Riding shotgun with James

Rochelle heads out with James from Croskery Contracting in Masterton to learn all about what a day in the life of a trucker really looks like.

It’s still pitch black when I arrive at the Croskery’s yard before sunrise at 6.30am to meet up with James Sladden. I am given a hi-vis vest and we head to his truck, a 2018 Volvo FM500. The first thing he does is a safety check, walking around the truck checking his tyres. We climb in and while the truck is warming up, James starts his logbook for the day.

We head over to a pile of crushed metal (stones) where James parks the truck and climbs into the loader and loads his truck with 26 tonnes of 65ml metal.

Once loaded we drive two hours to Tora Beach, South Wairarapa. The views are stunning and when we arrive the sun is rising across the bay above the hills – so beautiful, something I don’t get to see every day!

James has been working at Croskery’s for two years, previously he was working at a quarry, Taweru Lime Works, in Masterton for 20 years. He has always loved trucks and as soon as he was old enough, he got his HT licence at 16 years of age. James loves being out and about seeing the country and enjoys the different challenges this kind of work offers.

At Tora Beach the truck was unloaded trailer first onto the muddy gravel road while the truck was driven very slowly forward. A digger followed, spreading the metal. From there we continued down the hill and turned the truck around and headed back up the slippery slope and emptied the truck bin. Then we got stuck! With some clever driving skills and some help from a digger pushing us from behind, we were on our way again very quickly. Our next stop was Peter Warren Aggregates, Featherston. The first thing James did was fill in some paperwork, this is to sign in to say he’s on site. Here we were loaded again with 65ml metal, but this time it was loaded for us. We then headed back to Tora to unload. This time James unloaded the trailer then drove back up the hill and unhooked the trailer and went back down, truck only, to unload the bin to ensure we didn’t get stuck again.

The reason we are taking the metal to Tora is because they are putting in a culvert. This is a large pipe that runs under the road to let the water flow and prevent flooding. The metal we are laying is covering the culvert – a very important part of keeping our roads safe and usable for motorists. It may sound simple but it’s a big job that includes lots of different types of workers including a traffic management team that needs to ensure the road is clear for the truck, as it is a very narrow dirt road that can only allow vehicles travelling in one direction at a time.

We head back to Featherston to load up again and take one last load to Tora. From there we then head to Ahiaruhe River, Carterton. Here James jumps on the loader and fills up both bins, truck and trailer with river run (stones of all shapes and sizes) that we take back to Masterton and unload at the Croskery yard to be processed. That means the stones will be broken down to rough rubble to be used for future jobs.

It is about 5.30pm when we fuel up the truck and park up, it’s now knock off time. James completes his logbook and paperwork for the day. It was a great day learning about what James does in his Volvo and what Croskery Contracting is all about. Not only does James have a cool job driving trucks AND machinery, but he gets to see some hidden gems and amazing scenery in and around the Wairarapa region!

Safety first

We spend a day at the Compliance and Safety Centre with Senior Constable Ian Deane and the team at Ohakea.

Keeping our trucks and drivers safe is a very important part of our job, says Senior Constable Ian Deane. Ian used to drive trucks but decided in 1997 to join the New Zealand Police Force and has been attached to the Commercial Vehicle Inspection team for the last 14 years. He joined to help people, and enjoys the flexibility of the job and the relationships he has built with truck drivers over the years. This shows as I see them go through smiling, waving, and some even stopping to chat.

One of Ian’s teammates, Constable Barry Vinten, was already at the office when I arrived and the “All Trucks Stop“ sign was on letting truck drivers know to pull in on their way past for a quick weigh check to ensure they are travelling safe and within the requirements of the law.

If all is well, it is a very fast process where they drive up to the red light by the office where the scales are and drive over. The weight is logged on the computer inside so the constables can check details. If everything looks good then the driver gets a thumbs up, the light turns green, and the driver carries on with his day.

Ohakea Compliance & Safety Centre

If there is an issue, the driver is asked to pull over and the constable will look further into the matter and if needed fill out a commercial vehicle inspection report.

