Kelly Transport of Toowoomba celebrates four generations of trucking
When a member of the family works with trucks, it’s something they share with all their relatives, and it’s only a matter of time before another cousin, sister or brother gets behind the wheel.
PowerTorque caught up with Mitch Kelly at the Kelly Transport terminal in Toowoomba recently, to learn how his family had created a medium-sized business with a strong reputation for doing the best they can for other members of the community.
It’s a family-owned company that’s growing, thanks to the enthusiasm of Mitch, who at aged 27 has been running the day-to-day operation of the company since his father Keith Kelly handed over the reigns some 18 months ago. And with a measurable growth of 25 percent in his first financial year, Mitch is proving his ability to the extent that Keith is not about to spend more time than necessary away from his other business interests, checking on how things are going.
“My grandfather, John Kelly (Pop), started driving V8 B-model Mack’s for Western Transport back in the ‘50s. Dad used to travel with him as a kid and come back home with a black face after sitting in the cab for a few days,” said Mitch.
“Of course there were no bunks and sleeper boxes fitted to trucks at that time and it took two to three days to get to Sydney, whereas now it’s overnight.
“Dad was the eldest of three brothers and he obviously caught the same enthusiasm for trucking that’s been handed down the family almost genetically.
“Kelly Transport was started in 1974 when Pop retired from Western Transport, buying a shop in Toowoomba and a small truck that he bought from Westco Trucks. It was a little body truck that proved to be ideal for picking up fruit and other goods for people in and around Toowoomba. That move prompted my father, Keith, to start driving for him in the early 1980’s after having worked locally as a piggery farm manager.
“Dad was 24 years old when he came to work with Pop and started driving Macks. When Freightliner brought in the FL112 around the start of the 1990’s we bought two of the first models that came out, one being a demo model in black with a CAT motor, and the other being painted blue with an N14 Cummins.
“We have stayed close with the Freightliner brand, buying around 23 Freightliners through our history. Seven of those have been FL112s, with the remainder being the Argosy and Coronado models.
“At the time of the Argosy launch in 2000, it satisfied the industry demand for 34-pallet B-doubles, and we bought three Argosy 101 cabovers to conform to the 25-metre overall lengths.
“When it went to 26 metres, we shifted to Argosy 110s for the longer wheelbase, larger interior and improved ride comfort, and have since purchased a further ten units. Our fleet now numbers 13 prime movers, including 9 Argosys, 1 Coronado 114 and a further Coronado built to road train spec. The difference from the early FL112 to the Coronado is amazing, with much higher levels of driver comfort and space.
“The Detroit DD15 is common throughout our fleet and I couldn’t say enough about how good they have been for us, running at 560 hp and with a VGT and DPF. When it comes to reliability and fuel economy they have been a lot better than the CAT ACERT that we originally operated up until they pulled out of the on-highway market in Australia.
“The DD15 easily outperforms other engines we have experienced in terms of power and fuel economy. They not only pull much better, they also hold on to their performance better on gradients. There’s also a major difference in terms of fuel economy, with the Detroit’s using 1250 litres of fuel for the Toowoomba to Adelaide run, versus 1400 litres per leg with the ACERTS.
“The DD15s have been really good and reliable with nothing major going wrong.
“A typical annual distance per vehicle is usually about 200,000-300,000 km, although with three drivers and two trucks on a specific shuttle run this figure would probably average around 350,000 km per year.
“We traded a DD15 last year that had completed 1.35 million kilometres with the major component failure in that time being one turbo and a DPF. We run 40,000 km oil drains, including the road train, and servicing is completed in-house for basic maintenance and trailer work, with any major work being done at Westco Trucks in Toowoomba.
“We’ve looked at B-triples instead of road trains, but it’s hard on general freight to get the deck length you need as most of the road train work is based on volume, rather than weight.
“If we had a set run for B-triples to take advantage of that extra pallet space, it then means changing our trailer specifications to airbag suspension with ABS and EBS, which in terms of practicality then restricts our flexibility in a trailer fleet of a limited size. I can achieve fleet flexibility by having a spare dolly and a single trailer, whereas in a B-triple operation I would need two additional A-trailers and then run them out separately to make up the combination. This all makes additional work for us, plus there’s also the extra costs of registration for B-triples rather than road trains.
“The overall length limitations are restrictive because we still have to choose between running a cabover with a bullbar or a conventional with just a bumper to get 34-pallet trailers. This restricts the driver from being able to have a decent bunk width in a conventional truck because of the need for a bullbar. We would far prefer to run Coronados as B-doubles, but the bullbar becomes part of the overall length measurement, even though it makes no difference to the turning circle or manoeuvrability of the combination.
“In terms of different trailers and fuel efficiency we find there is a substantial difference when running drop-deck trailers, especially on the Adelaide run where the drop-decks catch the wind. If it’s windy running between Cobar and Wilcannia, each truck will use 50 litres more because of the cross winds. Headwinds are not so critical and straight decks are not so affected,” said Mitch.
The DD15s are averaging fuel consumption of 1.65 km/litre when loaded everywhere they go in B-double applications. The Coronado averages 1.44 km/litre for a two-trailer road train at 82 tonnes on mass management.
The fleet choice for tyre fitment is with Bridgestone R150 and R156 tyres as 295s on steer axles and 11R22.5 sized Hankook or Double Coin tyres for drive axle and trailer fitment. Mitch prefers this selection rather than using wide singles on the steer tyre fitment for reasons of added safety.
“I recently trialled a set of retreads for drive application, and while they were fine on cents/kilometre, the cost worked out the same as cleanskins, so we have stayed with new tyre replacements. Our typical axle spec for trucks and trailers includes drum brakes, and we run with grease bearings on K-Hitch axles with parallel bearings on trailers, which have been really good,” said Mitch.
“We have a mixed fleet of trailers between Freighter, Vawdrey and Krueger, having bought nine in 2017, plus four Argosys. All our trucks are sat-tracked with MT Data, and that gives me a level of information without hassling the drivers. I can look at it and not disturb a driver unnecessarily, and I find I mainly use it so that I don’t have to wake them up.
“Last year we turned over a 25 percent increase in the financial year, and since September we haven’t had a truck left in the yard looking for a load. Freight has been busy.
“We have seen a lot of large companies go out of business and others have decided to specialise on, say, the fuel industry, and not to compete in general freight.
“We try to assist our competitors as we aim for a good relationship with everyone. We could get bigger, but with every employee subject to payroll tax it’s an additional expense that impacts on a smaller company.
“We are concerned that a lot of drivers don’t know exactly what they should be earning, and there are obviously some companies that are not paying their drivers the correct allowances. Our drivers are our best assets and we constantly compete against some companies that are not paying their drivers the correct wages and allowances.
“We have stayed with Freightliner products because of the reliability and fuel economy, and because of the service and support we receive from Westco Trucks of Toowoomba. We find Andrew Vaughan, the salesman, and Jamie Little, the dealer principal, are great up there to deal with, and bend over backwards for us. It’s the service reasons that we buy Freightliners and because Westco sell them,” added Mitch.