In International, Tests59 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 18, 2020

Ricky Musson‘s driven some innovative gear in his time, but in seeking out the ultimate selfloading log combination for his line of work, this thinking man‘s trucker has reset the boundaries of what‘s possible.

Photo: There were those who said it couldn‘t be done. Yet here it is, and it rocks!

Experience is hard-earned, priceless, and often underappreciated, particularly when it comes with a formidable intellect and cloaked in a reserved demeanour. Starting at the age of 12, thirdgeneration Canterbury trucker Ricky Musson‘s amassed a swag of experience in his 37 years in and around trucks of all makes, models, shapes, sizes, and applications. But his career passion is self-loading log trucks. He‘s driven them as a company driver, and for the past 12 years he‘s successfully operated his own business under the Musson Logistics name. Because Ricky‘s Ricky, he‘s never been satisfied with the status quo in terms of equipment, whether it‘s his own gear or his employer‘s, constantly looking at what he‘s operating and reworking, tweaking, refining, and improving. And he‘s tried some pretty out-of-it things in his time, like back in his McCarthy Wilshier Transport days, loading posts across the chassis rails between the two packets bound in the bolsters in order to extract more revenue and improve handling.

Even then he‘d lobby and petition people to try ideas he‘d scribbled on paper, ideas he knew would work. Now he‘s his own man, Ricky has ultimate charge of the R&D lab at Musson Logistics, and with HPMV thrown into the mix, a whole new world of opportunity has presented itself. That said, he‘s acutely aware that high productivity is not just a carte blanche win-win, and like an increasing number of operators, he‘s used it sensibly and not simply gone for a more is better mentality. “In this game, with the road network we work on, it just doesn‘t stack up in the higher weights at the moment. The truck‘s capable of running at 58 tonne, but 50MAX works best at the moment.” But Ricky‘s suddenly jumped ahead of us. The ‘truck‘ he speaks of is his latest creation, a combination that prompted one well-known log transport identity to pass the comment when it popped up on social media: ‘He‘d have been working on that thing in his head and on paper for 10 years.‘

Photo: Cubed out it makes for a stunning sight

Da daaa!
It‘s a truck that immediately strikes the senses in every way possible: shape, set-up, colour, charisma. You know it‘s a machine that will write its own story in the annals of South Island trucking and be remembered for decades from one end of the country to the other. It‘s one of those trucks that will have bosses going into operations‘ and plant managers‘ offices bellowing ‘Why haven‘t we got this?‘ It‘s a truck that will spawn a new accepted norm. So, what does an enquiring mind, a lifetime of never being satisfied, and lots of pencil lead and paper get you? At a high level ‘top deck‘ view, Musson Logistics‘ fleet No1 is an International 9870 8×4 kitted up as a self-loading billet/post unit. The truck has a 7.6m log deck (8.0m if you count the stanchion trough) with two bunks side by side and the ability to load down the deck also. The 5-axle multi-bolster log trailer it tows has three adjustable bunks. But wait there‘s more…the trailer can be lifted on the truck with the Palfinger crane hanging on the arse of the truck, and at 50MAX it‘s capable of a 28.25 tonne payload. Oh, that crane on the back, a Palfinger Q170Z, hasn‘t missed the Musson treatment either; it‘s been plumbed up to optimise performance. Interestingly, when it came to discussing the original body and trailer concept with potential suppliers, Ricky had experienced significant frustration – a phenomenon not foreign to him over the years. The exception was Dean Purves and his team at Mills-Tui. Dean had called in to see Ricky shortly after buying his business and the original high-level idea was talked about then. As things progressed a lot of time was spent with Dean and engineer manager Jeff Miller. “I‘ve known Ricky from back in my FleetPartners days,” said Dean. “I know how he thinks, and I knew to listen and take what he said seriously.” It was a hugely communicative and collaborative effort throughout.

