Hall of Fame Inductee 2016

Bert Watchorn

Born on 15 of July 1930 in Stratford, Bert Watchorn spent the first years of his life on a farm in outback Taranaki.

Bert finished his education at the age of 13 years after achieving a Certificate of Proficiency. His father’s theory was that you needed to work to earn a living as he felt this was more important than education. He stayed on the farm at Pukeatua milking 50 cows a day on his own.

At the age of 17, Bert acquired a passion for trucks, driving an ex-American Army 6-wheel drive GMC logger for his older brother hauling logs from the Kaimai Forest. No one checked to see if he had a licence or if he was old enough, but he continued to drive for a year or two without one.

In 1950, at the age of 20, Bert met a girl named Joyce who was working in Tauranga. They moved to Australia and married, later having 4 children, Cynthia, Robert, Phillip and Andrew. The three older children are still involved in transport today.

After arriving back in NZ, they went to live in Netherton near Paeroa where Bert got a job with Sarjant’s Transport driving an “S” model Bedford tractor and semi-trailer unit.

In 1953, he realized his dream and bought a small rundown transport company at Pongakawa, just out of Te Puke. Buying this business brought him into his first contact with the New Zealand Road Transport Association, which has continued until today.

Having grown to a four-truck business, in 1963 Bert and 5 other operators formed Te Puke Transport, enabling them to operate efficiently with fewer vehicles covering all fields of transport, primarily fertiliser and livestock cartage. He repowered new and older Commer TS3s with Perkins V8 engines, making them a great work truck. He also developed a telescopic drawbar air operated from the driver’s seat.

Sadly, Joyce died in 1972, which changed Bert’s direction and in 1974, he and his new partner Leslie, moved to Edgecumbe, with their combined three younger children, Andrew, Michelle and Toni, to run the then depot held by Te Puke Transport. By 1977, Bert had also acquired a three-truck business and shingle pit. In the early 1980s Bert bought 2 logging trucks with contracts and the logging side of the business grew.

In 1987 Edgecumbe had a major earthquake and Bert spent many hours driving the damaged roads checking for safety for the Ministry of Works and distributing tarpaulins. Fortunately, they had just built a new fertilizer shed which much appreciated by the 100 + people who had to spend the night in it. The family lived in the office as the roads were not very safe and the only communication was with battery operated radios in the vehicles.

Bert always supported the local community, sponsoring Top School, helping the local farming museum and shifting a toilet block to Ruatoki for the education department.

Bert’s 25-truck business was sold in 1997 to allow him to enjoy his passion for vintage commercial vehicle, the first being a 1936 International C 1 purchased in 1990 which was the beginning of a collection of 100+ much loved vehicles. With the assistance of the local vintage car club, Bert started the Annual Vintage Commercial Rally, having up to 100 old vehicles travelling the country with their enthusiastic owners from both North and South Islands. The NZRTA has recently honoured Bert with a Life Membership after 63 years.

Bernie MacDonald
Dave Potter