Steve King, Kings Heavy Haulage’s Managing Director works out of a yard, located in Avonmouth, just outside of Bristol in the south west of England, which is where PowerTorque’s European Correspondent, Will Shiers. found him and asked about his truck buying philosophy.
Trucks are purchased new, and on average run for between 500,000km and 800,000km. The 6×2 prime movers are normally moved on after five years, while 6x4s and 8x4s are generally kept for about a decade.
“In those 10 years they’ll probably get through a couple of turbos and a couple of clutches, but that’s all,” explains Steve. Most of the tandem-drive prime movers are either exported to right-hand-drive African markets, or find second lives with fairgrounds, moving dodgems around the UK. Both scenarios suit Kings perfectly, as it means their trucks don’t end up in the hands of competitors.
Kings runs 45 trailers, ranging in size from tri-axle Montracon curtainsiders to a 2-bed-5 Noteboom. “Generally speaking we run Noteboom low-loaders, Noteboom and Broshuis semi-decks, Broshuis steering flat-beds, and Montracon flats,” says Steve.
Like the prime-movers, all of the trailers are purchased new and maintained in-house, and to an incredibly high standard. This allows Kings to keep them for up to 20 years. “You have to remember that they don’t cover a high mileage, and may only go out once a week,” explains Steve. “In comparison a plant hire company’s low-loader might be out every day, so will probably be wrecked within five to 10 years.”
Kings has always done its own maintenance, and prides itself on the high standard of workmanship carried out by fleet manager Jerry Williams and his team.
“I would welcome the authorities to pull over any of Kings’ lorries at any time and go around it in an attempt to find anything wrong,” says a proud Steve. “I don’t think you could run a business like this without having your own workshop, as you need to be on top of your maintenance. If someone else was looking after it, you wouldn’t know where you were.
“The attention is in the detail in this job, and if you get one little detail wrong in terms of operation and equipment, it will throw everything out, and you’re only as good as your last job. Don’t get us wrong, we do still get our problems. After all, they’re big heavy pieces of kit, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. But our preventative maintenance is what enables us to offer the service we do.”
Kings Heavy Haulage does everything by the book, and the senior management team get frustrated when competitors flout the rules. “These days it’s just normal to see people running bent,” exclaims an infuriated Steve. “I don’t know how they can sleep at night. Personally, I’d hate to be looking over my shoulder all the time.”
In the UK, regular trucks are limited to a maximum GVM of 44 tonnes. The maximum length for a semi is 16.5m and for a drawbar combination, 18.75m. Width is limited to 2.55m, and although we don’t have any legal height limit, you need to be 4.9m or less to fit under a motorway bridge.
Running over these dimensions with an indivisible load requires an STGO (Special Types General Order) plate on the truck, and all sorts of hoops for the operator to jump through. As a result, King’s team of seven route planners, are busy people.
“Some intricate jobs can take five minutes to plan,” says Richard. “But other jobs, which in theory are far simpler, could take weeks of planning. You need to notify the police and county councils for weight, width, height and length.”
One job that took even longer than usual to prepare for, was moving one of British Airways’ retired Concorde supersonic aeroplanes just a short distance to a new hangar on Filton Airfield, north of Bristol.
“That job took one day, but was three years in the planning,” explains Harry. “We did everything, from removing the stairs, to putting track down over the grass, and even filling the tyres with concrete in case they blew. We even borrowed a Douglas tug. Full credit to my dad, because the move went off without any problems.”
But incredibly, this wasn’t Kings’ most unusual load. That accolade goes to a trailer full of 1.5m high Gromits (of the Wallace and Gromit variety). The 80 plastic statues had to be delivered to various celebrities, who then decorated them. Then they had to be collected, and distributed throughout Bristol where they were displayed.
Finally, they were delivered to auction, where they raised a great deal of money for a childrens’ hospital. Not only did the Kings team have the challenge of moving such a delicate cargo, some of which were worth tens of thousands of dollars, but until they arrived at an address they didn’t quite know what they were collecting.
“There was one that had been covered with £1 coins. That took four of us to lift,” remembers Steve.
We put it to Steve that the load of Gromits doesn’t sound half as challenging as moving a multi-million-pound Airbus wing to France. “The difference is you can plan ahead when you’re moving a wing. Securing a glass-encrusted £50,000 ($90,000) Gromit to a flatbed trailer is a whole different challenge.”