No rehearsal!

19 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 10, 2018

Chris Hockley says he had the shortest career ever in the army – about 24 hours! He had hoped to become a driver, but between applying and being accepted he‘d hurt his knee so they sent him packing.

Photo: Kiwis all over the world doing what they do best – turning their hand to anything and looking for adventure. Chris Hockley loved the Argosy when he saw one … mentioned it to his boss, and what do you know!

Back home in Palmerston North Chris went on a 13-week government course where he was taught warehousing and got his truck licence in a D series Ford with a petrol V8, 5-speed transmission and a 2-speed diff.

After gaining his licence Chris worked for Daily Freight doing around town work, before getting a job with Pratt Contracting in Bunnythorpe.

“ That was my first job driving big trucks, I had an NL Volvo 6-wheeler and a 6-wheeler trailer. I worked for them for two years then I started working for Elliot ‘s Transport in Palmerston North.”

After he‘d been there a few months the owner, Ridley, asked Chris if he wanted to buy the truck that he had been driving for him. He said no at the time, but a year later bought the Japanese Ford Trader that he used to take vegetables to the supermarkets in Feilding.

Chris changed trucks a couple of years later, then after another two years he headed to Southend On Sea in England. “I just decided I‘d go and do something different. I sold my truck and was cashed up, I had $20,000 in my pocket – that lasted a month!”

Chris says it took him about a month to get a UK truck driving licence and shortly after he was offered two jobs. “One of them was an Eaton crash box, Road Rangery type of thing that I‘d never driven before, and the other was a DAF, a synchro, and I got offered both. One was moving tractors and one was moving cardboard boxes. I took the cardboard boxes because it was within walking distance of where I was living, and I didn‘t have a car.”

After seven months Chris went to stay with a cousin in Sussex and joined a driving agency, doing mainly aircraft freight between Gatwick and Heathrow. While working for the agency one of the jobs was for The Body Shop, leading to eight months of full-time work.

“ The job was night shift – two drivers, swap bodies on wagon and drag (truck and trailer) and drive home. I found out the first night why I got the job. I had been seen reversing the truck and trailer, and when we got to the destination, the other driver was about to reverse the drag under the swap bodies and says to me, ‘ok, how do I do this?‘ I said, ‘I don‘t really know, it comes naturally to me‘.”

When Chris‘s time with The Body Shop was nearing its end, the fleet controller suggested he move on to a job with theatre transport company G. H. Lucking & Sons.

“I worked for them for two years, moving all sorts of theatre shows.”

Chris says most of the outs – when shows are packed up ready to be transported to the next location – were done on a Saturday night.

Photos: Show wheels on the continent. Keeping the shows moving on tour means long hours and tight spaces.

“Depending on how big the show is and when it‘s on next, sometimes you have to move straight after the out, and if it was a big out, you‘d be working all night and then driving all day. We‘d be forever going bobtail or moving empty trailers the length of the UK getting them closer to where the shows were coming out of or going to next.”

Chris says the streets and roads are the same no matter where in the UK you are, it ‘s just in the bigger populated areas they are a lot busier which makes it more difficult to access some of the theatres.

“It‘s all relative to how many people are watching you too. At Blackpool you drive up into a pedestrian street and then back ‘ blind side‘ around the building and in to the dock door. The building that you back around has the corner cut off it so you can make the manoeuvre. I got there at 5am once in the dark and did it in one, and got back with my second trailer about 9am in daylight when people were everywhere and it took me about 15 tries!”

Chris met his partner, Jill Barker [see last month‘s issue for her story], when he was working at Luckings, and helped her gain her truck licence too.

“ W hile I was at Crawley I met a Kiwi who played hockey for the Penguin Hockey Club in Worthing. I had weekends down there because when I started at The Body Shop I went down to Littlehampton, and he introduced me to Jill.” Being in Littlehampton led to Chris working for Paul Mathew Transport, also theatre show movers. Some of the big shows Paul Mathew was involved with were Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables.

“I think they were about 30-trailer moves, which moved every two or three months. We did a couple of the ones on ice too, and Cats was another big one.”

Jill says she has tried over the years to get Chris to move away from trucking so they would have more time together. “One time I thought I was successful; we were sitting on the side of the road in France having a cup of coffee, and a Renault truck went past, and he went, ‘ooh, Maaaaaagnuuuuuuum!‘ And I thought ‘you‘re a truck man, it ‘s not going anywhere at all!‘ I reckon if you cut him in half he‘s got ‘trucker‘ written right through the middle of him. I had a couple of tries but he went right back to it again. It ‘s his calling, isn‘t it?” Chris says his love of trucks dates back to his childhood, when his father worked for Marlborough Transport. “Dad had left trucking but he had friends who were still driving, they used to move the sheep around, and so after school when I was eight or nine I suppose, I would go up to the stockyards and see if any of them were there and if so I‘d go for rides with them.”

