Friday, July 8, 2022

Brass hits the dirt-bike trail

The Young family was one of the first to farm in the Mangatawhiri district, at the foot of the Hunua Ranges to the south-east of Auckland, and four generations on Peter Young runs an 85ha dairy unit there.

The land has productive soil but it can go bone-dry. The name Mangatawhiri means 'the rambling stream' but during the Depression years a make-work scheme straightened out all the kinks and it flows more directly now on its route to the Firth of Thames. Peter remembers a farmer many years ago referring to it as 'camel country' because the paddocks would go the colour of a camel's skin in late summer.

When the heavy farm work is over Peter loves riding motorbikes. He and wife Sue, a teacher at the local area school, are heavily involved in all sorts of community activities in the tight-knit township and at times have allowed their land to be used for motocross events, including the New Zealand Veterans Championships in 2010, where Peter came third in the over-50s class. He, Sue and their son Ashton, 22, all take part in trail rides on other farmers' properties around the Waikato.

When the weather's good, Peter and Sue cruise on the Honda 1200cc road bike.

"My dad Dave was one of the first in the district to get a motorbike, a Honda 70cc step-through (small road bike). I was about 12 or 13. So of course I wanted to get on it every chance I could and I caned the crap out of that thing. It was like a mountain goat and it had all been walking prior to that so I thought it was just great. Then the Tas bikes came out and they were the farmers' mainstay. Then we got a Honda SL125, a proper dirt bike, and we didn't know we were alive."

He progressed on to ride the Honda XR four-stroke, an even better dirt bike, and started competing.
"I was talented but I didn't have the real drive to go into competition full-on. I've had a few runs at contests and I've given it up a few times … I've had more comebacks than Elvis. I love it and I can't stay away."

When he left school Peter completed a motor mechanic’s apprenticeship, then went back on the farm for "30 years of milking cows". Built around that has been the motocross career and training for and participation in some of the country's toughest stamina events. He's done 15 Rotorua marathons, earning a T-shirt declaring him one of the "Survivor's Club". Fifteen finishes is the prerequisite for one of those.

"That was it," he said. "I got the shirt, I haven't done it again."

He completed the Auckland Ironman in 1998, the last in the big city before it moved to Taupo. And he did the two-day Coast-to-Coast race in the South Island from Kumara Beach on the West Coast to Christchurch in 2000 and 2001. Now, at 52, he's thinking about having to hit the roads for training again.

"My daughter (Alex, age 25, a teacher at Onewhero area school) is getting married at the end of January and she and the wife want me looking in trim when I walk her up the aisle."

Their eldest son Ben, 27, is a surveyor in Manurewa.

Anniversary arrangements

Peter gives great credit to wife Sue for "everything I've ever achieved. I couldn't have done any of it without her". The couple have been together 30 years in December. The occasion will be marked by a trip away, destination known to Sue and her friend Tracey Schumacher but a complete mystery to Peter and Tracey's husband John.

"What happened was we both tried to book the local church for the same Saturday and so the Schumachers got married there on that Saturday and Sue and I married the following Friday," Peter said.

"Every year since we've gone on a weekend away to celebrate our anniversaries together and the organisation is a turnabout arrangement – one year we (he and John) do it and the next year it's the girls' turn. This year it's their turn to sort it out so when we get to the front gate we won't know whether we're turning left or right."

It'll be a well-deserved holiday. The couple also do much voluntary work in the community – Peter has been on the school's board of trustees for three terms. He and Sue are on a committee that rents out the teacher's cottage, which has been on school property for years and is otherwise unused, with the money going to help needy local students with all sorts of costs. Peter is also chair of the committee that maintains the community hall – the hub of Mangatawhiri – and rents it out for 21st birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

He was nicknamed 'Brass' by his Dad and it sticks to this day.

"I used to have a sort of auburn tinge to the hair on the front of my head … it also had something to do with brass monkeys."

Dave passed on four years ago.

"It's sad he wasn't here to see me do the Vets' champs. I wrangled third by one point."

Peter trained hard for the annual event that year because it was to be held locally.

"Sue let me buy a bike and I went for it."

It was a Kawasaki KXS250cc. The Vets' races are not cc-rated and Peter's bike was the smallest in the field. The Young farm was a last-minute choice for the Pukekohe Motorcycle Club which was hosting the competition. The track they were to use was deemed unrideable after heavy rainfall was followed by a storm that dumped flash-floods on the low-lying area near the Waikato River just before the race weekend. The Youngs had held club events on their farm before but it was still a scramble to get the course ready for the national championships, with the Puke club's big earthmoving tractor still shunting dirt around on day one of the meet.

