Cookie Retires after 47 Years
Brent ‘Cookie’ Cooksley has retired after dedicating 47 years of his life to the Mack Truck brand. Cookie’s career spans almost half a century, making him one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the New Zealand Heavy Transport Industry. It’s fair to say that no one knows more about Mack trucks than Cookie.
Cookie began his career with Motor Truck Distributors Ltd (MTD) and the Mack brand in 1976, at the tender age of 21, working as an auto electrician. “I received a call from then manager Stuart McKegg who had heard I was looking for a job”, commented Cookie. “I rocked up one Saturday morning and asked for Mr McKegg – I found him underneath a truck covered in grease with a pink shirt on and no overalls – a fag hanging out of his mouth. Stew showed me around. He was a quiet spoken guy and asked when I could start. Just like that, no asking for qualifications or anything. That’s the way it was done in those days”, laughed Cookie. “I said I’ll have to give my old boss some notice. Stu pulled out his order book and wrote out an order for two weeks’ worth of work and said to give this to my boss. I started straight away”.
From that point onwards, Cookie went from strength to strength. He started as a leading hand in charge of the cab section, then moved on to Assembly Manager in 1993. Cookie was MTD MOD Centre Manager until the end of 2020 when he stepped down to go part time. When Jason Voice took over the role from Cookie, he certainly had some big shoes to fill.
Throughout his tenure, Cookie has been a key member of the Mack Trucks NZ team, consistently delivering high-quality work and contributing to the brand’s success in New Zealand. “His attention to detail, dedication, and hard work have made him a respected figure among his colleagues and the wider New Zealand transport industry. Oh, and he is actually a pretty good bugger too”, commented Jason Voice.
Reflecting on his time in the industry, Cookie said that a lot has changed. “The first trucks brought into New Zealand came out of Brisbane, Australia as SKD (semi knock down). When the plant was damaged due to flooding in 1974, Ron Carpenter, owner of Motor Truck Distributors Ltd, started getting the new F Model trucks from the USA. In 1976, Ron sourced CKD (completely knocked down) trucks which meant we needed to build the trucks from scratch.”
Mack Trucks were assembled in New Zealand right up to 1999 which marked the last of the MH Model. In 2000, MTD built Quantum’s - a fully built up and groomed Renault cab placed on an 8-wheeler Mack chassis. The Quantum represents an interesting chapter in the history of Mack Trucks. Cookie joked, “the Quantum was half French half American, half 12 volt and half 24 volts!”.
Although Cookie largely ‘cut his teeth’ on the job, there were opportunities to upskill which included training trips to Australia every time a new model was released like the Cruise-Liner, MH and CH. Cookie even travelled to New Guinea in 1982 on behalf of the USA. “Four of us went over for about three weeks to strengthen the cabs of several Macks with plates. We were right in the middle of the New Guinea jungle, there was absolutely nothing there. All we could do was drink the beers they had brought in for us!”
When asked about the most satisfying aspects of his career Cookie replied “building the trucks from scratch. It was cool to see them come in as a bare set of rails and a cab and go out as a completed truck. Back then the workshop and assembly areas were next to each other, where the MOD Centre currently is, all under MTD. We even had a paint and tyre shop on site.”
High on his list of fond memories is the relationships that Cookie forged with customers. “There were a lot of owner drivers and small fleet operators in the early days. Customers loved coming in to watch their truck being built”. They often came in on a Thursday afternoon to enjoy a few with the team at the infamous Mod Centre Thursday night drinks. “Some pretty wild things happened in those days. You couldn’t get away with them now, that’s for sure,” winked Cookie.
Another highlight for Cookie was the building of New Zealand’s 1000th Mack in 1987. A special 1000th Mack Superliner was beautifully built and branded to mark the occasion. A 3-day celebration ensued which included an evening at the Palmerston North Racecourse where Billy T James’s band entertained. Any customer who purchased a Mack during the year was eligible to go on the 1000th Mack Tour of the USA in 1988. The trip also included a tour of the Renault Truck operations in France and visits to London and Hong Kong on the way home. Cookie went on the tour which included guests such as the great Bill Richardson and a number of other key Mack customers.
Cookie is grateful for the opportunities that the Mack brand has given him. He remarked, "I've been fortunate to work with so many great people at Mack Trucks. The social element was one of the things that kept people around. Everybody worked hard, but we had fun.”
Ron Carpenter was an influential person for Cookie, NZ Transport Hall of Fame Inductee and the first person to bring Mack Trucks into New Zealand. “We worked a lot of overtime often to 9pm at night most Saturdays, and on the odd occasion when an export truck needed to get on a boat, we worked all night. Ron was always there, bringing us pizza.”
Stuart McKegg, Ron’s right-hand man and the person who employed Cookie was also a very important person in Cookie’s career, as was Mack Legend Murray Sowerby. “Murray contributed immensely to the success of Mack in New Zealand and has become a very close friend over the years” commented Cookie.
MTD has been a second home to Cookie for almost five decades. When asked how the nickname came about Cookie replied “the name came within the very first couple of days and is obviously a play on my last name. Sometimes it was ‘Bear’, or ‘Cookie Bear’ then it became just ‘Cookie’. I have been called a few other, less PC names over the years too,” he laughed.
As Cookie prepares to embark on a new chapter in his life, he’s keen to do as little as possible while spending time with his eight grand kids and two great grand kids. But that doesn’t mean Cookie’s technical tinkering days are over. There will always be a few projects on the go, with classic cars, motorbikes, vintage tractors, and farm machinery all in various stages of completion at his family farm in the Manawatū.