Lifetime Trucker Lifetime Teacher

In Short Story October 2021, Tests, October 202110 MinutesBy Carl KirkbeckNovember 29, 2021

Good teachers are always better if they have the life experience to draw on. Listening to Storm’s father Ellie Harrison recount his truck driving career, there is no chance of you falling asleep at the back of the classroom.

It started back in Ruatoria in the early 1970s after leaving school, driving an old Leyland Albion tipper. “Roger Campbell of Campbell Draglines was the boss. I was about 16 years old, and yeah, we would go down to the Waiapu River and self-load with a digger, then take the rock down beside the main road to the crusher,” says Ellie.

“From there, I moved down to Napier and spent time with my uncle – Robbie Fraser at Freightways, who had a 3070 International with a 903 Cummins in it. It was a cool-sounding truck, and that’s where I really got into it. I ended up doing a couple of years there, learning the ropes and doing a heap of relief driving for all the ownerdrivers.

“After this, it was into the logging, with my first job working for the late Bill Paul. He was a great boss; I have huge respect for Bill. I was driving a 130hp petrolpowered TK Bedford one night. I was loaded coming down a hill and around a corner, and bang, I hit about 100 sheep on the road in one hit. I stopped and was in shock because it turned out it was a farmer shifting the flock in the dark. Why would you do that?

The Freightways ERF Ellie drove that Storm remembers riding in day and night.

“After working with Bill, I got a job with Colin Taylor at Taylor Brothers. First up, I had one of those 237 slab cab Macks, then got given a 350 Cummins-powered S-line. That was a big move… And the room!

“Not long after this, I was at the pub and got chatting to Gordon Duffy, who was one of the bosses at Pan Pac and looked after the transport side. I sort of hinted at him that I was looking for a job, and he said, ‘How old are you?’ I said ‘23’, and he said, ‘You can’t have a job there until you are 25.’ Back then, there was a big lineup of guys trying to get into Pan Pac. It was considered one of the best driving jobs in New Zealand. I hounded and hounded the shit out of him, and then he gave up and said, ‘I’ll tell ya what, I’ll give you a trial on the bulk run to the port, and we’ll see how good you are. If you’re any good, I’ll keep you on.’ So, I went along there and trialled out, and with that, he gave me the opportunity to start there at 23 years old. That was 1977, and it all sort of stemmed from there.

“Around that time, Pan Pac had about 10 of their old LW Kenworths lined up in the truck park, ready to be sold off. This guy, Stan Shotten, came up to me. He was in charge of the workshop, and he said to me, ‘Go out there and have a look at those trucks and pick one out that you fancy. We will get it in here, and we’ll do some work on it.’ Well, they completely rebuilt it for me. They took the 350 Cummins out of it and put a 385hp Cat in it – just completely rebuilt it, did a massive job on it. Warren Clark was the workshop foreman at the time, and he did all the work – a top mechanic.”

Fleet No.91 (the Kenworth LW at left) was Ellie’s first drive at Pan Pac, and a truck both Storm and Jarvis have great memories of.

After six years on No.91, Ellie was offered a contract to go owner-driver, running the export timber squares to the port. An ex-Scotts Transport T2670 (T-line) was sitting at TruckStops and, after some negotiation, became Ellie’s first tuck as an OD.

“I have to really thank my darling wife Janine for all her support over the years. The owner-driver business would not have happened without that support. It was a team effort,” says Ellie.

Eventually, the T-line needed some work, so with the help of Mark Wilson at DPS Trucks in Napier, it was rebuilt, upgraded from 350 to 400hp. “She just purred after that,” says Ellie. He took the T-line out to near 900,000km, and by then, it was time to look for a replacement.

DPS in Napier was the local dealer for Mitsubishi, and Ellie had a good working relationship with the team. Following some discussion, he placed an order for a new 400 twin-turbo Shogun.

“That truck was awesome. It did 700,000km and never had a spanner at it – just normal service and oil, but no repairs. Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” says Ellie.

This Mitsubishi paved the way for expansion, with another Shogun taking up a log opportunity Ellie was offered by Pan Pac.

As time moved on, and with 600hp rapidly becoming the norm, Ellie found he was getting in the way, so a move into an R580 Scania was the next step.

Both the Mitsubishis and Scanias performed like Trojans for Ellie, paving the way for repeat purchases of each brand. Photos: Harrison collection.

“I had Marshall Hope, ex-Road Freighters, double-shifting the truck with me. He would start it up on a Sunday night and I would turn it off again the following Saturday. We worked it 24 hours a day, non-stop. We did nearly 250,000km in the first 10 months. That was local work, too, not like staying away on linehaul, Auckland to Wellington. It was just between here and Tokoroa and here and Masterton. Again, it was a great truck that we never put a spanner to.” As with the Mitsubishis, the Scania’s record paved the way for additional representation from the Swedish marque’s ranks.

However, everything runs its course in time, and in 2008, a change of scenery beckoned. Ellie jumped across the ditch for a four-year stint, running freight in B-triple road trains from Sydney to Perth.

“It was good for a while, but there wasn’t really any challenge once you got used to it,” he says. He decided to move back home again, although there was to be no rest.

Good mate Ray Beale found out that Ellie was back in town, and he was on the phone quick smart to get Ellie’s assistance driving a wheel loader while one of Ray’s operators was away.

Then it was a call from Aaron Hamilton, with an offer for Ellie to go back on log cartage. Ellie was back in the cab, this time behind the wheel of a Freightliner Argosy.

“Aaron sold the business to Nick Redmond (NLR Cartage) in 2014, and when he took over, he asked me to stay on with the truck. So I did.” Now, with Ellie at 66, there is a new Scania on its way. “Nick says it’s for me! I told him, ‘Nah, you might want to give it to one of the younger fellas.’ He was like, ‘No way; it’s for you.’

“Ah, we’ll see,” chuckles Ellie.

As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down.