The small moving the big

8 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineSeptember 20, 2017

‘The Small Moving the Big‘ is more than a catchphrase for load pilot Joe Howland – it has a more personal connection.

Joe is a little person, as is his wife, Hollie, and their son, Jonty, who is six and mad about trucks.

As a child Joe dreamed of being a truck driver, but his small stature along with the need for adaptions that could limit the truck to Joe being the only one to drive it, prevented him from following this career path. The father of one of his school friends owned a trucking company, Garrity Bros in Greytown, and Joe says he would spend all his spare time there, helping out where he could. This is what kept Joe‘s passion for trucks alive – being able to immerse himself in the trucking life without the need to drive them.

The Howland family (above) Joe and Hollie with truck-mad son Jonty.
The couple are building a successful piloting business. 

“When it came time to leave school I went down south to Christchurch looking for an automotive apprenticeship but couldn‘t find anyone willing to take me on. I did a bit of work for family friends in their workshops because they knew me, and my determination to succeed. My size meant I could get into the engine bays and foot wells without bending my body into uncomfortable positions that an average height person would.”

An apprenticeship wasn‘t the only thing Joe was chasing – he admits he‘d followed Hollie there!

Joe eventually began working in a supermarket as a storeman, and got tired of people assuming that because of his height he couldn‘t drive the forklift. Once he mastered driving a forklift, he spent the next four years or so doing that.

The couple went to Australia for about a year, with Joe taking on a customer service job in Melbourne.

“We came back to Wellington and I then got a couple of jobs in technology and inventory companies, driving forklifts, organising logistics and booking jobs, but I was made redundant due to a downturn in the dairying industry.”

In 2012 Joe heard about a job with the New Zealand Transport Agency in the control room and he‘s been there ever since.

“That‘s when I learned about becoming an over-dimensional load pilot, what was involved, and that really intrigued me. I always wanted to be on the road so I got my Class 2 pilot‘s licence.

“I‘ve been doing it for about a year now. I work shifts, and on my days off or between shifts I do piloting. The loads have varied over the time – mostly wide loads with the odd long load.”

Joe‘s work in the NZTA Transport Operations Centre is improving day-to-day communications with the piloting community.

Joe contracts himself out and works closely with other Wellington/Kapiti-based pilots. Joe says the best part of the job is the ability to travel around the country. 

“My office is different every day. The trucking community is different from everywhere else. It‘s all about whether you can do the job or not.”

Hollie uses her background in dispatch and administration to help Joe with the day-to-day running of the business and has now gained her Class 2 load pilot‘s licence.

“She knows the terminology so she understands what I do. I would like to do this full time and build the business up. We have set out 2, 5, 7 and 10-year goal plans, and by year two the plan is for me to be piloting full time.”

Joe says he hadn‘t experienced discrimination from the transport industry due to his size, that all people care about is whether he can do the job or not.

“I relied heavily on my CV in past employment so they can see ‘this guy has got his qualifications and experience‘. Once I have done the job and then meet them, they never bat an eyelid; they are all pleased the job was done. My reputation is starting to get out. If you do a good job and it doesn‘t cost them money with things going wrong, they are happy.”

Joe says it‘s always a bit nerve-wracking doing the first load in a new area.

“I did the Rimutaka Hill and thought it would be nerve- wracking. I‘ve driven the hill hundreds of times but never as a pilot but there were no dramas. Most people obey your instructions but there are the odd few who don‘t.”

Joe‘s pilot vehicle has the slogan ‘The Small Moving the Big‘ and he says people always smile when they see it, then give a bigger smile once he hops out.

“A lot of pilots just drive unmarked vehicles but I wanted to have that edge, to be different.”

Joe feels there is a good balance between working for NZTA and load piloting.

“We‘re here to help. Prior to working in the control room there was little to no communication between pilots and the Transport Operations Centre (TOC). Over time I have been developing a process that would bridge the gap in communication between TOC and pilots who were on the road and notify them of crashes, delays and roadworks that would affect their travel. It‘s starting to make a difference. Pilots are now calling in and checking for any active roadworks and also asking for the STMS contact details within the Wellington network, and this is having a positive effect for all involved.”

In his spare time Joe likes to spend time with his family and friends, and when the weather is fine he enjoys a spot of fishing. He‘s a great fan of Lego, and belongs to a local Lego group that puts on shows with the proceeds going to a local charity. His passion is making his own Lego creations, mostly trucks and heavy haulage.

You can follow Joe and Hollie on their journey on Facebook, J Howland Piloting.