MAIN TEST - Yesterday’s beauty

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

At face value it’s a K200 Kenworth with an uber cool retro grille, and although there’s more to the machine in terms of specs and tweaks, are its staggering looks conveying a far deeper message?

Walking towards Eden Haulage Fleet No 12 the excitement is elevated. Is it the thought of embarking on a rounder from Invercargill to Christchurch and home via the MacKenzie Country and Central Otago? Is it the knowledge you’re going to spend the next couple of days in the cab of a truck dressed in the slick, Invercargill-based outfit’s livery? Or is it this truck…brand new yet some kind of freakish flashback to a time when trucking was pure; pure in its intent to deliver what was needed to those waiting, pure in the ethos of those who gave up day-to-day life at home to fulfil a commitment and scratch an itch that only trucking can pacify, and pure in its sense of camaraderie and adventure – a time when truckers waved, and stopped for others in need of help. The truth was, it was all of those things, and when the immaculately presented Blair Chambers strode around the corner of the big Kenny’s cab and said, “Right, let’s go load and get outta here,” we couldn’t get to the steps and grab handles quick enough.

“She’s a sweet one tonight,” said Blair as he slipped the gear lever into second and eased the clutch out. A grumble came from deep in ‘Angus Spud’s’ bowels, and truck, trolley, and inhabitants rolled slowly toward the Bond Street gate. “Full load, one drop. Boom.” It’s roughly a 20-kilometre run out to the loading point at local icon Pyper’s Produce, where a full load of vegetables will go on for hungry tums all over the South Island. Our task was to deliver them to a distribution hub in Christchurch before taking the required 10-hour layover, and then reloading product for delivery in Queenstown the following day.

Photo: Something old, something new… hang on, something new something old? We give up.

Posture is everything
A golden rule of health and vitality, if posture’s compromised then a visit to the infirmary will transpire at some point. One of the first things that has an impact on the senses looking across the yard at ‘Angus S’ is his impeccable stance. Low and level with not a hint of the German Shepherd-like lazylooking arse end that can sometimes define a Kenworth’s stature. ‘Wow’ factor right there and then. “We specced this one with the PRIMAAX arse end and deep drop front axles,” said Eden Haulage owner Phil Collinson. “It’s bloody low, but looks much better, and safer too. It’s more stable in the back end. I’ve got Southpac sourcing a bumper lift kit so Blair can flick a switch and lift it clear if he’s somewhere tricky. We’ve pushed so many boundaries. It’s not the easiest machine in the fleet to operate, but it is the new standard build for us.”

Loading took no time at all with Blair and Eden Haulage stalwart Darryl Millar on the forks. Phil sorted the admin and soon we pulled out onto Lochiel-Branxholme Road (yep, that’s the name) with just under 28 tonne of vegan vitality in the rear compartments. The X15 got stuck in and Blair put the first of countless white centrelines beneath Angus’ wheels as the big gold and green K’dub set course for the Garden City – how ironic is that, LOL. “It’s a completely different machine from the other three,” said Blair. “It’s just on rails, eh. There’s no roll or sway, it steers impeccably, and the lock is better too with the drop axle set. I’ve only been in it a few weeks but already if I drive one of the others the difference is noticeable instantly. The other guys who have driven this pick it up straight away also. “It took a bit to get me out of the Freighty, eh. That thing is just a freak. There’s nothing in the fleet that gets near it. But no, I’m used to this now. She’s pretty bloody good.”

Photo: Lovely posture, Mr Angus.

Stuck record time. The X15 is such a beautiful noise beneath the cab, you could listen to it all night…and we pretty much did, well, a good half of it anyway. We come back again to the realisation that there is a marked difference in the richness of sound from the 15-litre and over set, and the truck’s robust 72dB interior noise level – which peaked at 78dB at one point with the fan, jakes, and all manner of action afoot – was in no way annoying. In fact, where’s that volume control to give us another notch? Picking up on that point though, there were more sound waves with us in the cab than say Corey Duggan’s 2.8m condominium on wheels, but that’s probably due to the reduced cavity in which they have to disperse.

