Home' Greymouth Star : December 7th 2013 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 7
Brothers Jimmy and Brendan Dunn started Dunn
Brothers in 1933 after they took over a Rapahoe
coal carting business originally owned by Micky
ey started carting coal from Eckles and
Morrow private mine at the Twelve Mile, which
they eventually bought out, and when brother Jack joined up
they also started supplying coal to Greymouth Hospital.
In 1938 the company was renamed as Dunn s Transport Ltd
when a fourth brother, Lenin, came on board. From
then on they had a mortgage on the coal cartage
business on the Coast.
e family business was based in Rapahoe
and in later years was situated just off the
main highway, on the corner of Morpeth
Street. e garage, workshop and large fleet
of distinctive red trucks sporting touches of
white were a familiar landmark for passing
motorists on the Coast Road.
Dunns had numerous coal cartage contracts
over the year for the State-owned mines in the
area, including Strongman, but they also carted
coal for all the private party mining concerns that
riddled the rich seams of bituminous coal along
the Paparoa Range.
Tommy Dunn joined his father, Jim, in 1960 and a few
years later took over managing the whole operation
right through until officially calling it a day in
"I left Greymouth Motors and began
working out at Rapahoe full-time because
we had secured the cartage contract for the
Strongman Mine," Tommy said. "My brother
Billy and I were running the company and
when he left, I ran it until my retirement. We
had the Strongman contract for two years
but Greenhills beat us by tender the following
year --- beat us by a penny a ton."
Dunn s Transport, with a fleet of trucks and no
contract, had to adapt to the unexpected loss but
Tommy says they soon picked up more work, such
was the demand for coal.
"We always had the loyalty of the private mines, the
furthermost being Price s Mine out at Fox River,
and Andy Hunter s Woodpecker Bay Mine,
and picking up the contract to cart from the
Roa Mine to Blackball certainly helped us.
e railway Q wagons would be loaded at
Blackball and then railed to the Greymouth
wharf for loading the visiting Japanese coal
Tommy says the success of the Dunn s
Transport operation was due to the high
calibre of drivers they had working for the
company, all of whom had the ability to handle
the testing driving conditions, which were an
everyday occurrence on the Coast.
" ey were all good drivers, they wouldn t have
sur vived if they weren t," Tommy said.
"Initially, heading uphill to the Strongman Mine was just a
single lane. Loaded trucks coming down had the right of way
and the trucks coming up had to make amends. We carted rock
up from Rapahoe, dumped and tipped it over the sides in places
for makeshift passing bays. Some of the roads up top of the
private mines were something else --- 200-feet drops over the
side, no room whatsoever.
"Going up to the Alpine Mine, up the Ten Mile, you couldn t
get around the corner in one go --- you had to turn, back, then
go for ward again --- it was that tight, and that was going up
"We had a good band of drivers over the years including
Johnny Haisty, Jackie Lister, Snowy Wafer, Taz Henry, Pat
McGuire, Tony Ward, Gus Erickson, Phil Callen, Ned Crooks,
Owen Norton gave us a hand and Harry Kendrick gave us a
hand in the workshop.
"We got the Strongman tender again in 1970 and were very
busy carting coal, not only for the State Coal but delivering coal
for all the boilers around the West Coast and Hokitika. e
Grey and Westland hospitals, the laundry, schools, the butter
factory, dairy company, brickworks, plus a hell of a lot more,
too. e hospital became a tender job in the 1970s but the rest,
the private mines included, was on the good old gentleman s
agreement," Tommy grinned. " ey all stuck with us."
e fleet was well known on Coast roads.
"In the earlier times we had mostly Internationals K6s, ex-army
trucks which came in a variety of colours but were normally red
with black mudguards. When we got the Commers, that s when
the fleet basically became red and white. ey were eight-tonne
trucks and came from the factory painted like that and we kept
e garage and workshop at Rapahoe was well equipped and
the facilities provided full maintenance for the fleet.
" e workshop was set up for everything. Pat McGuire was
a full-time mechanic, I also worked in on the trucks, dad ( Jim)
was even building the decks for all the K6s. We had a fleet of
10 trucks plus, digger, loader, trailers and semi-trailers, and we
would adapt as we went.
" ree steam trains would come in a day at Rapahoe, two
would be filled by the State Coal bins, and Dunn s would fill the
other train wagons --- 27 wagons in a big day --- and we had the
drop-down tailgate but later modernised and put a chute on the
wagons to load."
While Dunn s Transport was well known for carting coal, in
earlier years it was flax and mining supplies.
"We used to cart the flax from the swamps out at Barrytown
and load by hand on to the rail wagons at Rapahoe. I can think
of better jobs," Tommy said.
Johnny Haisty worked for Dunn s Transport for 30 years or
more, off and on, and recalls that it was an interesting job, to say
"I started driving back in the 1950s and it came about after
Dunn s got the go-ahead to truck coal after the rope road
collapsed around the Nine Mile," Johnny said.
" e coal used to be taken through the tunnel between the
Strongman Mine and through the old Jane Mine on a two-way
rope road, right out to Rapahoe. at s where the rail lead was
and the coal was screened. Boxes used to come out at Rapahoe
and the empties would go back in and return to the Strongman
on a continuous line.
" e slip came down, flattened the tunnel and we went up to
the mine and were taking out 900-ton a day. Dunn s had to get
more trucks at the time."
Strongman Mine adjusted its operation at the mine mouth,
adapting a Q wagon for loading purposes, Johnny says.
"We would have a truck at the mouth full-time, five or six
trucks were on the go carting the Strongman coal back by
road to Rapahoe. I remember carting 25 truckloads out of the
Strongman one day."
e mountain range around Nine Mile was still unstable, he
says, and at one stage the New Zealand Army was called across
to get rid of the loose rock.
