BIG JOURNEYS

In Tests, June 2021, Mack54 MinutesBy Dave McCoidJuly 7, 2021

As big as the Super Liner is, it doesn’t look out of place in Auckland’s rural hinderland.

This month’s cover feature certainly won’t be like one you’ve ever read before. Being our 400th issue celebration, we went off in search of a story befitting the occasion, something that would leave a message that resonated beyond the norm. We wanted inspiration, enthusiasm, passion, humility, and community.

Where we eventually found ourselves was standing in front of a magnificent gold Bulldog. A Centenary Mack Super Liner, no less. A truck that not only speaks to its owner’s passion for his industry and admiration for its people but, at an intensely personal level, resolution, with maybe an element of catharsis also. And as big as a Centenary Super Liner is, in terms of symbolising his journey, it’s barely adequate.

It’s moments like these…

If it wasn’t for the man walking the dog along Stanmore Bay beach late one evening 27 years ago, things for Mark ‘Skip’ Golden might have ended differently. In fact, they might have simply ended.

In hindsight, looking on, the scene as it stood was somewhat of a metaphor. Although there’s nothing more assured than the fact the tide will turn, for some, it may turn too late, the damage is done and they’ve gone too far. Given a chance, they might have made a couple of stake- in-the-ground decisions, but all of a sudden here they are in a predicament of their own doing, and unrecoverable without some form of intervention.

That brings us to the old chestnut regarding your time being up. Whether it is, or it’s not, there’s nothing you can do about it. For Skip Golden, as dire and unrecoverable as it might have seemed with the tide lapping his unconscious ‘rag-dolled’ body, the arrival of ole mate and his pooch clearly signalled this energetic yet errant young fellow had something more to give. Something the world required of him.

It’s also interesting how often that crucial ‘leg-up’ comes at the hand of a stranger – people with no agenda, non-judgemental, someone whose presence in your life is both fleeting yet momentous. In terms of Skip’s life, and the lives of so many around him, what the stranger walking his dog helped set in motion, was indeed momentous. Somewhere out there is a man who has no idea that on that night, his actions would help far more people than the young bloke laying at his feet.

As it turns out, ‘leg up’ possibly wasn’t the most appropriate turn of phrase. Had our man of the moment tried to effect that in a literal sense, he’d have quickly discovered both of Skip’s were in pieces, as were many other bones in this lanky, red- headed, limp, unconscious bag of skin and damaged organs.

The causes of this unfortunate scene lay just back down the beach. A reef of rock and a motorcycle, never an ideal combination, especially when the latter meets the former at speed… unexpectedly. It’s even a less perfect union when there’s a complete absence of light at the moment of impact. For those wondering, the lights on the good mechanical horse were working, but Skip had gone into ‘stealth’ mode, and hared off down Stanmore Bay beach, in the darkness, to confound her majesty’s finest as he effected a speedy escape.

“I forgot about the reef at low tide. I think I was doing about 120kph when I hit it. The handlebars broke a femur as I went over the front and into the air. I landed on my left foot and smashed all that side to the top, then was flung onto my right and broke the top half of that. It wasn’t pretty, aye. Yeah man!”

Interestingly, Skip might well have stopped had he known the ‘Rozzers’ gave up the chase to go and attend a domestic, with the intention of coming back later to see if he’d got past the reef.

Maybe it’s just as well he didn’t know? It might have prevented the amazing story that followed over the succeeding 27 years from ever playing out. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t have

The Super Liner parked at Golden HQ.

 

Awakenings

Yes, sometimes a moment’s pause from the frenzy of day- to-day life – work, substances, affiliations, running from police – offers a chance for reflection. At the time Skip, his bike, and the reef all made each other’s hurried acquaintance, he was already recovering from a previous motorcycle mishap. Three months prior, he and his boss at the time, Guy Stucke, were checking out at a motorbike Guy was looking to purchase. Skip was taking it for a blast and pulled a wheelie that went a bit wayward courtesy of a non-conforming manhole cover. In order to keep the pre-purchase merchandise unscathed, Skip martyred both kneecaps and both collar bones. He’d only been back at work for just under a month, and now here he was again.