Mr Collinson I presume?
A great take on a famous line for meeting an explorer of any genre, and Phil has certainly honed his exploratory credentials with this set-up. He set out to build a unit able to deliver a lot, literally. As is so often the case, weight only comes into play for a couple of customers, and to that end tonight’s load had Angus close to his 50 tonne max. The rest of the debtors ledger is all about volume, and so the truck is set up to maximise cubic capacity within the bounds of needing chillers, and having a shade more respect for the person at the wheel than say Leyland James did when he presented the world with his ‘Freightlining’ manifestations of ‘maximised cube’ in the 50s. Angus can place 36 Chep on the deck, with a chiller hanging off the front of the trailer; suffice to say IVS is on the mark. The truck body is a clear 7.5m internal and the step deck Roadmaster trailer on 19.5” rims is 11.8m.

In order to optimise the truck cavity, the deck is as low as is possible with redistributed cross members, notched wheel arches, and a front cross member cut, allowing the exhaust pipe to pass through. “It’s bloody tight,” said Phil. “The buckles have to be placed properly otherwise a wheel can ping them off.” Blair seemed at ease with his big gold buddy, however. “It’s just a case of thinking first and acting second. I’ve been to most of our regulars and not had a problem. I’ll just have to be a little cautious at new places. It’s things like pushing the dolly back under if you have to jack-knife and stuff like that. She’ll be right. I’m sure I’ll end up somewhere with sweat on the brow,” he laughed.

Right in the midst of the build the nuisance of nostalgia reared its head slightly. Normally, to get the body jammed hard up to the cab the air intakes route down through the front wall, and then out and into the motor. At the top of the cab air kit notches are cut out to allow the intakes to poke out into clean air. That’s normally. But when you’ve already cut and tucked the air kit to give it the Rudkin-Wiley look, you’re in a bit of a pickle. That meant concaving the front wall of the body to allow the narrow barrelled stock truck style air intakes to be fitted instead. Problem there is, those narrow barrelled sets are made for the Aerodyne, flaring out at the top as the Aerodyne vista section slopes in toward the roof – the flat roof cab and air kit are straight up and down, no slope. Damn! So, a special set of extra-long narrow barrelled intakes had to be made by Mike Christie Sheetmetals in Palmerston North, who Phil said were absolute heroes. So, it’s all done. Easy! No, not really.

‘Malcolm the magician’ (Willie that is), had to strip the back of the cab out to fit the bracket system that holds the new intakes. Now we’re done. Was it all worth it? Look at the jaws of the onlookers, people, look at the jaws. That’ll tell you. As for the customers, there’s already a problem with some requesting ‘the new truck’ on account of its extra appetite. “It’s not the lightest at 22,160kg tare [13,180kg/8980kg] but there are big chillers, insulated curtains, the PRIMAAX which is heavier, and BPW welded-seat shockless suspension in the trailer. We could go beyond 50MAX but with the rules the way they are at the moment, the economics just aren’t there. It’s bloody crazy,” said Phil.

Photos: Angus Spud certainly has an appetite for pleasing the customer base. Eden Haulage is old school team spirit at its best. While Darryl Millar loads the front bit, Blair loaded the back and somewhere Sean Doyle was taking care of layer boards and straps.

A comfortable passage
Mechanically speaking there’s nothing unfamiliar here. If the Hyundai was all-new, the Kenworth was very much the favourite sweatshirt, with Euro 5 Cummins X15 power and vitals set at 410kW (580hp) and 2508Nm (1850lb/ft). There’s an 18-speed Roadranger RTLO18918B manual transmission, and Meritor RT46-160GP rear axles at 4.1:1 with cross-locks on the rear thread. Front axles are Meritor MFS66-124 Drop Axles at 13.2 tonne for the pair, on Kenworth load share taper leaf springs and shock absorbers. Rearward is, as we said, Hendrickson PRIMAAX EX 462 at 21,000kg. Brakes on the truck are drum, and disc on the trailer, all with ABS/EBS, and obviously stability control to meet HPMV requirements. The truck has Drag Torque (DTC), meaning it won’t lock wheels under auxiliary braking, and Automatic Traction Control (ATC).

Photo: There’s not a lot of room for ‘possums’.

