Huck McCready sadly passed away this month, but not before sharing his passion for tow trucks with Mary Searle Bell.
Huck McCready’s destiny as a truck driver was set generations before, when his mother’s father, Bill Rowe, opened Rowe Motors in 1946.
“He had a car garage behind the house in Gate Pa, Tauranga, and I used to spend my school holidays there,” says Huck.
“I’d either be working in the workshop or off out in one of Weallans Groundspreading trucks, which had its depot there.
“I used to hang around – basically making a nuisance of myself,” he says with a laugh. From the time he was a young child, Huck’s dream was to drive a tow truck or a transporter, and the family business was a step in the right direction.
When he left school, he started at Rowe Motors as an apprentice mechanic.
“My father had taken over the business by then so I was working alongside him, as well as a couple of guys in the workshop and an office boy (a retired post master who come in to help for six months and stayed 21 years).
“I got my HT licence at 16 [thanks to a special dispensation allowing him to get it two years early] and have basically been driving tow trucks ever since.”
Huck says the business has always been described as ‘a country garage, in town’. Basically, they did everything from mechanical repairs to engineering and more.
The engineering side of the business has always been strong.
“We have built all our own tow trucks, except one – the biggest – as we needed it urgently for a job.
“We’ve also built tree grabs, orchard spreaders, and a jinker truck to cart concrete beams.”
Rowe Motors has also been an agent for the AA, offering towing and repair services, since 1942.
Some 25 years ago, Huck took over the business from his father, shifting out of Gate Pa to its current location in Greerton, Tauranga.
“He took the building, I took the business, and he started working for me!”
These days, the company boasts a large, fully-equipped workshop with a team of engineers undertaking design and build work, undercover storage for clients’ vehicles, eight tow trucks of various sizes, and heavy haulage transporters.
Huck says the workshop always had tow trucks, and, as Tauranga grew, so did demand and its fleet of trucks.
“We’ve always done towing work for the Police and all the insurance companies, but it’s a lot easier now than it was.
“Back in the day it was us at the scene of an accident, cutting people out of cars with gas torches and hacksaws – now that’s done by emergency services,” he explains. “You’d just get in and do the job, and think about it later.
There have been a number of amusing tow jobs over the years too. One that stands out in Huck’s memory involved a large animal that had got itself in a bit of a pickle.
“We were called up to a cockie’s place at the top of the Kaimais – a big Hereford bull had walked into the garage and fallen into the pit. We had a hell of a job working out how to get him out of there.
“In the end, we dropped a rope around his neck, put a few bales of hay into the pit to give him a bit of a ramp, and then pulled him out. It was hard case. We didn’t know what he was going to do when he got out – we had to make sure that rope came off quickly in case he decided to run for it and pull the truck with him.
“In the end, when he got out, he just stood there. Quiet as can be.
“It was a lot of fun, but could have been quite dangerous.”
As the towing side of the business grew, Huck ended up with two heavy recovery trucks in the fleet.
“They didn’t work all the time, so I thought, ‘why not put a trailer on them and get into heavy haulage?’”
That was 1986, and since then, this side of the business has flourished to where they now have seven dedicated heavy haulage transporters.
Nevertheless, Huck’s heart is with tow trucks. In the past five years, he has been working to establish a heavy recovery group within the Heavy Haulage Association.
“There are not many of us that do heavy recovery in the country, and we can get more achieved if we work as a group.
“Trucks are getting bigger and bigger, and someone has to get them off the road if they crash or break down. But currently, when it comes to the rule book, it’s a bit of a grey area.
“Because of the nature of what we do, we carry our weight behind the wheels, which often results in an overweight problem.
“If the Police ask us to do it, it’s ok. If we do it without the police, we get into trouble,” he says.
“We’re working with the Police and the NZTA to set boundaries around this, and are coming up with some good ideas. But, as with anything that involves a government department, it is taking time. That being said, it’s going well.”
Following a truck crash 18 months ago, and subsequent ill health, Huck has stepped back from his role at Rowe Motors, and his son is now running the workshop.
“I’ve found out I’m not irreplaceable,” he laughs. “I’m taking the opportunity to do all the things I’ve always wanted to but couldn’t because I was too busy working.”
Looking back over his 50 years in the industry, Huck says he’s had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people along the way.
“It’s definitely harder to do the job now than it was when I started,” he says. “It’s much harder to find young people to come through the business too – it costs a lot these days.
“Back in the day you’d get a job and work alongside someone, picking up the ropes. You’d be driving trucks around the yard from around 12 or 13 years old.
“Kids are a bit different now too – they don’t want to ride in trucks with their dads anymore,” he says.
“When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was drive tow trucks.
“And I did. You can’t ask for more from your career than that.”