" ey came across with a couple of howitzers and blasted
the Paparoas. We used to drop the coal off at Rapahoe and
eventually the State mine built a temporary conveyor, which
tipped the coal straight into the bins."
It was busy times for the workers at Dunn s as the trucks were
required to cover the two shifts of the State-owned mine. It was
normal practice to put temporary drivers on long hours.
" e day drivers would go down to the Rapahoe pub, which
Duncan Madden was operating. We would all have a big roast
dinner when we had a break, then back out on the trucks.
"No shockies on the trucks, all gravel roads. e roast dinner
would end up being a lump in your guts," Johnny coughed.
Hours were long and the conditions were hard going in
the earlier times driving for the trucking company, and the
International fleet of trucks offered only basic comfort.
" e trucks had no power steering. Basically, I called it
Armstrong steering, a real bodybuilding exercise. e K7
Internationals were good in winter, though, as I would get
the heat from the engine --- they had no heaters in the cabs.
e Commers were cold as charity because the engines were
behind you. I remember sitting up in the truck in the freezing
cold in the middle of winter at the mouth of the Strongman,
waiting for the mine to start production. e miners came out
of the bathhouse and all went home because the union said the
bathhouse was two degrees below what it should have been.
"We had nine trucks working at a time on the road up at the
private mines --- Reynolds Party, Kiwi, Harrisons, Alpine, Ariel,
Snowline, Moore and Party at Nine Mile, Hassons, Jubilee,
" ere was a host of private mines we carted for out the Coast
Road as well as McTaggart and Party, above Dunollie.
" e McTaggart and Party road was tricky, a treacherous road,
probably the worst road in the country. You had to have your
wits about you, to get around a corner, like some of the other
roads you had to do it in two attempts. I remember when we
were dismantling the McTaggart Party mine, taking and loading
the railway lines on the back of one of the trucks a rail slipped
and bounced up off the road, knocking the vacuum brake on
the dual diff of the truck. e handbrake was on the driveshaft
and next minute the truck took off down the hill --- a 400-foot
drop over the side --- and ended up smashing a tree and getting
wedged hanging over the cliff --- bloody lucky."
With the Alpine and Snowline mines up on the left of the Ten
Mile Creek, Dunn s trucks would drive up a mile of rough roads,
rising to a height of 1000 feet, Johnny says.
"It was a real climb but the coal from the Snowline was good
coal, very clean burning. When I would drive past the bathhouse
below and the smoke was blue I knew the miners were burning
Snowline. If the smoke was black, it was from the United Mine.
" e odd tourist would ask if they could come up for a drive up
to the mines and I would say sure, climb aboard . ey would be
like violin strings sitting in the cab --- shaking, knuckles white,
hanging on to the door. ey wouldn t come down on the return
trip, they would walk down themselves," he chuckled.
"We used to work long hours, start at 7am and sometimes
working through to 11pm at night, which included ser vicing
the truck in preparation for the next day. at s how it was back
then. e coal must go through."
Jack (Nippy) Forrest was driving the coal trucks for Dunn s
Transport for a number of years and he says the experience was
"I was living out at Barrytown and Tommy called me and
asked if I could help him out. I started driving back and forward
to the dump and ended up working for Tommy for eight years.
I was doing the cartage of the coal for the hospital boilers ---
Hoikitika and Greymouth --- carrying 10-ton loads of coal at
a time. ere were two boilers at Seaview Hospital, the dairy
company, the schools and Mair Venison also took the coal from
us as well. Most of the boiler coal was taken from the private
mines up the Ten Mile or further out the Coast Road, but the
majority I carried was from the Strongman bins.
"I was getting on a bit and wouldn t class myself as the best
truck driver around, but I had a lot of fun, as you do," Nippy
"You got used to it but I wasn t an expert. e roads weren t too
good up the Ten Mile Valley, that s for sure. We had trucks going
all over the show, especially when the Strongman was going. I
had a few close calls, once or twice very close, but I m still here.
"Coming down from the top of Ten Mile with a full load of
coal, on those narrow roads, you just hoped your brakes would
work; sometimes they didn t but they were good days. Tommy
was a good boss, you were kept busy, we had a good team and
they were a good crowd to work with."
Owen Norton drove trucks there for a time when the pressure
was on to get the coal out of Strongman.
"My friend Pat McGuire told me to come out and help as they
were short of drivers," Owen said. "I d knock off at Snowflake at
5pm and go and drive for Dunn s until 11pm each night. I drove
both the Internationals and the Commers, it was after the rope
road had caved in and Dunn s had the tender for carting the
coal. On occasions I d go right out the Coast Road to Hunter s
Party mine, mainly on Saturdays, and get their coal. Taz Henry
and Co trucks went back and forth all day.
" ere were some rough roads we had to drive on. I remember
one night driving up to the Strongman, it was pouring down and
the creek had come right up over the road, a foot deep at least,
and you couldn t see where the creek was or the edge of the road.
We d back the trucks up under the modernised Q wagon, which
had the coal loaded in. Doors or flaps would open out on to the
truck. ere was certainly no margin for error other wise you
would end up backwards down the bank and into the creek."
deal e red and white trucks of Dunn s Transport were once
a familiar sight on West Coast roads. From the 1930s
to the 2000s they were a quintessential part of the coal
industry, as PAUL McBRIDE describes.
Dunn s Transport early fleet at Rapahoe in the early 1950s.
e updated fleet in the mid-1960s.
Links Archive December 6th 2013 December 9th 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page