Front to back
Why a 9870? Well, that‘s your classic trucking, two-pronged answer: the logical, pragmatic, bean counter‘s answer, and the trucker‘s answer. Ricky‘s had a long and successful relationship with the Hino product but for this ‘mangling of measurements‘, the 700 series simply didn‘t fit. The two key metrics on this build were axle spread and tare. In terms of axle spread there were three potential contenders: the International 9870, the K200 Kenworth, and funnily enough the FMX Volvo. (We only say funnily enough because not many people would instantly assume the Volvo a contender in the set-forward axle whanau. Lesson learned, never assume, always measure.) The Volvo missed out on lead time and tare, and although the Kenworth was a tad heavier, and pricier, there was one other factor, and that was all about trucking‘s effect on the soul. Trucking‘s a vocation, not a job. Yes, the 9870 was a nose in front on all critical areas, but it reminded Ricky most of a truck that holds a special place in his heart, in fact the very truck parked in a shed over the way from the office, one that only comes out for shows, classic runs, and charity. It‘s the Mack MH self-loading log truck he drove for McCarthy Wilshier Transport (MWT) back in the day, towing a trailer Ricky designed himself. A truck and driver combination that was known the length and breadth of the South Island, the truck he bonded with. We all had them.

Photo: Note the tool under Stu‘s foot for releasing the stanchion.

Photo: Dropping the extension.

“It sort of reminds me most of the MH, and it‘s a proven truck with known, reliable running gear,” said Ricky. “It‘s got some extras on it, stainless wrap on the diesel tank and that, but it‘s certainly not a case of tick all the boxes.” Under the cab is the venerable Cummins X15 15-litre 6-cylinder motor producing 459kW (615hp) and 2779Nm (2050lb/ft) of torque. Bolted to that is an Eaton Roadranger RTLO20918B 18-speed transmission that won‘t change gears all by itself; it needs a driver. Front axle set is Meritor MFS 143 rated at 13 tonne on taper leaf parabolic springs and shocks, and way in the distance out back are Meritor 46-160 axles at 4.3:1 with diff and cross locks, rated at 20,900kg and perched on Hendrickson PRIMAAX EX Gen 3 air suspension with heavyduty shocks. Brakes are drum with ABS-6, tyres 11 R22.5 on Accuride alloys and there‘s Bigfoot central tyre inflation.

The Mills-Tui trailer in tow sports Hendrickson running gear with disc brakes and ESC and is shod with 265/70 R19.5 Boto tyres on Jost alloys. Hendrickson TIREMAAX inflation management is also installed. “We hummed and hawed about Tiremaax. It‘s not cheap and it added weight,” said Ricky. “But man I‘m glad we did it, it‘s incredible. We chose Boto tyres because they saved 120kg over other brands. They‘ve done 60,000km and have next to no wear; we reckon they‘ll run to over 100,000km.” Getting a 5-axle trailer onto a self-loader is no mean feat, and there were many doubters. Looking at the trailer‘s profile, the most evident thing is the closeness of the tri-set at 2050mm spacing. This was done so the towing eye on the telescopic drawbar can clear the front tyre on the tri-set when the dolly‘s spun underneath. Length of the unit overall is 22.6m.

Stakes and cranes
The unit‘s configuration of a flat deck and multi bolster trailer allows for flexibility and speed of operation, especially when it comes to putting the trailer up. “By the time you build wheel carriers there‘s not much in it weight-wise, plus, having the deck allows you to carry more product and load front-to-back as well,” said Ricky. He‘s gone for two slick variants from ExTe‘s catalogue of bolsters and stanchions. On the truck is the Quick Lock (QL) drop-in system using C90 stanchions or stakes, at 30kg each and 2.4m high (2.2m load effective plus 200mm in the slots). “I saw them at the Trucking Show in Christchurch in 2018. I had a go at lifting one and almost threw it over my shoulder. I wasn‘t expecting it to be that light.” The stakes have taper ends with self-locking wedges and drop into slots in the deck. There‘s a tool the driver carries with a 90-degree bend and beak at one end. It‘s laid on the deck with the beak aimed into the slot, and the driver simply stands on it and the beak releases the wedge. Too easy. The truck can be configured with one or two bays traditional, or there are slots in the rear of the deck to allow front-to-back loading. The stakes sit in a trough just in front of the crane. The trailer has the ExTe D7 bolster system, the first deployment in New Zealand of this set-up, chosen for its weight. There are six of the 107kg units on the trailer, each one with telescopic stanchions that allow heights from two metres to three at full stretch. A cool upside is the extensions can be stopped anywhere in their length. The only downside is the release slot is up near the top of the outer skin, so the driver needs to get up to poke the release bar in and drop the extension. Bear in mind this is only a ‘downside‘ on account of questionable aspects of our workplace compliance. No one seems to have told those in the clipboard corridors that we‘re primates and climbing is actually a ‘thing‘ for us. Ironically, if we stop doing it, we‘ll simply fall off more shit.

