Mick Baker runs a small fleet of trucks out of small base in Dalby, 200km west of Brisbane, on the Darling Downs and insists on running the trucks right. Still driving himself, Mick comes from a farming background. His father grew up on the farm and has a farm with a couple of trucks. He spent his youth driving a Mack R600 around the paddock.
The Tulag business began in 2010 after Mick decided to quit the crop dusting profession to stay a little closer to home and see more of his young family. The first work he took on was with a Kenworth T608 hauling a B-double set of tankers full of molasses from the Isis Sugar Mill, near Bundaberg for delivery into a feedlot in his local area, around Dalby.
The original truck Mick started with in business is still working. The T608 has now done 1.4 million km with an engine rebuild at 950,000km. Mick reckons that’s pretty good for an EGR engine, an engine not known for its longevity or reliability.
This may be as a result of Mick’s insistence on regular oil changes. The old T608 will get new oil every 250 hours and the newer T909s in the fleet will get new oil every 350 hours, well inside the 500 hours recommended by the manufacturer.
“Servicing to me is number one,” says Mick. “I know it costs a lot of money, but I just want to have the reliability. I want to keep my trucks a long time. I think I got very lucky with my T608.”
It was Mick’s decision to get accredited with the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) for mass management and maintenance which saw him first encounter the problems around being compliant and being audited to demonstarte compliant.
“When I first started out they said to me, if I was doing mass, I might as well do maintenance,” says Mick. “I got started on it and I reckon the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has been brilliant. The only problem was getting one particular permit, which I could understand. It was a new road, getting into Kingsthorpe, with a road train. I like dealing with the NHVR – when you ring up, they do a good job.”
The trucks run at higher mass limits (HML), but Mick actually doesn’t run right up to maximum weights. The AB-triple has to be split up to load out of Mackay, so he loads the B-double combination at 65 tonnes gross combined mass (GCM) and the single trailer at 44 tonnes GCM. Overall GCM is around 99 or 100 tonnes at these weights, when the combination is put together as an AB-triple.
“I am always light on the overall gross mass,” says Mick. “It looks like we are going to be unhooking for some time, so we go with these weights. If I didn’t have mass management I wouldn’t be able to run as high as I do.”
On the subject of GCM and tare weight, Mick reckons he will be looking at a Kenworth T610 as an option, next time around. As a prime mover, a lighter one, it would enable him to increase payload out of the sugar mills.
“This T909 is nearly 11 tonnes tare and my driver has got half the mechanic shop in it, which doesn’t help,” says Mick. “That’s fine, with my drivers, if they have a minor breakdown , they are not ringing me up, they fix it themselves and keep going.
“They are like good old fashioned truckies. I came across a driver by the side of the road, from another company. It was 230 km to the next town and I asked him what was wrong. He said it was the brakes and I could hear there was something wrong at the back. I just got under there and it was a split in the hose.
“He didn’t have any tools in the cab, company policy. I just got a clamp and a screwdriver and fixed it. He was expected to wait two and a half hours for someone to fix it. I just couldn’t do that. I am just a small operation. It would send me broke, if I had to do that.
“I saw him again a couple of weeks later and he was asking about getting a job with me. I just laughed and told him he’s got to know how to do that sort of stuff, if he wants to work for me. Just grab a little toolbox and bring it with you.”