Building the road to success
Thanks to his surname, Kevin Murphy was always going to be called ‘Spud’ so it’s quite fitting that he calls his business ‘Spud O Haulage’. The company has built its success with the attitude of providing a superior service to that OF which they would expect of others and also by taking a discipline to every client that involves more than just turning up.
Kevin Murphy knows all about tough times because when he purchased his first truck – a second hand International C-Line – it rained for three months bringing the construction industry to a halt in Victoria and the only thing that dried up was his work.
Fortunately, the sun has since shone for Spud O Haulage and it’s genuine dedication to service has seen the operation grow into a modest fleet that includes a Mack Granite with a three axle PBS dog trailer, a Mack Trident connected to a four axle PBS dog trailer and three UD prime movers with each towing a Trout River live bottom trailer. A Mack CHR that has covered almost two million kilometres rounds out the fleet and serves as an example of Kevin’s stringent maintenance paying dividends.
Kevin started his career in the road construction industry working for what was then Astec. He held various roles, including one in the laboratory, and that same company has since morphed, over the years, to become Fulton Hogan – a major operator in infrastructure construction. A number of his trucks are contracted to Fulton Hogan so in a sense events have come full circle. His early days in the lab have provided Kevin with an ongoing insight into the intricacies of asphalt formulation and production, and the importance of such matters as specifications and density tests.
Kevin has also witnessed the evolving safety dynamics associated with moving loads of bulk products such as asphalt, road base and sand.
“The industry is moving away from trucks and dogs and towards walking floor trailers and few people want semi tippers now,” says Kevin. “Back when we started working on the widening of the Monash Freeway there was a hard and fast rule of no semi tippers at all due to the narrow work area and the possibility that if a tipper trailer fell over it would go over the bollards and straight into traffic.”
Kevin sought an alternative solution to conventional tippers and found the live bottom Trout River trailers provide safety advantages as well as an operational edge when employed in the type of work that Kevin’s company does. The design originated in Canada and the trailers are now being manufactured in Victoria. The Trout River trailers feature a hydraulic powered conveyor belt on the floor which is able to discharge the load at a controlled rate that doesn’t rely upon gravity or require tipping the body. Avoiding having to lift the body also eliminates the risk of a catastrophic accident and provides other practical benefits such as the ability to fully unload within a roofed building or under a freeway bridge.
“The Trout Rivers are just the best,” says Kevin. “There’s no clean-up of product from drawbars and couplings and there’s no unhooking and reconnecting of trailers as you get using tippers and dogs. When other trucks and trailers are unhooking we just back straight in.” The added efficiency of the Trout River trailers converts to an extra load being delivered across the fleet on most days. Operators of the road profiling machines like working with them as they don’t have gap between the truck and trailer and if access is tight they don’t have to unhook and reverse back without the trailer as is often required with tippers and dogs.
Although he was happy with the Macks in the fleet the introduction of the new technology trailers prompted Kevin to consider brands other than Mack for his trucks.
“My main incentive for looking at UD was that I already had a good rapport with the dealer and tech team so it made perfect sense to stick with the people I already knew,” he says. “I attended a customer drive event on a very wet day and once I’d driven a UD I was sold. They’re comfortable and they turn on a dime. With the new UDs we quite easily do the same, if not more, loads than our competitors some of whom may even have significantly higher horsepower.”
The first UD is now three years old and Kevin says he’s experienced no downtime with it despite it having covered almost 300,000 kilometres. The rear brakes have just been replaced in contrast with others that need overhauling every year.
The increased work load since the beginning of this year has required double shifting and the occasional Saturday or even Sunday for the trucks to be on the road. The dedication to this additional workload has now dictated that most servicing is being performed by Kevin’s local dealer CMV Truck and Bus at Dandenong.
When work is a bit quieter the Spud O team usually change the oils and filters themselves every 15,000-20,000 kilometres. This may be considerably more frequent than the manufacturer’s standard but Kevin sees the value in regular maintenance and using genuine service products.
“Operationally, we wouldn’t go past a UD for our type of work. We only need a ‘local spec’ truck and not high horsepower as we don’t have to negotiate long hills,” says Kevin.
Kevin has the desire for his drivers to go home as fresh as possible so when he began to upgrade the fleet he decided that he didn’t want any manual gearboxes whatsoever so opted for automated transmissions such as the ESCOT in the UDs.
“We haven’t looked back from that. They are so smooth, you don’t even realise they are changing gears. It’s one other thing as a driver you don’t have to concentrate on. If the drivers have to sit in traffic jams after incidents for two hours plus that’s a lot of clutch work and gear changes. Now we don’t even think about it and they can go home as fresh as they started.”
Spud O Haulage recently worked on the resurfacing of the famous Holden proving ground at Lang Lang, which presented special challenges due to the banking of the turns. The paving machines required pontoons to handle the angled banking and due to risks inherent in conventional tippers only Trout River trailers were employed in conjunction with a shuttle buggy.
Like most operators Kevin puts a high value on his experienced drivers and does more than just make sure they are provided with uniforms and paid the correct rates. Kevin works closely with his people and has regular toolbox meetings with them to discuss current issues.
“None of us is infallible, that’s just a rule of life. If someone does make a mistake hopefully they’ll try to make it a little one. The important thing is for them to tell me about it. We try to take out as much stress as we can. In our line of work we don’t have to load ourselves and we can use the remote control pads to empty the trucks,” he says. “We’ve found many drivers move on every couple of years because they get bored or they want to drive something different. If we can hang on to them even for an extra twelve months of driving and looking after our equipment that’s helping our business.”
When asked if he could change just one thing about the way his business has developed Kevin takes a moment to consider before answering.
“If I could go back in time I would have bought newer equipment earlier than I did because newer equipment saves so much down time. The extra money spent on repayments is more than saved by better fuel economy and less repairs and down time. It’s being off the road that kills you financially especially if you’re fixing something every second day just to keep it operating safely. And we’ve got the authorities watching us every step of the way so there’s value in peace of mind as well.”
Kevin has ordered one of the first 460hp UD Quons and he and the other drivers are impressed with the additional safety features built in such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems.
“Everyone wants to know that they’ll get home safely at the end of the shift and this sort of technology definitely makes the drivers feel safer.”
Kevin consciously tries to drive every truck in the fleet himself on a regular basis and has instilled in his staff the need to keep the interiors clean for the next shift driver. Sticky products like bitumen can pose a safety hazard on components such as pedals so every driver takes on the responsibility for handing the truck over in a clean condition.
In an industry that has a high turnover rate of staff Kevin and Carolyn Murphy are proud of the length of time that drivers usually choose to stay with Spud O Haulage and the good work that they do for the company.