Freewheeler

From fast lane to slower lane, Maurie Short keeps travelling.   BY GAVIN RILEY

Short.jpgMembers of the Heavy Haulage Association know Maurie Short as a life member of 25 years standing and the one-time transport manager of legendary contracting company Green & McCahill.

What they probably don’t know is that in his youth Maurie Short lived life in the fast lane.

How fast? Well, in 1953 while still a teenager he won the New Zealand speed roller-skating championship over the distance of a mile. A few years later he was a motorcycle speedway rider, competing at Western Springs, Hastings, Palmerston North and Gisborne and rubbing shoulders with such greats as Ronnie Moore, Split Waterman, Jack Parker, Norman Parker and Ken Le Breton.

Today, as befits his 73 years, Short travels in a slower lane – he drives a corporate taxi and takes part in vintage-car rallies. He owns a 1930 Model A Ford, a 1937 Chevrolet Coupe, and a 1956 Borgward Isabella (a German car similar to a Mercedes Benz). The latter two vehicles originally belonged to his father.

Short, it can be fairly surmised, is not a man to let the grass grow under his feet – indeed, a few years ago he ran a successful ground-maintenance business that undertook a lot of mowing.

An Aucklander, he lives at Te Atatu with his wife, Carol. The couple have two sons, a daughter and 12 grandchildren.

When he left school he worked for a leading racing stable at Takanini. At 19 he was called up for compulsory military service in the Army.

“That’s where I learned to drive a truck. I got the diesel in my blood and it grew from there,” he says.

Demobbed two years later, he joined Bitumix, where his father was employed, and while working on roading contracts as a truck driver he learned to operate an excavator.  Most of the contracts were in and around Auckland, but some were as far away as Taupo. As a single man, he relished the moving around.

After about seven years he was recruited by Green & McCahill as a bulldozer and dragline operator, working mainly on Auckland Regional Authority drainage contracts.

One day in 1963 Hugh Green came out to where Short was working and told him to go to a section and look after a phone that was in a tin shed.

“Now, I didn’t know whether I had to answer the phone or whether I had to be there in case someone came and tried to pinch it,” Short recalls.

“That was the start of Green & McCahill’s office. There were no clear instructions about what to do – just look after the phone.

“Then we bought another building and I set up the office and looked after all the trucks and plant. I had to prepare a proper inventory, where previously it was just [a case of] the red Bedford and the green Bedford and the yellow bulldozer.”

Short doesn’t know why Hugh Green singled him out for the office job, except that he was on wages whereas the gangs of workmen were on piece-work. Alternatively, he might have been the only spare worker in Green’s hour of need.

“It was interesting work but hard work setting up a proper inventory of plant and equipment,” Short says.

“The Irishmen had things written down on the back of a piece of paper and this was hard to deal with.”

For instance, if they ran out of concrete they’d ring up and demand more immediately, not prepared to wait the hour it would take to produce and load it for delivery. 

To avoid having to rely on other people to remove its growing fleet of machines of up to 20 tons, Green & McCahill bought a big transporter, then a haulage company, Hamlin & McIntyre (which had rundown gear but a licence that Green & McCahill needed), and finally another truck unit and trailer.

“The heavy haulage operation was my baby. Nobody really had anything to do with it except me,” Short says.

“It was known by Green & McCahill as Maurie Short’s trucks – and I didn’t even own the little screw on the bonnet.” 


He was given extra staff to help him look after the smaller plant, such as concrete mixers, jackhammers and pumps, and to assist him in running part of the workshop. He was also given the title of transport manager.

“I said to [Barney] McCahill, ‘That must be worth a few dollars’, and he said, ‘Well, you’ve got the title, that must be worth something’. That’s how they used to operate.”

In spite of his managerial status, Short drove trucks as a fill-in driver, following Hugh Green’s dictum of never asking anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.  

Short was elected to the executive of the Heavy Haulage Association in 1967, three years after the organisation’s official formation. He was president in 1971 and 1972 and served a further year when the association expanded from representing only the North Island to covering the entire country.

From 1976-82 he served on the National Roads Board’s axle weights and loadings committee, and along with others put in countless hours, including weekend visits with transporters to rail bridges and crossings, to help the government formulate overweight and overdimensional policies for the heavy-haulage industry.

In 1982 Short left Green & McCahill and on stepping down from the Heavy Haulage Association executive the same year was made a life member of the organisation, only the second after Gus Breen.

Hugh Green and Barney McCahill offered to assist him in any way they could in starting his own business. He went to Dales Freightways to help out in a managerial role for a couple of months but stayed a year, then bought the ground-maintenance business, whose contracts included grass-mowing at Auckland airport (580 acres), Hobsonville air-force base and several retirement villages.

Four years ago Short handed over control of the business to his son and accepted an opportunity to drive a corporate taxi, transporting leading New Zealand business and political people. He works four days a week, starting at 5am and finishing at 2-3pm. He says he is considering giving up driving the taxi “but I’ve still got to be doing something”. That “something” will include using a borrowed digger to clean out the drains on a small farm his family owns at Kumeu, operating a hydraulic excavator for some contracting mates, and even helping with fencing on Barney McCahill’s farm.

Short keeps in constant touch with both McCahill and Green and rates his time with their erstwhile contracting company as the peak of his career.

“That was the best part of my working life and those two guys were the greatest guys I’ve ever mixed with,” he says.

“They were the most generous and I’m still great friends with them both.”

Long-term camaraderie is also the reason he will continue to attend annual conferences of the Heavy Haulage Association.

“We were all good friends even when we were competing against each other and I’ve remained good friends with the ones who are still here, like [fellow life members] George Yelavich and Norm Durham,” he says.

“Every time we meet we like to get together for a good old chat. It’s like a big family.”


Contractor Vol.31 No.10  November 2007
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