With the above spec matched to Roadmaster bodies, BPW axles and suspension on the trailer, Carrier fridges, and Tauranga Canvas curtains, there’s no question that in Kiwi trucking parlance Phil’s intention was for the combination to ooze reliability from the moment he scratched its DNA onto a piece of paper. It’s just what a small fleet working on the tight uncompromising timelines of the food distribution game needs. Talking uptime and maintenance, Phil relies on Transport Repairs in Invercargill for his maintenance work. “They’re our main service provider. Part-owner John Fowler was the head mechanic at Ryal Bush Transport for years and pretty much taught me everything mechanically I’ve ever learnt.

The same things I still teach drivers today. Best service providers I could ever ask for.” As it was ‘A Spud’ decided to show us all just how good they are by turning on his oil pressure warning light as we were heading out to Pyper’s to load. John Fowler’s son Jason, also a part-owner, wheeled in the gate in a flash and was on the case only to find that 21st century trucking delight, a faulty sensor, was the culprit. “One really good thing about these [Kenworth] is they build in three independent circuits measuring oil pressure. So we’re good,” said Jason. “I have to say I’ve not seen this sensor fault before. You’re good to go!” So we did. Angus is averaging 1.85kpl (5.22mpg) in his short 20,000km life to date. Phil’s expecting that to improve to just above 2.00kpl (5.64mpg) if the truck’s to follow his stablemates. “Once it’s done 200,000km and any quirks are ironed out I’ll open it up,” said Phil. “That’s what I’ve done with the rest.”

If only they knew
Rolling north the arteries of the nation were frenetic with the life preserving cells that are the trucks, bringing all manner of product to those who would wake up in a few hours expecting to find their privileged existence intact for another day. Up the Saddle Hill just south of ‘Dunners’ the Kenworth held the 5th high split at 1700rpm and 30km/h, but Lookout Point just – and we mean ‘just’ – had Blair grabbing top of the bottom box. Give him a few months of limbering-up and the big golden fella will likely crack that one without the need for contemplating the big button on the shifter. The X15’s approach to life is well versed, with the sweet spot at 1600rpm where power and torque flash lights to each other as they pass. At that point the latter is still sitting on its peak number. Blair’s a mid-range man when it comes to driving style, meaning he’s neither a revver nor a ‘lugger’, although we gave the truck a good down-low workout to see if we could crest the Lookout Point. What Blair’s style does is allow lots of flexibility to move the stick around at will, something he does with significant aplomb. This will be another million-kilometre box of cogs in his hands.

Photo: A trucker in his happy place. Blair Chambers cranks out some ‘k’s.

It’s a style that makes for relaxed motoring and is natural on the ear, particularly for those of our generation (50-plus). We grew up in the middle of the first wave of down-speed engines and as much as driving all day at 1850rpm and above is a bit ‘wincey’ at times, we can’t honestly say that being around pistons that journey in a pedestrian fashion to TDC and have time for a cuppa before heading back down the tube is always the most comfortable seat of the pants sensation either. In our day Cat were the emperors of the low-rev kingdom…and really, nothing today sounds as comfortable in the tachometer’s basement as they did, although Rex Stephen’s MAN would be close. And yes, not withstanding this truck had to have one, another truck with a manual gear lever. They will get fewer and fewer, but let’s all enjoy the sunset on a time when man had mastery over his machine, and be thankful we knew how great that felt.

Photo: First run complete. Blair whips the load off in Christchurch before the obligatory 10-hour layover.

“Cost and reliability are the main reasons for sticking with the manual thing. See that thing there,” said Phil pointing to the original Eagle. “It’s done 1.8m kilometres and the gearbox hasn’t been touched. Yep, it’s getting harder to find the people and the day will probably come when I’ll have to consider the other option, but for now it’s still a ‘tick’ in the ‘manual’ box.” The Cummins’ 335kW (450hp) mid-range hold-back on the Jacobs is a clever thing and we witness once again its prowess at just nipping things in the bud before scaring the Moreporks three valleys away with a set of Jakes in the night at 2100rpm, howling down the slopes of Pigeon Flat or the Kilmog. Blair’s style means as soon as he’s off the throttle that retardation number is right there, so you get a sense of instant response. Brian Aitcheson in the ProStar back in June wrote the book ‘The bill-payer’s guide to mid-range retardation’ and Blair’s certainly a kindred spirit. Let the energy go before the crest, all that good stuff. None of the descents we encountered saw the tachometer over 1950rpm; all the work was done early with only a few dabs on the anchors to deter disorder in the downward dynamic.

