“From horse and dray”

14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 9, 2018

Celebrating 150 years in transport is a truly astonishing achievement, yet the New Zealand Express Transport brand continues to be strong.

On 4 November 2017 New Zealand Express Transport celebrated 150 years in the transport industry with an event put together by a dedicated and enthusiastic team of company staff.

The gathering consisted of current and former employees of the company, clients and service providers, and a number of current trucks polished up and on display, as well as the 1970 KDLC5 Bedford truck restored by Kevin ‘Barney‘ McGrath and Colin Richens.

The beginning
Campbell & Crust was founded in 1867 by the original partnership of Duncan Campbell and Henry Crust, who described themselves as ‘General Carriers, Customs, Shipping, Baggage and Express Forwarding Agents‘. The name ‘New Zealand Express Company Limited‘ was added to the company title at the time the express forwarding department was added to operations in the entity‘s early trading years. The company policy was ‘To advance with the times, to make every provision for all possible requirements, to further extend its operations and to meet the demand of ever increasing traffic‘, which the current general manager, John Petrie, said he can clearly see holds true in the business today.

An Austin truck portside. The company’s upmarket image and quality ethos was clearly evident. 

Henry Crust was one of the New Zealand Express Company founders
with partner Duncan Campbell. Campbell died 16 years into the venture. 

Born in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, England, Henry Crust was the son of a farmer. The family travelled to Victoria, Australia, where from the age of four, Henry was educated. Arriving in New Zealand in 1862 Dunedin was the place to be, with the discovery of gold leading to immense growth in the region. Henry worked as a stock rider until starting the company with Duncan Campbell. Four years later on 27 April 1871, he married Jessie Wood, and the couple produced a family of three sons and three daughters.

Unfortunately, in 1883 Duncan Campbell died, leaving Henry Crust to take over as the sole owner, the company becoming known as Crust & Crust (Henry possibly bringing his son into the business, who at the time was running the Invercargill branch). In 1895 the New Zealand Express Company Limited became a public company.

With Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland growing in size and importance the company grew with them, opening new branches with further operations in smaller towns like Timaru, Invercargill and Wanganui among others. By now the company owned large numbers of trucks, wagons and drays.

Along with running the company Henry Crust was very active in the community, becoming a Dunedin councillor between 1898 and 1907 and chairman of the reserves committee.

By 1906 the New Zealand Express Company had become a pioneer in the construction of reinforced concrete office blocks, completing a new seven-storey building in Christchurch, the tallest building in New Zealand at the time. The building survived until the September 2010 earthquake, after which it was demolished. A similar building erected in Dunedin a few years later and proudly displaying The New Zealand Express Co name, still stands.

The company’s 150th Anniversary logo.

In the early 1900s the New Zealand Express Company had also become agents for the British Orwell electric battery powered trucks, along with being the importer for Dennis and Studebaker trucks, brands they ran in their ever-expanding fleet. Like the steam engine the electric motor could produce 100 percent of its torque from the first revolution, and with no transmission the electric trucks were ideal for local deliveries and heavy duty hauling over short distances.

On 10 May 1926, aged 78, Henry Crust died following a prolonged illness. At the time of his death he was also chairman of directors at the Nokomai Hydraulic Sluicing Company. He was widely admired by many, and it was said that it was a pleasure to meet him whether on a business or personal level.

Tough times and new paths
The death of Henry Crust, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression of the 1930s that followed, saw the New Zealand Express Company broken up, with various regional offices sold to independent owners. The new operators still ran under the New Zealand Express Company name but with their region in brackets. The red and cream livery of that era is still on the trucks today.

In 1935 the Auckland branch was purchased by Maurice Simson, establishing itself as NZE (Auckland) Ltd. Eventually all of the other NZ Express outlets were absorbed by other firms, including Christchurch, which was purchased by Freightways.

With the Auckland branch performing well, in 1968 Simson acquired Wellington business Morris and Campbell, which became NZ Express Wellington. Once Wellington was set up, in 1974 Simson made his next move and acquiredChristchurch business Brightlings Transport, changing the name to Brightlings Express and subsequently NZ Express Christchurch Ltd.

Brightlings Transport, which was started by John Brightling, began operations in the same year as the original NZ Express Company back in 1867. If anything it was a strategic purchase given the company‘s depot on Chapmans Road in Woolston was in the perfect location between Lyttelton and the Christchurch CBD.

