Women in Transport: First choice the right choice

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Women in Transport Kathryn Buchanan

Having her choice of career scoffed at when she was a teenager didn’t deter Kathryn Buchanan from following her dream. 

“ When I was at Palmerston North Girls’ High School a careers adviser asked me what I wanted to do when I left school. I told her I wanted to be a truck driver and she said, ‘that ’s not a job!’” 

Kathryn says her father, David Buchanan, owned a spud farm just south of Palmerston North and she began driving his truck at an early age. 

“I rode with him and then when I was 14 I jumped in his Fuso – with a broken arm!” she laughs. “Right from 14 I was in love with it. I’m one of four girls but I’m the tomboy. Like my dad I just loved driving trucks and I’ve been doing it for 40 years now and I still love it.” 

When she was old enough to get her truck licence Kathryn began driving trucks for a living. Her first job was with Opiki Line Haul in Shannon, where she drove a Kenworth doing paddock work. 

“I was there about three years, taking pumpkins out of the paddocks and taking them up to Hastings.” 

After leaving, Kathryn worked for Shackelton transport where she owned her own little truck, and also for Chris Gommans when he started out, doing road work/metal work. 

Kathryn’s father later left the farm partnership and bought a truck, working as an owner-driver transporting potatoes to a processing factory. About 20 years ago the pair joined forces and set up a swinglift truck doing container work. 

“I was the only female swinglift operator in New Zealand at the time. We were originally working for Railfreight. We were flat out, doing 13 to 14-hour days. My dad and I did half a day each but then he had a heart attack so I went full-time.” 

Kathryn says she loves working for her father and although he’s the one who owns the truck, the arrangement works well. “It’s a win-win situation for both of us – when I break the truck he fixes it. He’s 80 and still driving.” 

During their time with Toll the pair also did some Fonterra work, loading and unloading containers of milk powder from the Longburn factory. 

“ That was great. They were a great bunch of guys and I loved it,” said Kathryn. 

Her job can take her anywhere from her home base of Palmerston North south to Wellington and north to Napier, doing container work. 

“I put containers on and off wagons for KiwiRail, and do a bit of farm work too. I just love this job, and working for dad. The reason I love the job is probably down to the people. All the other truck drivers I work with, and just getting to know heaps and heaps of people around the district. I really enjoy getting out there and meeting people.” 

Kathryn now drives a 2003 Volvo FM9 with a Hammar Swinglift on the back. 

“ We chose that truck so we could get in and out of places easily. I do a lot of farm work, dropping containers off, and I knew I didn’t want a long nose truck for getting into those places, so we got a flat nose. We had a Scania before we upgraded.” 

The Hammar Swinglift is able to lift 36 tonne and Kathryn says this involves a lot of skill and zero mistakes. 

“I have to be very mindful and safety conscious of my surroundings and people in the area where I operate,” she says. 

The pair started out with Railfreight – which subsequently became Tranz Link, Toll Tranz Link and now just Toll – and have no plans to move on. 

“ Toll is an easy company to work for,” says Kathryn. “ The people are great and the ones I work with are all brilliant. I love coming here, we all have fun and it ’s a great environment. That ’s what I’d miss the most if I left.” 

Kathryn says she never thought when she first began working for her father that she’d still be there 20 years later, but there is nothing she’d rather be doing. 

“I’ve always loved it. You get the odd bad one in the industry but you get that everywhere. I’d advise any woman who wanted to get into truck driving to just go for it. It’s a great lifestyle.” 

Kathryn says she finds the majority of truck drivers to be courteous, and safety on the road is something she takes seriously. 

“ The biggest fear for me would be hitting someone while driving. Toll is very safety conscious and I’m very aware while driving my truck that I am a large, moving billboard for the company I work for.” 

Kathryn spends her spare time with her partner and family, and helping her father on his farm. 

“I love gardening too. Dad’s still got 40 to 50 acres and runs 30 to 40 calves every year so I help him with feeding them.”

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