There's no better way of introducing Colin Sargison (Sarg) than with an anecdote from this publication's newsroom.

It's of the time a young reporter was assigned to interview him as owner of logging transport giant Rotorua Forest Haulage. She arrived to find a bloke in overalls busy at the business end of a broom. Hard as she tried she couldn't shake him off as she made small talk, impatiently waiting for the 'main man' to materialise.

Conscious of a looming deadline she demanded to know just how long Mr Sargison would be.

"I'm here ... what the hell do you want?" the broom bloke growled.


Any mate of his - and seemingly that's a good half of this town - would expect nothing less from the man with a voice so gravelly it carries the cadence of sliding scoria.

He's a tough cookie is Colin Sargison - a salt-of- the-earth fella, a genuine Kiwi joker. His mate of 30-plus years, Darrin Archer, puts it this way: "Sarg? He's a Rotorua icon, hugely humble, I'd be surprised if you got anything out of him."

Actually we did - but to borrow Sarg's favourite adjective (and he has heaps of the colourful kind) it was bloody hard work.

He gave us a scant hour to record his 70 hard-as-nails years; he was dashing off to his best mate, Murray Jackson's, mum's funeral.

"She was 101, there's no bloody way I'll get there - I've been bloody crook, had bloody cancer but I'm okay now." Tapping his hat he says, "It's all under here ... I psyched myself out of it, knew I'd beat it, I've beaten a lot in my life, I'm a tough old bugger."

That he is. The cancer may have departed but a lot of his past five months have been spent in Waikato Hospital, he blames a botched gall bladder op - "My intestine got nicked, took a while to sort out."

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It's his illnesses that generated a barrage of requests for Our People to tell the Colin Sargison story. He tells it over a pot of green tea; we say how incongruous that seems for such a blokey bloke. "It's for my health, I used to be a p**s head, drank a dozen Lion Red a day easy, but I got diabetes at 40 so now I just have the odd light beer and a little bit of whisky."

Sarg's is an all-over-the place story. One minute he's talking about a fish and chip shop he once owned in Selwyn Heights; "I hated it, too many moaning bloody women [customers], the [female] staff were okay, they got paid," the next he's sharing details of his car racing days.

"I raced Holden HQs in New Zealand and Oz for about 10 years, the HQs were too bloody slow, I got into Muscles big time."

Mistakenly we thought he was talking about mussel farms, asking some damn fool question about aquatic farming. His scornful look could have burnt race track rubber. "No you idiot, cars, I won the 2007 New Zealand championships with them."

Let's back-track here to his life's start; it was on an Oturoa Rd farm. "We only came to town twice a year, my old man was a mean bastard, he had us working as soon as we could walk." So that's the clue to the Colin Sargison work ethic - the drive that's seen him become one of this region's biggest employers with what may be one of the country's largest trucking fleets. We can't confirm that, he clams up when we ask how many trucks, how many staff? Intrusion into his business is strictly off-limits.

"My boys run the show now, they're very private, besides we don't want the competition knowing."

It would be a fool who crossed Sarg by probing further, so we change tack to inquire about the basics - his first job, a Mt Maunganui wharfie.

"I was 15, grew up a bit, saw no bloody future in it, came to Rotorua as an apprentice mechanic at H Allen Mills working on 'dozers. The apprenticeship was for five years, I done it in three years 10 months, we had that much bloody overtime."

His mechanic's ticket took him to Clyde Engineering, switching to selling heavy trucks for Mills Tui then British Leyland. But his entrepreneurial side was putating.

"In my 20s I started making fence battens in Whaka Forest, selling them to the Waipa Mill."

Somewhere in the mix was his first taste of logging truck driving and that despised fish and chip shop. We may well have mixed up the order in which Sarj's jobs ran. Blame him, he, too, loses track. But he does know his proper entre into forestry contracting was when he bought his first logging truck in 1973, operating as C & K Sargison. He's ventured off-shore. "I had this log cartage business in Vanuatu, it was real good, the place was a bloody tax haven."

Rotorua Forest Haulage came into being in 1976, Sarg was driving its trucks until six months ago "when I took myself off the road, until then if my boys wanted someone to do a short run they called me in, commercial logging's been my life".

He barks out instructions that we record he owes his start in business to his late father-in-law, Jack Scott. "He lent me the money to get C & K Sargison started, I have a lot to thank him for - his money and guidance in business."

Father-in-law? So when did he marry and to whom? "Kathleen Scott, I met her at a party when I was 18, took her to the movies, left my bloody wallet at home, she had to shout me, we married when I was 21."

He wed his second wife, Pat, last year when his health wasn't the best. The wedding was in Broom, Western Australia, they'd been together eight years.

There's another sudden conversational about-turn, he's back talking about his business ventures. "I've been bloody lucky with my businesses, have been in the right place at the right time hearing about jobs, I get on with a lot of people, don't hold grudges."

What he doesn't say is how well other people get on with him. Recently a bunch of his former drivers threw him a party. "Basil Frost organised it, he was my second driver, been with me 32 years, a real good bugger, it was a ripper do."

Rumour has it he's a rich man - is he? "I don't think about money because I started life with nothing, when I came to Rotorua I lived on 10 bob [shillings] a week. Do I have a business brain? S'pose so, but honestly I don't really know. My haulage business grew by demand and, yeah, it's been a lot of bloody hard work, my whole life's been hard work, ya can't beat it."

-Our People is taking a summer break, the series will resume shortly.