The Simson family also purchased local Christchurch business J Dayle & Co who held the Firestone Tyre (today known as Bridgestone Tyres) transport contract. NZ Express still provides container transport services to this day, and in turn Bridgestone is the tyre service provider to NZ Express.

Lined up and resplendent for the 150th anniversary celebrations. We‘re sure Henry was proudly there somewhere.

Post deregulation
In the 1980s deregulation contributed to the closing of the Auckland and Wellington branches (although freight forwarding activities continued in these cities until they were sold off in 1997), leaving Christchurch standing alone as the sole NZ Express branch.

At the start of the 1990s NZ Express acquired local company Horton & Bidwell along with setting up a NZ Express Freight facility at Christchurch Airport. The company at this stage was running a variety of trucks including European brands Volvo and Scania, with a large percentage of owner-drivers adding their own style to the fleet, which totalled 36 trucks. The work was allocated on a first in, first served basis, depending on vehicle suitability.

This style continued until 2005 when the Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) acquired NZ Express Christchurch Ltd from the Simson family, mainly for the land and rail siding on Chapmans Road, and the container handling services.

A W Model Kenworth A-train of early  to mid 80s vintage.

Nineteen metres in length and able to load to a 39 tonne GCM. 

A contemporary Kenworth K model, 23m in length and able to load to 59 tonne GCM.

As the LPC had no intention of being a transport services provider, this part of the company was put up for sale and purchased by Wilson Bulk Transport, Philip Wareing Limited and the Petrie family, which led to the name change, NZ Express (2006) Ltd.

Once the new owners took over the reins they invested in new dispatch management software that in conjunction with Navman GPS, allowed the dispatchers to send job orders directly to the trucks, significantly improving efficiency.

Faced with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008/9, the ownership group was forced to make some very tough business decisions.

John Petrie, who was the general manager at the time, had the unenviable task of informing some of the owner-drivers that they were no longer required, reducing the fleet from 36 to 24. It was done to save the jobs of the remaining employees, and not doing so would have placed the entire business in jeopardy. By doing so John, who admits this was one of his darkest moments in his time as a manager, saved the company, allowing it to carry on.

With the GFC behind them, NZE had a go at anything they could, from packing logs into containers, working scrap boats (putting scrap bins on container trailers), and container transport, devanning, storage, and bulk load out for cement transport.

Over-dimensional loads have always been a feature of NZ Express‘s work, transporting houses and machinery amongst other items. The company recently facilitated the shipside unload and transport to Kaikoura of 96 accommodation units used to house the staff working on the November 2016 earthquake restoration. These units were all over-width and had to be transported at night through the inland road, which proved quite a challenge as the road conditions were not ideal.

Samantha Fraser’s no stranger to a container lifter of the page of New Zealand Trucking magazine. New Zealand Express (2006) Ltd has been a leader in giving women equal opportunity in the transport and logistics industry. 

Another significant part of business today is providing a container devanning service on their purpose-built site at 32 Kennaway Road, which was opened for business back in 2014. Container contents – which can include anything and everything from a 5kg carton to power poles and motor vehicles – can also be stored and delivered as required. Basically, if it fits in a container the team at NZ Express can handle it!

The current fleet of 41 units has been upgraded with some combinations able to transport 32 tonne containers. Four units are capable of carting 3×20 foot containers – two of which are empty – and there‘s a Kenworth K200 day cab 8×4 tractor unit matched to a Fruehauf 40-20 B-train set with a gross operating weight capability of 59 tonne. There are also six units that can tip a container carrying bulk commodities, as well as a transporter for carrying over-height containers.

Containers make up a large part of the daily work and the 10 side lifters that deliver the containers onto client sites are kept busy, with the newest of these units able to cart 28 tonne containers, a far cry from the early days of a 19 tonne maximum.

NZ Express (2006) Ltd also prides itself on being one of the leading companies in the country when it comes to the recruitment of females into the transport and warehousing industry, with six women currently driving and five in the dispatch/warehouse operations. With an average staff age of 44, they are well below the national average for the industry.

John Petrie is very proud of the fact that younger people want to come and work for the company, something the industry in general desperately needs.

All aspects of container cartage and handline feature hugely in modern day operations.