Civil engineer, New Zealand basketball representative, former olympian, craftsman, timber engineer and builder among many other talents, Ralph Lattimore of Mohaka River Farm is by all means a successful and talented man, but his passion for his community trumps all of these achievements. Home to six families, there is a shared vision at Mohaka River Farm: “to create a type of Artisan Crafts Village”.
Inspired by well-established communities overseas, Ralph paints a picture of an ideological setting where people from all walks of life are welcome to visit, stay and even to live while learning a range of skills with workshops held on the property. Ralph and his community offer to teach everything from self-sufficiency to woodworking, blacksmithing, pottery, bread making, needle craft, building, farming and everything in between.
Mohaka River Farm is a family owned and operated Holiday Park and working farm. You will find it tucked away, 32km (20 miles) inland from the East Coast of New Zealand in the foothills of the Kaweka ranges. Spread across 280 acres of prime countryside and overlooking around 2-2.5km (1.5mi) of gently flowing grade 2-3 river. Offering unrivalled scenery, camping, glamping, guided tours, horse trekking, fly fishing and rafting to name a few activities. The farm is managed by a thriving community whereby a group of families live and work together, using a tried and tested recipe of self-sufficiency, nurturing relationships and healthy living.
The farm is currently home to six businesses, with three of these consuming a large chunk of Ralph’s time.
Timberworks NZ has been operating since 2002, designing and hand crafting exposed timber features for homes across New Zealand. Ralph’s involvement in Timberworks stemmed from visiting friends in Canada where he and his wife Fleur, along with some good friends, were offered the chance to study the craft of traditional post and beam construction at Thistlewood in Ontario. Progressing to then spend 13 years as part and now full owners of Timberworks.
Heritage Timbercraft which was co-founded by Ralph, specialises in kit-set barn frames as well as sourcing and restoring antique barns from Northern USA and Canada in partnership with Heritage Restorations. Perhaps most widely known for their involvement in restoring and raising the first antique barn in New Zealand as featured on Grand Designs NZ, at the time, making it the oldest building in the country at 230 years old.
One of the most important collaborations Ralph is involved with is Mohaka River Sawmilling – born out of a need to provide quality, affordable and timely materials. Providing for their construction businesses and the farm, to further build and develop the Mohaka River community. Specialising in minor species like Redwood, Macrocarpa and Douglas Fir, they also have access to a good supply of quality old pine trees for the likes of tongue and groove boards and treated framing and decking.
“We got into sawmilling because the price of materials was going through the roof. We wanted the Peterson because it could do the 250×250 (10”x10”) posts. And it could do whatever length we need.” Ralph describes a custom job they completed earlier in the year milling 20 Macrocarpa logs at 8.6m long.
Having owned both a Woodmizer bandsaw and Mahoe twin blade sawmill, Ralph has years of experience prior to owning a Peterson Swingblade Sawmill. He continues; “A lot of our standard barn designs have a wide beam (main tie beam that goes right across the barn) measuring 300x200x8m (12”x8”x26’) and the Peterson is fantastic for that, it gives really nice accuracy and it’s straight. AND it’s funny, you would think that other mills would be able to get a square cut but of all the mills I’ve come across, the Peterson is the most accurate to give you a square corner on a beam.”
Mohaka River Sawmilling purchased their first Peterson brand new two years ago. A 10” 37hp Winch Production Frame that co-founder Rob Crozier and his son Ben have predominantly used milling pine for general use around the farm like fencing, framing, stakes etc and a number of custom jobs.
Ralph tells us they are flat out getting businesses and construction on the farm established, “As part of our expansion plan we have resource consent for another 15 residential units, 4 riverside glamping sites and a 350m2 reception building/dining pavilion.” “That’s why we’ve invested in a second mill” a second hand 1999 8” 20hp Peterson Winch Production Frame that the team brought straight to Peterson HQ for a tickle up.
After being hosted at Aria’s Farm Holiday Homes owned by Peterson CEO, Kerris Browne, Ralph and Ben were able to spend a couple of days with us to watch their new/old mill being refurbished, tested and fine tuned for production.
In the process, sawmill expert, factory manager and Peterson Encyclopaedia Chris Browne added an electric winch – allowing touch button control of the track height. Not only does it make for faster resetting, but sizing is more accurate due to the ability of raising and lowering the sawmill evenly at the same time. Chris also fitted a new gearbox, new top cross brace, new push handle and replaced rollers where needed.
A new mill isn’t the only investment the team from Mohaka River Sawmilling have made, as they are in the process of purchasing a profiler and re-saw in order to maximise value at every step of the process. With the price of profiling in New Zealand reaching up to $2.50NZD/meter ($0.70USD/ft) compared to a mere $0.70NZD/meter ($0.15USD/ft) only five years ago, now more than ever, it is important to have control over these costs. Ralph explains “I believe too many middle men in a process bump up prices. We can do small scale logging, portable milling, drying, re-sawing and profiling. We have control of the whole value chain which means we don’t have to make as much off each step. We can also add the most value to our downgrade which is a major for logging.”
In the future, Ralph would like to run building courses on the farm. Participants would have the opportunity to live on site for five days and learn how to build their own home with access to a discounted materials package, essentially a custom milled kitset house. “With the Peterson, if we can get into some good stands of timber that doesn’t need to be treated, and we have good plumbers and sparkies, we can give people a framework for the process of building their own home.”
Ralph and Ben are set to get right into production with their new twin mill set up, lining up 500 tonnes of Redwood to harvest and mill in Manawatu, around 4hrs drive from the farm. Ralph more than understands the risks of milling this amount of Redwood after recently grading just 3 Redwood trees into 8 grades with over 40% having bark and case knots. Having had two friends almost go bust milling Redwood, Ralph is determined that with the versatility of their Petersons, combined with the ability to re-saw and profile in-house, they will be able to get the most out of these logs.