In 1923 Mr E.F. Sandford bought a Chevrolet truck and commenced carrying general goods but predominantly metal, based on a farm on Skeet Road, Auroa (now owned by Mr R. Poole). In 1927 the railway line from Te Roti to Opunake was opened and the decision was made to build a depot at Auroa as a central point for goods in and out of the coastal area.
In 1928, Mr Sandford set about establishing a carrying business (E F Sandford Carrier) at Auroa. A dismantled building was carried in sections from Manaia using two small trucks backed into each other and tied together. This building was to become the homestead (and interim base of operations) which still stands today on the corner of the Auroa and Skeet Roads. Business began to increase as cartage was needed between farms to the rail-link as farmers could more easily dispose of stock (bobby calves, cull cows, etc), as well as procuring and importing goods into the area.
By the 1930s a blacksmith shop was operating in conjunction with the carrying business (which now operated three trucks). Outside the blacksmith shop was a petrol pump with fuel available to farmers and the general public. Initially petrol had to be carted from New Plymouth in 44 gallon drums and poured into an underground storage tank. This was a big step forward from the old four gallon containers that had been used in the past. However, with the increasing demand for petrol on farms, it was eventually brought in by road tanker.
During these early days Mr Sandford operated a school bus transporting children to the Auroa School. This continued through into the 1960s when the Education Board took over the transport of students to schools. Also, prior to this two daily bus runs were made by Sandford Bros Ltd vehicles to and from the Opunake High School.
Sadly Mr E.F. Sandford passed away in June 1959. Mr A.L. (Bert) Sandford had returned home just prior to his father’s death having been away for five years. Following the affairs of the Estate being cleared, a new company was formed (Sandford Bros Ltd) in 1960, with two shareholders Mr A.L. (Bert) Sandford and Mr R.D. (Bob) Sandford. At this time the business had been built up to incorporate five trucks and three school buses. During 1963 a group of farmers approached Bert regarding the supply of bulk fertiliser as farming was set to expand production on a large scale. A local disused dairy factory was purchased for use as a bulk store and the stage was set for the purchase of spreading equipment. Having just begun to restructure Sandford Bros Ltd, the bus service was sold and another company was established (Sandford Spreaders Ltd) specifically for the purposes of bulk fertiliser topdressing. The beginning of Sandford Spreaders Ltd went something like this: No money, no spreaders, no unloader from rail wagons, no loader for bulkstore and no weighbridge. At this stage it was necessary to consult closely with Sandford Bros Ltd accountant who did an exceptional job in assisting to find finance and arrange meetings regarding plant, while we got on with the job. This man was Brian J. Gauld and his knowledge of Sandford Bros Ltd was of great benefit and an asset.
Over the next twenty years dramatic changes took place until deregulation of the transport industry in 1982. This again meant a major upgrade of vehicle capacity with all the logistics that involved and a vehicle replacement programme was introduced. From 1982 to 1984 the entire fleet was replaced with one model. When the economy crashed in 1987, Sandfords were in a position of having a modern fleet with low maintenance and repair costs, and it proved the decision to make such a large financial investment creditable for the future and the vehicle replacement programme was to become the cornerstone of coping with these changes into the future.
1984 was a year of change for Sandford Bros Ltd with the purchase of 'Ian Lord Transport' based at Normanby. This enabled a depot to be set up at Normanby from which three stock units were then based. 1984 also saw Sandford Bros Ltd diversify into metal with the installation of crushers and a washing plant. To help provide a continuity of supply for metal, an excavator was purchased in 1988, this was used for local farm work and to work in the metal pit. Sandford Bros Ltd were now capable of stock cartage, supplying all grades of metal, general cartage and earth works with a fleet comprising seven stock trucks with five trailers, four dump trucks with trailers (one dump truck capable of being converted to a low loader), one excavator and three loaders.
