Regional transport businesses have long had an intrinsic value for the communities in which they reside.
Wishart Contractors, a South Australian business specialising in bulk transport, employs 22 full time staff in the picturesque Riverland region and supports, depending on the season, another dozen subcontractors.
Loxton North, where its founder Max Wishart was also born and raised, is an advantageous geographic location for a transport company given three major freight routes intersect nearby with the B57 (Ngarkat Highway) providing connection to agriculture destinations like Pinnaroo and Border Town to the south while the B55 (Castlereagh Highway) runs direct into Loxton and joins the A20 better known as the Sturt Highway to the north.
It’s on this stretch of road that Wishart Contractors received recent approval to operate a unique new vehicle combination.
Delivered in June by Wakefield Trucks, a rigid Western Star 4864 FXC specc’d with a powerful 600hp Cummins X15 engine has been coupled to a pair of five-axle dog trailers built and designed by long-time associate and heavy transport equipment specialist Barry Stoodley.
Making an effectual and immediate impact in operations with its extra carrying capacity, the Performance-Based Standards approved vehicle combination has a GCM rating of 102 tonnes and is limited, as a result, in its approach to Adelaide.
Although Max is at present applying for permits from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator for access to additional routes.
“I’ve been a truck and dog person since the ‘60s,” he says. “I’ve stuck with that over the years for a few reasons. It’s much easier to unhook if we’re doing split loads with grain and fertiliser and it gets us a good payload.”
The improved payload, to be more specific, is 72 tonnes. The means to achieving these kind of productivity gains are sometimes less covert than others.
Sporting eye-catching murals and a revamped logo, courtesy of Adelaide-based Matt Bowering at Panagraphix, the vivid imagery featured on the dog trailers was taken by part time photographer Stephen McKenzie, one of Max’s drivers.
The ‘W’ logo, first unveiled on the new Western Star towed combination, was redesigned after management agreed that a new look was in order.
Of the fleet of 18 rigids, Western Star is the predominant brand and has been since Max purchased his first back in 1997 from Wakefield Trucks.
That very first Western Star, which predates the brand’s Constellation model, recently enjoyed a new paint job and is still running true mostly now utilised for carrying anything bulk.
The partnership with Wakefield Trucks dates back even longer.
It started out more than 45 years ago when Max was running International commercial vehicles. His first truck was an International Acco 30/70 tipper.
The company was conceived as an outward looking operation dedicated to the supply chain of local growers of grain, grape and fertiliser with a capacity for interstate deliveries.
It was interstate long haul that gave Max his start driving for his father, Doug, in the late 1960s. He was 17. After ten years he went out on his own. The client base kept growing and so did the business.
He married his wife Lyn, whose initials also form part of the registered business name, M&LJ Wishart Contractors, when he was 26. Although Lyn doesn’t work for the business her sister Veronica, however, does along with Max’s son Nathan, who joined at the start of the year in a logistics management role.
Wishart Contractors also transports landscape supplies and the Western Star vehicles in the fleet provide it with a flexibility in operations so that it can cart anything commonly associated with bulk.
The fleet also operates a couple of Freightliner Argosys. These were purchased on the cheap a while ago, as the dimensions of the cabover according to Max helped to facilitate extra weight in a truck and dog application under the current laws.
There’s also an International S-Line similarly acquired at the time of purchase for a compelling price — a recurring theme for many independent and family-owned operations in the grain game with each season never the same as the last.
The new Western Star, which pulls a dolly coupled to a B-trailer followed by another dolly coupled to a B-trailer, is performing to and above expectations according to Max. In fact many truck drivers and transport operators have enquired as to how it tows.
“It’s doing what we wanted it to do and more,” says Max. “It’s a Cummins-powered truck giving us 1850 lb-ft of torque. I like the build quality of a Western Star. My driver just made comment about how well it tows on the road. A lot of truckies want to know if there’s much sway with the trailers. My driver said it sits like a brick and tows extremely well. Better than even he thought it would.”
The driver, Tony Simons, has been working with Max and the team for the better part of ten years. In that time he has towed all sorts of truck and dog combinations from three-axles up to this current one.
“He says it tows better than all of those trailers,” Max declares. “It’s the best of all he has been towing in a straight line.”
As Loxton North is on the periphery of a farming district, there’s no shortage of truck and trailer combinations running through the district. The area was once rich with apricots, oranges, peaches and limes. Many of the orchards have been replaced by vineyards although some cittrus growing holdouts remain.
Vitaculture is another source of revenue for the business and it deals with wineries in the Riverland, the Barossa and Clare Valley. Accolade in nearby Berri, one of their customers, is reportedly the biggest winery in the southern hemisphere.
As part of these logistics, Wishart Contactors moves grapes and affiliated byproducts around the state and east into the Mallee region in Victoria.
While the new combination is designed to adapt to multiple tasks the drop decks on the dog trailers are not suited to grapes according to Max.
“You’re better off to have a level floor with grapes,” he says. “As a delicate freight there’s too much chance for the grapes to collect at the back of the trailer and then you’d have grape juice everywhere. It’s not ideal.”
Max defines the subject of business through his relationships with people. There’s a good reason why he has been with the likes of Wakefield Trucks and Barry Stoodley for so long.
“One of the things I do rate highly is the people we deal with,” he says. “Wakefield Trucks and people like Tom O’Hara, who we deal with at present, have been good to us”
The same holds true of the nearly five-decade partnership he has built with trailer manufacturer Barry Stoodley.
“Aside from a couple of trucks which I bought second hand, I’ve always had Barry Stoodley products,” Max recalls. “I first went to Barry back in the late ‘70s. He understands my requirements and he’s very fussy about the end product. I have no reason to go anywhere else.”