In Freightliner, Driven to Succeed14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 26, 2020

There‘s no magic formula for determining if something will make a good story. In the case of Jess Mead, however, there‘s a unique trifecta: she‘s a young, female owner-driver who just so happens to have snapped up one of the last 110” Raised Roof Argosys to be sold off the floor in New Zealand.

I like to fly under the radar,” says Jess Mead, “but it‘s kind of difficult being a bit ‘out there‘.” Purple highlighted hair, bold tattoos and a shiny new 110” Argosy will put you ‘out there‘, that‘s for sure. Spending a few hours with Jess and her new truck, I‘d say ‘free-spirited‘ is more apt for this Matamata native. Jess now calls Tauranga home, “or the truck – wherever…” That‘s no throwaway comment. Jess lives for the road and has no issue living in her cab (which she‘s made a little more comfortable with a few choice upgrades, but more on that later). “When you‘ve got a mortgage on a truck you might as well live in it,” she says with a smile, explaining that the open road is her happy place. She‘s a real petrolhead too, with diesel in her veins. “I‘ve been into motors my whole life. When I was about 10 years old Dad and I went to the Beach Hop and there was an old XR station wagon for sale. We bought it and fixed it up. I couldn‘t do much mechanically, but I could sand back the paint and make sure all the nuts and bolts were cleaned so they could go get chromed.”

Photo: 29-year-old Jess Mead reckons she‘s one of the youngest female owner-drivers in New Zealand – if not the youngest

So what put the diesel into her veins and steered her towards the heavy stuff? “The main thing that got me into trucks was the fact that I love driving. I used to drive from Matamata to Whangarei to work at McDonald‘s for four hours, and then drive back. I‘ve always loved driving; it‘s my happy place, where I‘m most comfortable. I wanted to do it for myself but also to prove to everyone that I could do it. It‘s not a job to me, never has been, and it‘s even cooler when you can drive your own truck and make your own money.” While she started driving at the age of 24, in truth, Jess‘s journey into trucking really started at the age of 14. “I was working in a service station and I said, ‘I‘m going to drive a petrol tanker one day‘. Everyone laughed at me but I said I‘d do it, and I did. I didn‘t like the tanker job, but…”

Photo: Freightliner‘s typical detailing is soon to be enhanced

That was about 18 months ago, before which Jess had kicked off her trucking career with J Swap driving roading trucks, and later did a stint at Tomoana on curtainsiders. “My favourite gig so far would have to be Tomoana. I always swore there was no way I‘d go near curtainsiders because they looked like too much hard work, but I got put on them at Tomoana and I‘ve never looked back. That was the best job in every aspect, I loved that job so much and Tomoana was a great company to work for.” So why did Jess leave? Well, that‘s where the Argosy comes in. Jess bought it in September 2019 with a plan in mind – get a truck, find a driver, tap into some extra income … or so she thought. “I was gutted to leave Tomoana but I wasn‘t making any money working for someone and paying someone else to drive my truck. It didn‘t make sense. I thought the truck would pay for itself, but it didn‘t quite work like that,” she says. This was how her journey into the world of the owner-driver came to be. Now 29, Jess hopes that she‘s the country‘s youngest female owner-driver who operates alone.

Photo: All-American control centre

“Everyone thinks I would be, but I don‘t know,” she says. (If anyone knows of other young female owner-drivers like Jess, let us know – we‘d love to find out too! – Ed.) “This works for me, though. I absolutely love driving my truck,” Jess says, adding that the Argosy was the natural choice for her. Having steered one at Tomoana – and liked it very much – she knew what she was in for. Then, once she heard they were going out of production, her mind was made up. “I wasn‘t planning on getting a brand new one,” she says, “but I saw this one at Trucks & Trailers and thought ‘oh crap, I‘ll give it a go‘ … and I got it!” According to Trucks & Trailers sales consultant Callan Short, this is one of the very last 110” Raised Roof Argosys to hit New Zealand roads. “It‘s hard to say whose truck was the last,” he says.

Photo: Big cab coming round.

It has the usual DD15 rated at 417kW (560hp), coupled to an 18-speed Roadranger and riding on rear air suspension. Jess has added a few extra lights, black mud flaps instead of white (with central ones added between the two rears) and a set of Alcoa Dura-Bright wheels. The interior features a double bed and a bunk, and Jess is slowly adding her touch to the cab. “I‘ve had the dash covered so it‘s not just cheap plastic. My old man‘s an upholsterer so I‘ll be getting him to change the leather stitching to purple and make me a new gearshift surround.” While Jess has added a fridge, she aims to have one properly fitted under the bed and install a gas cooker in the cab. She‘d also like separate cooling so she can have 1 some aircon when sleeping in the cab during summer. “But all of that costs money. I‘ll do it as I can.” It‘s worth mentioning here that, while Jess has a couple Mitsubishi Evos in varying states of repair back home, she uses the Argosy as everyday transport too. “It‘s my 10-tonne taxi,” she laughs.

Making the truck as comfortable as possible helps to make life on the road a little easier, because as Jess says, the industry still lags in facilities for the fairer sex. “Female drivers are still a tiny percentage of the industry, but we should still celebrate them. Sure, there are more than there were say five years ago. When I started driving I knew one, now I know about eight. “But, I honestly don‘t think part of the industry is completely ready. When I started doing roading at Swaps there were no toilets [for ladies]. It‘s gotten better but I‘m still not convinced that the entire industry is ready,” Jess says. Jess‘s favourite part of the job is the social aspect of it. “I love getting out there and talking with the guys, the camaraderie of it all, giving each other shit, having a laugh.”

Photo: Jess‘s Scarlett Trucking LTD logo sits discreetly either side of the cab

Photo: 110” Argosy plushly equipped with creature comforts easily at hand

Despite this, she says, it‘s still hard being a young female truckie. “You‘ve got to run twice as fast just to stand still. You‘ve got to have a pretty thick skin… I encourage female truck drivers but they have to have a thick skin. I may be a girl, but I can do everything the guys can do,” she says. And do anything she does; Jess is happy to cart anything to anywhere as long as she can organise a return load. She may have only just started on her journey as an owner-driver, but she‘s wasted no time setting herself up for the next stage of her career. “In five years‘ time I‘ll have another truck, because this one will be paid off,” she says. “I‘ll get a Scania next; I‘ve got my American now and I‘ll get my Euro next. But I‘m never going to get rid of the Argosy. I don‘t know if I‘ll run it, because staff is the hardest part of running a business, getting the right person to look after your gear.

Photo: Rego says it all

It‘s my truck so it must be done my way,” she says. On that point, one area Jess reckons girls definitely have the upper hand over the guys is how they look after their gear. So much so that she‘s actually toyed with the idea of starting an all-female trucking company. “I think that would be so cool,” she grins. “The general consensus in the industry is that girls look after the gear better than the guys do. A lot of the big companies have told me that they would hire a woman any day over a man. Again, it depends on where I‘m sitting in five years‘ time.” Somehow, we don‘t think this will be the last time we‘ll hear from this free-spirited young truckie.