“At the moment I am driving a truck all of the time, but I think I do need to get out of the truck and get back into the office,” admits Mark Hall, straight talking owner of MDH Haulage, based out of the Gunnedah Basin are in New South Wales. “I will still go for a drive on weekends, but need to be working in the office.
“Covid tests were a bit of a hassle in the beginning, but we were pretty influential in getting a centre set up at Gunnedah. It took a bit of work alongside our Mayor, Jamie Chaffey to set it up for transport industry needs.
“It hasn’t slowed us down too much. It’s just a lot of hassle for the girls in the office, organising border passes, travel declarations and covid tests.”
The operation services over 20 customers with coal supplies and some of those customers use the coal in the production of products like ethanol and stockfeed. It is this stockfeed which the business moves from areas like the NSW South Coast, up to the large stockfeed consumers in NSW’s West and further up into Queensland.
The business does co-operate with a selection of similar operators in the area, all of whom run similar businesses. When one of the larger customers has a big job on, they will all muck in and get it completed, knowing the favour will be returned when another operator needs some extra capacity.
“I think the future of our business would be more of some form of transfer depot in Gunnedah,” says Mark. “This would mean we could service Queensland better. We could bring loads into a holding yard and then load them up as road trains and take them north to Queensland. That’s our goal, where we probably need to go.
The A-double in the fleet was supplied by Sloanebuilt Trailers as was one of the truck and dog combinations. The new trailers are fitted with the Loadmass on board mass system which ensures reliable record keeping and secures compliance with the requirements of Transport for NSW to run at higher masses over the routes used by MDH Haulage.
The operation runs three Western Star 4800 models, two of which are prime movers and the other pulls a quad dog. There is also a Kenworth T610 based in Sydney, also pulling a four axle dog. then there’s two Kenworth T409 SAR trucks, one with a three axle dog, plus the other pulling a quad dog. All of the transmissions are manual.
“No automatics here,” says Mark. “I think that with an automatic gearbox in a truck, you are not in control. If you can’t change gears, you can’t drive a truck. A lot of my drivers have been with me quite a long time.
“If you own a big truck and worry about fuel economy, you might as well sell it. Fuel economy is a big thing, there are a lot of factors involved, there are different driving styles and every bloke drives differently.
“We keep an eye on fuel economy, but when you are pulling 74.5 tonnes, you are not going to get 3km/l. You budget on 1.5km/l and then see how we go. The Western Stars are going OK. The one set up as a truck and dog is doing 2.1km/l, running at 57.5 tonnes. The A-double and B-doubles are getting up and around the 1.7km/l mark.
“We will hang on to the Western Stars for 1.5 million km. We rebuilt the two little ones, after we bought them second hand with high kilometres on them. The rest of the trucks all have X15 Cummins engines and I reckon they’ll be good for 1.5 million km as well.
“We do have a mechanic who works for us. We do a lot of in-house work, like suspension bushes and other things. The only things we send out are when we put a new gear box or a new motor in a truck.”
Mark runs his operation, as many in the industry on a handshake and operating with a level of trust. He has learnt lessons over the years and can handle customers on a person-to person basis.
“One of my customers, who had been with me for years, phoned up to tell me he had been offered haulage for $4 a tonne less that I charged,” says Mark. “So I told him that he should get the new operator to do his work, because I would not drop my price.
“A couple of weeks later he calls up and I ask how it’s going. He tells me he is about to run out of coal because the other operator hasn’t turned up. When he asked me to start doing his work for him at my old price, I said no, this is a new contract and it is going another $2 a tonne. He’s still using me five years later. Good freight ain’t cheap and cheap freight ain’t good.”