Cromack Transport of Grafton bases its future on a strong family tradition – Words by Chris Mullett, images by Nathan Duff
One of the great privileges of interviewing different operators around the country is being able to learn of the history behind the company, especially those that retain the family name on the side of every truck in the fleet.
In an age when major multinationals base their employment strategies on university degrees, many long-standing family businesses base their strategy on knowing what works and what doesn’t, knowing what the customer likes and dislikes, all the while making sure that customer service is much more than a title underlined in the company prospectus.
Back in 1951, Fred Cromack and his cousin Kevin Tranter started their general haulage business in Grafton, NSW. Through the following years no less than 27 Diamond T prime movers formed the backbone of the Cromack and Tranter fleet, typically with Cummins 160 or turbocharged 180 engines under the bonnet as they hauled trailers that ranged in length on average from 27 to 30 feet.
Fred was known to be a bit of a character and used to compare today’s workload to that of the early days by saying that without the benefit of refrigerated trailers he would transport ice cream from Grafton to Brisbane on a flat-top trailer packed with dry ice and covered in a tarp. From what today is a three to four-hour drive, with Fred at the wheel of his Diamond T the task of getting ice cream to Brisbane without it thawing involved a fourteen-hour trip, driving for six hours and coping with six ferry crossings.
Fred’s cousin, Kevin Tranter, retired from the business in 1977, but it says something of the friendship between these two mates that the Tranter name stayed on the side of each truck door until 2006, when the company name changed to Cromack Transport.
Graeme Cromack and his brother Jeff today run the business, assisted by their daughters Tahlia and Chiveau in the office, and Graeme’s son Brenton who drives the company’s Freightliner Coronado.
“The work today is constant,” said Graeme. “When we were kids back in the 60s it was all timber from the sawmills and plywood, and that hasn’t changed much to present day. We maintain our fleet size by providing a very specialised service to our local customers.
“The timber industry is still a very strong part of our local community, and relationships with customers go back in some cases as far as 1984,” said Graeme.
The fleet of 20 prime movers comprises a mix of different makes and models, with three Freightliners (a Century Class, a Columbia and a Coronado), plus Volvo (FH, FM and Globetrotters) and Kenworth (T350, T401, T403 and T409). Spread amongst three company depots, with associated warehousing at Grafton, Brisbane and Coffs Harbour, are additional small to medium 8-pallet to 14-pallet rigid trucks that operate in the PUD (Pick-up and Delivery) side of the business.
“We have moved from manual Eaton transmissions to automated manuals such as the UltraShift Plus and the I-Shift, and I don’t think that any of our drivers would go back to a manual. They might have been a bit hesitant to start with, but now they all love them,” said Graeme.
“I didn’t like the early versions of the automated manuals, but since driving Freightliners with the latest UltraShift Plus it is now as good as any of the competition.
“Our Freightliners have been particularly impressive, and, since taking delivery of them through Steve Pinkstone of Mavin’s Truck Centre at Kempsey, they’ve been returning fuel consumption figures ranging from 2.2 to 2.5 km/litre. These are powered by a Detroit DD13 in the Century Class at 450 hp, an MBE 4000 at 450 hp in the Columbia and a DD15 at 560 hp in the Coronado.
“Good working relationships stay with you through the years, and, before selling trucks, Steve Pinkstone of Mavin’s drove his own truck as a subbie working for my father. He used to carry general freight out of Brisbane for us, back in the early days,” said Graeme.
As testimony to the history of the company, Graeme’s father started a restoration project on a Diamond T and trailer, also buying a 1955 A-Series, which was to be the next challenge. Unfortunately, Fred Cromack passed away before the conclusion of the Diamond T project, which took a full seven years to complete, but the family carted the completed prime mover and trailer to Alice Springs for the Hall of Fame celebrations in 2010.
“It shows you the difference is size from trucks we use today as the Diamond T and the trailer both fitted on a 45-foot flat-top,” said Graeme.
“When we started this business, flat-tops were seen as the general freight trailer, with curtainsiders as the specialist trailers. Now our curtainsiders are seen as the general freight trailer, while our flat-tops are seen as the specialist equipment,” he added.
With a total of 29 trailers, 10 of which are flat-tops, Cromack Transport is able to handle all kinds of transport challenges, but has stayed with single semitrailer operation rather than moving to B-double applications.
“Loads in this area are very rarely oriented towards B-double application, plus they are also subject to access restrictions where you simply can’t accommodate B-doubles, leaving the only solution as being to stay with single semitrailers or rigid body trucks. With a B-double you carry the volume, but, with all the extras you have to pay for, it doesn’t result in any more revenue. It’s alright for capital city to capital city work, but when your average journey time is within three hours it’s not a practical proposition,” said Graeme.
“Servicing is done in our workshops, with our vehicles only going back to their respective dealerships for the completion of warranty work. Fleet operating information is also downloaded by the dealerships and very often it’s the data they receive that dictates the service and maintenance intervals.
“We use Castrol lubricants throughout all the vehicles in the fleet, enabling us to standardise on one brand that suits all the different vehicles. We didn’t want different oils for each different vehicle and different containers in the workshop.
“Fuel economy is not really different, with a single trailer fleet application they are all pretty much maxed out. With fuel consumption being similar at 2.2-2.5 km/litre, it’s the Detroit DD15 that set the pace, with the rest running around the same point.
“The trailers are all compatible, and you could say we are a bit old school. We do our own trailer servicing and have just refurbished the complete undercarriages with new brake linings, accessories and fittings. We now run nearly everything as disc rims, apart from a few trailers that are still on spiders.
“PBS requirements are not something that affect our business as yet, with our fleet comprising trailers manufactured by Barker, Krueger, Haulmark and Vawdrey units, plus a couple of Freighters. We tend to stay with a selection and used to standardise on Haulmark, but they are not really into curtainsiders these days. Much of that choice has been dictated by using a local salesman. If a salesman covers one brand we tend to stay with them. If they move to represent another brand often we move as well.
“Tyres are obviously an important safety factor and we use Michelin through all positions. Clarence Valley Tyres at South Grafton provides a full tyre maintenance programme that includes tyre rotation, replacement and pressure checking throughout each vehicle combination.
“Being successful in business today results from a relationship based on working together for each other’s benefits, getting to know the bloke on the dock as well as the store manager. We work through providing support to our clients and really getting to know our customers,” said Graeme.