Used Truck: Hino GH from Red Lea Chickens

By: Steve Skinner

Red Lea Chickens and Hino are into the fifth decade of a marriage that’s still going strong, writes Steve Skinner


Speaking with Maurice Velcich you can’t help getting the feeling that if he wasn’t Managing Director of a major New South Wales food company employing 1,000 people, he’d be a truckie.

"I’ve always loved trucks," Maurice says, and there’s plenty of evidence to back that up.

For one thing his Hino delivery trucks have twice won the Best Fleet award at the Penrith Working Truck Show. You don’t often see Japanese trucks so blinged-up, complete with chrome, bullbars and LED lights everywhere.

Maurice also owns two golden oldies that he plans to fully restore — a 1418 Benz and a B-model Mack. He’s a major sponsor of the new Sydney Antique and Classic Truck Show, and a strong supporter of the Sydney Convoy for Kids charity drive.

Finally, he knows a thing or two about being behind the wheel, having himself driven Red Lea Chickens delivery trucks for several years.

"I didn’t jump in at the top straight away," Maurice says. "My old man taught me hard and I worked my way through it."

Maurice’s ‘old man’ is John Velcich, who founded Red Lea Chickens in 1957 and is still working in the business.

John started delivering tomatoes, eggs and chickens produced on the family trucks. Then in 1978 the company bought its first brand new truck, a Hino, and Maurice has been a "Hino man" ever since.

"They’re reliable," he says. "I’ve only ever had one major problem [a piston went through the motor] and Hino fixed it straight away [by installing a new engine]."

Vintage Hino

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company in 2007, Maurice bought a rundown old 1978 model identical to the first Hino the company owned and had it fully restored.

The KL300 is parked out the back of the factory in ‘semi-retirement’ and it looks and sounds primitive compared with a new model. For example, there’s no air seat, no suspension air-bags, no protective airbags, no ABS, no pollution control and no turbocharger.

At present Maurice runs 30 Hinos, each with its own driver. He estimates that 90 percent of the trucks are built in the mid-2000s or later. About half carry a payload of 8 tonnes (single axle) and the other half 12 tonnes (bogie axles, one lazy).

Maurice likes Hinos so much that when he first needed the extra payload enabled by a lazy axle, he had them specially installed by his dealer, City Hino at Guildford in Sydney’s west.

Nowadays, he can buy a 500 series FL with lazy axle off the shelf. He has new cab chassis’ driven to Melbourne for a body by FTE, and his refrigeration contractor installs Carrier fridge units, having switched from Thermo King.

The fridge van can outlast the truck, which is why some old Red Lea Hinos are spending their retirement as stationary cool-rooms on farms.

Most of the trucks run around Sydney, doing as little as 300km a week. The longest runs are to the Hunter Valley in the north, Goulburn in the west and Nowra in the south. The hardest-working unit, a 2007 model, has 900,000km on the clock.

Deliveries are from the Blacktown processing plant to the 40-odd Red Lea gourmet chicken shops; other chicken shops; hotels and clubs; butchers; restaurants; and distributors. The only major chain or supermarket the company supplies is Oporto.

Drivers the key

"We have grown to what we are and we haven’t got one sales rep," Maurice says.

"We call our drivers our sales people. They’re the ones who see the customers every day. With their attitude and their service, that’s what keeps the customers happy. It’s not just drop, ‘see ya later’ and go."

Maurice says most of the drivers have been with the company a long time. The longest-serving are Johnny Bakia at 30 years, and Joe Zammit — who pilots the truck featured in this article — at 25 years.

He says most of the drivers are proud of their trucks and make an effort to keep them looking good.

"They love the Penrith Truck Show and they have big competitions against each other," he says.

Maurice says he doesn’t have a fixed term for replacing vehicles — it’s when they start costing him too much money e.g. using oil and therefore needing engine work.

Red Lea has its own workshop with three mechanics and two apprentices.

The workshop handles servicing, gearboxes and brakes, but not major engine jobs.

Maurice believes one of the secrets to fleet reliability is servicing beyond the manufacturers’ recommended intervals.

He says that even though Hino is now up to 20,000km he’s persisted with 10,000.

"If the trucks break down, you don’t deliver the chickens to the customer," he says.

Live chickens from farms — both Red Lea’s own and contractors’ — are carried to the Blacktown plant on trailers pulled by a fleet of Volvo and Scania prime movers owned by Maurice’s uncle.

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