Snug as a bug…in a bug
As a rule we go to lengths on the interior; after all the driver lives there, but this is really a well-written-about shed. It’s a polarising place and still the victim of unfounded ‘blah’. The ride in a sleeper cab rigid K200 is the equal of most and better than many. The handling characteristics are on point if you’re into the US style, flat through the corners ‘speak to me directly oh truck’, sort of a gig. Because it has the load share front end it has the characteristic floaty/correction thing going on every now and then, but we know all about that. The cab’s sitting on air and shocks to the rear and the K’dub’s cantilever and shock set-up in the front. The finish in ox-blood diamond patterned vinyl, heavy rubbers, and probably the best ‘tuff-plastic’ we encounter is bang on when it comes to serviceability. Appeal-wise it’s entirely up to the individual. Again, you couldn’t get further from the Hyundai or a big Euro if you tried, so it’s purely preference.

In terms of fit, Phil’s truck came without the hieroglyphics scribed into the aluminium panels on the rear of the cupboard doors like Corey’s truck did, which was a plus for the nonarchaeologists among us. Generally, it’s hard to fault, although whatever’s down the path in terms of cab evolution may want to address a bit of dating now in terms of tidy installation in areas like the the dash panels in front of the passenger for example. We know Kenworth are all about chunky and robust, but some aspects of the fit and finish are a bit Hulk in theme nowadays, when they should be Ironman. The cab has the pull-out fridge and drawer under the bunk and a tele in the sleeper. Sorry, hopeless romance sets in at this point and being a flat roof sleeper means the fridge probably wasn’t needed, as the inside is so ‘cool’ anyway. Yes, you can’t stand up fully, but it’s a testament to the K200’s designers that you get a bloody sight closer than you’d expect with the base design’s flat floor and generous headroom. “It hasn’t bothered me one bit,” said Blair. “There’s heaps of space for our work and if we want to stay in a motel we can. No issue.”

Photo: Angus passes some tourists, more than likely oblivious to the fact half their food needs for the following week just rolled on by.

Storage isn’t really affected either. After all, there’s not a plethora of cupboards in the vista section of an Aerodyne, and Blair’s 2.3m hut had cupboards all along the back wall and under the passenger seat, as well as the under-bunk, caddies in and around the dash, and external lockers. It’s a pity there’s not a pull-out drawer under the big central console. Seat coverings are Heritage leather with the bug on the headrest, and that ties in magnificently with the thematic intent of the machine. The dash and cockpit are again familiar and one we approve of greatly. A two-piece binnacle and wrap in a single sweep.

The Kenworth binnacle is a magnificent big structure and dominates the cockpit, opposite from the old K100E’s equally magnificent dash – arguably the coolest ever – with the huge wrap section. Gauges are everywhere and most of the switches, along with climate management, fridge management, and wireless, are on the wrap. Air bag controls, brake valves and lights are on the lower left and right of the binnacle section. The magic all-comers’ wand for dip, wipe, wash, and indicators is on the left, and the hand control for the brakes is in on the right. The tiller is the familiar Kenworth SmartWheel, which is probably the biggest step away from the Heritage theme. In that context, not having an infotainment system does play right into the old school imagery, even though it’s now seriously dating the cab in other ways.

Photo: Blair and Angus approaching Queenstown just on dusk.

Photo: Phil and youngest daughter Neve. 