Yet the accidents, time off work, and all that stuff were nothing. The decision to be made had to do with far more than merely Zen and the art of motorcycle mastery. It was time to ask the question, ‘Who is Mark Golden?’

Interestingly, Mark Golden was exactly the same charismatic bloke we all know and admire today – engaging, enterprising, savvy, courageous, generous, principled, loyal, and funny. Trouble was, up to this current period of introspection, they’d all been nurtured in another world and manifested themselves in another way.

A native of the Silverdale area just north of Auckland, Skip’s mum and dad parted ways when he was nine, following which he and his deeply religious mother moved to Whanganui. Aside from the emotional upheaval and a constrained homelife, Skip was confronted with an education system in no way geared to extract a rich harvest from boys of his age, with his traits and talents, with what he had to give the world. As such, he found acceptance in a different part of town. The next 10 years in Whanganui were tumultuous, to say the least. There were regular run- ins with the law and a lifestyle best described as well beyond mischievous.

“There’s no question I was at rock-bottom between 14 and 21. I just rebelled and pushed away from everything.

“I always loved work, mechanics and engineering; I had no trouble there. I was never a shirker. Once I was instructed by the courts to work at a place called Mike’s Autos for two years without a wage in order to repay my debt to society. I disassembled and flushed auto transmissions and worked on a Holden Torana race car the boss was building up. I loved that thing.” (See Time Traveller.)

However, at age 19, Wanganui culminated in the cops dropping our hero on the edge of town one night with clear instructions on not returning and even clearer ones on the consequences should he choose to ignore them. On this occasion, he decided not to choose option two.

Spectacular from all angles.

Skip figured ‘north’ was the answer, so made his way back home to Silverdale and a job at Gatman’s Tractors.

“I’d worked on cars and bikes in Whanganui, so now I was getting diesel experience. Like I said, I’ve certainly never been work-shy. I enjoy interreacting with people, learning, always have.”

From Gatman’s, he moved to Whangaparaoa Engineering, owned by Guy Stucke.

“Yep, engineering, heavy plate, profiling, welding, machining, all that stuff.”

Three significant things happened while Skip was at Whangaparaoa Engineering. First, Mack trucks. It was the early-mid 90s, and Skip was about 20 years old. Over the road from work was the yard of transport operator Dale Fenton.

“Dale had a Mack Super Liner with a 440 V8 and an R-Model with a 350 Econodyne. Every morning I’d hear those air starts. It made the hair on the back of my head stand up as they pulled out and headed up the hill. I remember thinking, ‘You got to get into that. That’s cool’.”

Second, Guy met Skip’s sister and today, Skip and Guy are long-time brothers-in-law. If that needs explaining, you’re reading the wrong book.

Third, Skip started to consider and question his out- of-work life.

“Guy was bloody good to me. Shit, he was good. I was hard work man! I tell you, I was hard work. I owe him heaps.

“I’d come north and just kept on going as I’d been doing down there. I was scouted by gang recruiters, got into all sorts of shit. By the time I was 20, I’d dabbled in much more than vitamins. But I’d also started to think about things – inside myself, that is. I knew I was running out of life. Something was telling me I needed to get out of it. It wasn’t just the accident that triggered it – it had been brewing – but I remember laying in hospital thinking, ‘I’ve lived through it again, I may not live through the next one. I’m running out of lives.

“I had that much steel in me when I got out, I triggered the airport security gates for a while until they got a bit more sophisticated. I’ve still got some in there,” he laughs now, almost three decades on from that watershed time.

