Maurice and Les, mates through thick and thin and still truckin’ on.
Continued for Top Truck article:
They both left school at the same time, remaining in Ruawai but going their separate ways for about a year, Maurice embarking on his driving career at J P Yelich and then Thurstons, and Les working on the 186-acre family farm.
Les was one of 10 children, his father Robert (RJ) and mother Eileen requiring him to work on the farm until he eventually decided to do his own thing.
He went to work as a builders’ labourer with Gordon Hardstaff on sites around the district and then decided to try his hand at driving. His first driving job, like Maurice, was at J P Yelich during the hay baling season. He too moved on to Thurston Transport driving trucks converted to four-wheel drive for ground spreading. The next step was somewhat more radical.
Les decided to purchase a brand new Mercedes 1113 factory-built four-wheel drive cab and chassis, one of the very first to go into service in New Zealand, with the bin and spreader mechanism added locally. Maurice, also purchased the same model Mercedes, and the two mates worked for Thurstons as owner-drivers.
The 1113 Mercedes cost L12,000 ($24,000) in 1964, and although that was expensive compared with other trucks (which needed converting to four-wheel drive – around $8000), the productivity was seven to eight times greater, as was the reliability. During this time Les met Nora and they wed in August 1968 – the best man at their wedding was of course Maurice. Les and Nora set about life together raising a young family.
Maurice’s lifelong best mate, Les Comer.
The couple experienced setbacks early on when Les’s brother, Murray, died in an electrical accident in November 1968 while in Australia. Trials aside, the couple dug deep and established themselves in additional enterprises, including a milk run and building commercial property in nearby Paparoa.
Tragedy struck on 3 December 1988 when one of Les and Nora’s sons died in a forestry accident. As had been case in the past, the family drew strength from endeavour, channeling their energy into something that would honour those lost.
The Comer portfolio continued to grow Les and Nora establishing a firewood business that supplying the greater Auckland area (refer Women in Transport Nov 2016 issue). Maurice and Les, mates through thick and thin and still truckin’ on.
All of the wood is processed at their own processing plant and Nora oversees that operation while Les fullfills a log haulage contract carting export logs from Kumeu and Helensville areas to Marsden Point in Ruakaka.
In the case of these two 71-year-olds, Maurice Gwillim and Les Comer, the thought of retiring has been discarded in favour of a comfortable life driving high specced new Mercedes-Benz trucks. Although Maurice runs out of Whangarei and Les from Hellensville they’re still in regular contact.
“Modern technology allows us to talk a lot of rubbish at regular intervals and we still keep up in on each other’s whereabouts,” Les said.
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