The crane on the back is the Palfinger Q170Z. It‘s fair that Ricky‘s chased tare everywhere else because ‘Big P‘ adds 2955kg to the arse of the International. Ricky said the crane‘s about two sizes bigger than needed, but it was chosen on the grounds of performance and longevity. Cranes don‘t last the life of the truck, and so the thinking is a big crane doing it easier will have a longer life. In terms of performance he‘s upped the ante also. Being a Z crane, it folds up nicely at the rear of the truck – again, improving potential utility – and it also means it‘s a powerdown machine as well as a power-up one. Being a power-down normally reduces speed slightly, so Ricky‘s plumbed in 2” return lines, increasing the speed of the down phase. Giving the under-pressure oil a big fat escape route also obviates the need for an oil cooler. The crane will lift 1670kg at 9.0m, although most of the action happens between 4.0m and 7.0m, where it will hoist 3950kg and 2210kg respectively. In close at 3.0m it will lift 5250kg, so has no problemo putting the 5660kg Mills-Tui on its back. The benefits of the decision to go with the International were more than those apparent upon signing on the dotted line. Because the truck was built a mere 74km away from Mills-Tui, Intertruck‘s flexibility when working with local body builders on complex installations reflected in financial savings and turnaround. “I reckon a hundred hours of labour at our end were saved because the team at Intertruck was able to prep the truck for the crane in-house,” said Dean Purves. “We sent all the measurements, hole placements, mountings, and flitching requirements, etc. that we wanted, and when it arrived nothing needed to be done or disassembled before we could mount the crane and deck.” That prep work included a full inner C channel and two extra 7-piece cross members.

‘What‘s the thing about getting chains over being hard on the bod? I feel great.‘

Blurred lines
It‘s all well and good building such a machine but Ricky‘s days are often spent running the fleet and doing boss stuff, so who‘s going to drive it and get the productivity? In this instance that was no issue at all. Get some blokes who know the Canterbury log truck scene gathered around a few beers and table the conversion point ‘self-loading crane operators‘. Two names pop up in the contemporary era, Musson and McKenzie, and it takes a good few rounds of ale before no real conclusion is arrived at. “It goes well beyond that,” says Ricky. “‘Boud‘ (Boudewyn Eichholtz) has worked for me for 10 years and there‘s none better than him, and he‘s just a great bloke with it. I‘ve got a great crew really.” So, you no doubt guessed from that comment that both Stu and ‘Boud‘ work for Ricky. However Ricky, in a typical take-astep- back Ricky sort of way said Stu‘s got the edge on account of more hours at the controls nowadays. Damn, that bloody paperwork! We met Stu powering up under the rock shelter and watershed on the Arthur‘s Pass. The combination is instantly impactful, both in configuration and presentation. The deck, the trailer, the crane, the green and white, the grille, the alloy bumper, stainless air rams; it‘s a truck that will always garner a second look whether you‘re a propeller head or a show and shiner. Following him back through the Craigieburn rolling country between the Waimak Bluffs and Porters Pass, the smoothness of the trailer‘s track was clearly evident. There‘s often a 3-axle trailer bobbling along after a self-loader, done to keep weight down, and at best a four. Not any more. Stu had product on for Southbrook near Woodend, and the 9870 made short work of the run across the plains to its destination. Once there the magic really started. Stu‘s going to be the crane display man at the TMC Trucking Industry Show in Christchurch again next month, and we‘d suggest you get along.

Photo: At the rock shelter and water-shed on the Arthur‘s.