“You know one thing, though, I have no regrets on the life I led in terms of who it made me today. Everything moulds you into who you are, not just the good stuff. Yeah, there’s things I did I’m not proud of, absolutely, but that era helped make me who I am today. Relationships with customers, subbies, suppliers and all that. Loyalty. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it, no problems, but if I’m right or I think someone’s shafted me, I’m not afraid to pick the phone up, make no mistake.”

Decision made. Course altered in the nick of time. The result of clarity of thought, good people close by, and a little help from a man and a dog … a helicopter and clever medical peeps. All those ‘Golden’ character traits could now be repurposed and redirected. Look out, world.

 

A Golden dawn

Post-prang, Skip returned to work, but it became apparent he couldn’t stay. Not for any behaviour or character reason, rather the condition of the poor old bashed-up chassis.

“My bones couldn’t cope with the concrete floor. They needed a soft underfloor to help them heal, so I went and worked at Hibiscus Engineering Supplies in the parts department – a job on carpet. It was a good job and a great place to learn more stuff, parts and bits and pieces, and I still had regular contact with people in the contracting game who I’d met at Gatman’s and Whangaparaoa Engineering.”

The whole time he was there, however, the truck thing niggled, and once fully recovered – which took some time – he began looking for an ‘in’ to the trucking industry.

His first big break was Hibiscus Tanks Ltd in 1997 and a three-year stint working for owner Brian Smith delivering concrete tanks all over the North Island.

“What a learning experience that was. Tanks normally go to the top of hills, to the most horrible places. I’ve seen some views you just can’t imagine.”

Skip started in a 504 Cummins-powered D-Series Ford, which was swapped out for a 903 Cummins-powered International 3070 in due course.

“One of my all-time favourite trucks, for sure. I towed a three-axle trailer, and where me and that truck went was second to none, the most remote parts of the North Island. It had a full lock-up rear end. With a 3.7-metre wheelbase, it spent half its time off the front wheels.”

As was the fate of so many 3070s, the cab was slowly reclaimed by Mother Earth through the process of oxidation, and it was replaced by a UD CW51 before an ex-Fonterra 113m Scania took over. “The Scania was a nice truck. European comfort and all that. It had cross-locks, but the electric over-air switches gave issues at times. The 3070 was the king.”

With his inquisitive, engaging and courageous side constantly on the simmer, paid employment was always destined to be a stopover en route to something more fulfilling.

In March 2000, aged 36, the opportunity to purchase a 1995 FV330 Fuso for $75,000 came knocking. The truck was being sold by a local operator Grant Hopper, who was looking to cash up at the time, and better still, it came with an element of work. Big decision time. “I knew the truck – it’d done 200,000km, but it was well looked after. I knew it would do me right. I leased a trailer off Kelvyn Neville and took the plunge.”

And with that decision, Golden Contracting was born.

“It was a big thing for me. I’d not long bought a house, so I was pretty hocked up. I just went hard, eh,” laughs Skip. “I was dark to dark every day. I was totally ‘green’ and had to learn everything about business.”

In hindsight, maybe not.

Pardon the pun, but what Skip soon realised is he’d already done much of the critical ‘ground work’ in the years leading up; what the pointy-shoe set of today call networking and what we from another time call meeting people.

“The associations I’d made at Tractors, Engineering, and Engineering Supplies was huge. I had so many contacts. In well under a year, I had a pool of subbies working for me! Just to ramp it up, I also had a marriage that had gone west, so I was a solo dad, changing nappies on the fuel tank. Stopping work was not an option, so both Keeley and Brodie [daughter and son] saw a lot of that Fuso at a young age,” laughs Skip.

From the shadows

Rules, principles, and respect for peers, mates, and associates. Compromising any of them in the world Skip grew up in for more tough years didn’t result in discussion groups and counselling. Although he was now well into a change of tack, with big responsibilities to boot, the structures of his previous life’s hierarchy were all he knew, and as such, he applied them to his new life. They formed the framework of his business ethos.

