Graham Gardiner works on his father’s John’s Haulage business in Derry, Northern Ireland. John was a farmer who started with occasional livestock haulage and that’s where the business originally started.
Graham came into the haulage business in an unusual manner. Instead of always dreaming of joining his father in business one day, John put no pressure on Graham to follow in his footsteps.
“He told me that there was work there for me but he wasn’t going to force me,” said Graham.
In fact, it was one of Graham’s friends that got him into a cab where he first got bitten by the driving bug.
Young farmers in the community had organised a competition called the ‘Artic Challenge’.
This challenge consisted of manoeuvring an articulated lorry around an obstacle course that was based on a disused airstrip. “It’s judged, but I didn’t win it anyway,” laughed Graham,
“It did definitely start an interest and so I went on to get my licence, he added.
Graham did continue on to qualify with a licence at the age of twenty-one, and now, at the age of twenty-seven, he enjoys his job very much.
“I was just driving evenings and weekends for the first year and as the business grew, the hours became more full-time,” he said.
“I like that there’s so much variety in my work, every two days are different”.
The company have four Volvo lorries, with trailers and a Scania rigid lorry that also takes a trailer.
Graham even admits to having just recently purchased a new trailer in England and it is just parked-up at the moment.
It appears that whenever the Gardiners expand their number of vehicles, the demand for them rises too.
“The intention was to replace the trailer that I already have. Well, so far we’ve ended up keeping the one that we had intended to sell,” smiled Graham.
Graham grew up on a farm and served his time as an apprentice mechanic in a Massey Ferguson tractor dealership in Ballymoney.
He enjoyed the training, but business at home was growing and Graham found it difficult not to take a more vested interested in it.
The youngest of four brothers, Graham was the only one to take up employment as a haulier.
“We have one man that works for us full-time and a couple of part-time drivers that come now and again but at the minute we’re three full-timers” explained Graham - who continued to say that one of the many challenges that the company faces is finding enough drivers.
The long hours can be very unsociable. “Saturday is nearly one of our biggest days with two marts in the local area, and the sales could be going on until five or six in the evening,” said Graham.
He also admits that it is very hard to get someone who is interested in working on a Saturday night, conceding that things get a lot calmer during the summer months.
The type of person that the Gardiners would appreciate behind the wheel is someone with the qualities of a farmer’s son - someone that grew up around both machinery and livestock will be aware of the dangers it can bring.
“With our line of business, you’re always working with unfamiliar stock, so you always have to be cautious” warned Graham.
Another challenge for the drivers is coping with the logistics of the unusual hours. Factories like beef to arrive first thing in the morning and after a day at the mart, the hauliers are usually the last to leave it.
Graham is keen to say that he doesn’t actually mind having to sleep in the cab.
Fortunately for him, this doesn’t happen very often due to operating mostly in Northern Ireland; however, sometimes it can be difficult to stay within the guidelines of a number of different authorities.
“You’re trying to comply with animal welfare standards and also work with the driving laws and it’s just not straight forward,” insists Graham,
“It can be quite a challenging game from that perspective”.
Graham does have his favourite lorry too - a Volvo FH13 - and nobody else is allowed to drive it.
“It’s the lorry I started on and I’ve spent a bit of money on it over the years it and I keep it pretty well,” he laughed.
“You’re spending all week in it and you know how it drives,” and that’s how Graham keeps it.
When he was asked about whether or not he would like to stay in haulage, he replied: “It’s not so much a job as it is a lifestyle, and I like my lifestyle”.
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