Drake Trailers turns 60 – Words by Brenton O’Connor
The Drake Group, now in its third generation of the Drake family, is a great testimony to the ingenuity and ability of Australian trailer manufacturers to design and build low-loaders for heavy haulage work that are genuinely class leading on the global market.
Having expanded its product range with the acquisition of O’Phee Trailers, the company has also built a diversified product range that extends through from on-road and off-road trailing equipment to include the niche activity represented by the Drake Collectible range of scale models.
With its home base in Wacol, Queensland, TrailerTorque was invited to be part of the company’s 60th anniversary celebrations. These included a public open day of its manufacturing facility, complete with factory tours, displays of various trailers of all shapes and sizes, plus the option to purchase selected trailers from the Drake Collectibles die cast model range. An important testimony to the relationship between the company and its customers was also evident through the quantity of privately-owned trailing equipment brought to the party and displayed by their owners.
The Drake Group’s reputation for innovation and product quality stands it in good stead for comparison with any exceptional load trailing equipment manufacturer in the world today. But attending the open day provided the opportunity for customers and interested spectators to view at first hand just what goes into the planning and development of the company’s designs and production processes to meet those global standards.
On receipt of a customer order, the engineering team at Drake design a trailer to suit the customer’s needs. These drawings are subsequently passed through to experts in laser cutting, where all the required steel work is prepared in a process that bears similarities to that of a giant Meccano set. The pre-cut steel components are then assembled in jigs prior to starting the weld process using Fronius MIG welders, which is undertaken by Drake’s team of boilermakers.
Drake has a unique approval from WorkSafe for the way its trailers are manufactured, which allows them to be welded together while standing up on their sides. Support props are welded to trailers to ensure assembly stability during their construction and to conform to WorkSafe requirements, given that tradesmen are not permitted to work on a trailer that’s suspended by cables/chains from overhead cranes.
This procedure allows Drake’s tradesman to have better access to the trailers and simplifies the welding process, removing any requirement for a welder to work from underneath the construction with the obvious increase in difficulty for the weld process. The end result can easily be appreciated by the resulting seamless welds, as witnessed on the open day.
Once the welding process is completed, the next step is to move the unit to the paint booth for sandblasting, followed by priming and painting in two-pack paint.
With the painting completed, the trailer relocates to the fit-out area, where ancillary equipment such as mudflaps, lights, electrical wiring, airlines, hydraulics hoses and a power pack (where required) are all mounted and connected. Once completed, the final assembly is recorded through detailed photography undertaken by David Price, with a full record of each trailer kept on file for future reference, spare parts enquiries and to assist with any modifications that might be required to the trailer in the future.
As an example of the scale of the Drake operation, the 200 employees of the company based at its Brisbane manufacturing centre currently produce one trailer per day, running a two-shift production team. It’s virtually unheard of for two Drake trailers to be the same, as each customer has their own specific requirements.
General manager of Drake Group, Khali Lake, provided TrailerTorque with an insight into the Drake operation and how business is growing for the Queensland-based trailer manufacturer.
According to Lake, there is currently a huge demand for Drake’s trailers, particularly its low-loaders. Querying Khali on this demand, he said the majority of new trailers are going into New South Wales and Victoria, due to the huge number of large-scale infrastructure projects underway, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. These include the Badgerys Creek second airport, light rail, and WestConnex. In Melbourne the new City Loop train network is being constructed along with numerous level crossing removals, together with the recently commenced Westgate tunnel. It’s projects such as these that typically require low-loaders to transport heavy earthmoving equipment for the necessary construction work.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary, a number of Drake’s customers had driven their own trucks and Drake trailers to the event from as far as Melbourne, as illustrated by the participation of companies such as Doolan’s and Membrey’s, both of which arrived with their Kenworths with Drake trailers. Equipment from other operators such as Centurion, and Gradco were also present, but on the day it was an immaculately presented T909 Kenworth owned by Bowers Heavy Haulage that won recognition as the best-looking rig on display.
In addition to the factory at Wacol in Brisbane, where the main production line is located, is the repairs division. Drake also operates a further location in Perth to provide parts and service for its trailers located in West Australia – supporting the local high demand for heavy-duty low-loaders to service the mining industries.
O’Phee Trailers, these days a division of the Drake Group, also took part in the display celebrations, exhibiting its range of skel’ trailers, side-loaders, drop-decks and curtainsiders.
As mentioned earlier, a niche operation of the Drake Group is that of its highly detailed scale models, The Drake Collectibles range. A limited-edition model was released to commemorate the 60th anniversary in the form of a Drake 3×8 Swingwing trailer with 2×8 dolly and C509 Kenworth.
This immaculate model featured deck-mounted spare tyres, 60th anniversary logos and retro-style open deck, and was issued as a limited production run of 350 units, all of which were sold swiftly.
The models are produced overseas from the original Australian designs and feature exceptional attention to detail. Collectors had a field day with the opportunity to purchase examples from the full range of scale models available during the open day. Many of these were painted in the livery of various Australian transport companies, making them even more unique and valuable.