Farm fresh

In Afterlifer, February 202311 MinutesBy Carl KirkbeckMarch 17, 2023

In 1967, when the Coxhead family bought their farm in Kaipaki on the outskirts of Hamilton, they needed a new farm truck. Over the years, an endless list of chores has led to a succession of trucks, including the current 1988 Nissan-Diesel CWA45 6×4 workhorse.

Sit around the dinner table with Graeme Coxhead and his son Peter and find yourself in the presence of two of the most jovial hard cases you are ever likely to meet. Their laugh-a-minute tales of farm life come so thick and fast that you’ll find your ribs hurting and the tears rolling as if you had watched a Friday night Benny Hill marathon.

But among the laughter and frivolity generated by the fables of rural antics and experiences, you find solid business nous.

“We have always owned our own gear,” explains Graeme. “We needed a truck for the new farm. There was a lot of work ahead of us – races to construct, fertiliser to collect. You want these materials on site exactly when you need them, not two weeks later because of transport delays. On a week-long holiday at Mt Maunganui, I saw an old Thames Trader that a local builder had for sale. It was powered by a four-cylinder Fordson Major diesel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a tipper, so we were manually loading and unloading it by shovel – not ideal, and something had to change.

“So my dad tracked us down a three-stage hydraulic ram to start with. Then he found an old body for sale in a wrecker’s yard in Huntly. We jumped into the old Trader and got straight over there to the wreckers and purchased it, as well as a stock crate they had sitting there. We loaded it all up and headed back to the farm and into the workshop to start fitting it all up to the new truck. We were big- rigging now, no more shovelling,” laughs Graeme. “Gee, we did some loads in that old girl.

“We used to get our metal from the old quarry at Karapiro, down by the dam. We would load it until the mudflaps dragged on the ground – that was how you scaled back in those days,” says Graeme. “You would have the foot to the floor, full bore in first gear and she would just make it back up and out of the pit. We definitely got a sweat up on the brow of the old girl, that’s for sure.

“But you always want to go bigger. So, eventually, we ended up getting a 300 petrol TK Bedford, and it did a good job. The mileage was starting to get up there, and with it also being petrol, we started to look for another replacement. “Dad was at a friend’s wedding in Hawera and got chatting with some good mates, who pointed him to a near-new, 19,000km 4×2 Commer Hi-Line. It was fitted out with a 21ft wooden deck and an underbody hoist. It was a damn scary thing to tip. You would be tipping off and watching it in the mirrors, and it’d be leaning way over. You’d think, ‘Geez, it’s going to go over,’ but it never did, thank goodness. That old Commer was a damn good truck to us as well. It only ever really let us down a couple of times.

“I was in it one day – would be 30 years ago now – heading back to the farm with another load from the quarry. It was raining flat out, and up ahead, I saw this cop waving me over. He put me on the scales, and I was a ton and a half over on the front axle. The cop absolutely read me the riot act and told me how bad and naughty I was. He gave me a $1200 fine and sent me on my way. So back in the cab, I got. I pulled out onto the road and off I went. Next thing he is back behind me again, lights flashing and sirens screaming. I pull over, jump out and ask him, ‘What the f@&k do you want now?’, to which he accused me of taking his ticket book. I told him, ‘I haven’t got your effin’ ticket book. All I have is one of the effin’ tickets out of it that you just gave me.’ So he calmed down a bit and had another look and it was in his back pocket.

“The thing that was a bit on the nose was that he was actually a Wellington-based cop who had been to Auckland for a court case. He was now making his way back home to Wellington, stopping people along the way, issuing them tickets to help pay for his trip up north. What a guy. However, the one nugget of advice he mentioned was that had we been in a 6×4, he would not have even batted an eyelid and would have left us alone. So that was it, we needed to find ourselves a 6×4.”

Graeme says they started looking immediately. “First up, we came across a D-series Ford, but it had far too many Ks on the clock. So we kept searching.

“Another chance conversation with a good mate – a manager for Waitomo Brenan – alerted us to the Nissan Diesel. It was sitting at the Pukekohe depot as it could not be legally used. The tank on it was Australian and could not be certified for New Zealand. So in the car and off to Pukekohe it was.

“One of the drivers took us for a blast up the road, and it was pretty easy to see that this was the truck for us. Waitomo Brenan already had a new Ford on the way to replace the Nissan Diesel, so a three-way deal was put together. We would buy the Nissan Diesel from Waitomo Brenan for $65,000. They would get their new Ford, with our old Commer being the trade-in for the new Ford. Deal done. The very next morning, we got a call from Nissan Diesel in Auckland saying, ‘We believe you have bought a second-hand CWA45?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have,’ to which they responded with, ‘We will give you $75,000 for it.’’’ I replied, ‘No thanks. We are quite happy with our purchase.’ So, yes, it was a good deal, and we have never looked back.”

About six weeks later, the new Ford turned up at Waitomo Brenan, and the Nissan Diesel was ready to collect. The first thing they did when Graeme and Peter got it home was remove the decommissioned tank.

“The old alloy tank ended up in the ground beside the cowshed as an effluent tank – a welcome bonus. It was then off to the team at Cambridge Welding to have the tipping flat deck and hydraulics fitted. Cambridge Welding do all our work. They are a great bunch who has always been there to help us out when we have needed them,” says Graeme.

“It has been a fantastic truck and continues to be. You just can’t fault it. It is so versatile. One day, it’s silage bales, the next its fert, then palm kernel. There is never a dull moment for it; the wheels are always turning.

“The places that we have taken the old Nissan Diesel would make your hair curl. Seriously, with the Roadranger, you just grab deep reduction, and she’ll crawl out of just about anywhere.

“It has been a great investment. The first night after purchasing it, I was laying awake thinking, ‘What have I done spending $65k on a farm truck?’ Now 30 years on, she has more than proven her worth, and if we keep looking after her, there might just be another 30 in her.”

Peter jumps in at this point and says, “Hey, Dad. Tell Carl about the time we split a plastic airline in the Commer heading to the works on Sunday morning with a load of bulls for the Monday kill and ended up stopped in the middle of the northbound lanes right outside the orchid house on the Bombay Hills and blocked the traffic.” With that, Graeme’s eyes light up.

Oh geez, here we go again…