Famous Freemasons - Alexander Walker Reid (1853-1938)
AW Reid (AWR) - Engineering Genius
Food For Thought
At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century New Zealand was making the decision of what type of Street lighting should be used. Reefton became the first town in New Zealand to install electric lighting. The alternative was the well established water gas option. It was at the Taranaki town of Stratford that the Famous Freemason featured here stepped forward to make the first of his contributions to New Zealand society. That man was Alexander Walker Reid, who was to become the first Master of Lodge Stratford.
AWR, as he bacame known, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 14 September 1853. His parents Alexander and Helen Reid, also had a daughter, but sadly she died before 1860. That was the year the Reids sailed for New Zealand on the ship called William Miles. It arrived in Lyttelton on August the 21st, and the family walked over the Port Hills to a place called Southbridge. There they settled for a time. There was no school and the young AWR was tutored by a retired sea captain. When the family moved on to a 300-acre (121-hectare) farm at Springfield, he went to his first school.
Even his descendants are unclear what happened to him after he left school, or where he studied engineering., but his grandson, Ian Reid believes it could have been at a company called Scott Bros who made farm machinery, and later the Atlas Coal ranges. Ian Reid believes he studied his apprenticeship there as AWR made one George Scott his executor.
He AWR is thought to have met his future wife, Janet Whyte, while working on a Threshing machine belonging to her brother contractor Adam Whyte. They married in Christchurch on the 28th June 1876. They stayed in Chrsitchurch until 1882 when the moved to Taranaki, where their sixth child, Robert Reid, was born in 1882. They had 10 children in all.
They moved away from the coast after only a short time, making their home on a farm at Bird Road, between Ngaere and Toko, where the land was very cheap. He became a dairy farmer, but also worked as an engineer. It was with this background that he made his first mark on New Zealand’s history.
His intelligence and foresight persuaded him to put a proposal for the street lighting in Stratford which he demonstrated along with Adam Porter. The lighting proved much brighter than the alternative watergas powered option, and when put to a vote of the ratepayers won quite easily.
An excellent article in the local press on him recalled
“Together with a man called Adam Porter of Cardiff, AWR put on a demonstration of electric lights for the people of Stratford. The display was a hit and the lights proved far brighter than the watergas-powered lamps presented by a Balclutha man, called Mr Watt.
The argument was fought not only at local body level, but was debated in the houses and shops of the town, with many people suspicious about the new-fangled power source."
Even the Taranaki Herald took a stance. On 11 March 1897, the paper's resident agent said: "These gentleman (A.W. Reid and Porter), solicitors for the welfare and prestige of the town, are much disturbed over our proposed acceptance of Mr Watt's offer to provide us with gas.
"Their talk is of volts and ohms and they appeal to us to be true to our go-ahead traditions and adopt the light of the future not that of the past.
"However, there are many of us, not electrically enthused, who hold that what we want is the light of the present, and that in speaking of electricity as light of the future its advocates are telling an 'over true story'."
In the end, the light debate was handed over to the ratepayers. On 16 April 1897, the Stratford agent wrote: "There is going to be a plebiscite on the gas versus electricity question. We are all of us suffering either from electrolysis of the liver or gastritis of the lights."
The vote was held at the end of April, 1897 with a majority ticking the electricity option.”
AWR's proposal was to supply electricity to the town and, after arranging financial backing, he formed the Stratford Electrical Supply Company in 1898.. However, an act of Parliament was required to allow a private companies to supply electricity. Stratford was the third town in New Zealand, after Reefton in 1887 and Wellington in 1888, to have electric street lighting. Straford went live in 1890.
The company built a hydroelectric power station on the Patea River. It consisted of a wooden dam and a tunnel approximately 100 yards long which was complete with a surge chamber. Two penstocks led water to turbines driving alternators which had been imported from England. The plant produced single-phase alternating current at 40 cycles and 2,000 volts, and had a capacity of 90 kilowatts. The voltage was reduced to 110 volts for domestic consumption.
It is of historical interest to note that the lawyer acting for the company was one George Malone, also made his mark on New Zealand history, being the Lieutenant George Malone who led the Kiwi troops at Gallipoli and lost his life there.
Having embraced the future with electricity, AWR turned his attention to the motor car. Between 1903 and 1906 he produced three steam-driven cars. The engines and boilers were imported from America, and he made modifications and the bodywork in Stratford. The cars were two cylinder,, chain-driven and powered by kerosene, and were rated about four horsepower. Before general vehicle registration was introduced Reid's personal car used the number plate SD1 (i.e. Stratford District 1). He stopped working on the cars' development as he thought petrol engines were more likely. He sold two of the cars and kept one for himself. He eventually bought a Humber, before progressing to Morrises.
AWR was a perfectionist, and his grandson recalled a story about the local blacksmith.
“An old blacksmith at Stratford, Bill Collins, knew this, so used to have AWR on a treat. "He'd say 'I think that will be near enough Mr Reid' and he would get a dressing down.'It's not good enough to be near enough'. It had to be exact," Ian Reid chuckles; "Despite his teasing words, the blacksmith's work always ended up being precise.”
AWR at the same time as he was producing his steam cars, was also developing a mechanical milking machine. Innovations included were a variable-speed pulsator and rubber cups with reinforced sections which simulated the natural sucking action of a calf. Early milking machines had just supplied continuous suction to milk the cow without pulsing, much to their detriment.
A photograph of AWR (Alexander Walker Reid) beside a copy of his patent for a pulsator and his milking machine display
Another innovation was his early patented design of the ‘releaser’, a container which filled up with milk then released so recording every gallon of milk produced.
Mechanical milkers of the time were difficult to clean and therefore created a danger of contaminated milk. Reid's AWR machine was designed to be easy to clean. The cups for teats could be hand assembled without the need for spanners..
He founded the AWR Milking Machine Company Limited to produce and market the machine. He also had it patented. The first AWR machines came on the market in about 1907 and were sold as far away as Australia. The application for a patent for his machine was challenged in Australia in 1913 with the Commissioner of Patents. Reid was granted a hearing, and further patented a slide pulsator in 1915.
Initially there were specified petrol engines to drive the vacuum pumps, and AWR even designed a combined unit, but later electrification took over.
In 1918 his wife Janet died in the influenza outbreak. AWR remarried 8 years later in 1926 Ellen Ann Richmond.
In his later years he took an interest in motor homes, and designed his own caravans.
His grandson, Ian Reid’s memories were -
"The first one he made was a little pop-top thing. You pulled a rope and the top came up and the sides came down and that was your living accommodation," Ian Reid says.
"Later on something like hardboard came out and he made a caravan. It was like a house on wheels. It was regarded by some in the family as a bit of a joke."
However, AWR took his caravans away on a number of trips and even got his picture in a newspaper during a journey up north.”
Like many people the Great Depression proved disastrous for his business. As he was an old man he apparently gave it away.
During his life Alexander Walker Reid took an active part in public affairs, serving as a justice of the peace and as a member of the Ngaire Road Board and the Stratford County Council. He was involved in the formation of a co-operative dairy packing company and the opening of the Waitara Freezing Works. As a Freemason he was the first master of the Stratford lodge and a grand lodge officer.
He died in 1938 aged 85 years old, and is buried in the Kopuatma Cemetry in Stratford.
This article is based on the following Sources.
AWR Reid with two of the 3 steam cars that he constructed