‘Human forklift’ swapped coal delivery for fizzy drinks

‘‘You ring, we bring’’ was the slogan of Tom Waite’s fizzy drink business.
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‘‘You ring, we bring’’ was the slogan of Tom Waite’s fizzy drink business.

OBITUARY: Tom V Waite November 12, 1924 - March 31, 2017

As the only one of Thomas and Ulla Waite's five children to survive childhood, Tom grew up tough, honest, forthright, and hard-working.

Straight out of Stratford Technical School he joined the local post office at 15 and was working as a part-time taxi driver (there was a war on and drivers were in short supply) by age 18.

T V Waite & Son's Tropic fizzy drinks were delivered off the back of this J1 Bedford truck.
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T V Waite & Son's Tropic fizzy drinks were delivered off the back of this J1 Bedford truck.

Signed up to the RNZAF, but too young to fight, at 17 he found himself manpowered to Napier to pick crates of fruit for the war effort. It was hard toil for a youngster and, even in his 80s, the by then wheelchair-bound Tom would remark, half seriously, when rain stopped the cricket at McLean Park, that he remembered similar weather when he and his mates were camped on the ground, and the damp did not stop them getting on with the job.

Released from fruit-picking, and always a businessman, Tom started his first enterprise, manufacturing plaster building sheets in Opunake's old Catholic church, which he purchased, to a few raised eyebrows, to be used as a manufacturing site.

The plaster boards involved intensive, hard manual labour, with the sheets laid out on old wire bed bases to dry. He closed up shop in 1949 when mass-produced Gibraltar (Gib) Board came on line.

Always with an eye to the next opportunity, Tom bought Opunake's Boyd and McCrone soft drink business – a decision that was to set him on his life's path. Now a purveyor of soft-drinks, he needed an outlet, so won the lease on the Pavilion stall on Opunake Beach, which he used to sell his Tropic and Frutee carbonated drinks, along with Peter Pan ice creams and Krispa chips.

The business was seasonal, of course, so in winter Tom bagged coal and carbonettes. It was not unusual, said son Ian, for Tom and a colleague to shovel, in a day, a 40-ton wagon of coal into 100lb hessian sacks. He worked hard. People would ring in orders, and Tom would deliver the bags himself. "He was known as the human forklift," Ian said.

Tom then moved to Auckland in 1967 to make more fizzy drinks. After a stint as the syrup maker for Chris Innes, of the well-known Hamilton Innes carbonated drinks family, Tom moved to Hamilton in 1971 and set up Tropic again, this time as T V Waite and Son, in Frankton.

He supplied Hamilton. Ngaruawahia, and the wider Waikato for the next 20 years, dispensing the drinks in orange wooden crates with the blue-lettered slogan "You ring, we bring".

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And bring they did.

Using a business model based partly on Tom's experience delivering coal door to door, the drinks (Orange Cola, Fruit Cocktail, Creaming Soda, and Pineapple, among others) were delivered off the back of a light J1 Bedford truck, and the empties collected, washed, and reused. Social clubs were keen customers, with the drinks dispensed from vending machines at 10 cents a pop.

They expanded into the new, and growing, mineral water market, initially using water from the Fernland pools in Tauranga, before switching to artesian water from Mt Karioi in Raglan, which they collected in a "retired" milk tanker.

Tom shut up shop in 1991, retiring to Mt Maunganui to play golf.

Tom was married twice: to Teresa for 31 years; and then Toni for 33. Wheelchair-bound with arthritis from his early 80s, Tom cared for Toni (who struggled with Alzheimer's) until her death six years ago. He lived independently until last year.

Tom was the loved father of Tom Tom, Teresa, Peter, Elsie, Ian, Susanne and their extended families; husband to Teresa and Toni; grandfather to 16; great-grandfather to 17; and friend to the Hogg family.

  • A life story tells of a New Zealander who helped to shape the Waikato community. If you know of someone whose life story should be told, please email Charles.riddle@wintec.ac.nz

 - Stuff

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