Daltrans Bulk Haulage gets the grain moving – words and images by Mark Higgins.
Like most country kids growing up on the land, Daltrans Bulk Haulage owner Dallas Kropp grew up around machinery and spent weekends and school holidays behind the wheel of an assortment of implements while working on the family farm.
His father owned a fuel transport business, so trucks were a part of Dallas’s life, but he admits to never having a passion for trucks early on, rather it was for breeding cattle and farming.
Yet, in his mid-twenties, he went from driving cattle to driving trucks, moving to Toowoomba in the late 1990s and buying his first truck – a rigid body Hino to deliver bulk mail under contract to Australia Post. Dallas spent several years as ‘Postman Pat’ before selling the truck and contract and buying a farm in Proston, inland from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
With the farm established, he balanced his time driving grain and livestock trucks and managing the farm before moving into an office-based logistics role.
Then life took an unexpected turn and he sold the farm and moved back to Toowoomba. The unintended consequence of the change was the establishment of Daltrans Bulk Haulage, a bulk grain transportation specialist.
“When I set up Daltrans Bulk Haulage it was a case of grabbing the bull by the horns and pushing as hard as I could to make it successful, and, touch wood, so far we have,” he said.
The Daltrans fleet comprises three prime movers and six sets of trailers in road train and A-double configurations. Three additional trailers are hauled by tow-operators and, depending on the season, the size of harvest and type of grain, with Dallas employing anywhere up to a dozen subcontractors.
We met at Graham Lusty Trailers in Brisbane, where Dallas was overseeing the finishing touches to three new trailers to run as an AB-triple earmarked for one of his dedicated tow-operators.
Dallas acknowledges his time driving trucks rather than sitting behind a desk has given him the ‘hands-on’ understanding and experience to start and successfully grow his bulk haulage business.
“I think the hands-on aspect isn’t seen much these days, and I reckon it’s invaluable. I’m not saying we should have all done it that way, but I certainly feel confident in what I do because of previous experience. It’s certainly been a wonderful education”.
Daltrans Bulk Haulage uses Kenworth prime movers, due to the trailer fleet that runs HML and PBS compliance, and all the trucks are equipped with satellite tracking.
“It is essential to keep up with current technology, and having new trucks and trailers is paramount to maximising payload. Our business is all about payload, and, the more efficiently we can cart, the more profit,” says Dallas.
“I look at all brands of trucks, but, right now, given our design approvals for what we do and the wheelbases we run, it suits the Kenworth; however, it’s all about value for money”.
Having late-model trucks, new trailers and equipment has helped Daltrans attract good quality drivers, who Dallas hopes will become long-term employees.
“High staff turnover isn’t good for business. If our growers and farmers see the same driver in the same truck it’s just a lot less stressful all round. I believe a key to our success so far is the use of up-to-date equipment and reliable drivers. Our drivers take a pride in their jobs and their trucks.
“Bulk grain haulage is a highly seasonal and spontaneous business. We move sorghum and cotton throughout their seasons, along with wheat and barley that runs almost the full year. Towards the end of the year, chickpeas are carted and fertiliser is also carried in the early winter months,” he added.
Daltrans Bulk Haulage operates on Australia’s eastern seaboard; that said, it’s predominantly Queensland and northern New South Wales that makes up the majority of Daltrans’s work and keeps the fleet operating within range of the Toowoomba base, making maintenance easier and ensuring the drivers spend weekends at home.
To achieve his goals of maximising payloads while minimising tare weights, overheads and running costs, Dallas calls on his years of experience, talking to other operators and studying the market before selecting his equipment, as he explains:
“I’ve had many conversations with a lot of other transport operators. There are heavier options on the market, and cheaper options to buy, so everyone’s got a different calculator about whether it is better to have an expensive trailer that is light and can cart more payload, or a cheaper trailer that has less payload but is cheaper with lower repayments. It’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong. We like to be at the cutting edge of payload, and design our business around being as efficient as possible with payloads and tare weights to be profitable and remain in business.
“I haven’t had a lot of experience with Hendrickson axles and suspension, but I currently have four sets, some with drum brakes and some with discs. I switched to them because of their tare weight advantage and performance. In conjunction with a GLT aluminium body trailer, I don’t believe there’s a lighter option on the market”.
Daltrans Bulk Haulage is currently using Hendrickson INTRAAX suspension with Hendrickson MAXX22T trailer air disc brakes, together with load-proportioning brake valves. The MAXX22T uses single-piston technology for higher reliability and reduced weight. The compact and lightweight mono-block design features a sealed and protected guide system and is available with HXL7 extended-life wheel-end systems. Warranty support extends the appeal of using HXL7 wheel ends for disc and drum fitment when used on sealed roads to a life of 1,200,000 km or five years.
He admits selecting the right equipment is a long drawn-out process, but is seeing the benefits. His A-doubles are getting upwards of a 57-tonne payload into Brisbane. Regulation changes have allowed AB-triples to operate in New South Wales and bring loads into Queensland, an improvement from not so long ago, when it was road train access only. With his setup, Dallas claims his light tare weight B-double end tippers let him carry a 45-tonne payload with 55-tonnes possible on the road trains and 70-tonnes plus on the triples.
He was eager to get his new trailers onto a weighbridge to discover the tare weight.
“With a bogie dolly under it I’m thinking it should be able to achieve about a 68-tonne payload, and with the HML about 72 or 73 tonnes.
“It’s pretty exciting to be able to offer our clients that kind of service. For us to be profitable in business, which is pretty cut throat, the rates are certainly not at a premium at the moment, so the more you can carry, the more you can make out of the job”.
Dallas believes that triple trailers give him more combinations to offer customers, and feels his selection of tippers and trailers will cover most scenarios, whatever customers might suddenly throw at him.
Jeremy Glover, Hendrickson’s regional sales manager for Queensland, explained to PowerTorque that although the Hendrickson components are based on proven products available in the North American market, the company engineering team in Australia has considerable input into the final design and application.
“The INTRAAX suspension and MAX22T trailer air disc brakes with HXL7 wheel ends selected by Dallas are specifically designed for on and off-road applications. The Daltrans Bulk Haulage fleet travels extensively throughout Australia, and these components are ideally suited for extended distance driveability with maintenance schedules that support the varied operating conditions.
“It’s all about providing the highest levels of durability and reliability to produce the lowest total operating cost for our customers,” said Jeremy.
While it is still in its infancy, Daltrans Bulk Haulage is growing rapidly, so what about the next five years?
“That’s a good question,” says Dallas. “I never envisaged being where I am now, two and half years ago, so to predict where I’m going to be in for five years is a tough one to answer.
“I’d like to have another one or two more prime movers, but also retain a good bank of consistent and reliable subcontractors that work with me. If we grow our business internally with the right people, it effectively turns into more tonnes per month, per year, and a higher turnover, but I don’t have any ambition for having around 25 or 30 trucks. I want sustainable growth”.