Obituary: Bruce Short

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Supplied and DOW library

The heavy equipment engineering sector recently lost a well-known innovator who helped lead New Zealand’s modernisation of rural, construction, and transport industries

Bruce Short was born in New Plymouth in 1943. When he was 18 months old, his parents who were farmers, moved from Taranaki to the north-west Auckland region to an area known as Reweti, about 15km from Helensville.

When Bruce left school, it was only natural for him to follow in his parent’s footsteps and carry on the family’s love of farming. However, at an early stage in his life, he showed an aptitude for repairing and making improvements to their farm machinery and implements.

Bruce Short (10 May 1943 – 14 September 2021)

He didn’t seem to have much of an interest in schoolroom learning but did have an inventive mind and was always looking for ways to make his life’s work easier.

An early invention of his (which was understood to be a first) was a mechanical post rammer that could place a fencepost in a fraction of the time it took to do the job by hand.He modestly stated that the main reason he set his mind to designing the rammer was that he was too lazy to keep digging holes.

Earthmoving machinery piqued his interest as a young man, and it wasn’t long before he’d amassed a substantial fleet of bulldozers and motor scrapers, which he had working on some decent-sized earthwork jobs, such as the stop banks you see on the canals on the road into Paeroa, the realignment of the road to Piha, and latterly, the extension to Auckland’s northern motorway to name just a few.

Bruce was a man who simply loved to work, someone who used every waking moment making sure that not even one minute was wasted, of which the following tale is a classic example.

A Bruce Short designed attachment being made

Janet, Bruce’s wife of 46 years, recalls this quite humorous story centred around their wedding day in 1975, which is certainly worth sharing.

It was a beautiful, fine day—a perfect day for a wedding, so the wedding party was gathered at the Presbyterian church in Helensville where the ceremony was to take place.

Everyone was accounted for: the minister, who as it happens was also Janet’s father, the bridesmaids, best man, etc. The only problem was the whereabouts of the groom was completely unknown.

The mystery was solved when some late-arriving wedding guests announced that they’d just seen a WABCO motor scraper travelling at speed in the opposite direction with Bruce at the controls.

When the main man finally presented himself some 20 minutes late, he seemed blissfully unaware of the concern his late arrival had caused.

While most people would have taken the day off for their wedding, Bruce must have thought that keeping the customer happy was of the utmost importance.

A team photo taken shortly after BS Engineering was purchased by Robur Attachments (Bruce on far right)

Everybody who knew Bruce agreed that he was a very focussed individual with a definite mindset and sense of purpose—a trait that most saw as an endearing quality rather than a negative one.

The trait is exemplified in a story told by his long-time friend Blue Adlam.

Blue recalls a time when he decided that he’d like to go into trucking and that he had his heart set on an American rig.

So, when a Mack Superliner came up for sale, Blue asked his old friend Bruce if he’d give it the onceover for him, but, unfortunately, Bruce didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm for the Mack brand and strongly suggested that a Scania would be a better bet.

A bit of argy-bargy over the matter took place until finally, Bruce showed his frustration over the matter by quite sternly saying "Blue, you’re not listening to me."

Bruce was usually right about most things, and he was right on this occasion as well; Blue definitely wasn’t listening to him and he went out and bought the Mack anyway.

Apparently, the relationship went through a frosty period following the incident, but Bruce eventually forgot about the whole affair and the two men remained good friends.

Bruce Short was a man of many talents: he was a businessman, a farmer, machine operator, a musician (he was the organist at several churches and a tenor in a couple of choirs as well), and as an accomplished photographer, he’d amassed a collection of around 40,000 photographs that he’s left for some lucky person to sort and catalogue.

A BS Engineering attachment goes through final stages of preparation

As if all of those talents weren’t enough for one man to hang his hat on, he was also an exceptional engineer, but perhaps most of all, he was a prolific inventor.

His life bears an uncanny parallel to the famous inventor Robert G Le Tourneau of WABCO motor scraper fame, who, like Bruce, first owned earthmoving gear, then improved on the equipment.

Both men were welders, engineers, and inventors and were also known for their philanthropy and their strong Christian faith.

To that end, perhaps, it’s no surprise to learn that Janet was told she had to read at least one of Le Tourneau’s books before she could think about marrying Bruce.

Of the dozens of inventions Bruce had to his name, the two he was particularly proud of were the tilt hitch and the Reweti transport trailers he designed and built for the New Zealand Army and a number of other transport operators.

The trailers were built with airbag suspension, which was designed to be lowered in order to facilitate easier and, therefore, safer loading of heavy tracked equipment.

Coincidently, one of the trailers was spotted for sale in last month’s issue of Deals on Wheels by Bruce’s old mate Blue.

Bruce’s company BS Engineering Ltd was legendary for its innovative and hard-wearing buckets and attachments, which were so strongly built that many have been reported to have outlasted the machines they were attached to.

His flat-floor buckets, which are specially designed to prevent rollback when the attachment is removed from the machine, along with a self-sharpening cutting edge are two further examples of his ingenuity.

BS Engineering was sold to Robur Attachments in 2018 with many of Bruce’s loyal employees being retained by the new owners.

Bruce will be sorely missed by many, who could fill an entire book with anecdotes about his generosity in sharing his knowledge and their relationship with him.

Our thoughts are with Janet and the Short family at this time.

Loved husband of Janet. Loved father and father-in-law of Katherine and Craig (Auckland), Andrew and Nicole (Michigan, US), Annabel and Justin (Auckland), Heather and Tom (Hamilton). Dear poppa of Madeleine, Harrison, Sigrid, Wolfram, Rona, Aurora, Jackson, and Violet. Dear brother of Margaret Carrol (Kaikohe) Psalm100: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.


Bruce in his happy place

Blue and Trudy Adlam, Adlam Earthmoving, Taranaki

"We have fond memories of going to see him at his office—a cold cuppa and his desk at least six inches deep in papers, pins, bushes, and all sorts of stuff, and the phone ringing every five minutes or so. ‘I just have someone with me at the moment. Can I call you back?’ Bruce would say. Then he’d take us out into the workshop and show us his latest project and what each of his workers was working on. He loved his workplace and his workers."

Nelson Mc Breen, Contract Consultants, Christchurch

"I’ve known Bruce for at least 35 years. In that time, I’ve always found him to be a man of his word, who was happy to share his knowledge and who was exceptionally generous with his time. He was a brilliant engineer and designer. It’s no exaggeration to say that his innovations centred around bucket design, and the quick hitch have transformed the lives of thousands of excavator operators."

Clem Simkin, Robur Attachments, Auckland

"I knew Bruce for a long time before purchasing his business, and he was a great teacher, passing on a lot of knowledge about the attachment industry. One of his favourite sayings that can be applied to all aspects of life, not just manufacturing, was that life can be complicated, but there’s a simple solution for everything. I’m going to miss his smiling face around the factory a lot."

Jim Coxhead, JCL Eng Ltd, Auckland

"I was Bruce’s business partner at BS Engineering for eight years between 2010 and 2018. In that time, I had the opportunity to watch him at close quarters and to soak up at least some of his vast knowledge of engineering. I’ll remember Bruce as a man of courage and tenacity who never ever gave up; to him, nothing was impossible. He was an exceptionally talented man who will be missed by all who sought his knowledge."

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