It seems roading has long been an issue for regions throughout the country and Northland has certainly had its share of problems, especially in the more remote and rural areas, which continue unabated.

Recently the Whangārei Museum was gifted some extraordinary old photographs depicting the result of a similar conundrum which had frequently been debated concerning the hazardous state of roads in central Whangārei during the 1930s.

The condition of the principal thoroughfares, Kamo Rd, Mill Rd, Bank St and Cameron St, were rapidly deteriorating and in urgent need of remedial measures, a contention endorsed by motorists.

If it wasn't for the photographs donated to the Museum by Peter Geange, this event could well be forgotten in the annals of history as the concrete test strip is no more.

It was suggested to the Borough Council, that the matter of renewing the street surfaces be given serious consideration as the way in which the bituminised surfaces of the main streets were failing, was proof that prompt and effective action was needed.

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The public proposed that the council formulate a comprehensive roading policy whereby a section of roadway be put down in concrete during each financial year starting with Cameron St, emphasising "a concrete road put down properly provides permanency. Its first cost is its last cost".

The basis of the community's elucidation was due to an experiment that had been conducted a year earlier in 1933.

Skram consisted of a three-inch continuous slab of high-grade cement concrete. The slab being reinforced by a zig-zagged meshwork of flat steel strips (2018.44.3). Photo / Supplied
Skram consisted of a three-inch continuous slab of high-grade cement concrete. The slab being reinforced by a zig-zagged meshwork of flat steel strips (2018.44.3). Photo / Supplied

After extensive consultation, special meetings, conferences and reporting, the Borough Council agreed to concrete part of Walton St using the 'Skram' method.

Skram, a new innovation consisted of a three-inch continuous slab of high-grade cement concrete. The whole slab being reinforced by a zig-zagged meshwork of flat steel strips would potentially be cheaper to produce than bitumen, with a longer life-span and minimum maintenance costs.

In May 1933 worked started on the selected portion of Walton St being the principal route between Railway Station Rd and the wharf. It was considered "the roughest, most pot-holed street in town" so a test strip of concrete 12 chains long was laid down as an experiment.

Work was done by a gang of 14 men under the supervision of Mr J R Marks, consulting engineer to Wilson's (NZ) Portland Cement Company which provided, free of charge, the concrete necessary for the job.

Concreting under the Skram method was intricate work necessitating careful workmanship.

When completed the test piece of road carried heavy and fast traffic with frequent loads of up to 10 tons testing the surface's durability. Photo / Supplied
When completed the test piece of road carried heavy and fast traffic with frequent loads of up to 10 tons testing the surface's durability. Photo / Supplied

When completed the test piece of road carried heavy and fast traffic with frequent loads of up to 10 tons testing the surface's durability.

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The proposed width provided ample room for the passage of two vehicles with horse traffic not being permitted.

Three years later, it was confirmed that the Skram design adopted had withstood the gruelling test and was showing no defects.

It was regarded by engineers an extremely satisfactory result and successful experiment, yet the local bodies were still unable to reach a resolution as to which was the better option, concrete or bitumen.

With the roads still in a deplorable state, further council meetings were convened to discuss fully the merits of concrete and bitumen roadmaking surfaces while newspaper reports indicated that at times there were heated exchanges as the debate perpetuated, with headlines such as "decisions deferred" and "procrastination alleged".

If it wasn't for the photographs donated to the Museum by Peter Geange, this event could well be forgotten in the annals of history as the concrete test strip is no more.

■ Natalie Brookland is collection registrar, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.