Both a pilot and an industry advocate for many years, Pat Power’s service to the Heavy Haulage Association was recognised with the Chairman’s Award that was presented to him at its 2022 conference. Mary Searle Bell talks to him about his career and the industry in general.
Born in 1956, Pat Power grew up in the small north Canterbury town of Hawarden, attending the local area school. When he was still a very young boy, his father had to have open heart surgery – an event that was the catalyst that set Pat on the path to a career in heavy haulage.
“Back in those days, most people didn’t survive that kind of operation, so they broke up our family and I was sent to live with my Uncle in Reefton,” explains Pat.
“He was a sawmiller and house mover. I was about six or seven years old – they are very formative years – and I lived with him for a year and a half before Dad was fully recovered and our family was reunited.
“Later, I used to spend my high school holidays helping my Uncle out. I would drive the tractor we used as brakes for the trailer – I had a large concrete block which I would drop on the road if the trailer needed stopping.
“My Uncle said to me, if the police ask, make sure you tell them you’re 12, which I was, but you had to be 12 to be able to drive a tractor on the road.”
As a teen, Pat was boarded at a Christchurch high school and after four years he’d had enough.
“I spent more time at home than at school as the school kept sending me home. Dad said, ‘what am I paying these fees for if you keep sending him home?’. So, I left school and started working for a local farmer, then got a job driving a bulldozer.”
He’d gotten his driver’s licence at 15, and, being a farm kid, he got his HT licence at the same time.
His early career was varied – he worked in freezing works and venison recovery before working as a storeman for Fletcher Steel in Christchurch for two years. He then moved into the retail side of Fletcher for another couple of years, doing inwards goods and security.
“There was a big storm in 1975 and I worked in the store by day and drove trucks at night, clearing logs.”
After some time as an international salesman for Crown Crystal Glass, Pat joined NZ Railways, working as a crane operator and then a forklift operator. His next move was into the organisation’s road freight services division, where he spent seven years driving trucks.
“I had a farm at the same time, and by 1995 I was also involved in house moving.
“Around 1998-99 I got my pilot’s ticket. I set myself up as a freelance pilot, and I worked for all the rogues in the industry – all the people the respected pilots wouldn’t pilot for.
“I’ve spent a lot of years working with people who were operating outside the system, getting them to comply. We’ve sorted the rogues, and there aren’t any anymore.”
In those days, to be an A or B grade pilot required joining the Heavy Haulage Association as a pilot member. Pat had duly joined in 1998, and soon became involved in the organisation, and went on to serve on the pilot board in
He was heavily involved in the implementation of BESS (Bridge Engineering Self Supervision), the training and registration system for companies and drivers of heavy vehicles that operate under an overweight permit.
He was on the team that wrote the unit standard for BESS and became an assessor for that unit standard. He was also involved with the formation of a pilot unit standard, and later became an assessor for that as well.
Helping out is clearly his thing over the years, and Pat has also been very involved in Search & Rescue and Rural Fire, as well as the Scout Association.
Back in 2000, a young woman by the name of Janine had started joining him on the house moves to learn how to pilot. By 2007 they were married and were working together fulltime piloting. She too became a BESS assessor and the pair have worked as a close team ever since.
Pat won the 2022 NZHHA Chairman’s Award, an accolade he was thrilled to receive, but one he is quick to share with his wife.
“The award is not just for me; Janine is an equal part of our business. If I’m working on one thing, she’s covering the others.”
Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, CE of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association, says the association was so pleased to recognise Pat with this award because of the; “On the ground efforts that Pat has put in over many years as an Area Rep for us in the Canterbury region.
“The passion with which he represents the industry makes him instantly memorable for both the NZTA and council people alike. Add to that his great connections, his immense knowledge of the VDAM Rule, and he makes a great voice for our industry.”
Meantime, Pat continues to advocate for the sector.
“Things are not going to get easier for us; our loads are only going to get bigger but the restrictions on us won’t decrease.
“At the same time, our haulage equipment is becoming more sophisticated. And while this makes the jobs easier and more doable, our operators need a higher skill level.
“I think the agricultural industry needs to protect its loads better too – their machinery is getting wider and heavier, but that industry doesn’t have the people or qualifications to ensure they’re moving on the roads safely.”
Pat says the heavy haulage industry is also suffering because of its exemplary safety record.
“It’s a Catch-22. The heavy haulage industry used to manage the pilot scheme, but since we’ve moved from that, piloting standards have declined. But, because we have so few accidents, we don’t figure high on the priority list for the NZTA or any government. They don’t see the need for restructuring or implementing training – they have an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude, but actually, it’s breaking.”
He says the industry must work hard to protect its heavy haulage routes.
“The problem we’re having right now is that the cycle brigade sees our lovely wide roads and say, ‘that would make a good cycle route’. They have a strong lobbying voice, and we must be vigilant to ensure they don’t run amok. We have a very limited number of routes and we must preserve them.”
Compounding this is the changing nature of the houses being moved.
“When I first started it was mostly second-hand houses we were moving. Now, over half are brand new houses that are prefabricated and then transported to site. A second-hand house can brush through a few trees en route as it’s going to be renovated anyway, but a brand-new house needs to get there in pristine condition.”
The encroachment on traffic management solutions – things like wire rope barriers – is another issue Pat says the industry needs to keep an eye on.
“Wire ropes are all well and good if there are two lanes of traffic either side. However, when there’s only one lane, the oncoming traffic think they’re safe on their side when there’s an oversize load approaching, then all of a sudden there’s half a house in their lane.”
Fortunately, Pat will continue to be a voice for the sector.
“The NZTA’s permitting system is electronically based and many in the industry aren’t sufficiently electronically literate, particularly the older drivers or new immigrants with limited English, and technological difficulties mean people will revert to the old manual system.
“However, the NZTA seems hell bent on getting rid of it – which won’t do them or us any favours. We need to make them aware of this,” says Pat.
“The level of capital investment in a house truck is huge, we need to ensure that there are not too many other barriers to ensuring that heavy hauliers can operate their businesses successfully.”