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The sad tale of an Alfredton roadman

In the days before trucks and heavy earth-moving equipment, remote rural roads were maintained by roadmen who typically lived in a hut, or other modest accommodation, and lived a very isolated existence. If they became ill they had to manage as best they could.  They filled in potholes, cleared slips, worked in dry, dusty conditions in summer and coped with mud in winter.

Bill Reardon, roadman for Saunders Road, some miles from the nearest centre - Alfredton - kept a diary in 1903 which makes poignant reading. His closest - and possibly only - friend his horse Bloss.



January 2: At home all day ill, had too much of Paulin’s (Alfredton hotel-keeper) bad beer. Someone went through me for twenty-five pounds. Weather slightly showery.  
January 5: Clearing slips on road for Government. High wind N.W.
January 8: Raining hard staid at home all day. 
January 10: Clearing slips 8 hours a fine day for once. Government. 
January 13: Cutting rushes for Mr. Saunders to thatch hay stack, weather fine worked very hard at this job. 
January 14: Working on Pori for Council a fine day, Mrs. Nelson drove down. 
January 28: On Saunders Road. Government, worked all day got wet got a big chill took Rhumatic Fever, was very ill cannot do any thing yet. 
February 3: Went to hospital at Eketahuna. Ebart Saunders drove me out. Private Hospital, costs five pounds a week. 
February 17: Came from hospital to Alfredton to day, feeling very crook. I staid all night at Alfredton. 
February 18: Today I reached home from hospital, I am still very unwell indeed and hardly able to move about. 
February 26: I am still very bad. Weather fair. Showers in morning. Got a bag of No.2 sugar from store. J. Fulcher brought tub down at some inconvenience to himself, he has behaved well to me. Bloss comes home every night. 
February 27: Today I am not so well again, the weather is warm and showery from the N.W. have not seen anyone today, it seems that I have no friends to help me through my illness. People seem to be hard and inhuman, caring nothing for fellow men and brothers. This has taught me a lesson how to treat people in the future. 
February 28: Something better today. A cold S.E. wind blowing. No one came near to see me for a Fortnight, people has greatly deteriated late years in sympathetic feelings, if you have no money you can die like a dog. If you have plenty everyone is running after you. Also Christianity seems to be a thing of the past with all Denominations. Several showers during the day. 
March 4: Today I carted 300ft of timber to Napiers, filling for culvert. Came home went up road, brought my shovel home called at Medills, had a cup of tea. The school Inspecter examined children today when all passed into higher Standard. 
March 6: At home all day, pretty bad today. Lent Bloss to take machine to Warren’s did not like doing so. I will not lend her again. If they must have her they must take her altogether — a shower at 5 p.m. and through the night. 
March 9: At home today rather better, a little murky rain from the S.E. Answering Quacks letter from Sydney. Saunders mustering for dipping. Winds from S.E. still March a S.E. month. Algie has gone to Masterton to get his horse broken into harness. 
March 10: Commenced filling washout at Napiers Gully, one day with horse and cart. A fine hot day. 
March 11: Got Bloss shod and did ½ day at filling, light showers all day. I am still very bad and not fit to work. 
March 16: Today I am at home it’s blowing gale from N.W. and raining. Jack came from Pahiatua at 6.20 this morning. Harding is carting again on Pori in wet weather doing damage to the road. Have got a great pain in chest today finished medicine and liniment also iodine. 
March 23: Today finished filling at Napiers Gully, day fine windy from N.W. Saunders lost 2 rams C. Benton caught 6 trout. 
March 24: Carting culvert timber up Tiraumea Road, one at blue slip and one at Kebbells boundary. Wind hard from the N.W. 
March 26: Splitting firewood for myself. Fine day. Election of Licencing Board. R, Owen at school. 
March 29: At home today, got 12lb mutton from Saunders. Went to Medills in afternoon a fine day. 
March 30: Today I commenced working for Government. Cloudy high winds. Medills cow fell in the creek. 
April 11: Easter Saturday. Today is a perfect day, calm bright sunshine. Worked all day on Saunders Road for Government. Ebart went to Masterton on grey mare. Mrs. Raleigh and Owen rode to Alfredton to try on their new dresses. 
April 13: Easter Monday, worked all day for Government on Saunders Road, a fine day, sports at Alfredton, I did not go. 
April 14: Worked all day Government, a fine day. People returning from sports. 
