The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 3 (July 1, 1933)
The Clean Up
“If you sell a vacuum cleaner to Pipi Wirihana you get the job; if not, you don't.”
The supervisor's rat-rap-like jaws closed with a snap. He had apparently said his last word on the subject and Reece Wills walked disconsolately out of his office.
“He reckons I'm too young for the job, dear,” he said later to his sweetheart. “Says that if I can sell a machine to old Pipi, it will make it clear that I can supervise a district and show other salesmen how to deal with snags; but how can I do that? No one has ever sold Pipi anything, within my memory. No, I'm not going to make a fool of myself by trying, and our wedding will just have to wait until I get a rise.”
“A Maori miser is certainly an unusual proposition,” replied the girl, Dell Harris, “but I would not despair without giving it a pop. Try and interest his wife: if she really takes a liking to the machine she will give him a terrible time until he agrees to buy it. You see, darling, brown or white, we women are much the same, and I know if I had a miser for a husband, I would make his life a burden to him.”
“Oh well, I'll give it a go, but don't blame me if I am made the laughing stock of the town. I'll tackle her first when he is not around.”
This was the reason that Reece might have been observed sneaking round the house of Pipi Wirihana at eight-thirty one evening, with a large box in his hand. Some years before, Pipi had married a girl much younger than himself, and his miserly habits not having hardened then, she was able to persuade him to build a little bungalow in place of the old whare, and to furnish it more or less in pakeha fashion. Mrs. Pipi was particularly proud of her carpets, which were of fair quality.
“Good evening, Mrs. Wirihana.” Reece put on his nicest smile, and being a good-looking youth, with a nice set of teeth, it was worth looking at. The lady was quite young enough to respond in kind and thus matters were on a good footing at once.
“I called to demonstrate to you our latest model vacuum cleaner.” Anticipating her objections he hurried on. “No, no, I am not asking you to buy, but I merely want to show you how it works, in case you ever wish to buy one. May I come in?”
Permission being granted, he stepped in and a fair quantity of semi-damp earth dropped off his shoes on to the cherished carpet. As Mrs. Pipi stooped to remove it, Reece interposed: “No, allow me to page 44 remove the soil that my carelessness brought in. Is this the heating point?”
“Yes, but we no have te heater,” said the lady sorrowfully. This had ranked as one of her first failures with her husband, and the heat generated over the argument had been sufficient to make the heater unnecessary.
“Never mind that just now. I'll show you how it works with this machine. See? Just push the plug in there, slip on the brush attachment and turn the switch.” Reece was really a good salesman in spite of his years, and he had the prospective victim interested at once.
“Py korry!” she exclaimed as she saw the dirt literally leap up the nozzle of the cleaner, “this te very good broom; how much it cost?”
But Mr. Wills was not prepared to give her such a shock as this, before he had shown her a little more of its capabilities. “Never mind the price, Mrs. Wirihana,” he replied, “I am not asking you to buy. I'm just showing you. Now,” he went on, “where is your best carpet?”
“This is a good one in te big room,” she answered, leading the way to what would correspond to our sitting room. The carpet square was not badly kept, considering the circumstances, but successive years had dimmed the colours with dust so that in places it was hard to see the pattern.
“Well, we will get to work and see if we cannot improve this,” said the salesman. “There! does that seem to be any lighter?” He had run the machine several times over one small corner and the result was that the treated part appeared a blaze of colour and design compared with the rest.
“Py korry!” said the lady, who was a woman of one exclamation, “you do some more. This save me te Christmas cleaning.”
Having managed to start the fish biting, Reece proceeded to hook it. He cleaned exactly half of the square thoroughly, and then went on to clean half the walls, chairs, and floors. He demonstrated better than he had ever done before and all the time the woman chattered excitedly alongside him.
The fish being now fairly hooked, he began to play it.
“Well, Mrs. Wirihana, I think you have a fair idea of the capabilities of the machine now, and if you should ever think of buying one, just give me a call. Here is my card.” He began packing the machine, to the almost speechless indignation of Mrs. Pipi.