Skip had resisted Kurtis Andrews’ [Keith Andrews Trucks] encouragement to replace his one-truck fleet, but that ended in 2004 with the arrival of a brand-new Fuso FV430. That truck was followed in 2006 with a second brand-new truck fitted with a Transfleet Trailers alloy bin and new four-axle trailer. Buying a second truck was a big decision.

“I didn’t want that truck to cut anyone’s lunch. I wanted to make sure I could work it without laying off any of the subcontractors I had working for me. They were all good blokes.”

Buying a second truck presented another problem: staff. One man might be many things, but one thing he will never be is two men. Skip took on Andrew Carr, a bloke Skip rates as “off the scale”, his “right-arm”, and Andrew remains in the business to this day.

“Because I never chased the big corporates or contractual work, I was never a threat to the big fellas, so by and large, they never hassled me. I’ve never wanted to be the biggest blah blah and all that, never, still don’t. Never will. We can achieve high productivity and load percentage with huge truck movements across a day from working smart. At 4.00am you’re planning 6.00pm.”

Work ethic, humility, and a sense of community usually pay off in terms of growth and opportunity, and the business grew steadily over the next decade and a half.

Again, the consequences of not paying your dues was probably a principle he was well-grounded in, and the Skip Golden mantra of ‘save then buy’, and not getting yourself into an unmanageable or high- risk debt burden, ensured growth was not only paid for but – equally important – manageable. It allowed him time to think, adjust, and accommodate growth as it came. It meant he could add people who saw things as either he did, or at the very least, as he asked them to see it.

 

Growth, gravel, and gigs

With Golden Contracting tracking along just fine, opportunity again knocked, and in 2011, Skip incorporated Silverdale Aggregate Supplies, located today just up the road from the Contracting premises on Peter’s Way in Silverdale. Again, a business run on a community in commerce principle.

“The bulk boys feed into there primarily from the north, something I will never change or add to my fleet. Everyone deserves a slice of the pie, greed in any sector generally never ends well.

“The Trident I drive is painted in Silverdale Aggregate livery, and it’ll dive in and help if the pressure comes on.”

In terms of trucks, the Mitsubishi/Fuso brands remained largely the go-to until 2015, with one rather large exception.

“I bought a 1995 MH Mack sleeper with an E9 V8 off Paul Livsey in 2013. I reckon the MH is one of the coolest trucks ever. It made the sound that got to me all those years earlier with Dale’s 440. Is that V8 the nicest-sounding engine ever or what? I left it black with my livery on the door, and it towed a quad bottom dump semi or occassionally a tipulator. I loved that truck. Still do. It was brutal, but cool.

“Trevor Jones in Queenstown was one of the truck’s early owners. He’d done some hard yards in it getting ahead; he raised his kids in that rig too, you know? He phoned me every year asking if I wanted to sell it. One day he got me at the right time, when I was in the office on a Saturday afternoon sitting staring out the window, in one of ‘those’ moods, you know the ones? It was parked in the shed outside the window. I thought for a moment, ‘Yep, righto.’ We agreed a price and the deal was done. I’d had my time in it. It meant a hell of a lot to him, more than me, really. He was connected to it. Trevor had a lot of his gear at the Wanaka show this year, and she’s next on the list for a rebuild evidently. That’s awesome, eh? Can’t wait to see it.”

Back to 2015, and the arrival of a new heavy-duty, high ground clearance, G480 Scania.

“I just wanted to step it up a bit. It was Andrew’s truck, and he’d always liked the Scanias – a bit more comfortable, powerful, and capable. It had the retarder and traction aids, something we were begging for. We have added a few more along the way including one of the new- gen Scanias. And I kept the Fuso Shogun I did all the development work on for Kurtis [Andrews, now Fuso New Zealand MD] a couple of years back. They’re a bloody nice truck, eh? They’ve done really well with those.”

The year 2015 also heralded the arrival of the first brand new Mack, the Silverdale Aggregates machine mentioned earlier.