April 18: Today turned out fine, worked all day. Russel went out. Ted returned from Christchurch races. Miss Beresford rode out togged up. Recd. Cheque No. 1852 three pounds, six shillings and sixpence. 
May 2: Working on Pori all day. A fine day, got on well filling in ruts and opening water tables. 
May 4: Working on Pori day misty from S.E. Kent came up hill. Algie got loan of cow from Cederholm. 
May 8: Working above Cederholms day fine, no traffic on road all week. 
May 12: At home. Raining, sharpened saw, fixed dray. Teacher late. 
May 13: At home all day. Raining, had no communications with anyone. Dull times about here now. 
May 17: Today I went to dinner at Patricks and stayed to tea, also Mrs. Benton came there to tea also. 
May 19: Today I went to Alfredton and back, day fine a light shower at mid-day. Mrs. Medill also went. Store brake came up. Wind changed to West with cloudy sky. Rhumatics, back not so well. 
May 27: Part day splitting wood on Tom’s hill. Day showery, blowing hard from N.W. and cold, indications of much rain. Store cart not up again as promised, I have written a strong letter to Herberts. 
May 29: Splitting word on Tom’s hill. Cloudy day put up a cord and a half, rained again at night. Herberts sent things today. 
June 2: Staid at home today. Doing my washing, cooking and other odd jobs. 
June 4: Today I filled in approach to bridge with cart and went shifting slips on Pori. Burling took 100 head of cattle up Pori Road. Saunder’s friend came up to get chestnut pony and galloped Bloss about, she being heavy in foal. 
June 7: At home all day, a 4 horse brake came in and went up the Pori today with furniture for McKenzie. 
June 10: Today I was carting wood for myself from Pori. Medill was sledging wood on Saunders Road with 8 bullocks, sledge 10ft x 6ft. 
June 20: Went to Alfredton, got tight and came home at night, Cold. Sent to Grahams for ton of chaff. 
June 27: Clearing slips on Pori raining again today, called at Wiltons but did not see anyone. 
July 1: Went to Alfredton and arranged to get chaff brought in by (Wal) Morris. Had two drinks and my dinner at the pub. 
July 12: At home today, raining hard all day. A earthshake occurred 11.30 last night, shock from East to West, not severe. A swagger called wet and hungry. 
July 18: Clearing fenceline, a nice day. Calm and fine, hills covered in snow. 
July 19: A hard frost this morning. Church in school, Revd. Kitcat. 
July 20: Clearing fenceline a fine day. Ebart came up. Someone stole my spade and auger. 
August 5: Today I did some digging in my garden and planted a few potatoes, some beans, onions, lettuce and turnips. 
August 11: Clearing water tables on Pori. A fine day, only a few small slips down which I removed. 
August 13: Splitting firewood on Pori for myself. Cloudy indications of rain. Ebart objects to me selling wood off his place, a dog in the manger business. 
August 27: Raining today. Staid at home all day. I have no meat and no spuds. 
August 29: Still cold rain from S.E. Went to Medills to dinner today. 
September 3: Planting potatoes and gardening, Constable Grey went up road to arrest a man for attempted rape on a little girl of 5 years old. 
September 12: Again splitting firewood on Pori, lovely day, wind again. Gone to the south but is fine for a wonder. 
September 15: Went to Alfredton got Bloss shod, got drunk. Paid Harding 10s amount of account due to him. 
September 16: Staid at home all day, not well. 
September 19: Still showery, put up yard to put Bloss in to foal, her time being up on 27. 
October 1: At home doing nothing, things are very dull, the council are not doing as they promised with to starting the road work. 
October 10: At home. Bloss foaled today at 9.30 a.m. Foal by Mainmast, Bay with white face. A nice warm day, calm bright sunshine. 
October 12: ½ Day on Pori clearing water table a fine day. Nelson came along and reported water running over road on Pori. 
October 13: Today I went up Pori to turn water off road and clear water tables in bad places, a fine day, Mrs. Wilton brought me out tea and cake. 
October 22: Rolling wool for three shearers at Saunders. 
October 23: Rolling wool again today, from 6 a.m. till 5 p.m. for 6s per day. 
October 27: Grubbing gorse on riverbank for Saunders very hot day, had dinner with Mrs. Patrick found turkey sitting. 
November 4: Clearing slips on Saunders Road, dry and hot. 
November 20: Work all day, got road opened to end fairly fine day, light shower in afternoon, snow and hail fell last night. Colder than in winter. 
November 22: Sunday At home today fine but blowing from east a.m. To go with dray tomorrow to Benton’s Road if fine.
Source: Alfredton, the school and the people (June Edmonds)

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