Our History

Under its current ownership the company history can be traced back to 1949  but to fully understand Jesco hydraulics history we need to go back to J Johnson & sons the company that created Jesco. When I started researching them I was amazed to discover they started there business operations in Southland in 1873. To help understand our history I have split it into two parts, “Early History” and “Current History”

Early History

J Johnston’s-Jesco History

1873 Joseph Johnston opens a Blacksmith shop and Foundry in leet street Invercargill. “J Johnston Engineering”. One of their workshops is now the home of Invercargill’s 10 pin bowling alley.

1880 Over the years 3 of his sons Jack, Joe and Bill joined the business, the name became “J Johnston and Sons Engineering”. The foundry was called “The Vulcan Foundry”.

1885 There is an accident report in the Southland Times of Joseph being hospitalized after a piece of steel cut his eye but it was to early tell if he would lose his eyesight or not.

1900 By this time they were manufacturing Flax Milling machinery and logging equipment plus their own unique designed geared stream trains for the timber industry.

1909 There is a report Joseph has gone blind and is touring the dominion introducing and selling the latest invention “The Brail machine”

1930 From 1900 until 1930 they had manufactured at least 25 Trains, most were small bush trains but they also built a limited number of large 16 wheel trains. Only two examples of the small bush trains are known to survive.

1940? I was unable to find any information on the company or the Johnston family during this time.

1950? As above but I would be very interested in filling in these caps if anyone has information.

1960 Johnston’s has started dabbling in hydraulics.

1965 When Neil McKenzie joined Johnston’s there were no members of the Johnston family left in the company. Neil built the first hydraulic test bench and Johnston’s were busy manufacturing conversion kits to convert bulldozers from the old manual wire rope systems to hydraulic systems. They were also developing Hydrawhirl post peelers and building boats.

1970 Around this time Johnston’s were asked to re-commission the old batching plant at Tiwai point in preparation for the construction of the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter.

1971 The Vulcan foundry which had not been doing well was closed and the hydraulic division was moved into it, For the first time staff were employed solely for hydraulic work.

1975 The mid 1970’s saw huge projects like the Manapouri power scheme, The Aluminium smelter at Tiwai point and the search for oil in the great south basin saw Johnston’s inundated with work. These international clients placed huge pressures on Johnston’s and a new building was erected in Clyde Street, The sales division was moved to the new building. It was named Jesco. Many people believe this period of massive growth in the form of international clients was the start of Johnston’s demise.

1980 The building was added to and the servicing division was transferred from leet street to become part of Jesco hydraulics. It was ran as an independent division of J Johnston’s, opening on the first working day of 1980. A trip was made to America with a huge steel rolling mill being purchased in anticipation of winning the tender to manufacture the pen-stocks for the next dam on the Waitaki river power scheme. The tender was lost.

1985 During this period Jesco had a lot of apprentices through its workshop, one of them was Logan Maxwell 1982-1986. But Johnston’s was in trouble struggling to maintain/retain its clients and by late 1986 Johnston’s Engineering closed with all the remaining apprentices sent down to Jesco’s.

1987 July 1987 saw Johnston’s go into receivership, within a month Heavy Haulage purchased Jesco from the receiver.


Current History

Part of chairman’s report form the 60th Annual General Meeting 2009-2010


Fred Finlayson, Harry English and Eric Moen formed “Tile Drainage co. ltd” which was incorporated under the companies act on the 22nd of July 1949 commencing operations as ditching contractors and transport operators.

The early years were spent draining farm land though out Southland. Between 1954 and 1976 approximately 40,000 acres of virgin tussock country was drained worked and sown down in grass for the Lands Department in the TeAnau Basin area. (Lands Department was later renamed the Lands and Survey Department and the farms were split up and balloted off for young farmer settlement)

The name was changed to Heavy Haulage Ltd on the 16th January 1958 and two new partners, Bill Connell and Peter Campbell joined the company.
In 1960 Heavy Haulage was successful in winning the contract to supply and operate a full range of mobile plant on the new Island harbor wharf at Bluff. During this time it was responsible for receiving and delivering all goods passing through the cargo sheds.This experience gave them the confidence to tender for many large projects which were under construction both within and outside the province.
Firstly it was with the Manapouri Hydro Scheme, we were involved from the first exploratory drillings at West Arm, then with the construction of the Wilmot Pass road and lastly with the construction and mining of the underground power house and the 6 mile tail-race tunnel. Very early on in this project HH had to dismantle a complete power station in Nelson, transport and reassemble it in Deep Cove, this was then used to supply all the power requirements during the hydro construction.

