Fit for a King
Ross Contractors runs linehaul interstate as well as freight fulfilment closer to home in Adelaide where it has a mining operation. It relies on Kenworth trucks and PACCAR Parts and Service to traffic loaded B-doubles, road trains and, PBS approved, truck and dog trailers.
Take a moment to consider Australian drivers are responsible for fulfilling the freight task of the sixth largest country for landmass on earth. Ross Contractors, which is based out of Golden Grove, a half hour northeast of Adelaide, run a fleet of commercial vehicles, which does its bit to traverse the continent, moving grain, fertiliser and often quarry products around the nation.
They also supply brick factories in Adelaide with various clay products they extract from a mining operation in One Tree Hill. The town was named after an inn, which took its own name from a towering red gum tree that burnt down in 1890. It’s an area where things are known to last even after they are gone.
As to the permanency of his business, Eric Ross never dreamed of the kind of operation Ross Contractors is today when he purchased a second hand tandem tipper in 1974 with his wife Maureen in nearby Golden Grove.
Eric and Maureen’s son Darren and daughter Sharyn, who are now responsible for the daily operations at Ross Contractors, would often watch their father on Fridays, no matter the weather, on a wheat bag under his old truck with a grease gun in hand. As with so many foundational family businesses they exist, at least initially, to feed hungry mouths. Anything else is a bonus. According to Ross Contractors Director, Darren Ross, the original house in which he grew up and his father, Eric, devoted himself to the same Friday night ritual, is now part of its transport depot.
“Where there used to be a vacant lot there’s now a depot which consists of a drive-through service pit, a tyre bay and fabrication bay,” he says. “But I can still remember Dad out in the drive long before the depot was built greasing that first truck. It didn’t matter if it was pouring with rain. That was his dedication.”
In 1976, as Darren recalls it, Eric purchased his first new truck. He paid approximately $41,000 for it.
“At the time he thought that it would be a lifetime debt and that he would be forever paying it off,” Darren says. “When you factor in the purchase price of trucks and B-doubles these days it’s incredible that he’s come so far given where he started.”
42 years later Ross Contractors operates 11 trucks, most of them Kenworth prime movers hitched to one of various trailer combinations. The business, according to Darren, now maintains two divisions. Bulk haulage, which includes four and five axle dogs, several B-doubles and road trains, runs Australia-wide. While the mine for which Ross Contractors operates, was first purchased in the mid-‘90s, produces, with some additional neighbouring mines acquired subsequently, clay and sand, they deliver to several brick factories mostly in and around Adelaide. This division has helped expand the business and committed its transport operation, including its weekend maintenance and servicing, over seven days a week says Darren.
“We’ve got a reasonable amount of mining area so that should allow us to be able to mine on site well into the future,” he says. “It’s a significant part of our business in that it also complements our bulk transport side of things.”
Ross Contractors regularly haul their own products – which include but are not limited to clay for brick manufacture, Kaosmec clay and various sand products – from the quarry site. They market up to 15 different products in total according to Darren.
“Whether it’s trenching sands or building sands there’s always some type of sand or clay being moved out of our mine on a daily basis,” he says.
Darren joined the business straight out of school in 1987. By the early ‘90s he became heavily involved in driving the trucks and the general running of operations. It wasn’t until 2010 when he, so to speak, hung up his keys to concentrate on overseeing the mining business in a more traditional operations role.
“It got to the stage where I couldn’t do it successfully behind the wheel. The business got too big for that.”
Up until then he was doing regular interstate trips including Adelaide to Sydney and Melbourne and others through the Eastern states. He says there aren’t many bulk transport tasks he has not completed himself over the years.
“It’s good background I believe not to have to ask drivers to do stuff that you haven’t done yourself. It probably earns a little bit of respect from drivers knowing you have actually been out there and done the tasks you are asking them to do,” Darren says. “It also gives you an insight into what they’ve got to go through out on the road. I definitely enjoyed my time out on the road. But as the business evolves you have to change your ways.”