Where the machine ends, and man begins is debateable. The 9870 rumbles away comfortably at 1000rpm and the smoothness of the operation is phenomenal. Everything is picked and placed; nothing is dropped or dragged. One grab, one release. Once empty it was a quick load of short post product for reprocessing locally. The truck was loaded front-to-back and the stakes were right up on the trailer. It made for a super impressive load. “This stuff ‘s light as,” said Stu. “We‘d be lucky if the trailer had 12 tonne on it.” The following morning we met Stu at the same location just in time to watch him unload and put the trolley up. That‘s an epic watch also. Before we get to that though, we saw one clear advantage in having the deck. Clearing dust and bark off a log truck is an arse of a job and there‘s always the one piece of bark you can‘t see sitting somewhere that falls off in front of Sheriff Sloane. Stu swept the deck off clean with his broom in 10 seconds flat. So, back to the trailer. Stu unhooks and pulls the drawbar back to its empty slot and pins it (he can‘t quite get to the Duomatic, leads, and coupling with the crane…but he‘s working on it – LOL). Back in the hot seat, he grabs the dolly spinner poking up from the turntable and whips the dolly under the trailer, then drags it up so the dolly wheels are in place on the deck inside the combing rails and the rear of the trailer is laying off at an angle, back wheels still on the ground. In this phase the left chassis rail of the trailer acts as a brake, resting on the outside rear left tyre of the dolly. Stu then grabs the back end and swings it up into place. The legs on the crane are then tucked away. Crane folded up. Have fun waiting at the gantry chaps, I‘m outta here!

Photo: Stu‘s view of the world. This could be fun with a bit of practice.

Trailer up and we‘re heading for a private woodlot job in Canterbury‘s far north for export back to the port at Lyttelton. It‘s a gnarly wee track into the hills, void of metal in any form, just pumice dust. “They‘ve had a couple of goes at this one,” said Stu. “Rain‘s shut it down, but we‘re getting a good run at it now.” The 9870 bored its way in easily. One impressive trait is its lock. You‘d forgive an 8×4 with a 6.8m wheelbase for not being able to out-turn a grader, but not so in the International. Stu said it‘s better left-hand down than right, but it has the edge on the Hino he came off previously. Go figure. Stu backed into place and unloaded the trailer so it sat at right angles to the truck. He does this because the less the crane has to reach, the more it can lift. The entire process from arrival to departure takes about 30-odd minutes. The pull off the skid was around a corner and into a steep climb that had the truck rim-deep in what can only be described as powder. Stu got a skidder to give him a help away and the International hoed into its work. He said there‘s no issue with traction and we spent some time discussing the revolution that CTI was back in the day, signalling the end of on-highway tri-drives. The Bigfoot was set on ‘maximum claw‘, and out he came. There were some drop-turn-climb gullies on the way out, providing classic Jake-in and power-out scenarios. In this country the big engines come into their own: on the climb out the X15 would bog down to an engine note that would have stopped its forerunners, but then it would just pick-up and pull away. Out on the road exit it was a quick check of the LT tensioners, a neat system where opposing pawls are tightened via a tensioning bar in a twitch-like action. Stu said they rarely need a tweak. ‘The nominees for the best in-cab sound from a big bore 6-cylinder on a highway diesel are: Cummins for its X15, and MAN for its D3876LF09. And the winner is…whichever you like, we can‘t decide.‘ Yes, the X15 is one of our favourite engine notes and it fills the cab with its richness at around 69 to 70dB, slightly more than a K200 and less than a T610 and ProStar.

Photo: And then the magic. Just like that it‘s up on the back. The only one like it currently in the country.

Stu‘s an interesting commentator on our last two big US-style cabovers, having driven them both. “The K200 is a bit more refined. Drop sills on the doors, some of the materials, and locations of things like the heater and air vents. I mean if you like the retro straight sills on doors then this is your machine. The International wins on steering, clutch action – it‘s as light as the one in my Hino – and gear shifting. This thing‘s easy,” he said tapping the gear lever. “They‘re both the style of truck I like to drive. There‘s not much in it.” Do we like the 9870 cab? Yep, we sure do. Climb in via the classic rear-of-the-wheel entry and the space is the initial impact believe it or not. This is a US-style cabover day cab yet the extra cab depth and lack of an engine tunnel transform the environment. You have to take a moment and think back to the MH Mack in particular and ask why wasn‘t it a flat floor; it had cavernous space under the tunnel? The dash is classic US retro with its signature International 2-piece design.

There‘s the 3-plane binnacle right in front of the driver with its 15-gauge set, and the separate wrap climbing away to the left with switchgear, brake valves, entertainment, and climate control. The steering wheel steers, nothing else – yay for that – and there are wands on the left and right of the steering column: left for dip and indication and right for hand control. The gear shifter is tunnel-mounted and visually it looks well forward although it‘s easy and comfortable in use. The finish around the dash and highlights is classic woodgrain and there‘s hardwearing grey plastic panelling where there isn‘t deep buttoned vinyl, and there‘s plenty of that. The engine ‘bump‘ is carpeted.

