On the Road Again - Warwick Rhodes

When the Point Wells community announced a farewell party for residents Warwick and Katie Rhodes in November, it took many in the village by surprise.

It turned out the couple, who founded local civil construction business Rhodes for Roads in 1985, are only moving up the road to Matakana. But after decades of community service, including involvement in the gardening and social clubs, multiple tennis court upgrades and a significant role in constructing the Point Wells to Omaha Walkway, it was time for a party.

It’s been over 40 years since 17-year-old Warwick roared into what was then a ‘pensioners’ paradise’, in his burgundy Valiant Charger to take up residence at the family bach. He’d grown up in Warkworth, but says he didn’t stay at Mahurangi College “long enough to become head boy’”. He grins, “the teachers thought I might do better getting a job.”

So at 16 Warwick followed his father into local, authority roading, where the engineers he’d known since childhood helped him obtain an exemption licence to operate larger machines. “They gave me an opportunity even though I was very young,” he says. “I’d bank on someone not turning up on a Saturday morning, so I could drive the loader or grader.”

It’s a scheme Warwick is keen to see reinstated. As local chair of the National Road Carriers Association, he has been lobbying hard for the introduction of a mid-level machinery licence, to allow youths to operate smaller excavators and light trucks.

“There’s a big gap between a car licence at 16 and a heavy trade licence at 18. We’ve got capable young guys and good employment opportunities, but for two years they’re stuck with labouring. They can lose interest.”

When the government deregulated the roading industry in the early 1980s, Warwick seized the  opportunity, bought a grader and began contract work on seal extensions around Auckland. “We were pulling up tram lines on Quay Street and thought nothing of it,” he says.

Seal extensions, it turns out, make a lot of people happy. While the business has expanded to include over 120 vehicles and broad civil construction experience, sealing the roads to Omaha, Martins Bay, Matakana Hill and Wellsford to Pakiri remain among his most satisfying projects. “Dust is a huge problem, so when you extend the seal locals bring out scones and pikelets for the boys or drop in a box of beers,” he laughs.

Warwick takes pride in the company’s contribution to road safety. “The road to Auckland has improved hugely over the years. At one point, surgeons were campaigning just to get median barriers on the Harbour Bridge. We’ve worked on many road realignments to take out black spots.”

The challenge with large scale, highway projects is that a change in government often brings a change in priorities. “They’ve got to keep progressing and take the motorway further north, or there could be chaos through the Dome Valley.”

Rhodes for Roads now has over 40 staff, including several third generation employees. “I enjoy working with the young guys and seeing them get into their first homes,” he smiles. “I’m keen on a good balance between work and family.”

With sons Troy and Tyson now working in the business and raising their families, Warwick and Katie are looking forward to enjoying the park-like grounds of their new lifestyle block. Only this time, Warwick will be roaring up the drive in his treasured, aqua blue, Mark III Zephyr.

www.rhodesforroads.co.nz

14 Hudson Road, Warkworth

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