Great read, motoring in a T 1912 style

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Model T Ford Forum: Forum 2015: Great read, motoring in a T 1912 style
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kevin Weeds on Saturday, June 20, 2015 - 07:28 pm:

This is a true account of a New Zealand expedition -
When the main trunk railway was opened, towards the end of 1908, the motor-car was already in New Zealand, but it had not, in the special sense, yet arrived. That time did not come till nearly twenty years later with a general improvement of roads.
Having done the journey between Wellington and Auckland, first by rail and steamer, and then by the Main Trunk, I became interested in the possibility of a motor trip between the two cities through the King Country.

There was only one car for a job like that the old Ford Model T. It was not old then-1912-and was by no means "The Universal Car" Henry Ford claimed it to be, at least not in New Zealand. The Colonial Motor Company fell in with my proposal, provided the car, a three-seater, with full equipment and sponsored the expedition.
The party of three comprised Harold Richards, a first-class driver, the late Ernest Gilling, press photo­grapher, and myself as manager and guide.

Taihape was reached at 4.15pm that day.
The start was made on Friday, November 22, 1912 from opposite the old entrance to the GPO. Taihape was reached at 4.15pm that day, after an unventful run of 1412 miles at an average speed of 22 miles an hour, which was not bad with the old Paekakariki Hill and roads as they were then.

From now on to Te Kuiti we were in totally un-motored country, except for a doctor's single-cylinder De Dion in Taumarunui, landed by train and marooned there ever since. People, horses, cattle and dogs were scared at the sight of the horseless carriage, and outside Raetihi, a woman wheeling a pram upset it with the baby in a panic stampede.

After a night encamped under a fly by one of the Main Trunk viaducts near Pokako, the motor pioneers, jubilant at their progress, went on over the plateau at Waimarino and down past the Spiral to Raurimu. All was going well and it was a lovely Sunday, with prospects of being in Taumarunui in the early afternoon.
But the unexpected happened. At Oio one of the service bridges over a creek built for railway construction out of timber from the bush had rotted away and collapsed. This looked like the end of the adventure. It was only a little stream in a deep gully, but Model T's are not tanks, and there seemed little chance of getting across.

Fortunately there was some new timber for a new bridge, handy on the spot, and the pioneers, reinforced by timber-workers from a nearby bush sawmill, off work for the Sabbath, in a few hours erected a sort of Bailey bridge and Taumarunui actually was reached after all that evening.
But beyond Taumarunui there was a blank, and when the motor pioneers set out again for the north on Monday, the fourth day out from Wellington, it was a genuine adventure into the unknown.

There was no road up the Ongarue Valley, only a grass-grown track on the wrong side of the river which sooner or later would have to be crossed to get to Ohura and the Waitewhena. To cap it all, it had begun to rain and the day looked ominous for a deluge. But there was no going back and the pioneers pushed on.

It was here they struck their greatest piece of good luck of the whole trip. At Okahukura (Te Koura as it was called then) they found Public Works men on the Stratford Main Trunk railway construction had built a service road over the hill to Matiere and a bridge over the Ongarue!

The road was rough and the climb high, but the Ford, in heavy rain, made nothing of it, and the party was in Matiere for lunch. In the boarding-house a local celebrity led the party into taking a supposed "short cut" to Aria, quite off the intended route via Ohura and Waitewhena.

Broken bridge at Oio
Less than a mile from Matiere and in full sight of the township the motor travelers were so hopelessly bogged that they could make no head­way with block and tackle and had to call on a nearby farmer for horses. It took four of them to pull the Model T out of the quagmire and over the hill.

The next two days were sheer misery. Without horse traction, in the papa mud and rain, corduroying patches and using a greasy block and tackle, the pioneers could only make four miles the first day. Even tanks would have been hogged under such conditions. It was a job for "ducks," if there had been any then; if not, for horses.

So horses it was when at last they could be procured, and for all the next day the pathfinders worked in convoy with an escort of two stout draught horses and their owner, run­ning the car, under its own steam, whenever possible, and waiting for the horses when halted by a morass of mud.