Golden times
A strong coffee at Timaru saw us through the endless tracts of the South Canterbury Plains, which the Kenworth devoured with ease. It was a Kenworth at its absolute best, on cruise, a deep continuous rumble, a brace of illuminated gauges in your lower periphery, and headlights spearing into the pitch black under the gentle rise and fall of the windscreen’s bottom line. Find us a better Friday night. Into Christchurch we dropped the load and planned the morning’s rendezvous point. You couldn’t have wished for a better first day of spring to follow, film, and photograph a golden truck in the Central South Island high country. Angus headed for the MacKenzie basin and Lindis Pass, loaded with the vitals required to keep a burgeoning tourist population in Queenstown satisfied. As for the truck, well, you can’t really fault a specification that’s stood the test of time for decades, proven in Phil’s first truck that is still breasting up in season to do its bit for the company. If we’re scoring on cool factor there’s probably not a scale that does ‘Angus Spud’ justice, although his payload credentials mean this is no ‘presence at a price’ build. Looking forward, this machine will arguably be the most efficient in the fleet on an ROI basis. So much nowadays is simply preference and price, and preference is normally determined at an early age. What that means for the future is anybody’s guess.

Few jobs can deliver what trucking can, mastery of machine, significant responsibility, the daily representation of a firm to the customer, autonomy in decision making, freedom, days like Saturday 1 September 2019. Phil Collinson knows it, and knows that if you let the next generation take part during the first 15 years, the following four-plus decades will take care of themselves. In a way this truck serves to remind us of a time when an industry less persecuted had a chance to sell itself to the next wave of followers. The greatest marketing tool trucking’s ever had are the trucks themselves. Maybe, just maybe, ‘Angus Spud’ can be the poster child of a revolution. A truck that reflects a golden age of social acceptance and self-worth. A time when parents were happy to let their kids look on driving as a noble act, allowing them to walk through the back gate to the trucks next door, meet the great people who were there, and dream big dreams.

Photos: The classic K200 work space. The trim installation around the passenger compartment would benefit from any future cab revamp. The private confines of a flat roof sleeper certainly have an exclusive feel. In that context the flat roof and the Aerodyne have swapped places.


The more you look…
A K200 flat roof sleeper with a cool retro grille, but don’t stop there. Keep looking and among the many subtle touches, two other dominant throwback features soon become apparent…but let’s hand over to Phil. “I was hoping a Legend series cabover may have been announced next, but no, there’s no word about that currently so I thought I’d do something myself. Obviously, you have to start with a flat roof sleeper as the base machine.

“I wasn’t a huge fan of the bow-tie grille on the K200 at the start anyway, but you get used to it even though I still much prefer the old shape. The top of the grille is pretty much original, with some subtle cuts and selective add-ons. Willie Malcom, bloody clever man that he is, then fabricated the balance from scratch. I could have got a K100E grille for it, but it looked rubbish. Just didn’t look right on the newer, bigger cab. It needed its own take on an old style. “Then there was the step infill, now that is something I dislike about the K200, that bloody gaping chasm of a step. It’s too much. Who ever uses the back half? I guess if you have a sleeper door, but no, it looks bloody awful. So, we filled that in so it’s now an improved version of the old steps. What they should have been. So yeah, kept the truck’s K200 characteristics but altered the aesthetics a little toward the early 90s.

“The roof kit. I thought it would simply be a case of sourcing a old Rudkin-Wiley roof kit and maybe giving it a birthday and altering to suit, but no; do you think we could find one, anywhere? Not on your life. So, again, it was back to Willie and get him to attack a new roof kit with a sabresaw, so it has the centre bit that hinges up. Pretty cool, eh?” Yes Phil. Extremely.

Photos: The three dominating aspects of the retro look and feel are the Rudkin-Wiley adaptions to the air kit, the grille, and the step infills. There are touches all around the truck however, like the black mud flaps behind the drive wheels.

Super Dad
Blair Chambers must have been well raised. A big man with a big aura and energy, who approaches on foot at breakneck pace in strident, meaningful steps full of intent. He has you thinking ‘Hell! Something’s happened, I’m done for here’, only to find at the last second a beaming smile, character-filled handshake, backed by an engaging, friendly, interested, immaculately presented bloke. He’s happy as anything to have you along, if a little shy about the limelight Angus Spud has thrust upon him. Life lesson number 538 – never judge a stampede by its approach. Blair’s the same age as his boss (44), and like Phil wasn’t born into chrome wheels and stacks, but he’s also every bit the trucker’s trucker. Born and raised in Wellington, he’s the son of a builder but was fixated by the tip trucks over the back fence carting to local civil projects. Like many truckers, school wasn’t a love affair and once free he worked at Coca-Cola before signing on with The Moving Company in Wellington and getting into the furniture transport business. Blair started right at ground level with packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, progressing to local container deliveries off the wharf, and eventually on to destinations farther afield. The first real truck was a 4x2 Nissan CP with a 9-speed, and Blair pretty much covered every corner of our fair nation. “She was a beast, the old Nissan. Man, we loaded that thing up. She’d only do 80km/h but she’d do it all day long. I remember getting down to first gear one time on the Peg Leg on Arthurs Pass and thinking ‘Don’t anything stop me... please’ She was just hanging on.

