Hall of Fame Inductee 2022

Sam McRae

In 1932, Sam McRae sold his Chev car to purchase a truck.

Prior to that, Sam had worked on farms and in the mines. Sam and his wife Helen began with a very old truck but were soon able to buy a new Bedford for 300 pounds. In 1936 they purchased the businesses of James Grant and TE Duncan, who were both based in Nightcaps. Not long after, they purchased the business of Eric James of Aparima and Des McGrath of Wreys Bush.

Much of the original work involved the cartage of coal from the local mines supplemented with cartage of sheep and lambs during the season.

The business grew and expanded the area they served to include Aparima, Orawia, Ohai, Birchwood, South Hillend and Opio. The fleet increased to meet demand. Some purchases were second-hand.

In the mid-1940s, a unit to sow lime and fertiliser was purchased and fitted to a D40 International. The business operated a variety of trucks including Reo, GMC, Bedford, International, Commer, Leyland, Ford V8 and the work now included hay, tiles, freight and bagged super, lime and grain. The company never owned a trailer until it purchased a D Series Ford.

In 1945, when his brother John arrived home from the war, Sam offered him a part in the business, hence the name S&J McRae. Shortly after, he set up Ohai Freight with John and friend, Bob Nisbet. In 1953, Sam joined Terry Gilligan to purchase Terry’s father Barney’s business in Mossburn which formed into Te Anau Transport. Sam and Terry joined George Hedley, Cliff Bennetts and John Davies to form Northern Southland Transport. Sam also operated Heddon Bush Transport and was one of three original directors of Central Fertiliser Company which was set up to operate the bulk fertiliser store at Lady Barkly.

When licencing rules changed, Sam is believed to have been the first in Southland to obtain a Vehicle Authority (V.A.). He also transported the first building around the lake to Queenstown on the back of a truck.

Sam served his community in many ways. He was not a committee person - he said he did not have time for committees as a business, a wife and three daughters kept him very busy – but he was always working for local clubs and organisations by providing machinery or carrying goods for example, soil for local parks or horses for the pony club. It was a testament to his service that, when he died, he was a life member of seven clubs including the local Rugby Club, Golf Club, Pony Club, Swimming Club, Birchwood Hunt Club and Wairio Trotting Club. He was also made a Justice of the Peace.

Sam’s biggest pastime was his love of horses, a passion his daughters inherited and they spent many happy years involved in the equestrian world. On fine days in the summer, Sam and Helen would toot the horn on the truck outside their home and children would come from blocks away to get a ride over on the back of the truck to the river for a swim.

Sam always fought for the underdog, was a man of principles and an anonymous benefactor to many.

John Frew
Wayne McCurdy