Steering ahead out west
Wedderburn Transport aligns itself with Truckline for its parts and expert advice. As an advocate of health and safety, owner Mark Talbot continues to be a proactive figure supporting regional independent businesses in the Western Australian livestock industry.
As a fourth generation family-owned business, Wedderburn Transport, a livestock transport outfit, maintains deep roots in the small community of Brunswick Junction, 170 kilometres to the south of Perth. Its director Mark Talbot wears several hats in his busy schedule one of which includes his role as Executive Committee Member for the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Western Australia (LRTAWA), where he helps organise its annual conference.
The climate of the southwest, where rainfall, according to Mark is rarely an issue, makes it prime farming country although its many dairy operations, once its biggest industry, has long since disappeared following deregulation as many local farmers took advantage of the exit payments offered by the Dairy Structural Adjustment Program in 2000. An aluminium mine in nearby Worsley employs 900 workers, many of whom are fly-ins, although the major economies of the area remain earthmoving and transport.
Truckline in Bunbury, the nearest major town, provides Wedderburn Transport with parts and service intelligence. Mark started building his own trailers 20 years ago. He runs cattle crates and with extra mass loading, up to 23 tonnes in some cases, it’s imperative the suspension is capable of meeting the long-haul work task. This is where Truckline, according to Mark, provides Wedderburn Transport with timely support.
“Truckline were the suppliers of the trailer equipment and for anything going forward I rely on their team in Bunbury. They’re knowledgeable. They share information and insights regarding if equipment is working or not working from other customers,” he says.
“You’re learning all the time and they are too from their customers who might be using similar equipment. If they notice something that might be causing an issue, they let us know. There is a lot of information sharing and that’s because they’ve got the knowledge. We’re all very quick to help each other out.”
The airbag suspension design, according to Mark, serves two purposes. It ensures the cattle arrive at their destination fresh and the equipment, which relies on Fuwa K-Hitch axles, is maintained as best as it is possible.
Truckline have also been instrumental in sourcing parts he explains. Once his team reached consensus that the new suspension was right for the task Mark says he made it their benchmark. Everything they have built since then has been spec’d for that very same equipment.
“A better ride for the cattle means they’re not as fatigued. The softer ride is certainly better for the trailers themselves so that it doesn’t cause any structural issues. So with airbag suspension, which was new at the time, that was a real discovery for us.”
Another modification Mark says, which has proved beneficial to the business, is the installation of LED lights inside the trailers. At first they installed the LEDs, from HELLA, in the loading areas for greater safety and efficiency given that it is best not to have your hand occupied, even with a torch, while 23 tonnes of cattle are on the go. The drivers now wear head torches.
“If you’re loading livestock you want to be able to move and hold onto something should you need to and we’ve fast gotten in the habit of wearing the head torches which are an handy item.”
The interior lights are also an advantage during night checks on cattle when it is necessary to confirm the animals are comfortable and standing where they are supposed to.
“The lighting is second-to-none and importantly it’s affordable. Truckline keeps plenty of stock on hand so if you break one or it gets damaged there’s no trouble replacing it,” Mark says. “We stick to the main brands for this reason. We carry a lot of spare LEDs here.”
Mark recognises the industry has undergone several seismic changes in the past 20 years. Advances in telecommunications have changed the nature of operations, according to Mark, with most companies stretched 24/7. He says drivers are rarely offline, which allows for job updates on the move but adds to the pressure.
“We get more productivity out of our equipment. When I first started we would have to pull over roadside to call the office from a phone box to find out where we were going next or if there was anything else we needed to do for the day before we headed back. Now we can take calls and change jobs on the run to utilise the gear better,” he says. “The equipment we have at our disposal is so good and it makes the job so much easier.”
Wedderburn Transport runs a mixed fleet of Scania, Volvo and Kenworth prime movers. They have a service bay on premises where they conduct their own repairs on brakes, bearings and suspensions. According to Mark, who drives the trucks as much as he can, the business has, in recent times, expanded and invested in new trucks, with drivers having input on purchases.
“We try not to buy something the driver doesn’t feel comfortable in,” he says. “I’m starting to realise just how important it is to have a quiet and comfortable truck. You’re not getting as fatigued driving some of these modern trucks.”
Last month Mark was in attendance at the annual LRTAWA conference. The theme for the three-day event was ‘Driving a healthier industry.’ Along with a strong line-up of overseas and local guest speakers, who provided insights into grain and beef markets and the issues surrounding Live Exports, health professionals provided testing for members as the association promoted the importance of health.
“We look after our equipment, our trucks and trailers really well and we can always replace a truck or a trailer but we are a lot harder to replace,” Mark says. “That was the key message many people took away from the event.”
Main Roads WA also announced at the event Network 6 Access for operators of road trains between Roelands Hill into Bunbury, an advantage for livestock transporters and grain carriers as it will allow restrictive access vehicles to travel from Esperance to Bunbury and north into Perth all on one permit.
“It’s a big deal for us as it gives us a link from the eastern part of the state across to the West Coast and that link now joins into the Forrest Highway which runs up through into Perth and beyond,” says Talbot.
The decision has been five years in the making with the LRTAWA lobbying the Western Australian government to reduce gaps in the existing network. After lengthy trials, working in close conjunction with Main Roads WA, LRTAWA were able to prove the operation of road trains in the area could be done safely without imposition on the public.
“Now we can run road trains all on the one permit without having to break up trailers which is massive news for the livestock and grain industries. It’s a win for efficiencies and safety. Having to stop and unhook trailers and rely on subcontractors to come and pull your trailer through was not ideal. This announcement is great for us.”
Network 7 Access trials would commence shortly Talbot says with Main Roads WA about to commence brake testing.
“Hopefully we can get to the point where in the next six months we can use a Network 7 vehicle which in livestock terms for cattle is a five deck road train which we can drive right through to the Forrest Highway and access all the way north of Perth. That’s very exciting for the Livestock industry.”
The LRTAWA Conference, which included a Truck Expo on the Friday, also raised more than $22,000 in donations for children’s cancer foundation Camp Quality and the Perth Children’s Hospital.
“I think we can safely say it’s probably been the most successful conference the Livestock Transport Association has run in its 38 year history and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”