Above image: Driver Leane Stewart in the cab of the 2015 DAF XF510
It’s what every truck driver dreads: you’re followed across the Desert Road by a motorhome and when you pull in at your next stop, it does as well. Leane Stewart had noticed the motorhome behind her since Hunterville and when it pulled in her immediate thought was, ‘I don’t think I cut him off!’ “My partner, Darren [Harrod] was there and the driver pulled up beside him while I was out of the truck doing checks,” she says.
The driver was Trevor Thorne, a retired CVIU (Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit) inspector, who said he’d been following the truck for some time and wanted to commend the driver.
“He said she was a consistent driver, stayed within the lanes and never exceeded 90kph, and was a pleasure to follow,” says Darren. “He didn’t have time to stop and talk to her but he gave me his card and said if she ever wanted a reference from
him, he’d be happy to give her one.” Leane was stunned, saying she had no idea who had been following her and therefore hadn’t adjusted her driving. “He was in a motorhome, he wasn’t in a police car. He told Darren he had sat behind us deliberately as he was happy to follow us.”
Leane drives a 2015 DAF XF510 B-train unit for MJ and TM Pickford, where she has worked for the past eight years. She cut her teeth on Bedford TKs and D Series Fords 26 years ago while living in England. “It was all about horse trucks then. I had a lot to do with fox hunting and also the New Zealand three-day eventing team that went to the Barcelona Olympics.
I worked for Alison Oliver, who was Princess Anne’s trainer, and I also associated with her children, Peter and Zara, and worked for the Flemings [Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond].”
In England Leane also groomed for Andrew Scott, a Manawatu equestrian who won team eventing gold at the World Equestrian Games in 1990 and was a reserve in the New Zealand Olympic team. Leane gained her Class 5 Licence after returning to New Zealand in 1992.
“I started driving with line haul, and over the years I have driven many different types of combinations. I particularly enjoyed doing container work, travelling to all the North Island ports.”
Leane has done her time as an owner/driver too, doing a lot of off-road work, aggregate, and transporting metal. “I did construction and was involved with the raising of the
Tangiwai Bridge. I’ve spread metal and have carted fertiliser up airstrip tracks to fertiliser bins. I also did time spreading aggregate on forest tracks, and have piloted wide loads.” For a time Leane worked at VTNZ Wanganui, then left and went driving part-time, returning as a reliever in Wanganui, Levin and Palmerston North VTNZ branches.
Leane has driven a wide variety of trucks, including R series Macks, Western Star, Iveco, Kenworth, and Freightliner. “I particularly enjoy DAFs, the comfort is fantastic.” Despite initially wanting to go nursing, Leane obviously enjoys her job.
“To me it’s the driving I like. My mum asks, ‘don’t you get bored?’ The day I get bored is the day I give it up.” Leane says in her many years of truck driving things have become more dangerous on the roads, with the worst offenders being slow and impatient car drivers who cause others to take risks. “We all have a destination to reach and a road to share – if only this could be done safely. I’d say I’ve become more cautious as time has gone by. If someone wants to go faster than me, I’m happy to pull over and let them go for it.”
The number of female truck drivers has increased since Leane started driving and while she says women are just as good when it comes to driving trucks, men do have one advantage – physical strength. Nowadays a typical working day starts at CourierPost at
3.30pm where she does her checks before heading to EziBuy where she loads her truck.
“I am on the road usually between 4.30–5pm. I head up to the swap point at Atiamuri and between 8.30–9.30pm I am on my way back home again, finishing back in Palmerston North around 1.30am.”
Leane takes enormous pride in her job and says she wants to do well and do that job to the best of her ability.