Like father like son

In Short Story August 20238 MinutesBy Cark Kirkbeck and Gavin MyersSeptember 11, 2023

Flatdeck and dropsider work is an area of the transport industry that is not for the faint of heart; it is one of those jobs that keeps you on your toes. It’s characterised by challenging loads that defy the laws of physics, resulting in load-restraint headaches that have some operators looking for a couple of Panadol and the situations vacant section of the local paper. But such character-building challenges get Waipawa-born and bred local Ian ‘Nunga’ Allhusen out of bed every morning.

“I’ve done stock work, but yeah, looking back in the mirrors at green crates all day is not for me. I love the variety of dropsider work. Fert one day, bales the next and machinery the day after that. Yeah, it is always different,” explains Nunga.

Growing up in Waipawa with a dad who was a driver at Farmers Transport meant Nunga got hooked on trucking at an early age, finding himself kicking around the depot whenever possible, shadowing his dad who taught him the ropes.

The S-Line International and tri-axle semi combination that Nunga received brand-new while working for Emerson’s Transport of Hastings.

“Going to school was not my thing, that’s for sure. Mum would have to wake me up on a school day. But if I were going for a ride in a truck, I’d be up and waiting at the yard at 2am if I needed to be,” Nunga says with a laugh. “I used to help out wherever possible at the yards. I started out as the ‘wash out’ boy, washing out the crates, and it progressed from there. As I got old enough, some of the drivers would let me have a steer, so as soon as I was 18, I went and got my license, and I was straight into it. My first job was an apple harvest season with Stephenson’s on a Volvo N12 – not bad for my first driving job.

“With dad working out of the Farmers depot here in Waipawa, I got a full-time job there on a dropsider for about three years. I then moved across to Emmerson Transport out of Hastings for around five to six years. Real good crowd to work for, and again a good variety of work. While there, I was given a new S-Line International tractor unit, with a new tri-axle flat-deck semi; a good truck to drive, I went all over the show in that one.”

A stint with Bruce Hill and then Bearsley Transport followed, after which it was back to Farmers Transport at Waipawa, this time for a good 16 years. “Back at Farmers, I was also on the dropsiders, and again working alongside Dad. Good times, and some good trucks, even an old 430hp V8 Mitsi. I then moved on and had a go at logging. I didn’t mind the hours so much, but the paperwork and all that nearly drove me mad, so I shifted on and did a season with [Waipawa-based] Chote Brothers. After that, I moved back here to Stephenson’s – that’d be nearly four years ago now. So, yeah, gone full circle. They’re a good company to work for, I enjoy it, you look forward to going to work.”

Nunga started at Stephenson’s (the second time) on one of the CYJ Isuzus, No.20. “It was a good truck that did its job, but not really a driver’s truck. When Todd asked me what I thought about the idea of the RH on the job, I could see how that would work and was on board. So, yeah, I was on the Isuzu for about three years, and then straight onto the RH.”

Nunga with Mum Liz and Dad Chris beside the K104 that Chris put the best pert of 1,800,000km on, enjoying an ale at Chris’ retirement function after a solid 53 years with Farmers Transport. Chris was the light guiding a young Nunga into the transport industry when he finished school.

Our couple of days with Nunga were a refreshing reminder of ‘do it once and do it right’ as we watched his approach to loading. From keeping an eye on the exact placement of each bucket-load of aggregate by the loader drivers at the various quarries we visited, through to the amount of tension applied to the tie-downs on the load of big rounds we collected from Darren Cooper. Nunga’s approach was the same: whatever the load, get the job done. But take the time to ensure that things are balanced and are not going to go anywhere while on the move.

“Some of the things you see going down the road you think to yourself, ‘How the heck is that going to stay there?’ It’s a bit of a science, but that’s the fun bit.”

Todd Stephenson is quick to bestow praise on Nunga’s work ethic. “He is a very good operator, as you would have seen. He prides himself on how he loads his unit and secures it, that really is his passion. He is one of the only guys I’ve seen who jumps up on the drawbar and watches the bins get filled. Even if I go out there and start helping to tie his load on, he’ll come along behind me and start changing it to the way he likes to position his straps. He really has his own way of doing things, a way that is proven and works for him.

“He’s a character. If the dispatchers don’t know their stuff well enough, he’ll tip them upside down. You have to be two steps ahead of Nunga; he’ll beat you out the gate every time.”