NZ Transport Imaging Awards

 
The Frews factor

The Frews factor

NZ Transport Imaging Awards

 September 2019   

Brown is far from the most popular base shade for fleet colour schemes these days, but this very rarity factor makes the trucks of Frews Transport – this month's finalist in the PPG Transport Imaging Awards – easily recognisable and very distinctive.

Even from a distance, there's no mistaking the unique combination of brown base colour and red bumper and chassis, with a stepped trio of chunky red stripes, keylined in white, on the cab sides, the bottom one running through the company logo to wrap around the front.

The logo itself, a bold yellow "Frew's," set in a black background, adds to the instant identification and the overall air of businesslike simplicity, and is repeated above the windscreen.

The apostrophe is a playful nod to the grammatical inconsistencies of English, and adds to the identification factor.


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Brown is far from the most popular base shade for fleet colour schemes these days, but this very rarity factor makes the trucks of Frews Transport – this month's finalist in the PPG Transport Imaging Awards – easily recognisable and very distinctive.
Even from a distance, there's no mistaking the unique combination of brown base colour and red bumper and chassis, with a stepped trio of chunky red stripes, keylined in white, on the cab sides, the bottom one running through the company logo to wrap around the front.
The logo itself, a bold yellow "Frew's," set in a black background, adds to the instant identification and the overall air of businesslike simplicity, and is repeated above the windscreen. 
The apostrophe is a playful nod to the grammatical inconsistencies of English, and adds to the identification factor.
The precise derivation of the livery is all but lost in the mists of time...and it has been quite a time, for Frews Transport is only a couple of years short of its centenary: It was incorporated in 1921 as a partnership between E.H. (Edgar Harold) Frew and W. McCrostie to run a traction engine business in Greendale, south of Darfield in Canterbury.
According to Evan Frew, in his recently-launched book on the company's history, the red chassis goes back to 1930 when Edgar's son, John, bought the company's first truck – an American-built Republic. 
Some years later Republic was bought by the International Harvester Company, which adopted the red for its farm equipment. Meanwhile, Frews has continued to use what became known as IHC Red on the truck chassis.   
The brown possibly derives from the firm's first new truck, a Reo bought in 1935 that had a light brown cab. For the next couple of decades the fleet painting was generally done by John's brother-in-law, Alf Chatterton. 
Over time he switched to the darker shade used today – possibly to more easily hide imperfections, or maybe to better distinguish the trucks from other local carriers of the era, when light brown was more prevalent in fleet colours.
The company name on the door of the first truck was probably white, but during the 1950s it evolved through a primrose shade into the current gold. Occasionally, when time was pressing to get an addition to the fleet into service, the logo would be spraypainted on, using a stencil. 
In the 1960s Evan banned the practice in favour of a return to a more fiddly – but more professional-looking – hand signwriting. 
That, of course, has since given way to computer signwriting, but Frews hasn't followed the path of many other companies that have gone wild on the decorative possibilities of computer pinstriping and scrollwork. Instead, the trucks sport at most three or four simple scrolls at the front corners or rear of the cabs, or on their aerofoils. Again, the emphasis is on simplicity. 
The cab stripes were introduced during the 1960s, on the Mercedes L-Series 338 models the company then ran. 
In the 1990s Frews Transport had grown to encompass a much wider range of activities than a basic rural carrier. They included long-distance bulk transport, demolition and contracting. John's three sons – Evan, Merv and Owen – elected to split the company into three independently-owned entities. Merv took the original Darfield operation, Evan the Christchurch-based Frews Contracting, and Owen the Oxford depot – renamed Frews North Canterbury. 
Apart from the new names and the contracting operation replacing the door logo with the outline of a digger, the colour schemes remained essentially the same.
After Owen's retirement some years ago Frews North Canterbury was sold to Frews Transport, which continues to operate out of depots in Darfield and Oxford. Frews Contracting remains independent.
Frews Transport managing director Dean Frew says the colour scheme's strength lies not only in its uniqueness, but it's versatility: "We can easily adapt the stripes to suit different cab shapes. We occasionally put a little yellow line below the stripes to break them up, but the basic design remains pretty much the same. We like to keep it simple. The trucks aren't for show, they're work beasts.
"When it comes to changing the stripe layout for different cab shapes, we work with Carl Balani of Kiwi Signs, who also looks after our signwriting. We still paint a fair few that we buy. For example, the two Volvo FMs that we recently added to the fleet came with white cabs, because their spec didn't include factory paint. However, that was no problem, because the job was handled by Peter Higgins, a local painter in Darfield who has done all our painting for years."
An interesting sidelight to the FMs was that the factory supplied them with red chassis in place of the black that's the norm for Volvo trucks.  

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