Senior Constable Deane turns up with cookies and milk! We have a cuppa and talk about some of the things they do.

Weighing the trucks is important as there are limits to how much they can carry safely. Without going into too much detail, they have a list of different axle sets and lengths of vehicles that determine how much each vehicle can carry. For example: an 8 axle truck could carry 46 tonne gross weight, or a 9 axle truck could carry 50 tonne gross weight (with a permit it could carry up to 58 tonne).

But there is more to a Commercial Vehicle Safety inspector than just weighing the trucks. They also check for vehicle defects, things that may be broken or need replacing. The safety of the vehicle can include things like tyres, lights and suspension. Then there is vehicle fitness, they check to see that they are up to date with registration and road user fees and that it has a current COF (certificate of fitness) – this is a safety check done every six months to ensure everything on the truck is working properly. Dangerous goods are another thing that may need checking. Making sure the load is secured/loaded properly. And logbooks, these are a documentation of the hours a driver works with compulsory break and stop times to ensure they get rest and don’t work too long and get too tired. A truck driver can legally drive up to 70 hours in one week. That’s a lot of time trucking! They can work no more than 14 hours in one day including two half hour breaks where they can eat a meal, stretch their legs and have a breather. They must then have at least a 10 hour rest/sleep period. Once 70 hours is worked, they are required to have a minimum of 24 hours off work.

All trucks stop sign

Truck drivers have huge responsibilities, and it is the duty of our Commercial Vehicle Inspection Officers to ensure they are doing their job safely, securely and legally. They are also there to help. Because they are very knowledgeable in their area of expertise drivers, truck owners/operators etc can call on them to answer any questions or enquiries regarding the legal aspects of their work.

There are around 12 Compliance and Safety Centres around New Zealand, and multiple more weigh pits where the officers use portable scales. All weigh bridges are calibrated 12 monthly. This means they are carefully assessed, set and/or adjusted. This is to make sure they are accurate and give correct readings.

Located across from the weigh bridge office are the Highway Patrol (Road Police) and administration offices. Today I saw two of these police officers called away because a truck had veered off the road. Their job is to assess the scene/ area and see what factors may have contributed to this happening and write up a report.

If It's broken we fix

No two days are the same for apprentice mechanic Natarsha Smith, who is working hard to become a specialist in heavy diesel machinery.

Natarsha works as an apprentice heavy diesel mechanic at Hyster NZ, which provides a range of fork- lifts and other handling solutions to business.

“We’ve got about 20 machines at this site with forklifts ranging from two and a half tonne right up to twenty-five tonne,” she explains.

“We fix anything on the machines that can break - so anything from the front mast to the hydraulics and the electrical and mechanical side. Whatever’s broken, we fix it – you never know what you’re going to get!”

Natarsha works as an apprentice heavy diesel mechanic at Hyster NZ

With a day so varied, it’s no surprise that Natarsha’s favourite part of the job is problem-solving. “When you’re not sure what’s wrong and you figure it out, that’s the best.”

Study study study Natarsha’s been working at Hyster NZ in Mount Maunganui for two and a half years and is well on her way through her MITO New Zealand Certificate in Heavy Automotive Engineering. The course is designed for people interested in servicing and repairing electric and non- electric forklifts and other machinery used for moving and storing materials, goods and products.

“There was a job in Tauranga for materials handling and I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I applied and here I am! I’m really grateful it worked out the way it did. It feels like one of those things in life that’s meant to happen.”

Hyster NZ can fix anything on the machines that break

Not just for boys

Natarsha says that despite lots of people thinking the heavy diesel industry is just for boys, it’s not true.

“The opinions of having girls doing this kind of work is improving greatly and I get really positive feedback. Especially in heavy diesel, people think it’s going to be hard work and a lot of heavy lifting, but if something weighs too much, there’s always another machine that you can use to lift it,” she says.

“I would definitely recommend this industry to anyone. It’s a lot of fun!”