A man and his machine

13 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 26, 2018

The are some unique ‘clubs‘ in trucking. But the one occupied by Uhlenberg Haulage‘s most humble and gracious Troy Bellamy must be among the most exclusive in New Zealand.

It‘s a crisp morning in Eltham and there in all its radiant glory, marker lights aglow, and warming the cockles of its Caterpillar heart, sits a green Uhlenberg 378 Peterbilt. As bags and stuff are gathered from the ute a figure appears from around the front of what‘s arguably trucking‘s most famous radiator cowl.

“G‘day. Dave is it?” “ Yes. Troy?”

Handshakes and greetings are exchanged, and it‘s time to get in and get going. You open the door and climb aboard; looking down you could almost swear you saw the reflection of your face in the floor mat.

The driver‘s door opens and Troy climbs in, just like he has since 2005 when the Pete ‘Crazy Horse‘ was brand new. Today is special though. Today he and his Pete will tick over two million kilometres of travelling together. One man and a Peterbilt for two million kilometres in New Zealand. Yep, that ‘s an exclusive club all right.

Troy selects D on the Cobra shift, turns the bonnet out on to the street, and winds through the small Taranaki town, made famous in Kiwi truck parlance for being home to this majestic fleet. Accelerating along State Highway 3 toward Normanby the throttle control and Troy ‘s overall connection to his ride is instantly apparent as the 18-speed AutoShift progresses smoothly through the gears.

Photo: Troy Bellamy and ‘Crazy Horse‘, writing their own story a million kilometres at a time.

We‘re heading for Napier with a tanker load of LPG, and conversation turns to where the exact two million kilometre moment will occur.

“ The first million ticked over between Palmy and Sanson,” said Troy. “She‘s got 350km left, so maybe Hastings, around there?” As we rolled through lower Taranaki and into the Manawatu, 42-year-old Troy talked about his background. “Home was a farm about 43 kilometres inland from Stratford toward the Forgotten Highway. I live in Stratford now with my family; Dad and Mum are still up there. It was a great place to grow up for me and the brothers, we got up to all sorts, farming jobs, shearing, hunting, and all that. It was a big playground. We go up home often. I like my own boys to experience all the fun we had.”

Photo: Troy unloads another tanker of product. He and his mate have delivered a few over the years.

Troy‘s father was a truck driver at one time and it was something he‘s always taken an interest in. One day while out on a shearing job a stock truck came to the farm and the driver suggested driving might be a good way to go. As a result of that conversation Troy was soon working at local carrier Aitken Transport based in Toko, northeast of Stratford. He started off on a Ford in the small rural carrying operation, moving on to a 320hp Volvo before getting a 300hp MH Mack 6×4 and 4-axle trailer stock unit. ‘ The Mack was a cool truck, I really loved that truck. It had a terrible lock but it was a neat truck. “From there I moved on to a 420hp 8×4 Volvo F12F and 4-axle trailer. It was a beautiful machine, like night and day compared to the Mack. You could work all day in the Volvo and it seemed like you‘d done nothing.”

As it happened Troy had gone right through secondary school with Tony Uhlenberg and when an opportunity to join the Eltham-based icon came up, Troy leapt at it. That was 16 years ago and in Troy ‘s own words, “I live the dream”.

In 2005 Troy was given the keys to UHLIE5, a 378 Peterbilt with a 550hp Caterpillar ACERT motor, 18-speed Eaton AutoShift, and Meritor RT46164PEH axles on Peterbilt AIR TRAC suspension. It was a truck that was to become a true workmate. “ They ‘ll have to crowbar me out,” laughs Troy. In their time Troy and ‘Crazy Horse‘ have seen most corners of the North Island. Although there‘s been opportunity to go into the South Island at times, Troy‘s declined on account of apparently getting badly seasick even sitting in the bath. As we rolled on Troy talked about his other interests. Turns out he‘s a champion axeman and chainsaw competitor, having competed regularly here and twice in Europe in the Eurojack competition. He‘s the current holder of the national flying disc record. Essentially you cut 20 biscuits off the end of a log in the shortest time possible.

