Star Power

An appetite for growth and innovation has helped NSW business, Turps Tippers, climb the heap in quarry transport. A daring decision to use live bottom quad axles pulled by Detroit powered Western Star trucks was a gamble that continues to pay off.

Of the three premier American truck brands Turps Tippers operates, Western Star comprises nearly half the fleet.

These are predominantly Western Star 4800s with Detroit DD15 engines working as prime movers, truck and quads or pulling pup trailers.

A smaller rigid Western Star 4700 was part of a recent purchase order made from Penske Australia with whom the company enjoys an ongoing relationship that commenced in 2010 with its very first new truck purchase.

Up until that time the business, not unlike many outfits starting out, had been running second-hand vehicles.

One truck soon became four; four later became a dozen; and now the fleet, an increasing presence in the foothills of the NSW Southern Highlands where it is based in Bargo, comprises more than 40 bonneted units.

The company specialises in gravel and sand haulage between local quarries around the state. Turps Tippers Director Ian Turner has lived in the area his entire life.

Having a foothold 30 minutes south of Marulan Quarry in Cambpelltown provides the company with a strategic advantage in operating across the greater metropolitan area although its three main areas of allocation revolve around the southwest to regional Goulburn; the South Coast of the nearby Illawarra greater shire and a dedicated return run daily to Newcastle.

“Having the ability to go direct to Goulburn and the South Coast is a major advantage for us,” says Ian. “Even though it might sound a fair way out it’s actually quite central for the quarries our fleet will frequent.”

The company, which has innovated in recent years by investing in unique live bottom quad axle trailers from Muscat as it upgrades the more traditional tipper bins, retains an affinity for robust American drivelines.

Such high volume work on repetitive hours of operation requires muscular equipment capably afforded by the durable Western Star truck.

Ever since it won contracts with major suppliers Boral and Holcim in 2016, Turps Tippers, whose original model relied heavily on moving asphalt, has been concentrated around the ever-growing predominance of shuttling trucks from quarry to concrete plants.

The Western Star vehicles have no trouble in handling the undulations common to the on-road part of the job.

A pair of Western Star 4800 FX units.

Access to and from distribution points, notoriously restrictive for commercial vehicles, is not in question given the set forward front axle and elongated wheelbase of the Western Star help immensely with the task of efficient reversing and loading.

Generally regarded as the most versatile truck in the local Western Star portfolio, the 4800 FX gets ample power supply from a 560 hp Detroit 14.7 litre engine. Ian admits he has been loyal to the Detroit product for many years.

“I’ve always had an alliance with Detroit. For a long time I have run Detroit engines. That has helped carry me through,” he says. “Given the warranty there’s a real trust and understanding which is hard to go past.”

Despite service intervals being a recommended 60,000 kilometres, Ian prefers, in steadfast adherence to formulas for best practice long held by the business, servicing the vehicles every 20,0000 kilometres.

These principles, he maintains, have done much to encourage swift growth within the business after little more than a decade.

“To me oil is cheap. Filters are cheap. Let’s keep doing what has got us to where we are,” he says. “If our approach is not broken there’s no need to try and fix it.”

Matching the Detroit DD15 to the Western Star 4800 facilitates efficiencies for the team.

The company manages its own appropriately supervised workshop.

“Once everyone is au fait with a particular model it’s very hard to change when you factor in the schedules, parts and familiarity with the machinery,” he says.

“You know how everything works and where everything is. If a mechanic says ‘I need three sets of filters’ than the girls in the office know what to order. Everything is standardised from that perspective. By having the same brand makes it a lot easier for everyone involved.”

In addition to its crew of mechanics, Turps Tippers employs a full time tyre  fitter.

“Everything is performed inhouse aside from the rare occasion they might need to get the dealer involved,” he says.

“We work these trucks on a grueling schedule. It’s in the nature of this business you’re going to have, for instance, a gearbox play up and we’ve been looked after by Penske Australia who have always been good to us.”

Generally, after four years, Ian has recourse to move the trucks on.

When it comes to the Western Stars they usually have at least a couple of years warranty left on them.

For Ian, that’s important knowing a future buyer will get some value out of it.

“If you can sell a truck with a million kilometres warranty on the engine and you’ve only done 450,000 kilometres that certainly helps,” he says.

“Because I can safely pass that warranty onto a person knowing that they have got some sort of coverage.”

Once he finds them a new home — usually to a mum and dad company that needs a part time vocational truck — he buys new again.

For the moment, Ian is waiting on the sidelines as he makes an assessment on the next generation Detroit DD13 and DD16 engines, the first to incorporate AdBlue.

