11 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 7, 2017

Suzanne McMurtrie, not an early starter in the big truck driving game,
but enjoying the machines, variety, and people she‘s meeting immensely.

Palmerston North‘s Suzanne McMurtrie may have started off doing the books for a trucking company, but it didn‘t take long before she ended up in the driver‘s seat.

Suzanne first met Zion Road Movement owner Andre Potter when he rented a flat on the property she and husband Tony owned.

“Andre spent all his time working and driving, or sleeping. I‘d done some work for a couple of small businesses and charitable organisations and I said I could do the books for him in my spare time.”

If Andre needed a truck moved in the yard, Suzanne says she would hop in and move it for him.

“All I‘d done all my life since I left school was accounting and office work, and been a wife and mum. Andre got me to back his truck and I thought it was really fun.”

One day while on his break in Christchurch, Andre went to get some tyres for the truck and was ticketed on the way there and back, which resulted in him losing his licence for a month.

“I thought if I could get my licence, I could do the daytime driving work. I was working part-time for an agricultural ITO next to the Farmers Transport guys, so I talked to them about getting my licence and they helped me get my class 2 and class 4 licences.”

Suzanne began working for Hookers, doing some around town work at Christmas when they were busy, and Andre paid for her to get her class 5 licence faster.

“I also worked for Linfox, and Freight In Motion in the lower North Island, on call. Zion used to have fortnightly work taking bananas from Wellington wharf to Tawa all day, and then a load back to Palmy. This became my job most fortnights, usually on a Sunday or Monday. I loved that job. The banana ships no longer come in to Wellington, so that work has gone.”

“I just enjoy driving something big like this. You look out the rear vision mirror and see the trailer 25m behind you and think ‘Wow, that‘s cool‘.”

Zion Road Movement has two trucks – a 620hp 2006 Freightliner Argosy 4×6 towing a 2016 Maxicube Freighter 6-axle B-train, and a 1998 Freightliner FLB towing a 6-axle Roadmaster B-train. Andre runs the Argosy to Auckland three times a week, while the FLB is now the spare truck.

“The Argosy is an auto, but the old truck has an 18-speed Roadranger. It‘s great having the auto around town, but I love driving the FLB. I‘ve driven many different trucks, Volvo, little Mitsis and Isuzus around town for Hookers, a Western Star for Brenics, and a quick drive in a Kenworth. I learned to drive in a Scania. I haven‘t done a lot of truck and trailer work, it‘s mostly tractor and B-train.”

In addition to driving and doing the books for Zion, two days a week Suzanne also does the office work and a bit of stock movement for an agricultural contractor.

“Every Tuesday and Thursday I work for Zion once the truck has been unloaded, loading Chep pallets, or sometimes waste from the recycling plant, then it‘s down to the truck wash, and any maintenance that needs doing while the truck‘s in Palmy (tyres, mechanic, VTNZ, etc) – that‘s a Palmerston North day.

If the south-bound load is for Wellington, I do the bottom end of the run – Andre would pull in at 3am and I would jump in and do the Wellington end, sometimes taking the truck to Masterton to reload with timber or printed matter, or bounce back to Palmy for a load.”

Suzanne says taking the truck over the Rimutaka Hill for the first time was scary, especially the first time in the dark and rain. But she enjoyed it because she likes a challenge. There have been offers to go driving full time, but that isn‘t something Suzanne plans to do right now.

“Tony has his own management consultancy business working from home, and he travels out of town for a couple of days most weeks. We have our wee granddaughter once a week, and three foster children once or twice a week, so I am a bit too busy to go full time. I like working for Zion part-time and I also don‘t want to leave the agricultural job. I wouldn‘t mind another couple of owner-drivers who want me to drive part-time like this, or a bit more work for the FLB.”

The couple have been fostering children since 1989, and Suzanne says she enjoys being able to give kids what she says is a normalish experience of family life and the love and encouragement and experiences that they may not get in their home life.

“We have four children of our own, aged 31, 29, 27 and 25, and our foster-daughter is about to turn 21. We keep in touch with some of the children.”

Suzanne says the people she meets in the course of her job are the salt of the earth.

“If I were not in the transport industry, as a middle-aged woman I wouldn‘t get to meet half the people I meet. There‘s a whole side of life in New Zealand operating during the  night that people don‘t know about, who ensure the shops are full of food and that all the things we need are there for us. People don‘t appreciate that drivers, loaders, storemen and dispatchers keep the country running, they don‘t realise these people are beavering away during the night.”

Suzanne‘s advice for anyone, male or female, contemplating getting behind the big wheel is just ‘give it a go!‘ Oh, and listen.

About the only negative response Suzanne has had while driving involved an old man at an intersection.

“He called out and said I was doing a guy‘s job. I thought he was joking and laughed, but he was serious! I just smiled and drove off. The reaction from the industry people by and large has been very good. In fact being a woman driver, if I turn up somewhere and can‘t undo a ratchet, people offer to help.”

On a quick run around town it‘s plain to see Suzanne loves driving a truck, and she agrees, saying it‘s a great industry to be in.

“When I first started driving my husband thought I was having a mid-life crisis but otherwise he‘s been really supportive. He reckons I should go and drive in Aussie for a couple of years, and says he would just come for the ride!

“The advice I would give to any woman considering becoming a truck driver would be no different from what I‘d give a guy. Just go for it. Be willing to work hard, be willing to take advice from those who have done it before, and don‘t moan. It‘s hard work, but rewarding. You also have to treat the truck as a lethal weapon. They are big, fast and heavy, and need to be driven with respect – respect for the truck, and other motorists on the road. Stop when you‘re tired and have your breaks, or you‘ll be asleep before you know it. And don‘t become an owner-driver if you want to be a millionaire!”

Suzanne and Tony have recently joined the Northern Classic Commercials Club and have been on a couple of their runs in the FLB. They really enjoyed it, and Suzanne says when they have time, plan to do some more.

The Zion Road Movement fleet.