Tribute – Jimmy Swain the gentle giant

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 30, 2017

Above: The Mercedes-Benz Jim drove for almost a million kilometres on the CWS job in Canterbury.

John James Swain, also known as Jim or Jimmy, was a man who was known for his loyalty, generosity and a great work ethic.

Jim had a very similar stature to Colin ‘Pinetree‘ Meads, which led to nicknames like ‘Gentleman Jim‘ from the people he dealt with, or ‘Pinecone‘, which shares the obvious link to his height and his job in the logging industry.

In the early days of his working career Jim worked for Arthur Blair Transport in Eskdale, Hawke‘s Bay, on general carrier work, starting out driving a V8 Perkins powered Dodge with a 2-axle tip trailer. He worked his way up through a series of ERF 8×4 trucks carting fertiliser, stock, hay, metal and posts amongst other things, around the Hawke‘s Bay and Wairoa area.

Above: the T Line.

Ranging from 250 to 335 horsepower, the ERFs were big gear back in the 1970s, and a Jacobs engine brake made negotiating the steep hills and tight corners of the region easier, Jim taking it all in his stride and making it look easy.

When Jim joined Pan Pac in 1976 he drove a LW Kenworth, number 64, which was set up as a truck and trailer with a dolly. He drove this until 1981 when he purchased LW Kenworth number 83 off the company and went out as an owner-driver for Pan Pac, running under the company name J. J. Swain.

Jim‘s next truck was a T2670 International 6×4 with a 3-axle trailer. That was followed by an 8×4 E14 ERF, one of the first running the electronically managed engines. The truck featured in ERF‘s advertisements of the day, with Jim standing alongside with his trusty thermos flask that he often took in the truck.

Above: Freightliner Argosy

Good friend Murray Young worked with Jim at Pan Pac and recalls sending him to a job when they first hauled logs out of Ruatoria. Murray recalls Jim was running a Freightliner Argosy. The job involved crossing half a dozen rivers and climbing right up the back of Ruatoria to get the logs.

Jim returned to say, “Murray, you‘ll have to be careful who you send in to that job”. Murray said, “That was the sort of person he was, the kind you‘d send in to a job first time; safety just came naturally and Jim always showed a heap of initiative”.

There was always a queue at the truck wash at Pan Pac so Jim developed his own trailer wash system that was state of the art and enabled him to wash the unit at home. This was also used at some of the Pan Pac Christmas events so the kids could have a water slide.

Above: The first Kenworth LW at Pan Pac;

In all of Murray‘s time at Pan Pac he never heard Jim say  a bad word and he never slept in.

“Even though it was the middle of winter he used to come in at the end of the day, having worked in sometimes difficult conditions, always with his hair combed and he‘d be clean and tidy while others would look like they‘d been in a rugby scrum!” said Murray.

In 2005, when Murray moved to Christchurch to help create Canterbury Waste Services (CWS), he wanted someone on his team who the younger guys would look up to and learn from, and Jim was his man.

Jim got a brand new 8×4 Mercedes Actros hook truck and trailer, number 212, and looked after it like it was his own, running up 980,000 kms going back and forth to Kate Valley Landfill.

Jim continued to drive for CWS right up until his passing on 31 December 2016 at the age of 75. Jim is survived by his wife Dot and three children, one of whom, his son David, now drives a longs unit at Pan Pac where Jim worked all those years ago. Many thanks to Jim‘s friends Nigel Northcroft, Murray Young and Rob Caulfield for all their help with this article, along with Ed Mansell for his fantastic photographs.

Rest in peace Jim Swain, a legend of our highways, gone but not forgotten.