day. I drove a lot of the piles
on the William Stewart Bridge, and a big job was
putting the road up to the Rainbow Ski Field (St
“ We went where the work was — Marlborough for
the Branch River power scheme, Windy Point on
Lewis Pass, Newman’s Lookout on the Buller Gorge
was massive and earned Fergusons the South Island
Contractor of the Year Award. We also put a huge
cutting for the new road up to Millerton — they now
call it ‘the Great Canyon’,” Tom laughs.
Neil Smith worked in administration and was
responsible for wages, invoicing, securing contracts
and generally had his finger on the pulse of project
“ W hen I started there in the early 1990s there
were 30 workers, and when we got the Transit NZ
contracts the staff level increased significantly. My
role was basically doing the accounting, the wages
and invoicing, and there was only me in the office
then. I was involved with the contracts, putting the
road into Pike River, the extension up to the open-
cast mine at Strongman — but we had contracts
everywhere. Fergusons would go anywhere on the
Coast. At Arthur’s Pass it was 24 hours a day, 24/7,
from June past August, keeping the pass open. We
had our satellite sites at Whataroa, Haast and the
workshop at Otira — it was a complete operation.
“I worked for Graham and Mackley when I started
and they were chips off the old block, not scared
to get their hands dirty and roll their sleeves up
that was the Ferguson way, which is now gone.
Old Mackley was a bit of a legend, really. I enjoyed
working there, if the boys hadn’t sold I would have
still been there — it was a great firm to work for.”
Monday marks the end of the road for trailblazing West Coast contracting company Fergusons,
with the closure of the Sicon Ferguson depots at Greymouth, Whataroa and Otira, putting about
50 West Coasters out of work in desperate economic times. Whether it was bridge building, dozing
new roads or pioneering the Paringa-Haast highway, Fergusons trucks were a familiar sight on
West Coast roads for 70 years. PAUL McBRIDE salutes the end of an era.
A large tree stump is removed from the Greymouth Hospital grounds and carried away by an
International low-bed to make way for extensions to the hospital.
Barney Mahuika unloads a steam train from a truck and trailer unit at Shantytown.
Mackley Ferguson, left, with Keith Davies about to unload an early model TD14A bulldozer off their
Ford Thornton truck in the late 1950s.
An early Leyland Commett truck is loaded by an RB10 Face Shovel in the mid 1950s.
Ron Ferguson, standing on the boulder, after blasting the Dobson bluff to widen the highway.
River protection work under way in South Westland during the 1980s.
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