Women in Transport – A happy place

13 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMay 3, 2017

Photo: Tania Anderson checking the Mack Granite‘s load is secure before leaving Waverley Saw Mill.

By the time we meet up with Tania at 9am in Wanganui, she‘s already been to Karioi to drop off a load of wood chips and is heading to Waverley Saw Mill for another pick up. 

The yard at the mill is muddy as she manoeuvres the truck under the chip feeder. No automated process or helpers here – Tania climbs the ladder to turn on the feeder to fill the truck – and then jumps on the tractor to push the chips into the hopper. Once half the truck is filled she moves the truck forward to fill the second half, then repeats the process for the trailer. Tania is not usually on the day shift; normally she arrives at the mill in darkness and works with the aid of spotlights. “One time on the day shift I went straight to the light switch as this is just habit, then realised it was broad daylight,” she laughs. 

From Waverley it‘s back to Wanganui and across SH4 (the Paraparas). According to Google, ‘SH4 is a very tortuous road running through the hills and often suffers flood damage in many places‘. That ‘s a bit of an understatement as many sections of the road have been washed away and our way is currently controlled by several sets of traffic lights. 

Photo: Tania Anderson uses a tractor to move chips into the hopper at Waverley Saw Mill.

The views are spectacular and Tania knows the road like the back of her hand, regularly alerting us to points of interest along the way. She‘s an extremely steady driver and if you closed your eyes you‘d find it hard to believe you were in a truck the size of the Granite. 

“I love the Paras, that ‘s my happy place,” she says. “I know some people don‘t like the road but I feel at home here.” We arrive at the Winstone pulp mill at Karioi around 1.45pm and snow is softly falling. Tania fuels and weighs the truck before driving over to the tip-off point where she hops out and helps another McCarthy‘s driver – Ashlee, who is heavily pregnant – to blow her chip down the receiver. 

Air hoses help shift the chips as the bins slowly empty out, and Tania points out where the chips go once they leave the bins underneath the unloading area. 

We start the trip back to Wanganui, and as mentioned, extensive road works are being carried out on the Paraparas road. Tania is directed to drive on a section of road that was still being rebuilt when we came over earlier in the day. 

“Glad we‘re empty,” she says, “not sure I would be thrilled to be the first one over it if I were fully loaded!” Tania has been driving more than 20 years, having gained her truck licence in 1994 when she was 23. 

Photo: Tania Anderson – smooth operator of a Mack Granite.

“My stepfather worked for Southern Haulage, doing fertiliser and stock, and I used to go with him when I was about 10. That was pretty cool and that ‘s probably where I got it from, as no one else in my family were truck drivers. I sat my licence in a little Lakeview Dannevirke Hino 4-wheeler with a semi-trailer.” 

Before getting her truck licence Tania worked as a rowsey on a shearing gang at Ormondville for a couple of years, then in the office at the Norsewear factory and the Ford garage in Dannevirke before having her daughter. 

“My ex and I bought a refrigerated truck off Newman Carrying Palmerston North and after we went our separate ways, I went to Temperature Controlled Distribution.” Tania says she‘s impatient, always has been, and wanted to experience it all. 

“I pretty much did it all myself, but I had a couple of old-school fellas who took me under their wing when I was at TCD. Unfortunately they were both taken from us in accidents, but they were like dads to me. Hugh ‘Hayseed‘ Ferguson and Snowman, they were owner-drivers for TCD.”

Tania worked at TCD for three years then went to Fastways driving for Glen Brausch who was an owner-driver for Fastways at the time. Tania spent seven years doing a night run to Taupo, then another five years as an owner-driver as she and partner (now husband) Wylie bought the run from Glen. In the meantime Tania did a two-year stint driving for Halls while Wylie operated their Fastways run. In Tania‘s time with Fastways she had an ERF (she says “it sounded so cool”), then a CH Mack, the first Mack Vision in the country with a sleeper cab. She also had a Freightliner FLB, then a Columbia then an Argosy. 

Photo: SH 4 (the Paraparas) is still under repair and the trip is punctuated with several stops at traffic lights.

“We sold the run in 2010 to Daryl James who set it up as Sharp As Linehaul, and I went to McCarthy‘s as a dispatcher for two years. I was dispatching about 30 trucks and worked two phones and an RT 24/7 so it was pretty full-on but I enjoyed the challenge.” 

Feeling like a change of scenery, Tania moved to Dairyfresh as a dispatcher. Around this time Wylie decided to head to Australia to drive road trains from Port Hedland to the mines and back with iron ore – an 800km round-trip. 

“After three or four months I went over and joined him where we double-shifted the same truck, towing four trailers and being 174 tonnes fully loaded. We did fly-in fly-out, eight weeks on and two weeks off. We lived at the Jameson Transport Camp at Port Hedland for just over a year and then came home.” 

Tania says the time driving road trains in Australia really tested her, and while the job was relatively easy, changing tyres in 50° heat wasn‘t. 

“It was a hard year there. I‘d been driving for years but I learnt more about what was under the flaming bonnet when I had to do it myself. I learned how to fix the fan belt, etc, and anything that came up in those 12 months. It was a wicked experience for me, totally out of my comfort zone.” 

Photo: Tania using a blower hose to move the chips into the receiver.

When the couple returned to New Zealand two days before Christmas 2014, Wylie worked for Pilet Contracting in Marton and Tania did some relief work for J Swap and a couple of other transport companies before taking on the night shift at McCarthy‘s. 

“I have the cream end of the run and that ‘s what I‘ve done since March 2015. I load this and shoot over the Paraparas. I‘ve done a bit of logging too.” 

On a typical day Tania heads up to Karioi about 3pm to drop off a load of chips that have been brought down from New Plymouth by the day driver, John Swain. She returns to Waverley and loads with chip to bring back to the yard in Wanganui for John to pick up in the morning. He will unload it at Karioi before driving to Tangiwai where he loads the truck with timber to take to New Plymouth. After unloading the timber he reloads with chip at the same mill and leaves the loaded truck in Wanganui for her to take to Karioi. 

“It‘s a real treat for me to do a day shift, turning up and doing a couple of laps of the Paraparas, getting back about 11pm. I just hang out on the Paraparas, it ‘s my happy place.” 

Photo: Tania completes her paperwork after the day shift.

Last year Tania had a knee operation that saw her swap her driving seat for an office chair for a time. 

“I had three months off driving and that ‘s when I came into the office and was the little helper. I couldn‘t do a lot then but I know a lot more now. I help them out in the office doing the permits when I have time. I‘m a bit of a gofer really.”

Tania has driven many different trucks in her career, including Kenworth, Volvo, Freightliner, Western Star, Hino, and several Macks. 

“I like a bonneted truck and I would have to say Mack is my favourite but I won‘t be getting a Mack tattoo! I just love driving this truck and changing gears. I came over to this truck when it was fairly new, it had done 80,000kms double-shifting it.” It ‘s easy to see that Tania loves her work and has no desire to do anything else. 

“I love the people. I‘m a real people person, I love to talk, and I love being in charge. I like to be organised and know what I‘m doing. Some might say I‘m bossy (eh, Wylie?) but I‘d call it ‘ liking to be organised‘.”