Heavy with ambition

In October 2023, Driven to Succeed14 MinutesBy Alison VerranNovember 17, 2023

Picture this: young Josh Adamson washing trucks at J Swap Contractors in Matamata. On completion, the truck needs to be moved off the wash. Driver Mike says to Josh, ‘You get in and move it’ — the perfect opportunity for a keen young fella, encouraging him to succeed.

I’ll always remember that,” comments Josh, “being allowed to move the gear and park it up.” We’re riding with Josh in his Kenworth T904 with a Cat C15 and over 1,400,000km on the clock. It’s a fantastic ride up Rocky Cutting Road in the hills behind Welcome Bay in Tauranga. The road is currently closed due to major slips in the area. We’re heading up to collect a 16-tonne digger that has been helping to rebuild the road, delivering it to a farm on Poripori Road on the other side of the city. Josh has only been on this Kenworth for three weeks but has been part of the J Swap heavy haulage team for six months.

At only 22, Josh operates the gear like he’s been doing it for years. In fact, it’s only taken four years from obtaining his Class 2, now commanding his T904 towing a three-rows-of-four widening trailer with a 47-tonne gross load. The next step for Josh is a four-rows-of-four quad trailer, carting up to 59-tonne gross, to enable him to move bigger machinery.

A selection of trucks from Josh’s driving career so far, illustrating his growth at J Swap, starting with the little Hino 500.

“I get around a bit, doing this job,” says Josh. “I’ve been to Whangarei in the north and Wellington in the south. I haven’t yet made it to the South Island, but I’m hoping that will happen.

“I love driving through towns in the T904. People are always looking up at it, with the high, long bonnet. Then they see a young fella driving it! Another great part of this job is that I also get to drive the machines. It adds variety to the job.”

Josh’s interest in trucks started at an early age, growing up on a farm at Te Poi. “Chapmans had a yard at the end of the road. I got hooked on trucks, watching them go past. Then Dad finished farming and went driving trucks. I would look up at them and think, ‘They look very cool, I want to do that one day.’ And now I’m doing it!”

Josh would visit his grandparent’s home on a main road in Matamata. “I used to sit on their fence and arm pump at all the trucks. It kept me happy for hours. I’m sure their neighbours hated it though!” Fence-sitting was a popular pastime for Josh – his primary school was on SH29, so he would regularly sit on the school fence and watch the trucks go by. “My creative writing at school was always about trucks, too.”

Knowing the trucking industry was for him, as a teenager, Josh would cycle for half an hour from his home to Waharoa to wash trucks for Whiteline. “That was pretty much my first job involving trucks. Dad worked there, and I ended up driving a loader in their bulk store when I left school.”

Determined to get into the career he wanted, Josh approached J Swap Contractors for an after-school and weekend job washing trucks. His keenness and hard work paid off when the job progressed to something more. “They offered me a type of cadetship, where they would put me through my licence classes to get me where I wanted to be. I had always seen the Swap trucks and admired them, and now I’m part of the furniture,” Josh says with a laugh.

“I started out on a four-wheeler Hino, just round town, doing local metal deliveries. I would also load palm kernels and go to local farms and fill up their stock food troughs. At the time, I thought it was a pretty shit job, but I look back now, and it was a pretty cruisy job. I would just tip off, fill the bins and then shovel it around to do a tidy job.”

Moving up to Class 4, Josh moved on to a larger Hino, followed by a Kenworth with a bulk bin, carrying out palm kernel deliveries. After driving a few more trucks in the fleet, a more permanent option became available, and Josh found himself behind the wheel of a Kenworth T401 with a Cat C12 engine. During lockdown, this Kenworth took him on deliveries around the Coromandel Peninsula.

Class 5 was achieved at just 19 years old, and Josh moved up to a Kenworth T401 truck and trailer unit, running at 45 tonne. “I remember telling people that I couldn’t believe I was only 19 and had my Class 5. Everything just fell into place. I’ve never felt like I’m working. I don’t wake up and think, ‘Oh, I have to go to work’. I just love driving. I’ve always got stuck in and got the job done.”

A very young person with so much enthusiasm and drive can bring questions from industry veterans. “Old fellas often ask me, ‘Why would you want to drive trucks? I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I’m over it. It’s not worth it.’ I would say to them, ‘But I have the same enthusiasm you had 30 years ago. It’s totally worth it.’ I enjoy every minute, and getting paid to drive around the country is great.

Collecting a 16-tonne digger from Rocky Cutting Road.

“They have to remember how keen they were when they started. Trucking back then was different, though. There are so many more restraints these days. I have to admit, most old fellas I’ve come across are happy to share their knowledge. I have always asked questions, even when I realised it was a dumb question. I look up to the older guys for knowledge and experience. I’ve got a great workmate, Mike Haskett. He’s been at Swaps for 30-something years. He touches base with me every day to check how things are going. I really appreciate him giving me his time.”

For his part, Mike says it’s great to have a young one who listens to what you say and is willing to learn. Josh continues, “My dispatcher, Dan Pollock, would rather me ring and ask to get things right. He’s always happy to help.”

Dan is impressed with Josh’s genuine enthusiasm for the industry and says the young man has always been interested in heavy haulage. When he was on the bulk trucks, he often helped the transporting guys, loading and unloading their gear. “The biggest thing with Josh is that he listens. If he keeps going the way he’s going, he’ll be on even bigger gear in no time. He’s an all-rounder. He’s pretty much at the point where he can do any job we give him on any gear. I have a lot of trust in him,” he says.

J Swap has a sizeable fleet, with plenty of senior drivers to help when needed. “I’m really lucky to have a great team around me. They kind of take me under their wing. I’ve just fitted in with the team. I don’t have to try hard to do what I do; it just seems to happen.”

A positive attitude is the reason for a lot of Josh’s achievements. He puts much of his success down to simply doing what is asked of him and staying away from drama. He’s had a plan from a young age and has worked hard to achieve it. “I didn’t care how long it took to get where I wanted to be as long as I did a good job along the way. If it took five or more years, fine, but I was lucky it only took four.

“Everyone has shit days along the way, but you have to stay positive and know that tomorrow is a new day. Don’t hold grudges. If you have a shit day and end up grumpy, you just have to start the next day positively.”

With a supportive team around him and a company that cares about its employees, Josh has thrived. “Swaps has been really good to me. It’s a good family business, and I feel like I’m part of that family. They didn’t even know who I was, but they took me on, washing trucks first… and now, four years later, I’m on a transporter!”

Most truckers are aware their families must often make sacrifices to cope with the unpredictable nature of the job. “I’m so grateful to my fiancé, Megan, who understands the industry and the challenges that come with it,” says Josh. “With the long hours – and sometimes getting called in at unusual hours – it’s important that I have her support. I appreciate everything she does, and she lets me do what I love… trucking. Oh, and she makes my lunch,” he laughs.

There’s no doubt Josh is proud of where he is. However, he also tells us he has so much more to learn. “It will be awesome to get onto the bigger gear when the time comes. I’m looking forward to developing my heavy haulage career even further.”

Josh feels it’s important to have other interests apart from trucks. He is the club captain of the Matamata Squash Club and is a member of the Matamata Brass Band.

The thing we noticed most about Josh is his quiet, unassuming manner. Despite his fast-tracked career and being a young guy on decent-sized gear, he remains humble. There’s a fine line between being proud of what you do and having an ego. Josh clearly falls into the ‘proud’ category.

It is clear Josh has a bright future in the industry. He enjoys every aspect of the job, and there is no doubt he is driven to succeed.