Hall of Fame Inductee 2017
Mike Uhlenberg was born at Eltham in Taranaki in 1939 and spent his childhood on his parent’s dairy farm at Mangatoki.
Mike went to primary school in Eltham then boarded at Saint Patricks College in Wellington, which he didn’t really enjoy. His father said that he could leave school if he gained an apprenticeship, so at 15 he signed up to the first apprenticeship he could find. He became an apprentice lino type printer at the local newspaper.
While working as a printer Mike helped his father with his new bus company by repairing buses by night and driving them at the weekends. When he gained his apprenticeship, he left the printing business and focused on transport, driving for a local dairy company. Two years later Mike headed for Australia where he gained employment as a truck driver and saw big rigs in action. In the early 1960s Mike returned home to New Zealand, married local Carol Williamson and returned to tanker driving.
In 1966, Mike and Carol decided to become self-employed so they purchased a petrol Commer and a Goods Service Licence with a Ministry of Works Contract. They had to sell their car and furniture and a get a loan from Carol’s father to pay for it all, but it paid off. At the end of his Ministry of Works jobs, Mike drove for local farmers and in just two years the rural transport industry had grown so much Mike bought another two trucks and another general goods licence. Mike even branched out into carting native log and radiata pine for local mills and the Taranaki Port.
In 1971 Mike and Carol purchased a second-hand imported Kenworth for carting native logs. Critics thought the Kenworth was too big for carting logs, but it didn’t take Mike long to work out that big equipment was the way to go. This was to prove true when the Kapuni gas field just down the road began producing New Zealand’s first LPG. This was perfect for Mike and Carol’s big machinery which could carry large loads to Auckland with ease. However, the job wasn’t without its challenges. When Mike and Carol put in an order for a brand new Kenworth from the dealers, they were told to stop dreaming. Mike had to see them twice before he convinced them they could afford the Kenworth. On top of this, Carol had to apply for weekly permits to cart LPG further than 40 miles against New Zealand Rail until eventually they secured a distance permit.
In September 1978 Mike and Carol purchased Eltham Transport, giving them two depots, an office and workshop, an improvement on the backyard operation they had before. Mike’s LPG fleet continued to grow with New Zealand’s LPG market and the Uhlenbergs purchased the local fertiliser store to complement their rural cartage division.
In 1997 Carol was tragically killed in an accident and soon after Mike stepped back from the business. However, Mike is still a regular visitor to the depot, and in his spare time he works on his classic vehicles and bulldozers. Mike was a pioneer of line haul cartage in the North Island and is a classic example of New Zealand’s road transport icons.