Dream Run

Story and Photos by Australian Truck Photography

Grant Elliott’s boyhood dream was to drive a Kenworth. He now manages one of the tidiest family-owned fleets on the road … who said growing up was hard to do?

Located at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, Tumut is surrounded by NSW State Forests and situated close enough to midway between Sydney and Melbourne.

The town is the ideal location for a landscape enterprise; near to its product source and within easy travelling to the country’s largest gardening markets.

It’s a natural fit, and has been for the past 50 years that Elliott’s Landscape Supplies has been in business.

The company’s Tumut HQ includes a landscape and building supplies depot and a bark processing plant that mulches local timber by-products. A well-known and respected business throughout the region, the company is better known for its 11-truck fleet with its distinctive blue/green livery – a familiar feature on the highways across the southeast of the country.

You could say that the company’s managing director, Grant Elliott, grew up with diesel in his veins. His father was a truck driver and, as a boy, Grant would hang out at his Grandma’s house on the outskirts of Gundagai watching the trucks grind their way up and down the hills on that notorious section of the old Hume Highway.

Back then, all Grant wanted was to drive a Kenworth. “I’ve always had a fascination with them,” he admitted. “I would sit on the hill and just watch the Kenworths.”

Grant’s dream did come true but, when his father, Graham had an accident unloading grain, he was out of the driver’s seat and into the office to help drive the family company.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been in the office ever since,” he said of the simple twist of fate.

Over the years the fleet has grown to as many as 19 trucks, but Grant has been on a steep learning curve and was quick to learn that bigger is not always better. “We downsized and regained more control of the business,” he said of the company’s growth trajectory. “And profits increased.”

Today Elliott’s rely heavily on Kenworth trucks for most local and all of its linehaul delivery. In total, there are six Kenworths, with the company recently adding a T909 and T409 truck and dog.

Grant knows the transport industry is a competitive business, with wholesale landscaping suppliers being no different to anything else. Practical cost savings must be made where possible and there is method to the company’s policy of highly visible trucks.

“Every day, and every hour of every day, we’re out on the highway,” he explained. “People see and recognise our trucks.

“For the four years we operate any given truck, that vehicle is continually advertising our business. The public recognise and comment on our trucks.”

It’s not just the public; the company has won many truck show awards and at one stage held consecutive PPG Fleet Livery Awards.

“It’s all about advertising, but operating good looking Kenworths also reflects our professionalism” he adds.

Today there are three linehaul trucks on regular Sydney runs – a K108, and the newer T909 and T409.

Elliott’s used to maintain a one-truck, one driver policy and, up until the mid-90s their trucks were covering around 240,000 kms a year, however this has since been reduced to more manageable levels.

“We’ve become more professional,” Grant said. “Our work changed and we came back to 180,000 kms a year with a single driver.

“We’re also operating two drivers in a truck and are up to around 300,000 kms a year. That’s better for the drivers and for us, however, you must have the most reliable equipment and that’s where our Kenworths play their part.”

Two Kenworths on the Sydney run have three drivers in a shuttle operation, with the usual 840 km trip taking around 12 hours including loading and unloading.

The third Sydney truck does one round trip daily, and will do any runs that are not straight pickups and drops.

“The drivers like the system and it reflects on their professionalism as much as anything.

“The job has changed a little bit today,” Grant said of the drivers. “They used to service and wash their trucks. All that has changed.

“Today, drivers climb in, do the necessary paperwork and drive the trucks. There is no washing or any after hours work on the trucks. The driver doing the night linehaul shift only works the equivalent of a four and a half day week,” explains Grant.

Elliott’s first new Kenworth was a ‘95 K100G truck and dog combination, which Grant says has been the best truck the company has ever owned.

“ … Kenworths are a driver friendly truck. Being an ex-driver, I still feel that to drive a Kenworth is something pretty special.”

“It’s been a terrific truck,” Grant said of the K100G. “We’ve tried other makes but we continue to purchase Kenworths.

“Drivers have a lot to do with it. Kenworths are a driver friendly truck. Being an exdriver, I still feel that to drive a Kenworth is something pretty special.

