On the road with Bromell Transport

By: The Ed

On the road with Bromell Transport On the road with Bromell Transport
On the road with Bromell Transport Mark Solloway On the road with Bromell Transport
On the road with Bromell Transport On the road with Bromell Transport
On the road with Bromell Transport On the road with Bromell Transport

The road can get pretty quiet on the haul over the Lewis Pass, especially during the early hours of the night when Bromell Transport driver Mark Solloway is carving out his usual return trek between Nelson and Christchurch in his 530 horsepower Isuzu Giga.

With intermittent cellphone and radio reception along numerous stretches of the winding mountainous route, there can be plenty of time to get lost in one’s thoughts while still remaining vigilant to the continuously changing road conditions that the weather in this region can throw at a trucker. I hitched a one-way ride to experience what’s encountered on the night run.

It is a road that Solloway knows well, having driven it for many years with a previous employer. He’s been with Bromell Transport for over ten years, but it is only in the last few weeks that he has moved from the nightly Nelson to Christchurch via the East Coast run onto the new/old route.

But before we get a little ahead of ourselves, let’s backtrack a few hours.

To get a handle on what Bromell Transport is all about, I caught up with business owner Mike Bromell at his Nelson head office. Like all people in the industry, he’s an interesting character and has a finger in a few pies. One is a coachline business that started off as a bit of a hobby project, but has expanded out to eight buses at last count.

It’s no surprise that Bromell got back into the buses as he was a coach driver for the Newmans Group in the 1970s. This was how he originally got into the freight transport industry, as the coach business not only moved passengers, but packages as well.

Changes to how freight was moved between Nelson and Christchurch by the Newman group provided an opportunity for Bromell and a business partner to purchase a truck and go into business on their own. The run also included moving mail.

By the early 1990s, the partnership had been discontinued, leaving Bromell and his wife Leigh to go it alone. Their successful tender for the regional mail contract back then started them on a new path within the transport industry and subsequent changes to remain competitive within the NZ Post business model, shows a high level of understanding about the environment and conditions they have to work within.

Originally the business used Mercedes trucks, but by 2004 the move across to Isuzu trucks had begun and the brand now features strongly in the Bromell Transport fleet. Bromell tells me they have placed an order for three new Isuzu CYJ Gigas which are due to arrive in a couple of months; replacing the 2009 Isuzu Giga 530s that are sitting near the million kilometre mark.

Bromell _3

The new CYJ530s will feature Isuzu’s 16-speed MJX16 automated manual transmission, and this is primarily to accommodate the newer generation of truck driver.

"The reason for that is that it’s getting hard to get drivers that can drive roadrangers," says Bromell.

He says the first time that he appreciated the service back-up provided by Isuzu was when a brake sensor failed on the front wheel of one of the trucks. Costing something like $1400 to replace, the service agent spoke to Isuzu on Bromell’s behalf even though the truck was long out of warranty.

"They came back and said that shouldn’t have failed so they paid for the part and I paid for putting it in."

With time rapidly approaching the exit deadline, we wrapped things up and headed off to catch up with Solloway who had just started loading for the evening run across to Christchurch.

When we arrived at the Nelson depot, it was all action as the final few pods get loaded onto the 8x4 Isuzu Giga. Shortly thereafter, a couple of minutes past 6pm and with consignment sheet in hand, Solloway moved the truck out into the public domain and I climbed aboard for the haul through to Christchurch Airport as the latest run in this time-sensitive operation got underway.

The run from Nelson to Christchurch takes five hours, so it was a non-stop drive as the Isuzu slowly winded its way through the evening traffic before the road opened out into the rural outskirts allowing Solloway to get the Isuzu up to its 90kph cruising speed.

Even though he had only been back on this run for a few weeks, it was evident that my driver knew this stretch of road extremely well, entering the corners at just the right angle, keeping the optimal momentum and all the while keeping within the confines of the law and road conditions.

Someone that wasn’t doing as well was driver of the utility travelling in front of us. In this case, it’s not that they were travelling too fast, but rather that they were travelling too slow and the Isuzu fell into line as the speed indicator dropped below 40kph, in a 70kph posted area. I could almost hear Solloway muttering under his breath as we continued on for a few minutes while the driver ahead casually took in the night air.

Finally the vehicle ahead veered off towards a side road and a left-hand indicator light gave Solloway the opportunity he needed to safely pass and bring the rig back up to speed.

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