STILL MAKING HAY: Stratford's Corb Stallard has been cutting hay for about 70 years. History writer Hilary Jane had a yarn with him about his life.
When Corb Stallard was a boy he exhibited Jersey calves at the Stratford A&P show, and in 1938 he won a championship with Scary and his sister Thelma won reserve with Snowdrop.
From the showgrounds Corb could see the beautiful two-storey house on the main road and wished he could live there one day. Half a century later, his wish came true.
In 1988, he and his wife, Billie, bought the property off Harry Scott, after selling the Toko farm where Corb had lived for 61 years.
He had no intention of retiring, however, and brought his conventional hay baler to town where he was soon in demand, clocking up over 20,000 bales in the first year. Corb has been a hay contractor since he was 17, and remembers the days when he charged just 6d (shillings) a bale. He points out he's not a millionaire, so obviously there's no money in it!
Corb's now 87, and spent last summer baling hay for some new clients as well as his regulars.
In its 110 years of existence, the Stallard's historic home has had just four long-term owners. It was built for Colonel William Bayly and construction began in 1900, after the kauri and rimu logs were shipped to New Plymouth from North Auckland and Coromandel two years earlier.
The logs were milled in New Plymouth then transported to the site by bullock-wagon over six days. After being stack-dried for two years the timber was ready to use. Seventeen years later, the Colonel returned to England and the house was sold to a banker, Mr Stewart, but resold soon after to Mr Faull, who in turn sold it after 22 years to Harry Scott, who was manager of General Motors Garage for many years.
The Scotts resided there for 44 years.
The Stallards immediately set about restoring parts of the house which had been modernised, such as doors covered in plywood and the staircase which had been boxed in. Corb describes the pleasure in revealing the carved timber on the doors and stairwell, and discovering one of the Faull daughters, Edna, had etched her name on the stair
frame. It is still there today.
A few years ago Corb and Billie used a cherry-picker to access the upper levels of the house exterior while painting it. Unfortunately the controls malfunctioned and they were stranded several metres above the ground. Fortunately, Billie had her cell phone and rang the men next door at Firth, who arrived promptly but were unable to assist. Billie then rang the fire brigade and explained it wasn't an emergency but next thing they heard sirens, and 29 firemen arrived on the scene. Meanwhile, the adventurous couple had scrambled onto the fire escape from where they were rescued.
Since then, one stays at ground level while the other is elevated.
Corb's family immigrated to New Zealand in 1925 and after two years at Pihama, purchased the farm near Toko.
Although the land had been razed, it was covered in burnt tree stumps which needed to be cleared by hand, aided by explosives. Corb and his three brothers became quite proficient in the use of gelignite, which was placed inside the stump. If it didn't go off immediately, the boys would go home for lunch and hope it had gone off before they returned. If it hadn't, they put another stick in the other side of the stump which created
quite a bang when they both went off.
The boys and their father worked the farm, until one by one they left to marry and make their own way.
Saturday nights provided the only opportunity for socialising, and if anyone overindulged
they were made to dig drains on Sunday.
Apart from delivering milk to the Skinner Road factory, the farm horses always had Sundays off.
Dances were held in a converted woolshed on the Johnson farm, just over the Kahouri bridge. The floor was ideal for dancing, due to a buildup of wool grease over the years.
When Hights from Kohuratahi bought the property they closed the `hall' down so the dances were transferred to the Bird Road School.
Soon after, Herbie Hann donated land for a memorial hall, which Reg Paterson, Eddie Boyde and Corb helped build on Skinner Road.
In those days, haymaking was a community effort with up to 16 men in the field, forking the hay by hand. Nobody was paid, but neighbour helped neighbour until everyone's hay was done.
Feeding the men was a full time job for the women, who provided morning and afternoon teas as well as a substantial lunch.
Care was taken to avoid brassicas and turnips as they were likely to cause wind and associated stomach upsets, with all the bending involved. By late afternoon when the dew fell, the men went home to milk their cows.
In 1995 the extended Stallard family held a reunion and Corb and his six siblings all attended. They each recorded their memoirs and Corb recalled his school days at Bird Road school where the teacher, Jack Henderson, told Corb, ``You'll be 90 years old with a beard down to your knees before you leave school,' and Corb wrote, `He was right, I'm 72 and still learning.'
Corb is proud of his signature beard and has twice entered the A&P Association's beard-growing contests. At the centenary show in 2009 he was the oldest contestant.
Corb has been a member of the association since the 1950s and a General Committee
member for more than 20, and was recently awarded Honorary Life Membership.