After I finished my apprenticeship I came to Upper Hutt and worked at Alf Gilbanks, a mechanics shop. I became interested in planes through the war. I began doing specialist modeling with great detail of the plans. I built one hundred and forty seven models and they are now at the Society of Vintage Aviation Museum at Hood Aerodrome. They said they would look after them when we moved from our house, as there was just no room for them. I was sad to see them go, but the museum staff told me they were the best they had ever seen and they were very happy and proud to include them as a long term loan, where they would be displayed to the public once the museum is opened. I still have about three or four to take over to them.
I was about twelve or fourteen when I started doing this. I would build from kit set and also made them from plans, but later on they were all made from kitsets. I would put a lot of detail into them to make sure that they were authentic, right down the scuff marks on the wings made by the pilot’s boots. I even made the oxygen straps and instrument panels. You needed a lot of patience.
My cousin John and I used to go out a lot. We had had enough of girls. We used to go out pig shooting and deer hunting. We were out in the bush most weekends. It was through John that I actually met Colleen, who was to become my wife. I liked her and asked her out. 51 years later we are still together, so that worked out alright. We were married in 1957 at St James Anglican Church in Woburn Road in Lower Hutt on the 4th of May and we honeymooned in Paraparaumu, Taupo, Rotorua, Napier, and Hastings before heading home.
We built our house at 22 Mangaroa Hill Road ourselves, with the help of my father and brother. We used to go up before work and again after work and spent all the weekends up there building. We built it in about three or four months. Our family grew up there. We have four daughters. There were not many houses there then, it was just a one-way street, a gravel road. Ours was only about the second or third house to be built there. My Mum and Dad wondered what was wrong with us, why did we want to build all the way up there? We built up there because we liked the countryside and you got more section for your money.
I had an old Morris 12 car to start with. I sold that and bought a Morris Minor, which I had when I met Colleen in 1952. I got a lot of use out of that, especially when we were building the house. It carried a lot of the stuff for the house; the bigger stuff was taken by truck. After we were married and the birth of our first child in 1958, we had really joyful times. Then we had the rest of our daughters. Karen was born in 1958, Jocelyn in 1960, Judith in 1961 and Lynette in 1963. Four daughters! So you can see that I had a bit of a rough time. One man in the house with five women! We lived in that house for 48 years. The main reason we sold was that the maintenance was getting too much, both of the house and garden.
I had a dog when I got married. He wasn’t always on my side either! Butch was his name; he was a Bulldog/Labrador Cross. I used to take him hunting with me. After Butch died (he was 15), I got another dog called Sooty. He was a Labrador/Collie Cross. Wherever the kids went, Sooty went too and nobody would dare touch those kids – he was a cracker of a dog, a great guard dog. I remember one time Sooty trotted up the driveway and I thought, “What’s he got in his mouth now?” He had a habit of going round the neighbourhood and coming home with shoes and dropping them on the backdoor. This time he had a piece of sheep carcass. I thought “Oh God, he’s been killing sheep, we’ll have to have him put down”. But then the phone rang. It was Hec Cottle, who lived just up the road, and he told me that he’d given Sooty the carcass and thought he’d better ring and let me know in case I wondered where he’d got it from. Phew!!
Sooty was very well known around the place and everyone knew who he belonged to. One day I got a heck of a fright. I heard this loud voice saying “Piper, come out of the house now!”. I looked out the window and saw a police car pulled up in our driveway. I went outside and the cop yelled out over his loudspeaker, “Piper, come over here and get your dog!” and with that, the back door opened and Sooty jumped on out! It was the local policeman, Ian Smith, who lived in Bridge Road in Birchville. He had spotted Sooty down near Upper Hutt and picked him up and brought him home!