The seventh day involved much road making and cross-country run­ning in the upper Waitewhena, hither­to untouched by wheeled vehicles of any kind. The settlers went on horse­back or used sledges and packed their cream to the factory.

But the weather was fine at last, and after some close shaves in the wilderness, over punga bridges, and on narrow tracks, crowded by slips to the edge of precipices the pioneers emerged from the bush at Aria, and reached Hamilton at the end of the eighth day.
Thence to Auckland took only half a day, and the battered, mud-stained Model T, with its weary, unkempt voyagers, ran down Queen Street, crowded with staring people just off work, and pulled up at the G.P.O. at 1.20 p.m., Saturday, November 30, 8 days 13 hours from Wellington.

It is some commentary on the time taken to add that the same car, stripped of all impedimenta, made a racing run home to Wellington, via Taupo, Napier, and the Wairarapa, in 2˝ days (22 hours’ running time). It was years before this record was beaten or the pioneering journey through the King Country was repeated.


Arthur Frederick Thomas Chorlton is one of those interesting people who have done many unusual things. Apart from his Oxford classics training, he was an early Wellington cricketer and wrote poetry. One-time farmer, teacher, motoring veteran, and for nearly 40 years a journalist, Chorlton wrote the first motoring “column” in New Zealand – for the Wellington daily Evening Post back about 1910 under the nom-de-plume of “Athos”. Athos is Greek for I, myself, but was also, appropriately, happily close to the word autos.
Chorlton covered some of the earliest motor trials in New Zealand - held in Reuben Avenue, Brooklyn; then one of the steepest streets in Wellington. No trouble to modern vehicles, it was a stiff test for the cars, trucks and motor-cycles of those days. Prior to settling in New Zealand Chorlton saw the coming of the motor car age in England in the 1890s, a brother actually owning one of the first models – a steam job.
Chorlton nearly created what might have been the prototype of our modern “duck” military vehicle. He had designed a fully amphibious Model T Ford equipped with folding pontoons and a friction drive to propellers for river crossings. World War I intervened in those plans. Even so, while he was with the Services, Chorlton was still associated with motoring and drove a Model T in the Sinai Desert, and the invasion of Palestine. Besides the pioneer trip described here,
Chorlton made many other notable trips by Model T. One was to the steamer Indrabarah, which ran aground in the Rangetikei River mouth. Chorlton travelled by Model T from Bulls, through the loose sand-dunes from Flock House to the beach to cover the story for the Evening Post. The Indrabarah, apparently hopelessly stuck fast, confounded everybody by blithely sailing into Wellington a few days later.

(Message edited by Rata Road on June 20, 2015)

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dane Hawley Near Melbourne Australia on Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 06:10 am:

Thanks for that, Kevin. A T of the correct period was used to commemorate that journey in about 1962. I happened to be living at Marton at the time, and a group from the Wanganui branch of the Vintage Car Club of N.Z. met the travellers at Marton on their lunch stop. I have, somewhere a few photos of the gathering. A book of that journey was written shortly afterwards. I have a copy of the book, but can't lay my hands on it at the moment. IIRC the prime arranger and driver was Pam, but I don't recall the surname. I believe that she died only a year or two after the event.

Incidentally, I believe that there is a decimal point missing in the above story. Wellington to Taihape would be only about 140 miles, so rather than 1412 as printed, perhaps it should be 141.2

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dane Hawley Near Melbourne Australia on Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 06:56 am:

Kevin, you have had me stretching my rememberer quite a bit. Now I can correct my above posting. The reenactment was in 1970 and the car was actually a 1915 model which now resides in the Southward Museum. It was Pam Mclean and Ray Ivin who did the trip that year.

I have located some information that I must have last had in hand in 2012, as there is a thread about another reenactment in that year here-

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kevin Weeds on Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 06:41 pm:

Thanks Dane, that link is interesting. I agree it must be a typo for at 22 mph days must have been a lot longer back then!

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