Photo: Blair Chambers. Every bit the trucker’s trucker.

“The worst two places you can ever go with furniture are Wellington and Dunedin. Every time you get one of them you think ‘Oh, no’. I remember one place in Wellington having 330 steps between the truck and the house.” At that point Blair gave us a piece of pure gold. If there were an award for best trucker’s gem each year, Blair would have to be a contender with this… “Once we had a piano to get down from the road 220 steps to the house. When we got it there, I said to the owner ‘Why couldn’t you have played the spoons!’” Twelve years ago he’d had enough of furniture, and went to work for Colin and Diane McAuley in Masterton driving a Foden Alpha, completing three returns a day from Masterton to Wellington carting containers. “Three months in Colin said to me ‘Do you like bees?’ I said, ‘Never thought about it’. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘you’re off to Nelson’.” That set the next eight or so years in motion and saw Blair delivering and relocating beehives nationwide, allowing him to visit the remotest of nooks and crannies in the country, the ones even furniture deliveries had missed. There’d be few truckers as well travelled to the unknown places as Blair.

“The places you got on the bee work, some of the scenery you saw. Places other people will never see. Just incredible. We had satellite phones so we could always have comms, eh?” The bulk of the McAuley’s work was on an MAN TGX.540, a truck Blair rates highly in terms of comfort. “It went fine too. Nothing wrong with it. “The McAuleys were bloody great people to work for. It was a family firm and the door was always open.” In 2014 Blair and wife Nicky took a big step relocating to Southland with sons Chase and Cole. “We just thought it was a good, safe place to raise the boys. It’s a long way from family but it’s going well. The boys are just truck mad. Can’t get enough of them. I get updates on who’s gone past the school [Edendale Primary] and all the details,” laughs Blair. “Phil’s great to them too. He makes them feel part of the firm if they’re there in the weekends polishing the wheels or helping out. As far as they’re concerned there’s only McAuley’s and Eden Haulage!”

Blair got the drive at Eden Haulage when the family arrived in Southland on the back of a solid reference from fellow McAuley’s workmate Jeremy Hodson. “If you had fleet of Blair Chambers you’d be a happy owner,” said Phil. “Just gets in and does it, and looks after himself.” But like everything in life it takes two to tango. Blair said the culture at Eden goes a long way to making it a pretty happy place. “We’ve got a bloody good crew at the moment,” said Blair. “Everyone gets on, there’s no pecking order. If you didn’t know who Phil was he’d be hard to spot…the one on the phone to his ear all the time I guess, yep, that’d be it. He never stops,” Blair laughs. “There’s an expectation to look after the gear but it’s a trucker’s trucking company, and that’s embraced. That’s the kind of people we want.”

Grounded in success
Like many of us, Phil Collinson’s truck obsession wasn’t handed down. Phil’s family owns Southland Sheetmetal Ltd and his roots certainly lay in guillotines and spot welds, not diesel and double-clutching. But the gene was there from day dot, ignited by the family home in Ryal Bush neighbouring one of New Zealand’s most iconic rural transport liveries, Ryal Bush Transport. The young irrepressible Collinson was captivated by the burgundy and cream fleet and he quickly struck up a relationship with owners, the McDougall family. The pinnacle truck for him was the International Eagle 4870, driven by Peter McDougall. Countless hours were spent in the passenger seat of the truck, a model of which still proudly sits on the bar leaner in the Collinson man-cave.

Photo: Spotting the owner at Eden Haulage is a tough gig, especially when there’s no phone in view. Phil Collinson (left) helps Darryl Millar fasten the curtains on Angus’ trolley.