Photos: Troy and his machine have seen much together, now heading on toward million number three.

“ You start the clock, then the chainsaw, then cut 20 discs off, stop the saw and then the clock. I did it in 28.16 seconds.” That ‘s impressive! Troy ‘s competing less now, opting to give back to the sport instead. He and wife Tania have an axeman and chainsaw display that ‘s popular at A&P Shows and the like, and Troy also makes competition axes. They have two boys, Sam and Jackson. Sam‘s an apprentice fitter welder and appears to have picked up the competitive axeman gene off Dad, and Jackson‘s looking at a career in mechanics. As the boys are becoming independent Troy and Tania also enjoy their other passion, cruising around on their Harley Davidson. “All day to get nowhere in particular,” laughs Troy. “It‘s great. We see some amazing places.” As we approached ‘the‘ spot, we turn our attention to our chariot. A walk around ‘Crazy Horse‘ would tell you nothing of the miles that have passed under this amazing machine‘s tyres. In his two million clicks there‘s only been an engine overhaul at 1.24 million kilometres, and a replaced bumper when he sent a wayward dog to Davy Jones‘ locker. Originally the AutoShift had a press-button change but at about the million kilometre mark Troy had a play with a Cobra Shift and liked it a lot more, so the company installed one in the truck for him. Other than that, it‘s been routine servicing and consumables. A true testament to the quality of both man and machine…the stacks and guards are original.

And then we were there, at the moment, seven and a bit years after the first million. A couple of minutes from the Paki Paki roundabout on the southern outskirts of Hastings…just like that, ‘Crazy Horse‘ was again brand new, for the third time in his life.

The load delivered, we headed for home. Back in the Eltham yard that evening Daryl Uhlenberg walked over.

“How‘d that go?” “Bloody fantastic day. Epic. W hat a bloke. W hat a machine.” “ Yeah, that ‘s Troy. He‘ll take it to a show, he‘s choosy about which ones, park in the corner and say nothing. The thing looks brand new. No one knows it‘s done those ks. It‘s not the first truck in the fleet to run beyond two million, but its definitely the first to get there with only one driver”. Conversation and chats done, and it was time to head off. “So, can we call you in about seven years and come on three million day Troy?” we asked.

And in classic Bellamy style, he says: “ We‘ll book it in now brother. Let ‘s get it done.”

Observations, lessons, and inspiration
Here we have a man and a machine that ‘s travelled the highways for two million trouble-free kilometres. There‘s no luck in that, you can‘t put two million clicks in the mirror on luck. No doubt learning on stock teaches you to care for the load, and moving from that to gas puts the ‘care‘ in capitals. Spending your out of work life around flying axe heads and chainsaws does little to lesson an instinctive sense of caution, but there‘s more still. Attitude and disposition is where it starts and ends in trucking, we don‘t care what anyone says or how much training you‘ve had. You recall Troy said of his Harley riding, “All day to get nowhere in particular”. And that ‘s how he approaches driving, except there is a place to get to, and he‘s always there when he needs to be. You wouldn‘t hold down a job for nigh on two decades in an operation like Uhlenbergs if you weren‘t where you should be at the agreed time. But it ‘s the mental approach to each journey. If you could start pulling ‘Crazy Horse‘ up safely and easily 400m from the give way, we guarantee Troy will start to wash the speed off 500m out. There‘s a natural caution and awareness that ‘s just ‘there‘, gaps are given, and space created even when there‘s no apparent need. A man and his machine for two million kilometres. There‘s nothing to prove, no one to impress. They‘re writing their own story into Kiwi trucking folk lore.

Troy Bellamy and his Peterbilt ‘Crazy Horse‘.