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Ralph had an early introduction into transport as his father operated a horse and dray in Dunedin, in the early 1920s, and then in the 1930s established the Dunedin-Roxburgh freight service until the Labour victory in the 1935 elections saw long distance Transport licences being revoked in favour of rail and to the demise of many businesses.
After a short stint working for the Railways he went to work for Harry Hames where brother Wib already worked, with a loan from their uncle and Ralph’s war gratuity, they purchased the business off Harry and commenced business as Maxwell Bros on the 1st April 1946 with two Fords. These trucks carried three cubic yards of metal but soon after they, with typical ingenuity, added hungry boards to allow four cubic yards to be carried. Then, the purchase of better tyres allowed 5 cubic yards to be the norm.
The business grew from the two mens’ hard work and honesty, and even without advertising they got busier and busier to the point where they decided to involve their two other brothers Jock and Doug and brother in law Noel Tamblyn.
It was a harmonious business venture and the ability and reputation gained many new customers. Some of those early relationships continued after 50 years of business. Jim Palmer (Palmers Concrete – Palmer & Sons – quarry) and Fulton Hogan were major clients in the early days and that continued. Later, Sheils Concrete, Humes Pipes, Ranvendown Fertiliser became large major clients.
The business grew and Fulton Hogan realising the amount of work the brothers were doing for them made an approach to become partners. In 1955 an agreement was reached, and the family took a shareholding in Fulton Hogan and integrated their business. Some 18 trucks were involved at that time. This new direction saw all except Ralph move to different roles and he stayed on as manager up until his retirement.
The 1970s saw the workload booming and combined with Fulton Hogan’s roadingrequirement and chip cartage for sealing, Palmers were requiring more resources particularlydue to the development of the Port Chalmers container port. Maxwells regularly had six single drive artics with Rock bodies plying the route from the quarry to Port Chalmers, five to six days a week.
Ralph progressed the business in the late 50s, 60s and early 70s with hard work and a ‘never say die attitude’, acquisitions of other trucking related businesses and diversification. Including a venture in the earlier years to harvest, cut and deliver firewood off the land to keep staff occupied over the Winter. Livestock Cartage from all over the Otago Peninsula around to Port Chalmers. As well as working on the Twizel Power Project, a foray into logging and demolition contracting.
A major diversification came in the late 60s when Ralph along with company accountant Russell Pellowe identified rubbish as being a source to grow the income. A skip service was started with four cubic yard and seven and half cubic yard skips and trucks. This rapidly expanded, and Ralph was personally involved in selling the bin concept to Dunedin and it wasn’t long before people were calling for bins.
Ralph became extremely passionate about this area of the business and obtained literature and information on rubbish disposal from around the world. This led him to arrange for a compactor to be shipped from the USA which would have been a NZ first. Unfortunately, the local council didn’t have the same vision and without their commitment to use it, it failed to eventuate. Not to be outdone, the company set up New Zealand’s first waste transfer station in Dunedin 1979.
Over the years and with steady growth of the company, by the time Ralph retired in 1983 the fleet numbered of more than 50 making it one of the largest, if not the largest, in Dunedin. The purchases in 1984 of Taieri Carrying Ltd and J.C. Mowat & Sons increased this further.
Ralph was an extremely approachable person who could talk to anyone and was regarded very highly by his staff and at a recent reunion the common comment was “The best boss I ever worked for”. Ralph was usually referred to by the staff as ‘Uncle’ and would do anything he could to improve the job for his staff while assisting wherever possible in their private lives to solve issues.
Ralph was a dedicated transport operator who was well respected by other operators and was fully involved in the Otago branch of the Road Transport Association, rarely missing a meeting. When the Association, in conjunction with the Otago Polytechnic, set up a cadet scheme to encourage drivers in to the industry Ralph jumped in ‘boots and all’ and spent time every week at the Polytech as a volunteer tutor. It was a real testament to his character.