Phil left James Hargest College in Invercargill and worked in the family business until the day his HT licence and a job with family customer Calder Stewart Ltd could be secured. “I used Calder Stewart’s Mazda T3500 Titan. I didn’t have enough weight on, so grabbed a concrete block for the trailer I was towing, and we were all go. The cop basically got me to drive around the corner and pick up his dry-cleaning, and back to the station. Done! “That Calder Stewart job was great. I’d do one or two runs to Queenstown a week, one to Te Anau, and one to Milton, delivering roofing, flashings etc.”

From the seat of the Mazda Phil started to get a hankering for linehaul, and aspired to drive one of McDowell Freight’s Western Star 4864F Heritage tractors pulling 5-axle B-train units. Of course, times were different back then and you needed experience and track record to get on the big gear, so he headed for familiar ground, a place where he was known and trusted, Ryal Bush Transport. The grand plan was to make the break to linehaul from there. “That was the plan, but…I just never left really. Well, I did once continually working Sundays and abuse got too much,” he laughs.

Phil started out on a 1980 ex Kapuka Transport B Series ERF lift-out-sider – the quintessential southland rural combo. You name it, a ‘lift-out’ can do it…and he did. Bulk tip work, silage, produce, and stock, all under the watchful eye and tough hand of the legendary Wayne ‘Ox’ McEwan. “Much of the ethos and philosophy we run this business on has its roots back then,” said Phil. One of his regular gigs was carting bins of veges at Pyper’s Produce; full bins from paddock to packhouse, and empties back out. While at the packhouse he’d often see his dream, right there in front of him. “I’d come into the packhouse and see ‘Nugget’ Anderson in Phoenix Freight’s Scania 143 loading for Auckland. A 5-axle B-train, cab decked out with 6-stack CD player; I had a old AM wireless. The two jobs were a world apart.” Phil progressed and made it to an EC series ERF stock truck, another much-loved wagon in his career. But change wasn’t far away.

“Ryal Bush had one owner-driver and there had been talk for a while that opportunities would be opening up for another couple of us. One day we were summoned to the depot. We’d heard rumours we’d bought McDowall Transport Rural and the floodgates would open up on a lot more work. I thought ‘this was it. I’m going to own my own truck’.” What transpired couldn’t be further from that. The meeting was to tell the crew McDougalls had sold out to Bill Richardson, and since Bill didn’t subscribe to the owner-driver model, any dreams of Phil owning and operating his own truck vaporised right there and then. In fact, the one ownerdriver who was there was given notice.

“They said it would be better, newer gear, and there’d be opportunities within the company. I have to say it wasn’t bad. I got a brand-new Cummins powered Mack Quantum, the only new truck I’d ever had, but you know how it is when you’ve come from a certain culture, it’s never going to be the same,” he says forlornly. In 2005, with just under 10 years of service and only 20,000km on the Quantum’s dial, Phil handed in his notice. At the time Brenics Transport Ltd had bought a couple of Western Star 7564S tractors and Phil thought there was a chance one may have been coming south on the Pypers’ work. Phil registered an interest with Brenics owner Gary Johnstone, but then news filtered through that Nelson Pyper quashed the idea as he wanted to support locally based Southland businesses.

“Nelson’s a real old-school guy. He’ll still turn up and drive the tractors from dusk until dawn, and usually it’s the least flashy machine. Just a toiler, and a bloody good bloke to boot.” Ryal Bush was an opportunity lost, and now it seemed doors were shut no matter which way he turned. But then an epiphany: “Why not hock myself to the eyeballs,” he laughs. “So I did!” A proposal to buy and dedicate a truck to the Pyper’s work was made, a negotiation undertaken, a handshake exchanged. Eden Haulage – named after Phil’s eldest daughter – was born. “Pyper’s. Just great people.” The result of the successful negotiation was Craig McCauley’s New Zealand Trucking magazine Top Truck for April 2007, a brand new International Eagle 9800i sleeper cab tractor with a Cummins ISX 525, 18-speed Roadranger transmission, and Meritor diffs. The truck towed a secondhand 5-axle B-train with new paint and curtains. “It had to be an International. I’ve always had a soft spot for them, still do.

