A life-long love of driving and a passion for the industry has led to a long and enjoyable career for Frank Riddell. By MARY SEARLE BELL.
Frank Riddell trained as an engineer, completing a 10-year-long fitter and turner apprenticeship, but his love was driving. He indulged in racing cars but wanted more. So, at the age of 30, he decided to change careers and get a job driving trucks.
“I asked a friend who worked in construction. He told me who to visit and I went and asked for a job,” Frank told Contractor.
He started his new career with Highways Construction – a division of Nelson Transport, a company which later became TNL Freighting – driving tip trucks, spreading gravel, sealing roads and the like.
After three or four years as a driver things got a bit quiet in the industry and Frank and the other drivers were having to go further and further afield from Nelson with work.
“I didn’t want this so I moved into the transport side of the business. We were trucking coal into Tarakohe Cement Works in Golden Bay from Stockton and Denniston mines in Westport,” he says. “One day the boss picked me up from a shift change to take me into town and I asked him how to get ahead in the industry.”
That must have marked him as a man with ambition because it wasn’t too long before his manager asked him to move into the heavy haulage side of the business.
From there he moved into the company office and managed the heavy haulage trucks and the freight trucks as well. Eventually he was made transport manager, a role he held for 15 years.
At that time the company was taken over by Transpac, which soon went into receivership and the company was divvied up and sold off by the receivers. TNL Freighting was the last division to go. It was bought by L&A Cotton and it took Frank in the purchase.
After six-and-a-half years with L&A Cotton he moved again, this time to work for Brian Stanaway who had set up a heavy haulage company. And there he stayed until about six years ago when he was made redundant.
“As I have my pilot’s licence I carried on my Heavy Haulage Association membership,” Frank says. “I don’t want to work full time anymore but I do a bit of piloting and driving for friends and ex-colleagues in the industry.”
Frank has been a member of the HHA since 1981 when working for TNL.
“My wife, Christine, was working for TNL at the time too but didn’t come to that conference in Rotorua – management said I should go alone to find my feet,” he says.
But she joined him for many of the following conferences and they’ve made a lot of friends there. As a pilot member he still goes to conferences, “although it’s more of a social thing these days – catching up with old friends”.
He’s currently making plans to attend the next one, making a longer holiday around the event.
Frank joined the association executive in 1982 and served on the committee for 19 years, holding the office of president once in 1996-97 and vice-president twice. He’s been the area representative for the Nelson/Marlborough region since 2000 and, according to association chief executive Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, was heavily involved in the organisation of both conferences held in Nelson, in 1987 and 2003.
For his service to the association and industry, Frank received the Chairman’s Award in 2010 and last year was given the Gus Breen Memorial Award.
“I was incredibly humbled to receive the Gus Breen Award,” says Frank. “I knew him personally, he was a very nice guy, and winning the award was something special.”
Friends and colleagues in the association think Frank is something special too, as evidenced in the many letters of recommendation for nomination for the award. And there was a theme running through those letters – the same words kept cropping up: honest, reliable, knowledgeable, helpful and loyal.
“Over many years Frank has demonstrated a willingness to put back into the industry,” writes Warwick Bell of Tranzcarr Heavy Haulage. “This being evident by his years on the executive committee of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association and, following this period, he continued to represent his local area and fight for the membership on roading issues as needed. He has always been prepared to assist other operators and pass on the benefit of his vast knowledge, learnt over the many years involved in transport.”
His old boss, Neil Reid, past managing director of TNL Group, writes of Frank’s success as manager of the heavy haulage division in the 1980s and 1990s: “His high level of awareness of the regulations associated with this specialised sector of the transport industry was instrumental to the success of the business unit he managed for TNL. Adherence to correct procedure and process was a distinctive feature of Frank’s management practice.”
Frank’s passion for the industry is obvious and he’s embraced the new technologies and regulations as they have come along.
“Last week I was driving bulk cement – the truck was quiet, powerful and comfortable,” he says. “I remember the new truck I drove hauling coal, it had 250hp, which was a lot in those days. This truck had 600hp.
“In the old days we didn’t have these fancy hydraulic trailers – we shifted houses on a transporter. It was much trickier – we couldn’t lift houses over fences and the like.”
As well as the advances in technology and equipment, safety regulations have come a long way too: “When they instigated night movements for shifting houses in Nelson we didn’t have any fancy lights – I tried my best to illuminate the signs but…”
But lights were only one part of the issue when night moves were introduced: “I remember one house I shifted wasn’t wanted by a neighbour, however they woke one morning to find the house in place and accused me of skulduggery – in actual fact the rules had been changed.”
At 67 years old, Frank has no plans to completely retire just yet. He’s always loved the industry and still enjoys driving and piloting.
“I’ll carry on as I am for the foreseeable future,” he says. “I don’t have a plan – the phone rings and I get a day or two or a week here and there.”
And he’s still building on his wealth of knowledge: “If you can’t learn something every day then things get a bit boring.”