Orton Bruce (Bruce) Bristol was never shy of a day's work, especially when it came to farming.

Farming was his life and hard yakka his friend right to the end until he passed away on July 4, aged 90.

This was clearly evident when the Whanganui farmer bought yet another farm just last year despite his advancing years.

The Whanganui farmer hardly gave it a second thought when Westmere neighbour Alan Carter put his 200-hectare sheep and beef unit on State Highway 3 on the market.

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Buying yet another farm when just two months shy of 90 seemed the sensible thing to do - after all, it was just across the road from another Bristol holding.

Bruce was still very much hands-on despite his age with only his trusty sidekick Tom McConachy who moved to town after managing the Bristol-owned Auraki Station on SH4 on the Parapara for 24 years, as a workmate on the home block.

Bruce and his siblings, younger brother Don and two sisters, had a rough start after both parents died within three weeks of each other in 1946 when Bruce was just 19.

Don left school at Feilding Ag and farmed in partnership with his older brother until Don's death in 2004.

The Bristol family was well-known as butchers in the mid-1900s and Bruce worked in the family business, particularly in the large butchery in Victoria Ave next to the Rutland Hotel.

He knew every back alley in Whanganui. But he and Don needed to partner up when the parents died. They began growing spuds in a gorse paddock and got their sisters to pick them up. Then they bought a cow to graze on their grandfather's property in Tayforth Rd.

That block is still in the Bristol family and includes what was the Petre Pony Club, now operating as the Wanganui Petre Pony Club.

The block was put up for auction by the grandfather's trustees in 1947 and if sold would have left the young Bristol siblings without a home. However, Bruce and Don managed to buy it cheap. They were convinced people let them buy it cheap because they knew their situation.

Probably learning from the best, Bruce and Don began trading livestock and worked as drovers across the North Island.

Bruce worked for Arthur Gudsell for a time and he was one of the largest cattle dealers in the country, often shipping stock around New Zealand by the railway wagon.

"I quickly learned hard work never killed anyone," Bruce said during an interview with the Chronicle last year.

He was a self-confessed old-school wheeler and dealer in the stock industry. He lamented the long-gone days of handshake deals and saleyards in every town.

The brothers started to dealing in cattle in quite a big way with Don going to sales in Gisborne most weeks and Stortford Lodge every other week. Bruce went to Stratford and Feilding.

Both were regular fixtures at Fordell it its heyday.

By this time the Bristol land bank was growing just as quickly as the livestock dealership.

"I went up to Karioi one day to buy some ewes and ended up buying the farm. I'm a bit of a hoarder, especially with land. Apart from a few blocks, the farms we have bought we keep," Bruce said last year.

They started with the sand country family blocks of Tayforth and North Grange, adding Storey's in 1973. In 1976 they bought the 73ha block they call Aramoho, which includes 3ha inside the city boundary, and the 36ha block in Blueskin Rd, The Toft, where they lived for 41 years.

There's also a 71ha block called Westmere, which Bruce said had soils among the top two per cent in the world - that's the farm across the road from his latest acquisition.
The breeding side of today's operation is Auraki.

They bought Auraki in 1990 then added McCarthy's on the Raetihi side in 1991 and The Falls on the Whanganui side in 2001 to make the overall property 1494ha.

Years ago, Auraki was all one farm but had been split up by different generations over the years. Now it's back together under Bristol ownership.

There's also a 153ha block near Havelock North that finishes cattle from Auraki.

"I'll continue working the farms until I drop dead," Bruce said defiantly in that Chronicle interview in June last year.

And apart from a brief period of illness this year, Orton Bruce Bristol was once again true to his word.

He is survived by wife Shirley and children Helen, Barbara, Christine, Anne and David.