“I went to the market for that. I wanted a 33.5-tonne payload on seven axles at 50MAX. I also wanted something manoeuvrable, easy to operate, and something that was me.

“I had Scania, MAN, and Caterpillar through here and nothing did it for me. Then Mike Wintour at MTD called in with a Trident, one of a bunch they had in stock. One drive around the block, and it was sold. It just fitted, felt good, and looked right. A bolted truck, not a riveted one. I’d always loved my Macks, and it fitted like a glove – as if I’d been driving it for years. They painted it in my colours, and I still drive it every other day when the office isn’t calling. It’s a solid, dependable machine, fantastic on traction – that AP rear end will go anywhere.

“Body-wise, we’re a mix of steel and alloy – what suits, what fits. One’s way more versatile than the other, obviously, but comes with a weight penalty, so it’s horses for courses. My first new trailer was Transfleet back in the day and they’ve been the only supplier since.”

Build your own business

“What’s good for the industry, not just me. That’s how you have to look at it, aye? I’ve never built or modelled what I do on anyone else or what everyone else is doing. I’ve built my own business. For me, business is relationships; the people you have working for you, the people you work for, and the people you work with.

“Andrew’s been in despatch now for six years, and he still drives the Scania. Not because he has to, because he wants to. I still drive the Trident. Aside from the fact we both love driving trucks, you have a far better finger on the pulse if you know the jobs you’re servicing.

“Service and communication are all it is. Communication is free. If the truck’s going to be five minutes later than you thought, pick up the phone, tell them. Reputation is a brand.

“I still don’t go near big corporate contractual work – that’s a relationships thing, working with others, as well a personal thing.

“That head-to-toe-covering BS. We play by the rules when we have to, but otherwise it’s ‘ruggas’ and a singlet in our world. I won’t subject our staff to it and crazy stuff like that. Not only is it oppressive in summer, where’s the dignity and respect for people and their own ability to manage their lives and think for themselves? They’re not dumb. Why do you have to treat people like idiots for them to be safe?”

Truck purchases today often signify something in the life or service of whoever is getting the truck, the truck at the heart of this story being no exception.

“I’ve never really had a driver issue. People who have left of their own accord have either left for personal reasons – moving away or something – or they haven’t turned out to be what they said they were.

“We’re small and tight. There’s still only 14 people in the business – 18 trucks (not all worked), plus the subbies. We just run the right people and gear you need to meet demand.”

No one reading this would deny transport’s a hard game. As Skip said, even when you’re doing well, margins are good, and you have all the work in the world, it’s still a difficult game. But he doesn’t buy into the old adage that you can’t make money on rubber tires.

“No, rubbish, again, it’s about who you work for and with. When I started, there was really only Kelvyn Neville and me up here. They’re bloody good people to be in the community with, and we’ve been working together for over two decades now with barely a cross word.

“Nowadays, there’s a lot more players in the area.

“Because of how I operate, I get offers of work all the time from people. But I’m not a ‘you owe me because I gave you this’ person. When the B-train turned up, the phone started almost straight away. There’s enough to go round. Everyone can prosper if no one’s a prick.

“I love seeing new guys starting up and having a go. If they’re working for me, I’ll often tell the office to pay their bill the minute it’s in, shit, yeah! Every cent is make or break. Cash flow is king. And hey, you don’t know where they’ll end up and what they’ll remember.

“Likewise, I’m loyal to suppliers who have worked hard and supported me – those who go to the trouble to actually build a relationship. I hate undercutters, walking in pedalling ‘a better deal’. ‘Dude,’ I say. ‘Fifteen years that guy’s been coming in, and often just to say G’day, have a yarn, a cuppa. He knows me, our people, our business. I’m not going to jump for just dollars, here and there’.” Skip then laughs and tips his head back, “Mate! The worse ones are the guys who turn up again in a different shirt, working for the opposition, telling me theirs is now a better product. Oooh, that gets me! Best f#$! off before I let the Huntaway loose.

