Turning wheels and kicking pedals

In Short Story July 2022, July 20227 MinutesBy Cark Kirkbeck and Gavin MyersAugust 9, 2022

It’s a conversation we’re repeatedly having – there is not enough new blood getting behind the wheel, and the overreach of health and safety regulations is high on the list of causes. Scott Tate, now 45, got the bug when it was still acceptable to sit on Dad’s knee and entered the industry on the cusp of health and safety becoming an overriding force.

“I never planned on doing this all my life. I thought I’d do it for 20 or 25 years and move on. But here we are, still turning wheels and kicking pedals. This is my 27th year driving. I’ve tried to get away from it a couple of times, but I always ended up coming back.”

As a third-generation driver, that’s probably unsurprising. “Dad’s dad, I couldn’t tell you who he drove for – but I know he built some of the first wooden stock crates. My father, Spud, drove for Stephensons for more than 22 years. He’s retired but is currently back with them doing apple season,” says Scott, before returning to the kids-in-trucks conundrum.

“I’m an avid fan of getting kids into trucks. Unfortunately, current rules are so strict that it’s tough to get anyone interested. When I was a kid, I was sitting on my father’s knee steering trucks around feedlots, driving his old Scania around the Tomoana freezing works. You can’t do that now.”

At about 12, Scott got a job at Farmers Transport washing the stock crates. “At that age, I was driving their stock trucks around their yard, learning to back into the wash. Back then, they didn’t have a drive-through wash; you’d back on and once you washed the trailer, you’d turn around, drive the truck on and wash that. There wasn’t a lot of margin for error, and I used to wash till all hours of the night.

“I’d cruise with the guys from FT, like Mike Wise. I’d go with him in an old 340 Nissan. I had it all in my head before even progressing from the passenger seat to the driver seat because I’d spent so many years watching them and Dad do it. I constantly watched the experienced guys and learnt from them. That’s what the modern era of drivers is missing out on.”

Scott left school at 16 and spent the next couple of years pumping gas and working towards getting his licences. At 18, he got his start, thanks to Michael Barker, joining Barker Contractors on a Ford 1017 N-series with a Bobcat on the back. “Yep, it was actually with Michael that I got my start. He employed me to drive that around and do jobs with the Bobcat,” Scott says.

A few years later, Scott decided to spend some time (five and a half years) trucking around the South Island, joining Frews North Canterbury before moving to TW Transport. “They threw me on a CH Mack bulk unit, and once I got on that, I knew bulk was my thing,” Scott says.

Heading back to the North Island, Scott did a stint with Roadfreighters, doing containers between Napier and Auckland on an old 380 Nissan with a 43-foot tri-axle semi. From there, marriage and a move to New Plymouth saw Scott “doing linehaul freight and bits and pieces”, before doing a stint on logs for three or four years.

“When I came back up here, I spent seven years doing bulk for Sandford Transport in Napier.”

In-between, Scott made an appearance back at Barker Contracting, driving the older Fuso HD 470, before heading off again to do logs. It wasn’t long until he joined the company again: in June 2021, back on the old HD, before the 510 Shogun arrived in January.

“I’ve been fortunate, worked my way around the whole country. I’ve seen it top to bottom, coast to coast, and had the opportunity to drive numerous trucks – ERFs, Foden Alphas and older ones with [425] Cats. As the time’s gone on and gear’s gotten better, I’ve been fortunate to get into some nicer gear – Volvo 600s, Scania 620s…” says Scott. As for the Shogun 510, he rates it the top of the class of Japanese trucks. But he’s yet to drive his ‘ultimate’.

“I’ve always had a hankering to go to the States. I’ve always had that American dream, and I’d love to have the opportunity out there to try it out. It’s pretty hard to beat a 389 Pete with a big bonnet out in front of you!”

So, Scott Tate: a driver who got the right start and got out there to do it all and drive it all – while in his spare time dabbling in a bit of computer programming or hopsping on his motorbike and heading out to do a bit of drone photography… “Yeah, I’m a registered drone pilot – so’s Mike, by the way! – and a registered electrician. A jack of all trades, master of none,” he says.

“But there’s something about diesel getting in the blood … it’s there to stay.”