“Here, I want to buy te blooming thing now,” she remonstrated. “How much you charge for him?”
“Well of course, they seem rather expensive at first, but you will find that they pay for themselves after a while. Wear and tear on carpets, new brooms and mops saved and no time wasted, besides being more healthy and probably saving money on doctor's bills. Why, you would find that in two or three years' time you would be money in pocket.”
“What the cost? I buy te broom te other day for one and sixpence.” Mrs. Wirihana was turning over in her mind the idea of paying double for this wonderful new “broom.”
“Well the price for cash is £20,” he said. This was the first attempt to land his fish and he thought it had slipped off the hook. Her mouth opened and closed—just like a fish—then, as he turned to complete packing, the hook settled further in. She was caught, although she put up a few more struggles.
“Maybee I could get te five-pound note,” she suggested tentatively. “Five pound is te lot of money for te broom.”
“I'm sorry, madam, but the price is twenty pounds. The machines do not belong to me, or I might make a cut in the price to you. As it is, the company demands twenty pounds for every one I sell.”
“I see if te old man give me to money,” she agreed with a hopeless look. “He not like to spend te hoot.”
“If your husband is somewhat careful with his money,” said Reece, “you should page 45 stress the amount the machine will save and it may appear a good proposition to him.” Just then the subject of discussion walked in. Reece let the wife make the first move.
“This fellow, he want to sell me te good broom,” she explained, with a wave of her hand which included both cleaner and vendor. “Your see where he clean te carpet? Make it look like new and save you te hoot.” The lady's saleswomanship was not on a par with that of Reece, but in the face of the scowling Maori, he could not seem to start.
“Py kootness,” exclaimed the husband on observing the clean part of the carpet, “I think you te very dirty woman to let my good carpets get in this dirty way.”
“No, Mr. Wirihana, your wife has done all that could be done with an ordinary broom, but this is something special. Just let me show you,” and switching on the power, Reece ran the cleaner up and down the dirty portion of the carpet.
Wirihana was delighted with the result and for a moment Reece thought he would buy, but “Twenty Pounds?” he shouted on hearing the price. “Py kootness, I think you te robber,” and Wirihana went off to bed without any further argument.
“You see? He te hard fellow with te hoot. He got plenty too, but I not can get it. I show you.” Turning, Mrs. Pipi indignantly led the way to the kitchen and flopping on her stomach, peeped through an opening in the floor between the hearth and the boarding. “You look,” she said, making way for Reece.
Taking her place, he glanced through the crack in turn and was surprised to find that old Pipi had made what was practically a concrete money-box under the floor. A narrow iron tube running up to the floor itself, appeared to be the only opening. In the light of his torch, the salesman could glimpse notes and even gold lying there in fair quantities.
“How does he get it out?” he enquired.
“He not get it out. He say that once it in, it stay in if he have to pull te floor boards up to get at it. I think he try to make it safe from me,” sighed the wahine sorrowfully.
“Um; so you think you have no chance of getting the money from him?” asked the salesman with equal sorrow. “What you must remember is that the machine will pay for itself very quickly.”
“You leave te machine-broom here to-night. Maybe in te morning I get him drunk and he tear up te board-floor to get te hoot for more Waipiro.”
It did not seem a likely chance, but Reece, having begun a job, hated to leave it unfinished, so he agreed.
Before leaving he showed her the use of the various instruments—the mop for the floor, the brush for the walls, the long thin pipe for corners in the ceiling, and the rubber pad for windows. He also gave her the form to sign agreeing to purchase the machine, knowing well that it would not hold in a court of law, but just as an additional lever with her or her husband. It was 1.30 a.m. when he left, and she was so sleepy that she did not know what she signed.
Next morning he called, not very hopefully, at the Wirihana residence. “Good morning, Mrs. Wirihana; did you manage to talk your husband into buying the vacuum cleaner?” he asked.