“Every cent the place has ever made has generally gone back into it in some way. We kitted this workshop out as tools and plant are an extension of your hands. The yard, the gear…

“Yes, there’s been opportunity to go crazy, especially recently, but that’s not us. We’ve paid for everything all the way. I think there’s going to be a correction in all this craziness at some point, and we’re not going to go into it hocked up. Mate, if it all changed tomorrow, touch wood, we’d have a better chance of riding it out.”

Of course, the hardest thing to enact in business is succession. It’s scuppered more promising enterprises than almost anything else. But when the founder is still intensely uncomfortable with any form of recognition and is at pains to reiterate, “Dude, I’m just Skip Golden”, you know the fine line that often separates achievement from ego is more like the Great Wall of China in this bloke. Thankfully our industry has many such people.

In my mind it’s never perfect employing, yet the onus is on you as the employer. What may save your arse for tomorrow will cost you next week if you go for the quick fix. But if you sift through the BS you can obtain and retain some amazing people, and I often remind myself we as a company would not be where we are without them!

“Both kids want to be involved, and I’m just stoked. Keeley (18) is off next year to do law, and I think Brodie (15) wants to come straight in. That’s fine, aye? It’s all here; he can start steam cleaning, workshop, driving, office. But he’ll predominantly be learning how to spread, chains on! Yeah, man, absolutely.

“If I buy a new piece of kit even now, and don’t tell the kids, Keeley especially, I’m in the shit big time. Hell yes!”

Apples? Trees? Falling? What is it, they say?

 

“Dude, I’m just Skip Golden”

If there’s one word you could never associate with 47-year- old Skip Golden, it’s ‘just’. He’s pushed boundaries and possibilities all his life, and in the act, looked into the abyss more times than most. Life in the middle of the bell curve is not his turf, never has been, never will be.

He has an innate sense of adventure and fun and gives off the vibe that he’s not crippled by overthinking. He’s incredibly loyal to those in his keep, care and service, and this impacts the extent and quality of his networks. His appears to be a simple philosophy; do the job to the best of your ability, send a bill, get paid, respect everyone involved, pay your own bills, and most of all, never think you’re bigger than the game.

Life for Skip is now a far cry from where it was in his formative years. A successful business, succession seems in hand and recently engaged to Jess.

As is the case with many of his ilk, nothing has changed in terms of work and focus. “Yeah, I work too many hours probably. But hey, I love it – the trucks, people, the challenge. When I started, I didn’t have five cents, and I’ve never been given a dollar.

“The Super Liner? Obviously, I just love trucks, the Mack thing from way back. I love what I do. Like I said, when we buy trucks, it often marks something for someone, an anniversary in the company maybe. The Super Liner arrived 21 years to the month that I started in business, but that was pure coincidence; it wasn’t intended. There’s no launch in Gulf Harbour or HSV and all that – trucks are my thing. This is something I can just feel a sense of achievement about as well as earn a buck with. It’s a personal thing. That after everything that happened, I came through it, and maybe this truck tells me I did okay in the end. I’ve helped others; I did okay.”

If we were looking for the perfect 400th issue story, we certainly found it. Like it or not, some people can’t help living a life that carries a message, and our hope of all hopes is there’s someone out there at a cross-roads, confronted with a decision, who may be impacted by Skip’s story. His is a truly incredible one. He’s jammed more in half a century than the bulk of us would fit in a whole one.

Our own late, dear, John Murphy had immense respect for this likeable larrikin from the north. It’s easy to see why. Principles, hard work, respect, and fun; they had a lot in common… must be a red hair thing?

But Skip Golden is also a living example of what a change in direction can yield. where ‘different’ decisions can lead. We say different because much of his business ethics today were, in all reality, forged in a furnace few of us have any comprehension of.

Messages, and takeaways from all this? Take your choice; there’s that many.

