From the get-go!

In Short Story April 2023, April 20239 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMay 22, 2023

It’s not surprising that Chris Berghan has found an occupational happy place at Martinborough Transport. Like the Hawkins brothers, he’s a vocational trucker to the core, evidenced by all we’ve discussed in the main story, and the uncanny similarities in their respective starts.

Chris is also the son of a one-man, hard-working, one-truck enterprise. His dad Murray Berghan ran Waipukurau-based M&D Freight. A daily freight run between Palmerston North and Napier that put food on the family table with a Mercedes-Benz 1428 4×2 tractor and semi the linchpin asset. Chris would accompany Murray at every opportunity he could.

“I remember loading around on Malden Street in Palmerston and seeing the blue R&L Main trucks loading pipe at IPLEX to head north. Man, they did it for me, those guys. Those International T-Lines and the like… I used to watch through the fence while they were loading.”

Chris was out of school as soon as the educational system allowed, securing his Class 5 via the dispensation mechanism when he was just 16. At that point, Murray purchased a smaller runabout truck, putting Chris on the big truck and taking the flea himself. How cool is that?

“I did that for three years until I was 19. It was a great grounding; loading, covering, the whole thing.”

Always at home regardless of where the road leads.

With itchy feet to pursue something meatier, Chris went to Bushett’s Transport in 2000, starting off on a Mitsubishi FV400 with a 15-speed Roadranger. “It said 400, but it was more 250, I think,” laughs Chris. “There was no shortage of gear changing, that’s for real. I did wool, fert, tip work, and occasionally a crate would go on – all local stuff. An ‘apprenticeship’ in rural cartage, you might say.”

The Mitsubishi gave way to his first Scania, and that meant a wider reach into the regional work, but still not the big game.

“Graeme Lowes was the boss there. He was a hard, old-school boss. You didn’t always like it at the time but, in hindsight, I’m grateful. It’s those uncompromising old types who mould you in many ways.”

An ERF EC11 truck-and-trailer stock combination changed the game, getting Chris out to the country’s boundaries. Unfortunately, the 11-litre Cummins in the truck wasn’t the most reliable, and although the truck was extremely comfortable and lovely to drive, Chris laughs when he says it was on the maintenance team’s most-hated trucks list.

With two years at Bushetts under his belt, he went to Tom Twist’s Twist Trucking. However, a call from his former employer and the offer of a big step-up, meant it was only a short stay at Twists.

“Ben Allen was coming off the Kenworth K104B Aerodyne he drove at Bushetts and going into the office. They offered the seat to me, and I took it.”

Following a run of crappy luck in 2004, Chirs found himself a bit disillusioned with the industry generally. “I thought, ‘bugger this’, and got out of trucks for a bit, and headed for Australia to test the overseas waters. I worked on field tractors, before crossing the Pacific for the US tomato harvest.”

Time is a tonic, and travel’s a bug. Late that same year, he was back in New Zealand, driving trucks bearing the famous red-and-white Hawke’s Bay livery of Farmers Transport. It would become a place the young driver would find a sense of stability and familiarity, returning several times as he explored life in his adventurous 20s.

“I did a good turn at Farmers in total, and certainly got to know the road between Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne. My first stint ended in 2007 when I went back to Australia, this time the mines, before heading to the UK to play rugby and generally have a look around.”

In 2010 – now 28 – Chris returned to Farmers Transport for another 12 months before heading for a third tour in Aussie. His intention was four months with RTA in the Northern Territory, but a ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia at the time cut that short. He headed for Western Australia, where Derek Mason, a bloke originally from Ekatahuna, owned a trucking company called Transplus. “I drove B-doubles and AB-triples for Derek. It was really good.”

In 2012, he was back, settling into his first four-year stint in the green of Martinborough Transport. His first six months was spent in a Freightliner Argosy, before reacquainting himself with the Scania product. A R620 Streamline with a 14-speed manual, the truck pulled one of the early “big trailers” at 10.67m.

“I went up to Gordons at Taupo after about four years at Martinborough, but the job wasn’t quite working out as I’d expected. The ‘Marty’ boys had a couple leave in quick succession and Jared called me up.” Chris gives a chuckle: “His timing was impeccable.”

It was 2018 and back to a Scania, this time an R620 with an Opticruise. “I missed the gear lever initially, and that must have been an earlier generation auto. You had to put it in manual in the tight places or harder climbs. Even the Saddle… it would get itself confused, and you’d have to intervene. Overall though, that truck was one out of the box. It was a real good machine and never missed a beat. It always went like an absolute rocket. I reckon it was because it towed an older trailer that had been chopped and stretched. It meant it was heavy at 27 tonne all up, and that made the engine work a little all the time. This one doesn’t need manual intervention ever. The gearbox is tuned better, for sure. It just sorts itself out.”

Eight-and-half-years in total at the company, and Chris says it’s a great place to work. His job takes him from Northland to Southland and everywhere in between. “Mum lives in Aussie but has a home in Waipuk [Waipukurau] and so if I am home, I just head up there. I have no fixed place of my own at the moment. I normally start a week with enough gear to last me a fortnight.

“The [Hawkins] brothers are all into it. It’s a trucker’s trucking company is the best way to put it, I guess. Things like the extra bunk for the nephew – it all adds up. They want young people involved and to join the industry – to live it. The facilities are pretty bang on, and the truck…. well, just look.”