“You can’t go past a Kenworth. The K100G was 16 years old and I’d send that truck anywhere in Australia. I wouldn’t think twice about it!”

The backbone of Elliott’s local fleet is their T600 Kenworths. They were originally highway vehicles that have been converted to day cabs. Elliott’s purchased them second hand, pulled them apart and refurbished them inside and out.

Since then, they’ve worked 22 hours a day. It’s demanding work that involves picking up bark and chips from saw mills. The oldest T600 is an ’89 model that in its first life worked long distance linehaul for Fred’s Interstate Transport.

A million plus kilometres later and it’s still earning its keep on a daily double-shift operation.

In fact, new and second hand Kenworths have been a feature of Elliott’s since it added its first second hand truck, an ’87 T650. After three million kilometres and 12 years on the road, the T650 went on to win the Truckin’ Life’s magazine’s ‘1999 Rig of the Year’ award.

Their second Kenworth was another second hand prime mover, a K100E, which unfortunately was badly damaged in a fire.

“Dad rebuilt it and we still have it operating today. It’s the local spare truck in the fleet. When our 24 hour shift trucks need a service, the cab-over comes out and looks after the job for a while.”

Reliability is a determining factor behind Elliott’s decision to operate Kenworth trucks, but it’s not the only consideration. When the job has been done and it’s time to sell, resale value becomes one more reason for Elliott’s to choose Kenworth.

In fact, alongside their manoeuvrability, Kenworth’s K-Series cab-over have been a popular choice at Elliott’s based on their traditionally high demand in the second hand market.

Now that the B-Double market has settled a little, Grant believes the resale on his T-Series Kenworths will again be relative to the K-Series cab-over.

“We aim to have a saleable truck that suits most operators,” Grant said of his Kenworths’ resale. “The last three trucks we sold were to a Queensland operator who bought them sight unseen.”

Such is Elliott’s reputation for looking after its machinery that its walking floor trailers, which are also replaced every four years, sell with just a phone call.

Now that the company has become a 24-hour operation, maintenance and regular service for all its equipment – including tub grinders, loaders and other plant equipment has become increasingly important.

Keeping that reputation intact falls to workshop manager, Warwick Heath who makes sure Elliott’s operates like a well oiled machine. Warwick oversees a mechanic, an apprentice and two general hands who help with the on-going service and maintenance.

Grant says that professional drivers appreciate top-notch equipment, however to promote a more positive environment the company operates its own points system to encourage them to reduce wear and tear on the vehicles and to obey the road rules.

Basically, every driver is issued with 10,000 points, which are refreshed every Sunday. It’s done automatically through Elliott’s computer and monitored with satellite tracking.

The main items a driver will lose points for are; above 105 kmh for more than 10 seconds, harsh braking and excessive idling.

Elliott’s’ have put a 60kph limit on the Penrose Mill road and the onus is on the drivers to keep to that speed.

Drivers get a printout on Fridays. If they retain 90 per cent or above of their points, they earn an extra two cents a kilometre. If they end the week with 80 per cent, they earn an extra one-cent a kilometre.

“We’re not the Gestapo. You get little glitches in the system but 99 per cent of the time it works really well.

“To be honest, we’ve never had a driver fall below 90 percent,” Grant added. “It’s also great insurance if our vehicles are involved in any incidents.

“We’ve only just recently implemented the system for local drivers, who are on an hourly rate. We have a different system for them. For example, they get an extra $2.00 an hour in their pay for doing the right thing.

“They lose points for fatigue. It’s a big factor and they can lose their entire allocation for missing a break – we’re genuine about road safety,” explains Grant.

While Grant has the systems to monitor his trucks, he says the bonus scheme could only work if the drivers are behind the wheel of solidly reliable equipment.

“I have the same faith in our second hand T600s as I do in our new Kenworths. It’s that reliability you’re buying when you purchase a Kenworth – they’re a good truck new, and they’re still a good truck 10 or 20 years later.”

Originally Published on December 2011 in Kenworth Down Under Issue 12