Gavin Abbot

Born in Opotiki on 7 April 1930, Gavin Abbot had a love of trucks from an early age - his drawings of trucks in his children’s prayer book is a testimony to this.

Gavin did his primary and secondary education in Opotiki also milking cows, rearing calves and delivering groceries on his bicycle for the family grocery business. In 1945, at the age of 15, he heard Horne’s Garage was looking for a motor mechanic apprentice.  Gavin applied, got the job, purchased a pair of overalls and never went back to school.

During this time, he developed a friendship 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 Limited where he remained for 35 years. In 1951, Gavin became the third shareholder in Ron Smith Limited along with Ron Smith and Des Lysaght.

The years of truck driving were the best years of his life. However, married and with a young child, he finished driving in 1956 to move his skills into the workshop.

In 1960, Ron Smith Ltd purchased the Murapara operations of Ray Carter and formed Radiata Transport Ltd to operate the logging activities.  In 1962 the need arose for one of the fleet of Leyland Beavers to be set up as a logging truck. 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 (Holdings) Ltd in 1963. In 1964 he became the East Coast Area Manager, the title he held until his retirement at the age of 55 years in 1985.

In his retirement Gavin purchased a 1947 Diamond T and lovingly restored it to its former glory.  Thirty more trucks were also restored with Gavin doing everything apart from the upholstery.  Parts for each truck were found in his shed, items picked up or purchased during years of attending truck swap meets.  Some of these trucks are classics in NZ, 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’ and in 2014 ‘Urewera Trucks and Truckers’. This book was so well received seven more books have been published capturing trucking history in the Central North Island. He has also had several articles published in NZ Truck and Truck & Driver magazines.

Gavin is nationally recognised as the ‘go to’ person for New Zealand’s trucking history. Gavin’s photos, books and truck memorabilia combine a lifetime extensive collection of trucking history in New Zealand.  He is a member of vintage truck associations in the UK, USA and Australia, and a thirty-five year member of the American Truck Historical Society.