It’s never too late to do whatever it is you decide?

Every part of your life is of immense value and contributes to the outcome?

Your greatest investment will always be the relationships you forge?

Treat others as you want to be treated?

But let’s end where we started, and our man walking his best friend along the beach. His was a lesson well worth a thought, and in a way, one Skip’s applied to his business philosophy from the start – that we are indeed our brother’s keeper.

THE MACHINE

New Zealand got three of Mack’s 100-Year celebration trucks. One Trident went to that South Island bastion of all things Bulldog, Road Metals, and two Super Liners, one to Protranz Earthmoving in Christchurch and the Golden truck we’re featuring this month.

“I love the Australian outback thing and rural trucking generally, whether here or over there,” said Skip as we all stood back looking on. “I saw the news item in the magazine when they launched these and thought, ‘that’s me, right there.’ So I phoned Nick Kale at MTD and made some enquiries. It’s a lot of truck – maybe not that practical – but there’s a lot more in this than just what it is. And, hey, I was looking at everywhere I went in the Trident the other day, and there’s nowhere I couldn’t have got this and the B-train.”

The initial impact when you pull in the yard is the sheer size of the big gold Super Liner parked in front of the office. Those familiar with the outback will instantly think someone’s overshot the Cloncurry Saleyards or made a bum turn on the Sandover. Mechanically, it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us. Obviously, they’re a gold-dog truck, meaning proprietary components; the MP10 motor, 12-speed mDRIVE AMT, 2370B axles, and Air Ride suspension. What gives the Aussie gigs their real point of difference is all the necessities required to survive in the red centre; 1550 litres of fuel, 200 litres of DEF, ground clearance, the big house on the back, the Icepack, and the bullbar, of course.

Skip drew the practicality line at the GCM and specified a rear-end not required to ever drag six decks of Brahman or Santa Gertrudis cattle from Brunette Downs to Darwin (even though he’d love to). As such, the Golden Mack sports a 70-tonne GCM. Even so, full of fuel, DEF, milk in the fridge, and the driver having just had lunch, the big fella tips the scales at 12 tonne empty.

The operational department is burgundy Bulldog at it?s absolute best. The sleeper is a home, plain and simple, and there?s no missing the occasion this truck was built to celebrate.

The truck is dripping with 100-Year celebration additions both inside and out. The entire cab and sleeper interior is decked out in Mack’s burgundy Ultra leather with a grouse illuminating commemorative logo on the sleeper’s back wall.

Both occupants get 100- Year ISRI Big Boy air ride seats, the dash is woodgrain with full gauge pack, there’s commemorative infotainment system, telematics, techy HVAC, fridge, TV, and storage for Africa… Sorry, Australia.

Interestingly, as road transport here has an ever more Cape Reinga-to- Bluff flavour, the Icepack ‘after hours’ cab coolers and electron suppliers are becoming increasingly popular, so seeing one hanging off the rails doesn’t look as exotic as it once did.

“I’m glad I got it when I did,” says Skip, “The burgundy is going with the arrival of the Anthem evidently. I made enquiries, and it’s already a ‘no’.”

Outside, the big visual impact comes courtesy of the 58” high-rise sleeper, the commemorative bonnet with one-off side plates, a custom square-cut grille with grab handles either side of ole mate ‘Bully’, and a special King Bars FRUP bullbar made especially for the occasion.

There’s also a logo-ed stone-guard, stainless-steel sun visor, extended intake snorkels with Ram intakes, 100-Year exhaust shields, stainless-steel monogrammed under-cab trim, polished alloy tanks, and guards. It looks superb.

Paint-wise, the base colours came ex-factory, and then Skip delivered the Mack to his mate and truck signage supremo, Cliff Mannington of Truck Signs in Mount Maunganui.

“What he did was out of this world. He’s an artist with immense passion in every sense of the word.”