“Shush! not so loud,” cautioned the lady. “Yes, I buy te broom cleaner. Here page 46 is te hoot,” and she handed the surprised man seventeen notes and three sovereigns. “Py korry! that te good idea you say about te broom pay for hisself.”
“Ah! that got him, did it? I thought it might. Touch a miser in his pocket and you will find he is almost human,” mused Mr. Wills. “Thanks very much, Mrs. Wirihana; here is your receipt. Now you will be able to make a real clean-up for Christmas, and should anything go wrong, just ring or call at the firm's office. You have the card? Yes, all right, and thank you very much madam; good morning.”
“Py korry! Mr. Wills, I think I have to thank you,” replied the wahine as he left, and Reece thought how nice it was to leave a satisfied client.
True to his word, the superintendent obtained for Reece the coverted position of Supervisor of the Waikato division, and a few weeks later he and Dell left for their new home.
Great was his suprise a little later to meet Mrs. Wirihana in Te Awamutu, where the lady came up and said, “Py korry! Mr. Wills, you te very fellow I want to see. I want to buy te two more cleaner-brooms.”
“You want two more vacuum cleaners?” asked Reece, hardly able to believe his fortune. “Why, have you sold the other one?”
“No, I leave him with Wirihana; this my new husband,” she replied, dragging forward a good-looking smirking young Maori, apparently several years younger than herself. “I want to leave Wirihana a long time ago, but we not got te hoot; now te cleaner-broom fix that.”
“What has the machine to do with you getting money?” asked the puzzled man.
“You say, ‘Now, you make te real clean-up for Christmas,’ and I get te hoot te same way as te broom pay for hisself,” she answered. “I put te long tube down to te Wirihana money-box and it lift te hoot up. It very bad that it take te long time to lift te gold ones and I have to leave a lot of them.”
“You mean that with the vacuum cleaner you drew up your husband's money to pay for the machine and then stole the rest to run away with?” he asked with some show of indignation.
“Yes, that right,” smiled the lady, apparently unconscious of there being anything wrong in it. “Blooming money no good lying there.”
“And now you want to buy two more machines?”
“Yes, one for te lady next door; she have te lot of tamariki (children).”
Reece made out the necessary sales-forms, reflecting that, whatever the moral outlook of the Maoris concerned might be, in any case a wife is incapable, legally, of stealing from her husband.
When the Stratford-Main Trunk Line eventually opens for passenger traffic, who will give a thought perchance to “the men who built the line.” Think of the almost insuperable difficulties that have been overcome from the first trial survey to its final consummation by the skilled organisation and direction of the Engineer-in-Charge of the great work, together with the staff of workers that carried out the labour in all its variations and vicissitudes of a job of this magnitude. As the whistle shrieks and the train rushes into a tunnel, which it will, quite a number of times, windows will be slammed down, but who will think or know of the amount of physical labour entailed in the construction of a tunnel while it is being slowly but surely pierced?
Again the huge filling or embankment as the train emerges will hardly be noticed, now covered with growth and neatly fenced each side, where men worked in shifts day and night—cold, pitiless winter nights, too—to “work” the trucks of spoil down to the right grade as they came continually from the tunnel; first by horse and then by electric locomotive as the work progressed and power could be used. And what of the high cuttings? as the train rounds a curve, cuttings impossible to see the tops of unless one stands out on the platform! Where are the men that blasted through these solid cliffs of papa rock?
Often, in the winter, these cuttings were filled feet deep with liquid (clay slips), tram lines and trucks being buried out of sight, and the clearing of this mass can well be imagined in continuous wet weather. To describe all the difficulties, the tremendous quantities of timber required and used from the surrounding bush for tunnelling and laying tracks all along the line, temporary bridges, etc., the miles of roads that had to be made over hill and gully for pack horse transport in the first place, and the life in the far back bush camps would take pages of more or less interesting detail.—Will G. Tolley.page 47