OPOTIKI’S legendary truck guru Gavin Abbot has been inducted to the NZ Transport Hall of Fame. Daughter Glenys Hennessy said she was honoured to attend the ceremony on Friday.
The event was held at Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill.
With her sister, Sharon Hughes, Mrs Hennessy has written the “Gavin Abbot story,” below, which was read out during the induction ceremony.
“We are so proud of dad and the recognition he has received,” she said.
Mr Abbot has fulfilled several roles in the trucking industry and he has renovated trucks, published books about them and gained a reputation for his knowledge of all things trucking.
FROM milking house cows and rearing calves to working in the family grocery business delivering groceries on his bicycle, a young Gavin Abbot’s love of trucks was there from an early age.
His drawings of trucks in his children’s prayer book are a testimony to this.
Gavin completed his education in Opotiki.
In 1945 at the age of 15, he heard Horne’s Garage was looking for an apprentice motor mechanic.
Gavin applied, got the job, and was told to report at 8am the next day.
He purchased a pair of overalls and never went back to school.
During this time, he became friends with a man working for Ron Smith Limited, a local carrier.
On weekends Gavin worked in their yard doing odd jobs, going on the cream runs and carting slack coal (shovelled on, of course).
Gavin spent five years with Horne’s, sitting his trade examinations and obtaining his trade certificate.
His 10,000-hour apprenticeship ended in August 1950 and he left the garage for full-time employment as a driver with Ron Smith. He left that same truck yard in 1985, 35 years after he began.
In 1951, Gavin purchased shares in the business from Ron’s wife, becoming the third shareholder along with Ron Smith and Des Lysaght.
The years of truck driving were the best years of his life, he always said.
However, married and with a young child, he finished driving in 1956 to move his skills into the workshop.
In 1960, Ron Smith purchased the Murupara operations of Ray Carter and formed Radiata Transport to operate the logging activities.
In 1962, Radiata Transport extended its log cartage operations and began carting logs from forest to Mount Maunganui for export to Japan.
The need arose for one of the fleet of Leyland Beavers to be set up as a logging truck.
The deck was removed, a swivel bolster fitted and the spare wheel was mounted on the front bumper to help with front-axle loading.
Gavin designed New Zealand’s first self-steering spaced two-axle trailer with extended pole sliding in a box section on the front axle turntable section.
This became the forerunner of today’s spaced axle trailers.
Gavin was always thinking of better ways in advancing methods in trucking.
Gavin’s company shareholding increased with the formation of Direct Transport in 1963, and he continued his employment with Direct Transport after Ron Smith changed its name in 1969.
In 1964 he became the East Coast area manager, the title he held until his retirement at 55 in 1985.
Gavin planned his retirement to continue his love of everything to do with trucks.
He purchased a 1947 Diamond T and lovingly restored it to its former glory.
Thirty more trucks received the same loving care and were also restored, with Gavin doing everything apart from the upholstery.
Parts of each truck were found in his shed of parts, items picked up or purchased during years of attending truck swap meets.
Some of these trucks are classics in New Zealand, like the White 3000, Guy Invincible, Foden FE4/8 and S21 Foden Mickey Mouse, White WB20 and Mack EH.
From 1948, Gavin always had a camera at hand.
He has two rooms in his home totally dedicated to his collection of truck photos, manuals, leaflets and books.
In 2003 Gavin printed the book The Direct Transport Story in collaboration with Graeme Carter, a Wanganui-based bookseller.
This is the story of Gavin Abbot, Ron Smith, and Direct Transport.
Gavin’s extensive photo collection and interest in trucking history prompted him to self-publish Urewera Trucks and Truckers in 2014.
This book was so well received that seven more books have been published, capturing trucking history in the central North Island including Thames Valley, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.
He has also had several articles published in New Zealand Trucking and Truck and Driver magazines.
Gavin is nationally recognised as the go-to person for New Zealand’s trucking history.
In 2015, Mack truck distributors referred the producers of a documentary being filmed on the 1963 Brynderwyn bus crash to him.
Gavin supplied photos and information and even loaned them his original brochure of the Mack bus model involved in the accident.
Gavin’s photos, books and truck memorabilia combine a lifetime’s extensive collection of trucking history in New Zealand.
He is a member of vintage truck associations in Britain, United States and Australia, and a 35-year member of the American Truck Historical Society.