Keep your cool behind the wheel

By: Patrick Cox , Photography by: Patrick Cox


In his latest column, Patrick Cox talks about the importance of staying calm on the road

How small is our world? I was in town recently picking up a rental ute while mine is at the panel beaters (courtesy of a nice lady running into the back of me while in the Mitre10 car park a month ago).

Steve 's -first -job -back -in -NZ-early -this -year

While I was there, I got talking to the guy at Budget Rentals and the conversation got around to logging trucks. His old man and a partner owned a few trucks in the Bay of Plenty back in the 1980s. He happened to make a comment about why our logging trucks are losing their loads so often.

In today’s logging world, more of our logs are cut into shorts. We have longer five-axle trailers with higher loads, and they usually have two packets on the trailer. It all adds up to make for a lot less of a stable load.

The manufacture of today’s trailers is superior to that of the past, but 25 years ago nearly all export logs were cut into long lengths, binding the trailer to the truck for a much more secure load. Trucks had a lot less horsepower compared to what is available today back then too.

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My guess is the margins are pretty tight, especially for the owner-operator, but you still can’t take short cuts and you have to drive to the conditions. Shane Jones should be digging deep into the billion dollars he has to spend and start rebuilding roads that are needed now to move the wood.

Steve's story 

Steve ,-Mira -and -family

This month I have had the opportunity to talk to my neighbour Steve Grey, who drives a log truck for a living. Steve is a Northland boy who got a basic education, left school and went to work in supermarkets. He travelled around the North Island with this work and reckons, had he stayed there, he would have developed a long-term career in that industry.

As a lot of young Kiwis do, Steve decided it was time for a change eventually, though, and left the food business. He told his mother he was going to get his truck licence. Steve’s mum backed his decision and helped with the cost, and at 23 years old, Steve secured his Class 2 truck licence.

In 2003, Steve rocked on up to Penguin Distributors in Whangarei and got his first driving job. He didn’t muck around and got stuck in with all the options, working up to his Class 5 licence, as well as his fork-lift and motor bike licences too.

After three years loyal service with Penguin, Steve progressed to long-haul (Auckland and return). The Kiwi grew wings and ended up in Sydney where, for 12 years, he drove trucks around one of the busiest cities in Australia. Steve drove B-doubles and delivered containers to the ports. Driving a B-double around a city like Sydney takes a lot of skill. And Sydney-siders show no mercy for incompetent drivers.

The -Sydney -rig

Steve met his wife Mira in Sydney. In January 2017, they moved the family back to Whangarei, where Steve was once again on the lookout for employment. With 12 years’ driving experience behind him – and New Zealand continuing to experience a driver shortage – it didn’t take Steve long to get his backside back behind the wheel of a logger, this time for Stan Semenoff.

Things have changed a little over the years. For your first few days carting out of the bush they send an offsider in with you to help you orient yourself with the industry. I reckon this is a great idea; it can be daunting heading into the unknown on your own. I wanted to get Steve’s views on what it’s like behind the wheel of 46-tons of logging truck sharing the road.

One point he made sticks in my mind: when driving in town and coming up to a set of traffic lights, Steve mentally calculates the distance to the vehicle stopped at the lights up the front of the queue, and starts braking accordingly.

He has often had another car cut in front of him – effectively cutting his stopping distance in half. Some people have no concept of what they have just done and expect 46-tonnes to be able to stop in half the distance.

Steve 's -current -rig

The open road also has its issues. Steve says you have to stay cool and calm when some idiot pulls out in front of you when you’re cruising along at 90km. Steve says you lose your momentum when you have to brake and drop off 20km.

If the idiot who pulled out in front has either got up to speed quickly, or kept well to the left, there would be no problem. Sadly, some drivers only think of themselves and dawdle into the traffic.

The law now states that drivers have to have one continuous break of 10 hours between one day and the next. This can determine your start time the next day, so quite often a weekend will be required for Steve to get a rescheduled start time. This can mean he needs to be up at 2am. Every day brings a new challenge, and in dealing with our ever-increasing traffic volume you have no choice but to stay calm and collected out on the road.

Losing your patience and getting angry has no place when you’re behind the wheel of a 550hp rig carting 46-tonnes of slippery timber. Like so many in the forestry industry, Steve enjoys his work a lot. But he also looks forward to arriving home safely every night to see his wife and family.

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