Photo: Room with a view.

There‘s a storage caddy on the tunnel in matching trim, with a couple of cup holders built in to boot. There‘s space under the passenger seat and a couple of cubbies with net fronts in the overhead. There are additional cup holders on the wrap section of the dash and a document holder on the dash console under the wrap facing the back wall. It is a truck you‘d have no trouble staying away in for a couple of nights on account of the floor space. You‘d easily get a big overnight bag in the space between the cubby and the dash assembly. Fit-up-wise the 9870 is still sound after 80,000km of logging. Yes, there were a couple of minor squeaks but it‘s a log truck and they all protest their lot to some degree. There‘s something about the 9870, something intangible. It‘s a proud thing to build a motor vehicle of this standard in your wee island nation. No one else on Greta‘s globe does it. Looking around you just get the sense the team members at Intertruck and its associated suppliers pour their hearts into these things. That they care, and care a lot. Loaded to just under our 50 tonne, Stu powered on down the island. Ride-wise the 9870 was surprisingly good. There was a time when the thought of sitting up in the top right corner of a day-cab American box with two steering axles beneath you was somewhat depressing, but not today.

The 9870 was very well behaved and only on Julie Anne‘s really bad Third World surfaces did we feel a wee kick. Obviously, the wheelbase probably helped. There‘s not much in the way of climbing between the foot of the Hundalee Hills and Christchurch; the Greta Canyon North of Waipara was monstered in 14th (sixth high) at 1400rpm and 40kph. Stu said the rock shelter, water-shed, and Peg Leg on the Arthur‘s is tackled in third high (low if it‘s raining) at 1200rpm and just over 20kph. The fact is a 16% grade will sweat even the heartiest asset. One thing stood out on our journey; these machines (truck, trailer, and crane) are going to last a long time in this man‘s care. The finesse and smoothness required to operate a crane certainly carries through into the cab. Into the port and you have to shake your head and smile. The only place Stu can possibly be held up is the talley base, everywhere else he just goes and does his own thing. And watching him, you see why the ExTe bolsters and stanchions were a no-brainer. Your traditional Kiwi-built bolster was never designed to hold logs in, they were built to withstand errant Wagners and the like, trying to ensure trucks didn‘t leave the port or mill with stanchions that looked like someone‘s first lesson at macramé night school. Thankfully the new, modern front-end type wheel loaders have improved the situation out of sight but, like we said, with Stu, everything is picked up, and placed. He could have stanchions made of knitting needles and they‘d be fine. Unloaded and the trailer up, it was a reluctant farewell. What a bloke. What a machine.

One of the cooler things about this amazing machine is its incredible success, which is in some way a metaphor for the three all-Kiwi entities whose flags it flies. Comer Board and his courage in the face of every imaginable obstacle, deciding all those years ago to build the truck he thought New Zealand operators deserved, over 40% of which is today sourced from the hands of local suppliers. Dean Purves, who took a punt two years ago and bought a legendary New Zealand trailer building name, and with the drive, communication, people, and belief he‘s brought to the business, Mills-Tui‘s future looks as bright as any time in its history. But most of all, Ricky Musson. For starters, a guy who goes the extra mile as an employed driver to enhance the payload on his boss‘s truck surely has integrity overflowing out his ears and tear ducts. A thinker and innovator in an industry that can be very glass half-empty and lonely until success is assured. Another stunning example of the tenacious Kiwi battler. Humble, reserved, understated, yet immensely capable. The ultimate answer to the project‘s success is what will they do different on build two? Whether it‘s Ricky, Stu, or Dean, they all think for a moment and say, “Bugger all actually”.

Our very own
What better time to share a recent communication from the team at Intertruck. “International has relaxed its brand guidelines, allowing Intertruck to reach out with local brand identification. The striking new logo symbolises our heritage and patriotism as a New Zealand brand for over 100 years. The Silver Fern magnificently unites our nation to what all Kiwis relate to, being a powerful symbol as world leaders in highquality brands. “As a premier New Zealand truck builder, Intertruck is proudly 100% Kiwi owned and operated. Intertruck is humbled to be associated with a wide range of patriotic customers who support ‘built in New Zealand‘ products.”