Cliff hand-brushed the scrollwork and pin-stripping on the truck, and the clean, classy result of his work belies what’s actually there. In every way, it’s a truck that draws you in, and the closer you get, the more you’re rewarded by Cliff’s talents.

Of course, ‘trailering’ a truck like this when you can’t hook three 5-axle Haulmark Boats behind to balance the overall look is not a simple thing. To convey length on a rig like this in New Zealand, you need to keep the height down, so tipping gear is ideal. Enter Matt Gillies and Transfleet Trailers.

As it turns out, the 6-axle tipping B-train that resulted from his efforts made the unit even more unique and special.

“It was the last set-up built like this,” says Matt. “The VDAM rule change late last year means you can’t replicate these trailers as they are. People have seen them, and I’ve been approached, but it’s a case of ‘sorry, we can’t replicate that set of trailers exactly’.

“Aside from that, it’s great when someone comes in and challenges the norm. It was an exciting project to work on for sure.”

The trailers ride on Hendrickson INTRAAX ZMD axles. “We designed and engineered the trailers to take the shockless axles,” says Matt.

“We wanted to do something a bit special at the back, too, so we made up the ‘Golden’ fill plate. It helps set the whole thing off.”

Utility is well accommodated with JOST electric landing legs and Razor roll-over covers. Watching the landing legs work is certainly impressive if you’ve been a ‘winder’ your whole life. The only issue really is, you do have to wonder where the calories are burnt anymore on a unit like this? Combine the legs with the Razor tarps, and if you’re really thinking about it, the absence of a gear lever, all the way down to no window winders even. Thank goodness for two things: one, you have to climb in, and two, Skip’s a whippet.

“It’s built to jack-knife tip if I want it to as well,” Skip says. “Initially, I was a bit worried about the height. Once you’re over 3.4m, you start to limit the loaders it can go under. But it’s come out all good there.

“Because the tractor is not going to suit everything – and to be honest, I don’t actually want it to do everything – other tractors will tow the train also. I’m looking at options there.”

Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels take care of the shoe shine, and you’d be hard to please if you thought the whole thing looked anything but spectacular.

Razor tarps and JOST electric landing legs make the day as easy as it could possibly be.

Time for a strop up the road to a local quarry in Muriwai. It’s a good old climb up into the cab, which is classic, modern Super Liner. Look rearward into the sleeper though, and the visual impact of space engenders a flashback to Cory Duggan’s fat-cab K200 Aerodyne. In terms of feel, it’s very different, and with its level of amenities, this really is a home. You could live in this thing with zero issues, and plenty over the ditch do.

The MP10 is more than a match for any mass and at a mere 50 tonnes on this particular trip, the big Bully accelerated away up the hill from Skip’s yard easily ticking the mDRIVE’s cogs off the ‘to do’ list. Out on North Auckland’s winding hinterland road network, the big donk more often than not held the long sprocket as it crested the rolling country. Again, there is a lot of truck, but point-and- go is superbly stable, Skip chatting about all manner of things with a rock-steady tiller in hand.

One thing that was instantly apparent was its attention- seeking capabilities. Once a Mack was a chiropractor’s dream in terms of the ride dynamic, now, it’s the necks of those stealing a second or third look. It’s one of those trucks that would draw a second glance from an environmentalist librarian.

But for all that, this is no bull in a china shop. Even the tight tun off a narrow, hopelessly inadequate SH16 into the quarry, through a standard farm gate and onto a single gravel track, was a one-swing wonder. I’d argue a 909 or K200 K-Whopper wouldn’t have done that and got the rear trolley past the post.

Two amazing days, and here we were sitting in the quarry, quietly looking on at a spectacular piece of kit on a single glorious day that broke a rainy week. For that reason alone, I can attest there were more souls gathered looking on than a physical roll-call would account for.

It was all pretty cool, something almost 150 years in the making. The journey so far of a famous marque in this part of the world, and the journey so far of this particular truck’s owner.

One hell of a truck. One hell of a story.