Operator Profile: Ross Smith Transport

By: Steve Skinner


Carting livestock is one of the toughest gigs around, so for Ross Smith Transport to be doing it for 50 years is an outstanding achievement

Operator Profile: Ross Smith Transport
Partners in trucking and in life: Ross and Maureen Smith.

 

Ross Smith has a simple answer to the question: what’s the key to your success in 50 years of trucking?

"It’s just work," Smith says.

"And having a good partner beside you.

"We probably never made much money but we’ve got through. Unless you’ve got someone pulling with you, you can’t do it."

That ‘partner’ in both marriage and business is wife Maureen, who like Smith, comes from a farming background.

"We never had real good beginnings," Smith says.

"We both did it pretty hard in younger life. All we’ve known is work."

Sacrifices made by the truckie father over the years include attending only one of his two daughters’ school concerts.

Ross and Maureen Smith’s humble beginnings were around the Ladysmith and Kyeamba districts, near Tarcutta in New South Wales, halfway along the Hume between Sydney and Melbourne.

From the age of 11 the young Smith was driving the family dairy farm’s big old Chevvy ute along the Sturt Highway into nearby Wagga Wagga for groceries.

Encouraged by then girlfriend Maureen he bought his first truck — a traytop Bedford — as a teenager and carted grain and hay for a short time before moving into livestock, where he’s been ever since.

The Smiths married in 1968 and since 1982 the couple have lived in their house adjacent to the yard, office and sheds on high ground at North Wagga Wagga, near the Murrumbidgee River and beside the main Sydney-Melbourne rail line.

"It’s no trouble at all," says Smith of living where the couple also works, adding it’s rare for trucks to be pulling up after 9pm at night.

He still drives up to 3,000km a week while working the phone in the truck, while Maureen holds the fort with a staff member in the office, handling the pays, banking, tax, jobs, personnel and so on.

 

Tough trailers, part of the Ross Smith Transport yard at Wagga Wagga.

 

Prize-winning trucks

TradeTrucks caught up with the Smiths at the recent Riverina Truck Show and Kids Convoy at Wagga Wagga.

Ross Smith Transport won the award for best fleet participation.

Four of his 16 trucks were there including the eye-catching 1989 Ford LTL which he drives himself, pulling a single trailer.

It has a 400hp (298kW) Cummins matched to a 13-speed Roadranger, with air bag suspension, quad tanks and twin stacks.


Recent acquisition: Ross Smith’s Iveco Powerstar 7200.

It’s a big truck but of course with modest grunt by modern standards.

As Smith says, you can get 400hp in rigids these days.

Also representing the company at the show were an old Western Star, a bonneted Kenworth and a cab-over Kenworth.

"We run all breeds," Smith says.

He’s not a fan of new technology in trucks.

"These do a better job than any of the new ones, miles better," Smith says of the old girls.

"Have any trouble with them, you can fix them yourself."

Having said that, for the past decade Smith has used a couple of mechanic contractors to maintain and service his trucks.

Smith’s only new truck is an Iveco Powerstar 7200, which he bought as a demonstrator at 20,000km.

It runs a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) Cummins ISX rated at 550hp (410kW) with an 18-speed Roadranger.

A couple of engine sensors played up in its early days and it recently did a seal in the water pump, but now having clocked up more than 300,000km.

"We’re having a good run out of it", he says.

The Powerstar pulls one of the company’s three B-double sets.

It’s not Smith’s first new truck — he’s previously bought a couple of new Ford Louisvilles as well as a new Acco and a Western Star.

But the big Iveco will probably be his last.

He says it’s "nearly time" to hang up the truck keys in favour of the keys to the six-year-old caravan-towing four-wheel drive he’s had for six years but which has only done 20,000km.

"We don’t get away very often," Smith says, adding the caravan tyres still have the loose rubber bits hanging off the tread.

He would consider selling the business if the right buyer came along who could assure him they would preserve the good name of the company and not "run it down to nothing".

"When a bloke’s in it for 50 years you don’t want to see it disappear."

 

Proud drivers: From left, Jay Jones, Geoffrey Cochrane, Tony Myers and Ross Smith with their prize-winning Ford, Kenworths and Western Star in the background.

 

Staying power

Ross Smith’s pride and joy, the 1989 Ford LTL he drives himself.

Ross Smith Transport carries only sheep and cattle, through NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Like the rest of the trucking industry, livestock carting is a highly competitive game, and Smith has seen many others come and go.

"We’ve had a lot of new ones start up just lately, but we’ve had that all our life," he says.

"They start, then they die, but we’re still here."

Amazingly, Smith is still working for some of his original clients from half a century ago.

Interestingly, he employs two drovers who handle stock at saleyards.

They move the cattle and sheep as far as the race, and the drivers then load them onto the truck.

"You know you’re getting the right stock," Smith says of the benefit in having drovers.

Smith says his trailers don’t carry their own sheep ramps.

"We gave that away 10 years ago," he says.

"If there is no ramp, we don’t go."

Says Maureen Smith: "It’s taken years to get the farmers to fall in with us."

She says the disadvantages of portable ramps include taking too long; going over-width if you hang one on the side "and with OH&S, the boys probably wouldn’t be allowed to take them on and off".

In contrast to the situation in Western Australia, which we recently reported, Ross Smith adds: "We don’t have too much trouble with the ramps.

"Most of them around here have got pretty good set-ups".

 

 

 

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