I went for a new truck in the end for reliability, but didn’t go nuts and buy new right through. You have to draw the line. I looked at Euros but they were just too heavy. “That truck is still here, it’s done 1.8 milion kilometres and been bullet-proof; the occasional air-assist clutch ram, and electric window motor. The gearbox and diffs have never been touched. But that’s been all three Internationals. Their reliability is the sign of a well put together truck, and they’ve given no problems. Comer and his company make a great product. Far better put together than some other US brands.”

Eden Haulage grew rapidly on the back of an insatiable appetite for work and an overarching desire to serve the customer. Invercargill to Dunedin work quickly expanded to Christchurch, and the single International soon became three with the addition of a day cab 8x4 and then a sleeper cab 8x4. An engine supply issue at Intertruck right at a time when a new wagon was needed opened the door for the first Freightliner Argosy, a Series 60 EGR unit with an AMT. “I didn’t want a Detroit, I didn’t want EGR, and I didn’t want an AMT. I got all three. It was a nightmare. It dropped three valves before 600,000km and drank water from the get-go.” That truck was eventually repowered with a Cummins Gen 2 Signature and ‘retransmissioned’. After a patchy start in life, it’s the truck Blair came out of for the Kenworth. “The freak,” as Blair puts it.

Another Argosy joined the fleet, this time a C16 Cat powered jobbie ex SCS Transport. Ironically it was a truck Phil had briefly considered in order to get the business started. And then in 2014, the first Kenworth. “Adam McIntosh had sold me the last two Internationals and had been keen to get a Kenworth in here. He’s a top man. I didn’t want an EGR and he said the e5 was in the final development phase, with the treatment unit placement on the K200 being figured out. I went to Aussie, had a look, we did a deal, and since then we’ve added three more. They’ve been good trucks; they have their quirks, you have to load them right to get them to handle properly, they can roll around a bit if the load’s not placed right, up until this one that is. I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily better than the Inters but you can’t ignore resale, not that we’ve had too much of that yet. Everything I’ve ever bought bar one International is still here. “Cummins have been good motors to us. They’re either oil burners out of the box or they’re not. I’ve had a couple use oil and a couple that have never used oil.

The key to Cummins for us is Eric Carswell. Eric’s a good man who stands by his product.” Fourteen years into the journey, at 44 years old Phil’s enthusiasm and energy for linehaul trucking is as fresh as it was when a wide-eyed Mazda Titan driver looked on at McDowall’s ‘Evening Star’ rolling north away from our southern metropolis on SH1. Sure, he’s traversed the sobering realities of driving and business, but his passion for the industry hasn’t waned in the least, seeking out true truckers to operate his gear. Collinson has a 24/7 desire to satisfy the needs of those paying the invoices, and an unwavering belief in trucking’s ability to sculpt good people from the earliest age. “I’m adamant that everyone needs to be involved if they’re keen. How else do you get the young people fired up. That’s how we became passionate, drivers handing down their knowledge. It’s fundamental.

“I had some guy here a while back doing an audit and he said, ‘I assume there’s no passengers?’ “Absolutely there are,’ I said. ‘The families are more than welcome to go for rides when they can. How else do guys working long hours spend time with their kids? How else do they pass on the skills and foster the love of trucks?’ “If it’s managed properly there’s no reason why you can’t have the young ones here polishing a wheel or bumper or something with Dad. Just being part of it all. Again, we did when we were young! The situation ‘we’ve’ got ourselves into is bloody ridiculous.” Phil takes immense pride in his gear and achievements, yet his hospitality, and absolutely genuine appreciation for staff, their families, and anyone taking an interest in his business, is a true sign of the man’s humility. As Blair said, spotting Phil if you don’t know him is a tough thing to do. Currently the fleet sits at 12: five Kenworths, (there’s a W Model), two Internationals, two Freightliners, two DAFs, and a UD 4x2 for local fetching and delivering. It too looks every bit the part an Eden truck should. “That’s my lot really. I’ve got no desire to grow something big, ungainly, and unprofitable, with staff for Africa and endless worries. I’d rather service the customers we have to the absolute best I can with the best gear, best people, and best culture.” Phil and partner Sarah live just out of Invercargill with four girls between them, Eden, Lia, Madison, and Neve.