In Top Truck, May 2021, Volvo8 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMay 28, 2021

The trouble is, we’re so busy I don’t get to drive it much,” laughs this month’s Top Truck owner Eric Williams. We’re standing in front of the new Volvo FH16- 700 Globetrotter 8×4 and five-axle Roadmaster trailer that he and his wife, Latecia, recently commissioned under their E & L Williams and Kaitaia Bulk Store brands.

The unit is a highly spec’d piece of kit with full Globetrotter cab and mod cons such as fridge, full safety suite and driver aids, and 522kW (700hp) of punch. Regular driver on the big Viking is Eric’s lifelong mate Jay Erstich.

The Volvo is set up as an uber-versatile curtain-side tipper. In tow is a Roadmaster five-axle high-tensile chassis trailer. Operator ease and safety extends to all aspects of the rig, demonstrated by the Razor automated tarping system. “It works really well,” says Eric.

The Volvo looks a picture with the Far North rural landscape a backdrop.

It’s certainly a lot of truck, but the specs aren’t over the top for the job. Jay’s week sees him depart Kaitaia for either Mt Maunganui or Kapanui in Taranaki, delivering all manner of product on the way down and reloading pallet, part-order, and mix components for Ballance Agri-Nutrient bulk stores between Huntly and Cape Reinga. From home base, that is either a 520km or 720km lead, meaning he certainly puts that Globetrotter sleeper cab to good use.

The name encapsulates everything that has gone into the truck.

“I like getting to the next store, have a shower and a meal, and be ready first thing in the morning,” says Jay.

Look closer, and this is a truck set up by truck people for truck people, with ample toolboxes, handwash facilities and a fall-back manually operated hoist controller mounted on the front toolbox should the wireless remote one ever ‘hiccup’ – this is ‘fert’ people, after all.

“It can be a bit of a ‘milk round’,” says Eric, “But we do the work the big bulkies shy away from. It’s complementary because it allows the overall supply chain to function. It works for everyone.”

The combination also celebrates achievement within the farming industry. The Tauranga Canvas curtains depict winners in the Balance Agri-Nutrients Farm Environment Awards, the King family from Gisborne on the truck, and the Kidd family from Helensville on the trailer. As a neat aside, the poster shot was taken on the Taipa farm of Winston Matthews, another prize-winning operation and the place Eric started his working career, which leads us to how this all came about.

Eric, Latecia, and driver Jay are all Far North folk. Eric (53) spent 10 years farming before taking up driving; Jay (43) is a career wheelman, and it shows watching him spin 23 metres of Volvo and trailer around on a single-lane country road.

“It makes life pretty easy, the I-Shift and all that,” says Jay mid-manoeuvre. “I used to drive a 300hp T-Line from Kaitaia to Gisborne to Tairua, to Auckland and then home again. Now, look at this.”

Eric’s dad drove for Kaitaia Transport, but Eric kicked off his driving career with Stu Desmond. In their respective careers, however, both Eric and Jay have worked their way through the ranks, and each spent time with some of the Far North’s famous transport names such as Mangonui Haulage and Kaitaia Transport in its standalone days. Both have immense respect for Mangonui’s owners, the Sparkman family, and attribute a lot of their knowledge and work ethic to them.

While driving at Mangonui, Eric got the opportunity to buy his own truck, servicing rural and drop-side work as an owner-driver. This led to running the local bulk store in Kaitaia, a business he and Latecia took on with the encouragement and blessing of his bosses.

Versatility and useability are key, hence the tipping curtain combination. The curtains celebrate success in the farming industry. The Razor tarping system (inset) makes Jay’s day quick, easy, and safe.

“It’s a community up here, eh?” says Eric. “We have a great relationship with Dennis and Sean [Sparkman], and we still work in together. If you’re butting heads in business today, no one wins.”

The store business has grown steadily, and throughput has gone from hundreds of tonnes per annum at the time of purchase to thousands.

The E & L Williams operation runs bulk spreaders, plus a UD on local work, there to help the Volvo at the Northern end when seasonal peaks mean things can get a little chaotic.

“The old Mitsubishi I had on the Volvo’s run was getting past it, and it was time to have a look,” said Eric.“Ballance has been great to us, and we wanted a truck that would do its best for everyone.

“I’ve always had a hankering for a Volvo. Dad drove a G88 at Kaitaia when I was a kid, so it’s a bit of a throwback to that. But I don’t reckon you’ll do much better anyway.

“Darren Caufield did the signage, and I think he did a great job — it stands out, that’s for sure. I brought it from Carl Capstick at Motor Truck.

“He’s one of the last of the gentlemen salesmen. He still calls in and has always stayed in touch in the 80,000km run so far.”

What is it they say? It’s not the destination but the journey? Something like that. This month’s Top Truck is the culmination of a journey to date and one with more than a kilometre or two left to ply.

It’s also a celebration of a husband-and-wife team, of a great friendship between a couple of boyhood mates, of a fantastic community, and what can be achieved even in a region that’s had more than its share of setbacks.

Maybe tough places sculpt great people?

Owner Eric Williams and (left) full-time driver on the Volvo, Jay Erstich; old mates who have come through the Far North driver ranks the right way … and it shows.