A Vital Link in our Business - Meet Rachael, one of our Milk Tanker Drivers

Rachael Croad drives an Open Country milk tanker for a living. It’s the job in a CV that would make a great movie script. There is drama. A storyline that twists. And a lead character you can easily cheer for. Possible title for the movie? “Drive”.

For Rachael, working life began with low expectations. Not that she lacked ambition, but back in the day, schoolgirls at Waiopehu college were encouraged to pursue more traditional career goals. Rachael remembers the first careers evening that laid out a small map of typical job options.

“I was 15 when I went to my first careers night. Didn’t like it. Didn’t like school either. I’m too much of a practical person to sit at a desk learning when Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, or how to find the interior measurements inside a triangle. I was a farm girl back then; I knew more about tractors than protractors.

“In those days, the ambition of many girls was to get married and have kids – the picket fence dream. That wasn’t my thing, but I didn’t know what was, so, from that careers evening, I fell into a series of cliché jobs. The pharmacy was the first.”

During her time as a pharmacy technician, Rachael learned she had talent in the world of beauty and makeup. That discovery opened a door in hairdressing, and at 21 she began an apprentice in a salon in Marlborough.

People with drive do not stand still, and within four years, Rachael owned the salon.

Still looking for something

In spite of her success, Rachael spent the next few years looking for her working sweet spot, the job that would tick the right boxes. Her next move was to Wellington where she became a flight attendant with Ansett New Zealand.

“I absolutely loved this job. It combined all my competencies: I was great in customer service, and I was fabulous with hair and makeup! Flight attendant was social and exciting. It was perfect. Unfortunately, the airline collapsed in 2001!”

Back to the drawing board?

Not quite. More like back to her rural upbringing. Rachael had always enjoyed the hands-on aspects of farming, and that’s where she found her next employment clue.

“Farm life meant getting stuck into all sorts of practical things. Driving big vehicles was one of them. I’d been in and out of tractors and trucks since I was ten and loved it, so the idea of driving big rigs for a living flicked a light switch for me.

“The easy part was getting my Class 5 license. The hard part was getting the experience required to get my foot in the trucking door. I remember going to another dairy company in 2015 to become a tanker driver, but they said I first needed two years with a truck and trailer. That’s the Catch 22: How do get a job? Experience. How do you get experience? Get a job. With my Class 5 license, all I could get at that time was forklift work at a transport company.”

That’s when Rachael’s movie took a lucky turn.

Short of drivers and needing to relocate empty truck and trailer units, the company turned to Rachael.

“I had never driven a truck and trailer unit before, but this was the break I needed, and I was confident I could do it. Was I nervous? I was sitting on half a million dollars of truck weighing 16 tonnes, so, yeah, I was a little tense! But what a buzz to be driving a rig!”

The drive from Picton to Blenheim went without a hitch, and within a fortnight, she was elevated to driving loaded rigs every day. Typical Rachael.

Things got even better.

With experience under her belt, Rachael soon picked up other trucking work. A Marlborough wine distributor hired her to drive their trucks, but when they learned she had skills from running her own business, they put her in charge of hiring other truck drivers and managing their schedules. Funny how things turn out.

Driving back to the farm

In 2019, Rachael’s storyline came full circle. As a 15-year-old at Invercargill High, she had thought about driving a milk tanker. With Open Country, her ambition was realised. For Rachael, it was the combining of her two favourite worlds: life on the farm and trucks.

Rachael discovered she was not the only female driver at Open County. She was, in fact, one of fifteen.

“Out of 60 tanker drivers, 25 percent of us are women. How good is that! I love seeing other girls driving trucks when I’m on the road. I always acknowledge them in some way.”

Rachel 18

A typical day

“I normally leave the Open Country depot at 7am and can make two to three runs in a day. It depends on distances.

“When I’m in the cab, I’m in my happy place, my own world. I drive up to six hours a day, which is like being alone in a mobile office. I love that! Because my tanker’s capacity is 31,000 litres, I’ll visit up to four farms in a single day.

For Rachael, driving a tanker isn’t just about the milk. It’s also about respecting farmers and their land.

“When I’m on a farmer’s property, I’m always careful. There is a speed limit and I’m gentle on my truck and the land. You won’t see a trail of dust when I’m coming up the race. I’ll leave that to the boys!”