Profile: Robbie Shefford

By: Lisa Potter

Robbie Shefford is driven to get people sharing and talking about their mental health and helping communities work together

Geraldine-born and bred, Robbie has amassed quite the social media following for his Truck This and Truck That channel, where his down-to-earth personality and raucous sense of humour see him connect with a diverse audience, from truckies and contractors to farmers and mechanics.

While his original Truck This and Truck That Facebook page was hacked and stolen at Easter, Robbie is undeterred; instead, he’s launched Gooserooter at Truck This and
Truck That.

Pondering the fate of a 1955 Fordson Major

Towering in at six foot four, his personality is just as immense, and he jokes that one of the worst bits of advice he ever received growing up was: "Eat your veggies; you will grow up big and strong".

His response: "I grew up big and fat. So not useful advice."

Immediately relatable, Robbie admits that "he calls a spade a spade. And while that doesn’t necessarily please everyone, or make you well-liked, that’s who I am."

His refusal to pander to popular opinion and his straightforward attitude to most problems in life have seen his appeal spread with tens of thousands of online followers and becoming an increasingly well-recognised face (and voice) at rural events around the country.

Most widely known as Gooserooter, his nickname came about after an incident involving a broken-down Kenworth A gooseneck trailer and several jammed fingers, back when he was working as the onsite engineer and mechanic for rural transport in Ashburton. The incident has also led to a lifetime of Kenworth banter and the occasional light-hearted rant.

Spreading the word

Relaxing in the sun at Agfest West Coast

Having shared videos and photos of his various truck and tractor projects on social media for many years, Robbie has always been prone to having a yarn with his audiences and frequently sidetracks off on a tangent. His sense of humour is always to the fore, but he also doesn’t shy away from honest conversations or sharing his flaws and emotions.

It was one experience in particular when working with the fire service that had a major impact on his life and saw him begin to talk openly about mental health and depression.

He quickly discovered that his conversations struck a chord with many. So, he kept talking and kept sharing.

His latest goal is to spread the word and some positivity around love, life, and mental health, and he’s keen to create a national tour, with a focus on visiting small towns around New Zealand.

"There are some great services out there for people, and it’s important to keep getting the message out there, particularly to some of these small towns that can sometimes get forgotten about. I think it’s important to front up and speak in person to people, whether it’s just a handful of people at the pub on a Friday night or a packed venue of hundreds. I want to make a difference."

And with his practical attitude and unapologetic habit of refusing to tailor his speeches to be too ‘PC’, Robbie’s sense of humour and endless library of stories is proving instrumental in reaching people of all ages.

Recent ventures

Robbie and the Cummins 504 V8 hard at work at Wheels at Wanaka

Following the recent flooding in Canterbury, Robbie teamed up with local business Signspot Graphics to design and produce a range of tee shirts aimed at fundraising for the cause.

"If it wasn’t for farmers, you would be hungry, naked, and sober," says Robbie.

With a variety of men’s and women’s tee shirts and hoodies available, $30 from each item sold was given to Rural Support (Mid Canterbury) to help farmers.

Next up he’s commentating the popular Mackenzie Buckle, a buckle series based in and around the Mackenzie region, where he’ll also be open to sharing yarns and have mental health chats with anyone. The competition is open to all levels of barrel racing, pole bending, machine team roping, and breakaway roping.

"I’m also building a tractor pull sledge so we can have more events in our area," he says. "Days like this are a great way for rural folk to get together and have some time off the farm and enjoy a laugh – important stuff for mental health."

Early days

The Fordson as originally found

Having started milking cows as a 15-year-old as a part-time job, Robbie has never strayed too far from his rural roots. With close to two decades spent milking and managing dairy farms, he also became a dab hand at general farm and machinery maintenance, including splicing wire ropes for irrigators.

"I was doing a good job with crappy tools, so decided to invest in some decent tools and do an even better job," he says. "So, I bought some gear and called myself an engineer."

And so began his next career phase: on the road as a mobile engineer and general ‘Mr Fix-It’.

His reputation quickly grew, and his natural people skills saw him become in hot demand, assisting with the ongoing maintenance of several large trucking fleets.

He also set about getting his heavy traffic licence so he could drive the fire trucks for the Geraldine fire brigade. With his licence under his belt, Robbie went on to spend hours behind the wheel of various trucks, not only delivering daily freight and machinery but also picking up trucks and delivering them for clients.

Over the years, as well as being a dairy farmer, engineer, mechanic, and truck driver, he has also been a firefighter and Scout leader and helped St John.

His passion for tinkering with engines, trucks, and tractors stems back to his schoolboy days, where he readily admits to ‘being no good academically at school’.

"The opportunity came up to do a small motors course, and ever since then, I’ve enjoyed pottering and pulling things to bits to see how they worked.

"I love being able to take something that was broken and get it up and running and fixed again. There’s a real sense of achievement about that."

No 8 wire mentality

The Nissan working hard on the sledge at Wheels at Wanaka

Robbie has always had a natural inclination towards Kiwi ingenuity. The first project that he can remember was getting an old Suzuki two-wheeler back in action.

"It was rough and the engine was seized. I got it running sweet. Along the way, I had to make an exhaust pipe, so reused a muffler of a lawn mower, a tap fitting, and a couple of steel joiners. I cut the tap up and screwed it all together and it was away racing."

These days Robbie’s workshop is an important part of his Geraldine property – a small block "with a decent-sized section and sheds where I can help people with repairs and maintenance, as well as my own projects".

Surprisingly for someone who collects and keeps many shed treasures in case they come in handy on a project, Robbie admits to a touch of OCD about keeping everything in order.

"I’m kinda a fussy person in the workshop, possibly even OCD, but I like to have one job finished before I start the next job and all the tools put away and accounted for."

Hampered by a recurring knee injury, which has already required four surgeries, Robbie has had to rein in the hours spent hunched over trucks, tractors, and vehicles.

When he’s not in his workshop, he can be found promoting a variety of causes (usually with mental health at the core) or driving a Twin Stack Bulldog Mack and escorting oversized loads around the country.

One of his more recent projects was a Fordson V8 tractor, which after languishing in his shed for 14 months with little progress made, finally got some attention during lockdown last year. While many people used Level 4 lockdown to catch up on overdue home and garden projects, Robbie got this long-time project underway and completed, transforming it from a classic old tractor to a super modified one.

"It took a wee bit of time, but I finally got the engine in the frame, running through the driveshaft and connected to the ass end of the tractor. She’s a bit of a Mickey Mouse outfit, which for those who know me isn’t surprising, but it’s good old Kiwi ingenuity at its best.

"It’s also a good example of what can be done tinkering out in the shed. You don’t have to go out and spent lots of money on stuff. It’s certainly not the Mona Lisa, but it wasn’t designed for its looks.

"Part of me wanted to prove that you can get into the sport of tractor pull without needing so spend heaps. The tractor cost $200, the engine cost a few 24 packs. The most expensive thing was the tyres. The V8 Cummins 504 is out of a D Series Ford. The steering arm extension is off my daughter’s swing from when she was a kid. Air compressor tank obviously is a fire extinguisher. Clutch pedal is out of an Isuzu. And on it goes.

"I’ve just chipped away at it; a couple of hours here, a couple of hours there, but I’ve got there.

"And that’s a fairly solid metaphor for life really, isn’t it?"

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