Beyond the now
Forty-nine-year-old Ricky Musson is the third-generation Musson to glean a living from the Canterbury roads, and son Jarrod at 20 has just crossed the ‘go‘ line also, so generation four is under way. Ricky‘s grandfather Eric ‘Mack‘ Musson worked for Transport North Canterbury and the Waimakariri Council, and father Denis spent 27 years at Transport North Canterbury (TNC) before it was embroiled in the Transpac saga in the late 80s. When the dust settled on that slice of New Zealand road transport history, Denis took a position helping Owen Frew build the Frews‘ North Canterbury business. That entity evolved into a substantial operation that encompassed rural transport operations, logs, as well as work for McAlpines Timber, ENZA, and CHH Forest. It eventually saw the fleet operate South Island-wide. Ricky‘s career started as a youngster in the Transport North Canterbury yards. “I pretty much started working from the age of 12 as a runner on freight trucks, working a lot with Stu Boyce, brother of the NZ Trucking Association‘s Dave Boyce.

You learned docket writing, delivering and loading. It was a really good grounding.” From there Ricky progressed to being a hay paddock truck driver in the summer season. Post-school he started work in the Transpac Hornby freight terminal, driving fork hoists loading and unloading trucks, and eventually got onto the town and around truck. “I remember our despatcher at the time, Adelle Chandler, one of the best truck schedulers ever. The bosses were great; it was a great place to work.” It was when he was doing a freight run to Rangiora that the opportunity came up to work on bigger gear at Frews North Canterbury. “I hadn‘t planned on driving bigger gear at that stage to be honest.” The job was driving a 270hp Isuzu SPZ 6×4 tipper with a demountable crane, towing a 4-axle trailer. “It could do everything and cart nothing,” recalls Ricky.

“It was only good for 20 tonne. TNC were ahead of their time. The drop-in bolsters worked in much the same way as the ExTe‘s on the International do, but the metal technology just wasn‘t there.” That was 1989 and Ricky stayed on the truck until around 1993. At that time Owen was buying up 5036 V8 Hinos and Ricky got an ex Aratuna Freighters truck that had done 550,000km, a truck he says was in mint condition. “Owen rebadged it a Hino so it was the same as the others. When I came off it, it had 990,000km on it.” By now Ricky was about 24 and unofficially running the four trucks in the log division. Ricky acknowledges Barry Bennett in the log fleet for teaching him much of his foundation knowledge on operating a self-loading log truck. “Barry taught me to load small wood and big wood, and much of the skills I use and pass on today stem from his teachings back then.” A change in local workflow saw an opportunity open up carting into CHH Forest‘s mill in Rangiora (the Daiken NZ site now) and Owen jumped in. “He offered me a new FY380 Hino, or 420 FH Volvo. He said there‘d be nothing in it as the way the power was calculated meant they‘d be the same. Looking back now I‘m not sure,” he smiles.

“The Hino had a 13-speed Roadranger and the exhaust brake wasn‘t much. I told the Hino guys they need an 18-speed and a Jacobs. That model got both those things eventually.” The truck was a typical Frew – “Swiss Army knife” as Ricky puts it – with flat decks, twist locks, and long and short log frames. The truck towed one of two trailers depending on the work to be done. Interestingly, Owen wanted a set-up that allowed the load cells to stay with the truck so Ricky designed a system where the deck twist-locked into a heavy plate mounted on the cells. It‘s essentially the same system he used on the 9870, except it‘s bolted, not twist-locked. “Coming up with ideas and drawing them and pissing around with them is a bit of a hobby of mine, and I think that‘s where it all started,” chuckled Ricky. Fifty-six-thousand kilometres into the Hino‘s life, the tragic death of a close workmate in a truck accident, among other things, brought the Frew years to a close.

Photo: Ricky Musson‘s spent his life pushing the boundaries in self-loading log trucking, often against the weight of opinion. His legacy to the industry will be multifaceted and seen everywhere in the decades ahead.

