Born and raised on the West Coast, Jess Johns’ family operated buses and five or six trucks when she was growing up. They moved to Christchurch, then on to Nelson, where her parents still operate a truck with Parceline Express.
When she was 18, Jess moved to Christchurch and got a job as a courier driver. She liked the job and decided she wanted to drive bigger trucks. After getting her Class 2 licence and struggling to find a suitable driving job, she stayed in touch with the industry by working at a truck wash. It’s a job she excelled at, and even now, it’s a rare day when she doesn’t wash her truck.
While at the truck wash, Jess worked her way through a Class 4 licence, which she paid for herself. She got a job driving an 8-wheeler concrete mixer truck for Canterbury Concrete. After seven months on the concrete truck she took the next step to a Class 5.
With a Class 5 licence, she figured reversing a trailer was the most important skill she didn’t have. To learn how to reverse a trailer expertly, she worked for Peter Turner Contracting on short haul quarry work, towing a trailer and tipping off about 30 times a day. Jess says, “I learnt my trailer skills and heaps of handy tips through working with Peter. I’d like to say I learnt from one of the best.” She did a couple of months driving milk tankers, and curtainsiders between Rolleston and Hokitika; she liked it, but decided tipper work was her future and says, “I like tippers. I don’t think I’ll ever leave tipping.” Jess was helping out Nathan Lowery, a sub-contractor to Regal, and he recommended her as a driver for the company.
She got the job and started in January, working on an 8-wheeler and 5-axle trailer based near her home in Rolleston.
Regal were obviously impressed, assigning her a brand new Volvo FM and trailer with a 58-tonne H permit in February.
During the build Regal sent her photos and updates of the new bin and trailer, which only took five weeks to construct in their own workshop. Her trip north to pick it up was the first time she had been in the North Island. That ’s changed significantly – since then she’s taken loads across the strait about 10 times, getting as far north as Auckland. She loves driving new roads, but the ferry trip doesn’t agree with her.
Most of her work is carting palm kernel and fertiliser between Rolleston (12km south of Christchurch) and Timaru, where Regal have a screening plant to process palm kernel. The truck has a gross weight of 58 tonne for the 4.5-hour round trip, which gives her the time to get two trips in a day and still be able to wash her truck, including sponging down the chassis.
The new truck has clocked up 40,000 kilometres and after six months in the job Jess says, “I’m only six months in, but I’m part of the furniture. I’m not going anywhere!” Jess is a serious driver; Regal participates in the EECA Fuel Management Programme and she’s done the SAFED course with their driver trainer, Alan Pye. She says, “I’m a bit of a Dynafleet geek. It’s my entertainment for the day.” Dynafleet is Volvo’s electronic fuel and driver efficiency program and Jess has the app on her smartphone. She is in the 99 to 100% efficiency category most of the time.
Alan is impressed with Jess’ driving ability and says, “Jessie is very conscious of ensuring she drives the truck using techniques as per manufacturers’ recommendations to save fuel. She has added her own touch to the truck and keeps it very tidy. She is not scared to ask for advice if needed so does not make out she knows it all. It’s great to see a young driver developing responsible driving habits.” Jess is a strong advocate for more young drivers and says, “ We definitely need more young people [as drivers], not only more females, but males as well.
It’s about increasing interest in the role, because there’s so much negativity everywhere about trucking. How it’s antisocial and doesn’t pay well. But it does work; I earn enough to have a pretty good lifestyle and still have a social life most weekends.” While Jess is a professional driver, her cab clearly has a female touch. It’s immaculately clean and the duvet on the bunk is pink and features Minions.
Even her hi-vis vest is pink.
One of the advantages of working for Regal that Jess appreciates is that drivers can usually take passengers, as long as dispatch are aware that a passenger is in the cab. Jess often takes her husband, Jeremy, along; he helps her wash the truck in the weekends. Jeremy is an apprentice builder and they are about to start building their own home in Rolleston.