Sandford Spreaders Ltd was operating the Bulk Store at Auroa, stocking Farmers Fertiliser (now Ravensdown Fertiliser) products as well as lime and running three 4WD ground spread vehicles and one loader. As with the stock and carrying fleet, a fleet replacement programme was introduced for groundspreading vehicles which created a market for top quality trade-ins which has seen Sandfords spreaders sold in both the North and South Islands. In March 1993 a mixing plant was installed in the expanded Bulkstore and this led to a record tonnage being put through the store for the 12 months 1993-1994. At the 1994 AGM for the Taranaki Branch (NZ Groundspread Association), Bert Sandford was made a life member of the NZ Groundspread Association.
A very satisfactory result after 30 years.
During 1989 the Resource Management Act was in the pipeline. Sandford Bros Ltd had been informed that the rights to winning metal from rivers would be revoked. A decision was made to look for a quarry and one was found that had been established for a number of years away from environmental problems. In 1991 a company was formed under the name Sandford Quarries Ltd. The plant and quarry acquired was in poor condition and a decision was made to rebuild and expand over a five year period so a lot of hard earned capital was poured into it. However, due to huge demand for product the progress was such that after three years the five year plan had been exceeded and the plant continued to be improved. Emphasis was placed on quality control of product. No reclamation had been done by the previous owners and in the first year of operating, Sandford Quarries Ltd introduced a policy of leaving the land mined in new areas better than before it was opened up and reinstatement of worked areas was commenced. This was a major hurdle to overcome, but the land was returned to being farmed, in better order than before it was mined.
At the time of the Auroa School Centennial in 1991, Sandford Bros Ltd (and subsidiaries) was running a fleet of 14 trucks, with Bert Sandford as the Managing Director and his brother Bob looking after the metal crushing and screening plant (sadly Bob passed away in 2000). Bert’s sons Keith and Phil were also working within the business. Keith managing the livestock operation, and Phil, having recently returned to Auroa after working as an engineer was driving a stock truck.
Since the Auroa School centennial quite substantial growth has occurred. A concrete plant was added in 1998 (creating Sandford Concrete) and subsequently Sandford Concrete imported its first load of cement soon after. This seemed to get the opposition highly excited and a price war followed, which some of you reading this will recall and may have even benefitted from! As a result, the opportunity arose to exit the quarry and to this day this is the only business Sandford Bros Ltd has sold. Since then the focus has been on providing transport services to the rural sector.
Over the years opportunities have arisen and been taken to grow as they have occurred and at the present point in time various divisions/subsidiaries of Sandford Bros Ltd operate from ten depots located at Auroa, Normanby, Hawera, Waitara, Piopio, Waverley, Whanganui, Bulls, Featherston and Napier. The number and variety of vehicles in the fleet has also grown greatly – with approximately 96 trucks now operating in bulk, general cartage, livestock, ready mix concrete, groundspreading, and silo/auger trucks.
The Sandford Group employs 130 full-time staff.
As the office team numbers grew, the Auroa Road office became too small and the Sandford Bros Ltd head office moved to a renovated factory house near the (now Ravensdown) bulk store and Sandford depot on Skeet Road. Further growth of administration staff numbers has meant a recent move into a new purpose built building on the same site. Most of the administration work for all Sandford depots continues to be done from Auroa.
Sadly Bert passed away in 2020. Phil now runs the company and his son Tom is running the workshop. Jessie, one of Bert’s granddaughters, takes care of Human Resources and Health and Safety. While Phil’s wife, Jen, daughters Ali and Sarah also help out part-time. Much of Sandford's success must be attributed to excellent staff; they have been prepared to step up as the company has grown. This is still a family business and they are all a big part of that family.
Sandfords are very proud to call Auroa home base and have learnt over the years just how good this district and the people in it are. Thanks go out to many loyal clients – some of them are third and fourth generation.
It is unusual today to find a firm which for over 90 years has remained under the control of its founder’s direct descendants. But there are many other families also in districts surrounding Auroa (and South Taranaki) who have been faithful to the same firm from generation to generation. Individuals too, who in spite of their differences in character or philosophy and the different jobs they do, have become parts to make a single whole; so the name Sandford has come to stand for something distinctive to all who come in contact with it.
These people are the firm.