SHIFTING GEARS | COMPANY PROFILE – Gear Shift Haulage

Warren Caves visits Gear Shift Haulage of Ingleburn, Sydney – Photography by Torque it Up.

There’s something very special for any fleet when a new truck arrives, and PowerTorque was privileged to join in the celebrations as Sydney-based Gear Shift Haulage commissioned its latest combination with a special tribute.

Formed in 2013 by managing director Lee Fahey as an offshoot of a  civil construction business, Gear Shift continues to become a dominant player in heavy earthmoving equipment transport from its company base in Ingleburn, south-west of Sydney.

Drawing on the success, experience and infrastructure already in place, Gear Shift Haulage transports heavy machinery and plant to all areas of the Sydney basin, as well as regionally within NSW and interstate.

At any time, the scope of work for Gear Shift may span hauling small equipment such as remote trench rollers, up to 45 tonne compactors, dump trucks or crushers. Currently the workload is split, with 85 percent attributed to external customer requirements and the remaining 15 percent catering for internal company movements.

Kyle Bunning is the transport manager for Gear Shift Haulage and explains the company’s business philosophy.

“The machinery movement business can be extremely delicate, and you need to be on your A-game all the time,” he said. “Service is a big thing. Realistically, customers do not necessarily remember all those little jobs you managed to complete on their behalf at the last minute in order to keep their jobs on track. They do, however, remember if a truck doesn’t turn up, or you might have previously said that it was not possible to handle a specific job, so we are extremely customer focused.

“We find now that a lot of our clients are searching us out to do work for them, even if they traditionally have ties to other transport carriers. We don’t actively chase other company’s clients as that is not the way that we operate. However, if they come to us and request a job because another service provider can’t get a job done for them, we’ll try to help them out”.

Prior to the early part of 2018, Kyle handled all the operational planning and allocations himself. It was at this stage that the decision was made to employ Rick Sookee, to take responsibility for allocation. “My phone never stopped ringing, ” said Kyle.

In another bid to streamline operations, Gear Shift implemented a single email system for contact, using Excel Online. This informs several staff members of the whole process of booking jobs, relieving a lot of the burden from any single staff member. “It helps share the operational load more evenly and keeps all concerned well and truly in the loop, in real time,” Kyle said.

“This game can also be a bit hit-and-miss with workloads. One day you can be flat out and be dreaming of another couple of trucks available in the fleet, and the next there is the risk that they might all be sitting in the yard with no work, so we have to carefully plan our equipment purchases”.

The latest prime mover to join the Gear Shift fleet is a Kenworth K200, bringing the total number of trucks operated by the company to six. In addition to the new flat roof K200, the fleet comprises two Volvos in the form of one FM and One FH, together with a K200 Aerodyne and a Kenworth T359 tilt tray. Finally, working on back-up duties predominantly in the yard is an older K104 model. The fleet also comprises three trailers − two deck-widening, steerable quads, one 3 x 8 full widener and a bogie axle step-deck used behind the smaller FM Volvo. Another K200 Big Cab and accompanying Drake trailer with a gooseneck dolly are scheduled for arrival in the first quarter of this year.

Kyle said the delivery of the new Drake trailer and gooseneck dolly would enable the company to accommodate loads of up to 60 tonnes.

Whilst the latest acquisition is from the Kenworth stable, the existing Volvo trucks in the fleet play an equally important role in the company’s success.

“The little FM Volvo with the bogie axle, step-deck trailer is a great little unit and is perfect for tight city jobs. It can take payloads of up to 27 tonnes, and with its tight turning circle and 12-metre length, it is right at home on these jobs. The FM can get to most places a tilt tray can access, with the added benefit of increased payload over a 6×4 truck,” Kyle said.

“The driver we have in the FH Volvo was offered the Kenworth to drive, but remained content to stay with the big Volvo”.

Gear Shift Haulage handles all its own maintenance requirements within the company from its Ingleburn workshop, with the excess workload picked up by local company RV Mobile Truck and Trailer Repairs.

Within the broader scope of the company group, Kenworth has a strong presence among the trucks, explaining Lee Fahey’s allegiance and loyalty both to the brand and the local dealership, Suttons Arncliffe.

Whenever new vehicles are required, the company evaluates the various options from different manufacturers and dealerships. For now, though, the dice seems more often than not to roll back to Kenworth.

Suttons Sales Manager Michael Maranda handled the latest purchase, working with Lee to optimise specifications for the new truck.

The flat roof K200 is kitted out for heavy work with an X15 Cummins engine at 605 hp (450 kW) utilising an Eaton UltraShift PLUS automated manual transmission. The final drive ratios are 4.56:1 and the wheelbase spread is 4250 mm. Heavy duty aluminium guards were fitted, incorporating toolboxes in the empty space between the guards, and dual intake pipes and exhaust stacks add a bold stance to the appearance.

The K200 was ordered intentionally without cab side wings at the recommendation of Kyle, who believes it gives a little bit of old-school class to the truck.

When questioned about the names on the side of the truck and the significance of the title “Ted’s Shed” on the front of the cab, Kyle explained: “The truck was ordered and specced up by Lee, but I wanted to do something a little bit special with this one. I wanted to keep it on the quiet, and surprise Lee.

“I liked it when there were a lot of owner/drivers out there with the family names on their trucks and thought that might be a nice touch.

“Without Lee knowing, I got in contact with Adam Blair of Blair’s Signco Pty Ltd. at Heathcote and devised a plan to have the names of Lee’s kids and a tribute to his dad, Ted, hand-painted onto the truck.

“As Adam is an old mate of Lee, and with Lee being very hands-on in his management style, it was a real struggle to keep him from seeing the truck before our official unveiling, which took place in front of the whole family at a job site. I even had to go as far as to instruct the satellite tracking installers not to activate the tracking on this truck until I gave the go-ahead, because I knew if Lee could find out where the truck was, he would head out to check up on its progress,” laughed Kyle.

Orchestrating the unveiling of the new truck to Lee was a difficult affair.  Lee was requested a few days prior to attend a worksite, and had been told by Kyle to wear his best Gear Shift shirt. This immediately got Lee wondering what was going on. Lee’s wife Melissa was in on the secret and also arranged to bring out Lee’s parents, Ted and Ruth, and daughter, Sarah. PowerTorque was also present to capture the unveiling and hand-over of the new truck.

The truck was driven out by Kyle connected to the company’s three-week-old Drake quad-axle trailer. For authenticity, Komatsu at Ingleburn lent a refurbished 20-tonne excavator for the day.

In an industry fast becoming dominated by big business and multinationals, the transport game could do with more old-fashioned family value displays such as this offered by a transport manager to his owner.

Lee and the extended family were treated to quite the surprise upon arriving at the work site to view the truck and its signwriting.

A nervous few minutes passed with Kyle not knowing if Lee would approve of his use of company funds to spring the surprise, or whether he had to look for a new job. It didn’t take long for the smiles to kick in as the family took in the small, yet humbling, gesture.

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