“It’s a different realm Detroit are going into now. I’m watching with interest. We’ve been with Detroit for a long time. We’ve had 12.7s and we followed them through to the 14-litre bracket,” he says.

“The 14-litre EGRs were not from my perspective trouble-free. I’m not the only one whose had that experience. We gave them another crack with the 15-litre and they’ve absolutely proven themselves to us.”

Even though the trucks aren’t doing what he calls “ridiculous kilometres” Ian acknowledges they run regularly to over a half million.

He is pleased there are no issues to report.

“The Detroit engine matched with the Western Star we find you can fix and repair and even rebuild quite cheaply compared to some of the others,” he says.

“I have some trucks at work assigned day shift that go straight into the night shift. They are essentially working around the clock. It doesn’t seem to harm or hamper the Detroit in any way. Those trucks don’t get much of a break all year and we don’t have any trouble at all with them to be honest.”

And if they do, the aftersales service Penske provides more than exceeds Ian’s expectations.

“It’s not like we have to beg, borrow and steal to get things done. We’re on a pretty good footing with them,” Ian says.

“We’ve grown with them and they sort of appreciate that and they do their best to look after us.”

Ian recognises that most of the original equipment manufacturers now partner with a European truck builder. He understands it. But he believes the American build is better suited for Australia.

“I just think they’re stronger. The Western Star is built to last. There’s no doubt it is equal to the conditions. It delivers value whole-of-life,” he says.

“I don’t know what the next generation at Turps Tippers will do. That will be up to them to evaluate the market. At the moment we’re happy with how the 4800s are going and what they are doing. For day work at quarries, the Western Star is, to my thinking, the perfect equipment for what we do.”

That next generation includes daughters Jayme-Lee and Madison who work in the front office as head of operations and head of allocations, respectively.

They are joined by three friends, who they graduated alongside, working across maintenance and human resources. Each brings some tech savvy to operational processes that have been increasingly digitised in recent years.

Fleet management. Service intervals. Tyre rotations. It’s all now done online at Turps Tippers.

“The younger generation think a different way. That’s to be expected and it’s refreshing,” he says. “They’re in their 20s. They are very keen and switched on. It’s a very computer-based industry now. You can’t work any harder. You’ve just got to work a bit smarter.”

On the suggestion of youngest daughter Madison, Ian persuaded an initially reluctant Muscat Trailers to build a live bottom four-axle dog combination fitted to the truck and dog.

Muscat Trailers built the four-axle truck and dog combination.

That first one was unveiled in 2019 and won an award for innovation in NSW. In the interests of efficiency and mitigating safety hazards, the live bottom floor removes the need to tilt the trailer which brings with it the flexibility to work in new environments from carparks, under bridges, beneath tree lined streets and other more nominal exclusion zones.

“We’re very happy with it. The longer these quads and five-axles were getting the higher up in the air they were tipping,” Ian says.

“It’s a very different application but simple in effect. You open up the back doors and the floor moves and the sand falls out the back.”

Despite losing 1.5 tonne in payload on the new application, they have added an extra load in time saved through operational efficiency.

The investment was not without considerable risk. If it had failed it would have been the end of the company according to Ian. The application, however, is starting to slowly catch on.

“To their credit, Boral have now seen it work and they’re using them on a regular basis. That in itself has vindicated the money I have invested,” he says. “For me that’s what it’s all about — risk and reward. Sometimes you’ve got to take a chance but if you believe in something maybe that’s how things work out. It’s worked out for us.”

As gratifying as it is to know the equipment has delivered better safety outcomes for the business and its workers, Ian believes the concept of the live bottom truck and dog is the future of the market segment.

It ultimately takes for that one somebody like Ian who is prepared to pioneer it.

At work, with its tight knit group where key decisions are made, the boss is outnumbered by females five to one. Although still young, the women in his team are experienced in negotiating with multi-nationals, dealer groups and managing the latest equipment according to Ian.

“They’re the driving force now. I’m closer to retirement than I am starting off. They’re very headstrong girls. I brought them up that way. They were told they could do anything a guy could,” he says. “Sometimes that comes back to bite me on the butt when it comes to getting my way.”
The next generation is by no means finished with where this business will go and where they will eventually take it.

“Everyone is very similar in what they do at transport companies. You’ve got to give yourself a point of difference. Otherwise you won’t standout. You won’t get recognised by anybody,” Ian says.

“By recognised I mean we try and be as versatile as we can for the clients that we work for which has led us to where we are now with the advent of the live bottom truck and dog combinations.”

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