Weeks earlier when delivering to the Timaru port a mate suggested he ring Warwick Wilshier. He plucked up the courage, made the call, and in April 1996 secured a position driving an 11-year-old International T-Line self-loader for McCarthy Wishier Transport (MWT). “The culture shock was huge. Warwick had been a mechanic himself and it was all about preventative maintenance. If it was broken or needed replacing, it got done. The pay was better too. “One day there was a meeting of the big bosses and Mark McCarthy was down. He saw me walking across the yard and came over and shook my hand and said ‘G’day Ricky, I’m Mark. Welcome aboard, we have plans for you’. I was gobsmacked.” In time a new truck was on the cards but the 1997 export slump scuppered it. “Warwick apologised but said the T-Line would get new gear and a new crane and be completely rebuilt from the back of the cab. The motor was done too.” MWT was a great place according to Ricky, and he had great mentors there, guys like Harry Rutledge, Maurice McNally, Steve Frew, and Dennis Anderson.

It was while Ricky was there that a young Stu McKenzie turned up. “They tried to put him off, saying come back when you have this, that, and the other. So he did what they asked and came back, and they took him on. I guess I helped teach Stu crane operation in a way.” Ricky was always impressed with Mark’s innovation and trialling of new ideas. “He would always listen to what you had to say.” At the time the wine industry in Marlborough was booming with load after load heading up from Canterbury. Ricky was experimenting with loading options and found two packets across the chassis between the bolstered packets made a noticeable difference to payload and how the rig travelled.

“It was all at the time back then when they were trying to get load heights down. I told Mark about an idea I’d had about putting six bolsters on one of their in-house Highway Hound drop chassis trailers. He said ‘draw it up and let’s have a look’.” Ricky’s mate and mentor Graeme Dempsey encouraged him to press on, and following some back and forth tweaks and fine-tuning, Mark commissioned the build. “Other trailers in the fleet were retrofitted with extra bolsters, and although there were plans to build more, mine was the only Highway Hound to ever be done. It worked really well.” Next came the MH Mack that would secure Ricky a formidable reputation in the industry. They were a much respected duo. Ricky spent almost 10 years at MWT in his first stint, before driving at Steve Murphy’s SML for just on 18 months. Following that, he returned to MWT for about a year and a half. In the latter part of his fleet driving career he’d had a hankering for an owner-driver position, but then 12 years ago the opportunity came to go it alone and with a leap of faith he took the plunge. Today the Musson Logistic fleet totals eight (plus the MH) with Ricky running operations and partner Joanne the administration.

The fleet has four self-loaders and the rest are ‘runners’ as Ricky calls them (a log truck with no crane). “I’m a crane man through and through. They’re just more interesting and they have more varied work.” He still has a good dialogue and cooperation with McCarthy Transport. “I probably drive John Patterson at McCarthy Engineering mad with my ideas,” he laughs. “Actually I do want to say something. I owe a lot to my staff and want to thank them for their efforts in making Musson Logistics a success. I appreciate all their hard work.” Ricky Musson. As we said, the thinking man’s trucker. An hour spent in his company can turn into three without you even knowing it’s passed. Anecdotes and the origins of ideas make for fascinating listening. He’s a guy who’s never been afraid to try something new to advance the craft, and although he appears impervious to the slings and arrows of opinion, we’ve learned that’s not entirely the case. Being an innovator can be tough, but his achievements will long be remembered among those who matter; the rest is simply noise. For the last word on this humble, quiet, clever man we’ll turn to Joanne. “Ricky’s been a thinker and hugely intelligent right back to when he was a kid at school. With what he’s been able to achieve and seeing the new truck work so well, I just couldn’t be prouder.”

McKenzie country
Forty-one-year-old Stu McKenzie is not the latest generation in a trucking bloodline; he’s a first-generation trucker. Growing up in Woodend just north of Christchurch, his father was a freezing worker but Stu had uncles and cousins who drove trucks on the West Coast and a mate’s dad drove a log truck, so he got trucking time that way. Much like Ricky did, post-school Stu also got a job working in a freight terminal loading and unloading trucks and doing deliveries. His venue was Mainfreight however, which has gone on to enjoy a modicum more success than Transpac. Following the company model, Stu was eventually offered the opportunity to buy a Ford Transit van. The van was fine, but Stu had aspirations to drive the bigger gear, particularly something in the rural or primary sector. He considered logging as the elite but it was hard to get into. As a spritely 21-year-old with limited experience, he went and saw John Fitzsimmons at McCarthy Wilshier Transport (MWT) and registered an interest.

