Southpac Legends

 
Gone the Distance

Gone the Distance

Southpac Legends

 September 2021   

With a truck driving career that spanned over half a century and his last truck clocking up over 2 million clicks, Carl Urlich has certainly gone the distance. An inspiring mentor to many, professional, reliable, loyal to a fault but always a true gentleman, farewell Carl Urlich, you Southpac Truck Legend.

Carl left school at the early age of fifteen and started his working life as a butcher in Puketaha, however, the moment he turned eighteen his real career started, which was behind the wheel of a truck. 

Carl’s first driving job was with Puketaha Transport where he transported general goods and took to it immediately. In fact, according to all, truck driving was more than a job for Carl, it was a passion. ‘His work always came first’ says his former wife and best friend of over 50-years Kay (Carl and Kay were married in 1969).

Carl’s brother Laurie believes that this passion was due (in part at least) to their mother working in the office for Puketaha Motors and Transport, “and as kids we were brought up around the old trucks back in those days.”

From Puketaha Transport Carl moved to Discombes, this was in his early twenties and he began driving a cattle truck with his faithful companion Scotty (a cattle dog) by his side - much to the chagrin of his other faithful mate Rex, a ‘stay at home’ white German Shepherd.

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With a truck driving career that spanned over half a century and his last truck clocking up over 2 million clicks, Carl Urlich has certainly gone the distance. An inspiring mentor to many, professional, reliable, loyal to a fault but always a true gentleman, farewell Carl Urlich, you Southpac Truck Legend.

Carl left school at the early age of fifteen and started his working life as a butcher in Puketaha, however, the moment he turned eighteen his real career started, which was behind the wheel of a truck. 

Carl’s first driving job was with Puketaha Transport where he transported general goods and took to it immediately. In fact, according to all, truck driving was more than a job for Carl, it was a passion. ‘His work always came first’ says his former wife and best friend of over 50-years Kay (Carl and Kay were married in 1969).

Carl’s brother Laurie believes that this passion was due (in part at least) to their mother working in the office for Puketaha Motors and Transport, “and as kids we were brought up around the old trucks back in those days.”

From Puketaha Transport Carl moved to Discombes, this was in his early twenties and he began driving a cattle truck with his faithful companion Scotty (a cattle dog) by his side - much to the chagrin of his other faithful mate Rex, a ‘stay at home’ white German Shepherd.

Leaving Discombes, Carl then went on to deliver meat for Jack Flynn before going on to work at Ray Leach Ltd, delivering sand and metal. His next role was driving for Alexander Grain, around the time they brought the first Kenworth to Hamilton and Carl took the helm. From there he went on to become an owner driver, moving from Cronins (to whom Alexander’s was sold) and then Davies Transport. 

Carl may have loved his truck driving profession, but it hasn’t always been kind to him. There had been tough times with a dissolved partnership and a period of time (for over six months) where money was scarce to say the least, but he stayed true to his chosen vocation and things eventually turned around.

Carl’s final roles were with Waitomo Fuel and then (with his new Mack) a KFC contract, running from Auckland to Wellington for a few years and lastly with Bonney’s for around fifteen years, which to many would be a career by itself. 

Over the years Carl had driven and owned a vast number of trucks, however, his brother Laurie says that his ‘Black Bitch’ Kenworth ‘with a Detroit in it’, was a favourite of Carl’s. “Barry Butterworth built it up and Carl took it off him, he had it for about five years.”

That Kenworth was very well loved and looked after but also apparently very polarising, 

Kay says, “he stopped in Te Kuiti to grab something to eat and someone came up to him and said how dare you call it a black bitch, she was not happy about that.”

The Kenworth was a stand out but according to Laurie, Carl was a big fan of Macks and his last one (the Superliner) has, over the years, become a regular sight on NZ roads and a truck in which Carl clocked up over two million km’s.

Laurie says, “he had it custom built from Aussie and Carl has done everything to it, serviced it to the max.”

Shay from Ace Towing owns the truck now but made it available for Carl’s last ride.

Kay says, “he [Shay] was amazing, he made the truck available for the funeral, he even put Carl’s name back on it. He told me that he knew about the truck and was going to have it come hell or high water and said that ‘Carl will be sitting on the seat beside me all the while making sure that I get home safe at night’.”

The truck still looks perfect, virtually new. Kay adds, “when Peter Lalich went to put some fuel in it for the funeral, a couple of young guys came in and said ‘Phwoah, is that your truck, it’s beautiful’. He said, ‘no the [previous] owner’s coffin is going on it in about half an hour’. They said ‘is it brand new?’ and he told them ‘no, it’s about 13-years old and have a guess how many k’s it’s done?’ they said ‘about 20,000!”

Laurie says, “The truck has 2.2 million ks on it but I could never put a mileage on what Carl had done in his life, he always did long distance stuff.”

A gentleman behind the wheel and an inspiration to others, even in his later life Carl managed to impress other drivers.

Owner driver Greg Biggs says, “I had the pleasure of working alongside Carl at Bonney’s for about three years before he retired, and I considered myself lucky to be working with him. Carl was looked up to by many, what you’d call a true icon of the industry but a very quiet icon, he’d be embarrassed that people are calling him a legend. The true professionalism that he had, all those years and the dedication to the industry, he’s had some pretty impressive trucks over the years and always taken an immense amount of pride in them, there was something about each truck he owned that was unique to Carl, he just liked things a certain way. 

He was the type of guy that would drive his truck from Auckland to Wellington twice a week and be consistently professional, courteous on the road and careful with the gear, you’d never see him scrubbing tyres on the kerb, never excessively brake, he knew how to drive and knew how to handle a truck. And he did this quietly, didn’t go around running his mouth off telling everybody how great he was. A very cool guy, he’d come to work in his black denim shirt with blue Levi jeans and his boots were polished. And his truck was clean all the time, that was his style.”

Although Carl was undoubtedly a gentleman, he did have a fair number of brushes with the law, one of which was a case of mistaken identity. During the early part of his career, he left for work at 3am in his trusty Fordson pickup and got stopped by the police as he fitted the description of a burglar and was taken to the station. He was highly offended but managed to talk his way out of it. 

He was a prankster too, according to Kay, a group of drivers were going up to the silos at Tuakau and a few of them played a joke on one of the driver’s that was scared of the dark. “They got a broom, turned it upside down and put a raincoat and hat on it, slumped it over and ran red paint down it,” Kay isn’t certain that the driver ever returned there. 

Although Carl and Kay bought their first home in Empire Street and moved through Howell Avenue and a home by the lake, they finally bought their dream home on 21-acres near Tamahere where Carl would spend many hours working in the gardens and with the animals.

Now truck driving, German Shepherds, cats, Kay (of course) and being a keen gardener may have all been on Carl’s list of ‘passions’ but he also had one other, and that was cars. He was a member of the Hamilton Hot Rod club, along with his brother Laurie, was a founding member of the Early American Ford Club, owned a ‘39 Deluxe Coupe, a ‘40 pickup with a 350 Chevy heart and who could forget his Silver Anniversary Corvette Pace Car.

Carl Urlich died as a result of melanoma which doctors attribute to sun beaming in from the driver’s side window (a lesson to us all), however, despite whatever the doctors and nurses had to do to him during his last days in hospital, Carl never complained and always said thank you! 

“He was the last of the good guys,” says Kay.

Fare thee well Carl Urlich 1946 - 2021.  


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