Photo: Jill Barker and Chris Hockley. Life with a ‘truckaholic‘ has meant just going with it for Jill and seeing where the adventure heads next.

Most of the time Chris and Jill would be working separately, so as they wanted to spend more time together, Chris put an ad in a trucking paper in the UK.

“It just said something like ‘two-up team wanting work‘. A guy rang and said he didn‘t have any work for me, but he wanted to have a chat. A little while later he rang back and said he had some work for us.”

Chris says the business was called Lightning Trucks and they contracted to Stage Truck who moved music shows around. In between shifting shows they would move freight. “ The music was normally one driver and one truck. They‘d send Jill into little tiny, hard to get to places, and send me somewhere that was really easy.

“ They didn‘t want couples working together and they wanted us to go on different tours and we said no. We only did the one full tour which went for a month, Canadian singer Beck, but we did bits and pieces all the time, going to festivals and things.”

Eventually Chris and Jill decided to take a six-month trip to see where they wanted to live.

“ We landed in Perth, and then spent six months travelling around Australia, New Zealand, and the west coast of Canada. Everywhere we went we said, ‘we like Perth‘. I don‘t know why, it just felt right.”

Jill says travelling with Chris – or as she christened him ‘ Trucker Dundee‘ – was all about trucks. “Every town we arrived at we didn‘t go straight to all the nice coffee shops downtown, we had to go to the industrial estates like some fricking stalker!” At the end of the trip the couple returned to England and Chris went back to Paul Mathew Transport for about a year while they saved their money and sorted out visas for Australia. “Before we left England I Googled transport companies in Perth and there was one called Sykes that did all sorts, and one called Goldstar,” says Chris. “Once I had my licence in my hand I rang Sykes, but it was a Saturday morning and there was no one there, so I rang Goldstar. The owner answered the phone and told me to come down for an interview right then. We both went, and he said, ‘ The important thing to me is you show up every day and do your day ‘s work and come back again tomorrow ‘. I started on the Monday, and that ‘s the only job I‘ve had in Australia.”

Chris does long haul work for Goldstar, with a little around town work when long haul goes quiet. “Our main work is moving the infrastructure and production equipment for engineering companies to the mine sites. We move a lot of dongers [accommodation huts] around, and we‘ve moved a couple of whole camps between mine sites.” While Goldstar move the bulk of the production equipment, Chris says they contract out all the really heavy haulage. Chris says undertaking work in Australia‘s outback requires drivers to be resilient.

“ You‘ve got to do little repairs and change your tyres because there‘s nobody out there. If you break down, you‘ve got a long wait. One of the jobs I did was to the Tanami Mine site, on the road between Alice Springs and Hall‘s Creek. It‘s a kind of a short cut but it ‘s all gravel road and it‘s really crappy. So it took me 22 hours of driving time to do 500kms because of the corrugations in the road.”

Chris says he loves moving, so being a truck driver suits him perfectly.

Photo: Gives a whole new meaning to packing up and heading for home. Chris will unhook the trailer he‘s just backed onto the semi, drive off and hook-up to the bottom trailer and head off.

“I think a Sagittarian thing is to be moving all the time. It‘s not just trucks – I could do a cycle tour or drive a car or a loader or something, I just like moving.” As well as partner Jill, Chris has another love in his life. “ W hile on our six-month trip I saw a Freightliner Argosy pull up and when the driver opened the door the steps came out. That was 10 years ago. I‘d never driven one, never looked in one, but I kept asking my boss [at Goldstar] when he was going to buy one. He said he was never going to buy one. It took about four years and then he said he‘d get me a demo Argosy for two weeks while my Kenworth T904 was having its engine rebuilt.”

Chris says after the Kenworth came out of the workshop the Argosy remained and he continued driving it. “I drove it for about four months, and he asked, ‘how is it?‘

and I said, ‘oh, it‘s brilliant, it‘s really good, but the roof is too low and the bed‘s too big‘. He didn‘t say much then another one arrived, the high cab one, with the smaller two bunks and cupboards and a wardrobe and all sorts, and a 130 ton rating for doing the triple road trains, which was quite a surprise.” His boss told him he‘d bought it especially for him, and he was not allowed to leave until it was worn out. Goldstar is a family run operation and Chris says his boss, Sean Carren, is happy to look after his staff as long as they do the job required of them.

“I think in the second year I was there I got best-kept truck in the fleet and I‘ve got that and the driver of the year award a couple of times. Sean said he pulled up to a traffic light and he looked to the side and there was a truck next to him that looked really nice, the wheels were polished and it looked really good. He thought to himself, ‘I wish one of my drivers would keep their truck like that ‘ and it was mine! “And speaking of moving … as I‘ve done the heat of the outback, maybe onward to driving trucks on the ice roads of Canada!”