HH moved straight from the Manapouri scheme to the construction of the Aluminum Smelter at Tiwai Point.
Our first involvement was with the transportation and construction of the Teviot Bridge then leveling and formation of the site and on to move 100,000 tons of materials to build and equip the smelter. HH moved everything from the largest pieces like the huge 118 ton transformers right down to the smallest pieces culminating with the supply and sowing of the grass seed to landscape the finished sight.

With its proven record HH was heavily involved with both Hunt Oil and BP Oil in all attempts of oil exploration in the Great South Basin.

By the 1980’s the major developments in the region were winding down or finished and the demands for heavy transportation had markedly declined. With much of the equipment showing signs of hard work and age it was decided to sell this equipment and consolidate back to our core business which was the contract with the Southland Harbor Board. This business arrangement lasted until 1984 when all contractors were advised by the SHB that no private contractors would be allowed to remain on site on the Island harbor. From then on only equipment would be hired and operators were no longer needed.
HH managed to secure jobs for over 30 staff and moved to a workshop on Foreshore road Bluff.

The situation was changing fast with less cargo using the port and new methods of loading and unloading (containerization) being employed, a decision was made to shift its base operation to Bond street, Invercargill. During this time the last of the old equipment was sold off leaving a core of forklifts trucks which became the main revenue earner.
The operation continued in Invercargill with the hiring of forklifts spread throughout Southland and Otago with the odd one being as far away as Christchurch.

Through the late 70’s and 80’s HH was involved with other notable projects which included the Clutha Hydro Development, The Edendale Dairy development , The Nokomai gold recovery, Rayoniers High Density Fibra board plant at Mataura and the upgrade of Tiwai Aluminum smelter. While several of these projects were significant HH involvement was confined to the supply and servicing of forklift trucks.

As these projects were completed and revenue was falling the directors felt the company had to diversify. It had been noted at one directors meeting the biggest expense on forklifts was hydraulic repairs so in 1987 when J Johnston Engineering went into receivership HH purchased Jesco hydraulics (A division of J Johnston) from the receivers.

Like HH, Jesco was involved with all the headline grabbing projects of the 70’s and 80’s as well as servicing ships cranes which took them from Bluff to Auckland.

Jesco hydraulics was a pretty run down division when we purchased it and discussions with staff revealed that while Jesco had enjoyed considerable business from huge operators like BP and Hunt Oil they had broken one of the golden rules of business by neglecting their small bread and butter long term clients. When the big international players had left our shores most of these local small clients had gone elsewhere. The directors felt Jesco needed a new image and direction. Firstly with new management and secondly with a new image which involved a change of logo, altering the HH workshop in Bond street and relocating Jesco into it.
Jesco grew rapidly regaining customer confidence and returned to the forefront of the local hydraulic industry.

1994 saw Jesco’s win the “Southland Business Development Quality Award”. That same year a new Branch of Jesco was opened in Otago at Mosgiel.

The two divisions continued to operate from Bond Street but after several building alterations and the ever shrinking forklift business being squeezed into the back bays of the Bond street building a new workshop was built on an adjacent section and in October 1997 the forklift division was transferred into it.
The late 90’s must have produced another dip in Southlands economy, Only 1 year after moving the forklift division and the loss of its manager HH forklift division was sold to the Hellaby Group.
The Companies name was changed on the 22nd September 1998 to Jesco Hydraulics Ltd.
One year later 1999 after a 5 year period of failing to crack the Otago market the Mosgeil branch of Jesco was closed.

The next 5 years resulted in a consolidation phase for Jesco but with the closure of our biggest opposition in Otago coupled with a strong economy, 2005 saw Jesco return to Otago.

The global economic collapse started around 2007 hugely affecting our major international clients in Southland but this time the Otago branch was strong enough to continue its growth.

It’s now 2010 and as I write this brief history of the company and see the many twists and turns that shaped it over the preceding 60 years I feel there are some strong messages in both J Johnston’s and Heavy Haulage’s history which has now merged to become Jesco’s history.
We have no idea what the future will bring or when the global economy will recover but we do know we must maintain a strong customer focus, be prepared for change and be both innovative and adaptable to ensure the companies future.