Amongst the competitors were former motocross world champ Daryll King and his younger brother Damien, who also competed on the world circuit, and Tony Rees from Whakatane of superbike racing fame. Peter speaks with fondness of the weekend and wouldn't rule out doing it again.

"The club organised everything," he said. "It was a breeze for us."

There's major interest in sport in the area which stretches into the Hauraki Plains and across Pukekohe to Port Waikato and further south.

The Vets competition was the first serious full-blown event the Youngs hosted on their property but they have long taken a role in a rotating hosting of motocross meetings in the lower South Auckland/North Waikato region.

There are scrambles organised on various farms as well as longer treks including beach runs along the wild West Coast.

"The local farmers open up their land and sometimes we have 500 people there. The Mr Motorcycle dealership in Pukekohe helps sponsor some in terms of organisation but there is no prize money.
"It starts when the maize comes off in March/April. We have three grades; proficient, have ridden before and novice. We have kids enter on small farm bikes. If they enjoy it they pester Dad for a proper bike, so it's a great way to foster the sport."

He's keen to see young up-and-comers get into motocross.

"And the local school makes three or four grand out of it. I love that sort of stuff."

And he loves riding through the backblocks of NZ, places others don't get to see. One annual trip takes the riders along Waikaretu Beach where a giant wind turbine sits atop a coastal hill to mark the spending of $5 million by a company called Vortec Energ. They were speculating that clean green power would take off, but were too early in the game. The turbine is abandoned, labelled by the company's former manager when Vortec folded as "NZ's most expensive sculpture".

Brass and Sue's worst experience with the sport injury-wise is not his or hers but rather that of son Ashton.

"He was racing at Ardmore one day when I wasn't there," Peter said. "We got news that he'd suffered a serious head injury after coming off on a jump. Another bike landed on his head, he had bad concussion and he was on the way to Middlemore (Hospital) in an ambulance.

"When we got there they told us he'd had three seizures on the way. He was about to have a CT scan to see if there was any brain activity."

Not only did Ashton pull through, he is now about to complete a degree in communications at AUT and his parents believe that, after a long haul back, he's close to 100%.

The lesson for Brass was more about the concussion than it was the dangers of motocross. "I get worried when I see the rugby people carrying on like there's no damage."

The accident took the wind out of father and son's sails though.

"We used to race together all the time then for a while we lost interest in it."

Just like lollies

The concentration went back on the farm for a while. He used to feed out maize supplemented with palm kernel in those 'camel country' times.

"When we'd put it out not every cow was getting it so we introduced a meal feeding system," he said.
"We get a mix from Takanini Grain which is just down the road. It's 35% palm kernel with some maize and other stuff including reject biscuits from the Griffins factory."

He runs 225 Friesian and Friesian-cross animals that last year produced 80,000-odd kg milksolids (MS) sent to Fonterra.

"That was up on the year before, which was up on the year before that after we changed the feed system. We had a great summer with grass feed last year – the Aucklanders might have hated the weather but we loved it."

The palm kernel delivered used to cost him $460/tonne, while the new feed is around $320. He's also recorded an increase in cow conception rate, and the vets' bills have gone down.

"I'm loving it. The cows can't wait to get in the dairy to get at it and that makes milking really easy. It's like me handing out a bunch of lollies to kids to get them to come in for dinner.

"We've been lucky, we've had a couple of our best production years at the right time (price-wise)."
But he's in for the long haul.

"I'm seeing the benefits in AI and stock feed management and other areas. The cows are producing so much more than they used to in the past. The game certainly has its ups and downs but I think it's a good life to be in."

He reckons Fonterra does a pretty good job on the world market.

"There are so many things you have no control over – the exchange rate being number one, over-supply, ability of other countries to pay. We know Fonterra is concerned about the price we get and that's good."

On trading among farmers (TAF), he said "We'll see how it pans out. I won't be diving into it but I'm not against it. I can see Joe Blow hopping in there – there aren't many places you can get a 7% return at the moment.

"Business will be welcoming it with open arms. If there's demand the value of the shares will go up, so that's a positive."

Definitely on the future plan, though, is another long ride with Sue on the pillion seat.

"We want to do Route 66 in the US – all of it."

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