“He sort of fobbed me off and said ‘Oh well, you’ll need your general requirements qualification, your loader module,’ and he rattled off a couple of other things. So, I went and got it all.” The irrepressible McKenzie made a list of what he needed and started ticking it off. He went to Keith Ewers, a driver trainer in Nelson, and secured the loader module. The general requirements required some study in Christchurch, but he eventually turned up back at MWT and said, ‘Okay, I’ve got this now’. “He [Fitzsimmons] said he normally wouldn’t have hired anyone without a tonne of experience, but that set me apart.” Stu started out riding shotgun with the guys for a couple of months.

“The first load of logs on my own was out of the Eyrewell Forest to the Daiken mill on a Saturday morning. It was in an old Volvo F12 that MWT had acquired with the purchase of Blyth Valley Transport, and things just progressed from there. “I remember the truck wasn’t in that good a nick, and they didn’t intend to hang on to it. On that first load the loader driver part-loaded me at the first skid and he sent me around to another skid for the rest. When he arrived behind me he jumped out and said, ‘is this yours?’ He had the jack-shaft in his hand,” laughs Stu. “I had the power divider in and it had just kept driving.” Stu progressed quickly to a truck that the company had owned, sold, and bought back. It was a Mercedes-Benz 3235 V8 with a 15-speed overdrive Roadranger (New Zealand Trucking magazine April 1991 Top Truck).

Photo: Stu McKenzie has followed his dream of making trucking a career from a standing start, and done a great job. A thoroughly good bloke.

The truck had been a self-loader but when they bought the cab chassis back it was refigured to a convertible ‘runner’ (straight log unit, no crane). The first crane truck was a K100E 8×4 with the set-back front axles. It was the post truck, and according to Stu no one wanted to do posts. “The operator was in his 50s and wanted to come off it, so I jumped on. My first load was to load 1.8m in the dark and rain and it took about two hours. That was character building I can tell you.” At the age of 24, having done three years at MWT, he moved on as a result of promptings from a mate. He went to work for TNL on a swing-lift, a job he didn’t enjoy. From there he got a drive on a Sterling and new 5-axle B-train floating nationwide.

“It was good to say you’ve been there, done that,” said Stu. After just over 12 months there he wanted to go back to logs so rang Steve Murphy (SML) to see if there was anything going. There was no log or crane work but there was a position on a chip liner. “I knew that wouldn’t last long, and sure enough within three months I was on a crane truck. I was there for 12 years, first on a Foden Alpha and then a late model Mack Quantum that came with the SML purchase of MWT. I put 650,000km on that and then got the K200, which I put 500-odd thousand on.” Just under three years ago Stu went to work for Ricky driving a Hino 700 self-loader. “I’ve known Ricky since I started at MWT and we’ve always worked well together. Even when we’re not working for the same company, we work in to make life easier. “I really enjoy driving the crane trucks. You’re very much your own man and you don’t have to rely on other people. And it’s a bit more than just truck driving. There’s the truck driving side of it yes, but you’re a machine operator as well, and you have the responsibility for maintaining the crane.

I reckon it takes three months to get the hang of it. If you haven’t got it by then, maybe it’s not for you. “Dad died when I was 21. He was a bit down on the trucking thing in the early days, but I’d love to take him in this. He did get to come with me before he died and you could see he got it, but he’d have been into this. You can make a great career from it.”
Outside of work, Stu’s wife Janine works in the local daycare centre and the couple have two kids, Lucy (9) and Alex (12). Although Alex helps Stu clean the truck on the weekends, he’ll make his own life according to Dad. “It’s not in his blood I’d say, and he’ll do whatever it is he wants. I just want him be a kid as long as he can.” At the moment that largely involves chasing the junior motocross scene around the country. And what a great mentor his Dad is for that plan! Stu’s the living embodiment of the realisation that you don’t have to come from a long line of truckers to make it. It’s all about attitude, and a willingness to learn when it counts early on. That’s simply a case of intelligence, and like his boss, he’s certainly not short on that. It’s probably why they get on.

New Zealand Trucking magazine would like to acknowledge and thank Ricky, Joanne, and Stu for their willingness and time in putting this story together.