Darren has, firsthand, seen it go through every part of its evolution. He recalls his mother cooking his father’s dinner. She would wait for a call from her husband who would have to use a roadside pay phone and estimate his arrival on a stretch of highway where Maureen and often Darren, as a boy, would later meet him.
“You’d sit there waiting to give him his tea knowing he was going to eventually come along on the nightly run. There was faith in knowing he would be there eventually as there was no other way to communicate to each other. Things have certainly progressed a lot since the mid-‘70s.”
Ross Contractors has bought more than 30 Kenworth trucks, according to Darren, since it began its partnership with CMV Truck Sales Kenworth DAF Adelaide dealership in 2001 with a Kenworth T404 – the first of its kind delivered into South Australia. It was a truck and dog. Darren drove it himself.
“The Kenworth DAF Adelaide team lead by Jono Crawford, Sales Manager Jarrod Dawson and salesman, Brad Keller have assisted our business in making positive moves forward with the quality Kenworth product for many years,” he says.
Ross Contractors currently has a Kenworth T610 on order. When it arrives the T610 will be the second, now operational in the company, with a Performance-Based-Standards (PBS) approved dog trailer. The new breed of Kenworth, as Darren refers to it, features an air-assisted clutch that he rates highly. The driver he has assigned it likes the ease of the clutch, the layout of the interior and the extra room in the cab.
“It’s definitely one of the chief selling points and it’s one thing Kenworth does very well. They don’t release something until they think it through fairly well,” he says. “When they do release a new product I believe they get it pretty close to being spot on.”
As they needed to fit an automatic tarping system to the lengths of the PBS truck and quad-axle dog the bumper to back-of-cab measurement of the Kenworth T610 proved an ideal fit.
“That was one advantage in our operation where the T610 works for sure. Nowadays with OH&S and the safety side of things automatic tarps and safety systems are the only way to go. Obviously being able to fit that in and not having to make tipper bodies smaller and not having to reduce your cubic capacity is always a good thing.”
Because certain customers are located in environments not conducive to accessing B-doubles the PBS truck and dog is the only efficient way, for Darren, to move bulk materials on short leads. “Having 39 tonnes and the same amount of tyres on the road as the previous 32 tonne truck and quad dog has been a major advantage to the business in certain applications,” he says.
Tipper bodies and dog trailers are supplied exclusively to Ross Contractors by Barry Stoodley, a local South Australian company.
Once the trucks leave the PACCAR factory Ross Contractors go one step further with the Kenworths dressing them up in bling with stainless steel features, custom lights and graphics for the drivers who appreciate it. Darren says they also install refrigerated bunk air-conditioners.
“We run such a vast array of jobs at different locations where the trucks go up north into humid conditions and during the summer months in extreme temperatures. They are more expensive but we don’t have any complaints from drivers.”
Most of the drivers at Ross Contractors have been with the company on average nearly 10 years. Darren says they are a one driver per truck operation and try to accommodate all the driver requirements, where possible. In doing so he believes they receive loyalty from their drivers in return and maintain a higher standard of equipment as a result.
“I think it’s very important to our business to have long-standing team members,” he says. “We’ve got a very loyal customer base and I think it speaks volumes to your customers interstate that they see the same drivers come in regularly year-in and year-out. In addition to the drivers, our Operations Manager, Gavin Robertson, has been part of our team for 10 years. We like to think that seeing the same drivers and dealing with the same operational staff inspires confidence in our customers.”
Kenworth is the unanimous first choice for Darren and the drivers. The reliability of product and quality of build according to Darren is exceptional.
“PACCAR has been able to back up our business and help us out whenever we’ve had any need. They keep us on the road and listen to what you have to say. Kenworth has got a vehicle that fits every part of our business. We’ve run a K200 to T4, T6, T9 and the T610 nowadays fits the PBS perfectly with what we’re looking to do. We are also looking forward to taking delivery of our Legend 900, which is currently being fitted out. They definitely get it right for us.”