Transport and agriculture in Australia have had a long association since the earliest days with both industries reliant on each other to help the nation prosper and move forward.
Building a business based on both industries has been the focus for Russell Wood and partner Jess Landman over the last few years, with the couple focused on providing a quality service to their growing customer base.
Having grown up on a dairy farm at Bullioh in north-east Victoria, machinery and trucks were a part of Russell’s life from a young age and leaving school he undertook an apprenticeship with the local John Deere agricultural equipment dealer, Hutcheon and Pearce.
Along the way he gained his truck licence and started doing a bit of weekend work to get a few miles up.
“I always had a strong interest in trucks, I ended up doing casual work with Greenfreight of a weekend out of the DC at Woolies at Barnawartha and later with Phil Carter doing changeovers which was good as I got a bit of experience with B-Doubles. I also did some tow truck driving part-time which was good but challenging work,” Russell explained.
Through his work with Hutcheon and Pearce, he saw an opportunity to provide a transport service which led to the purchase of the first truck, an International S-Line rigid, which today operates as AR Wood Contracting (ARWC), with a fleet that now numbers six trucks and associated equipment, based in Albury-Wodonga.
“We saw a bit of an opening around here in agricultural transport so we thought we would jump in and have a go and started with the S-Line and we have grown from that, we had the S-Line for a while and found more of a market that required a prime mover so we bought the Iveco,” he explained.
Further expansion and opportunities saw both Russell and Jess take the step of leaving their regular work to go full-time in transport.
“I had been with Hutcheon and Pearce for 15 years and worked my way up to Service Manager and we decided there was enough work for us to jump in fully and make a go of it so about 18 months ago I left my work there to go full time into transport,” Russell said.
“I finished up in December last year working in accounting, with the growth here I left my job and came here to look after the office side of things – it’s never-ending!” said Jess.
Along with keeping an eye on the balance sheet, Jess handles all the compliance and oversize permits and paperwork, and in more recent times all the necessary COVID requirements for the business.
She also gets behind the wheel of the ARWC pilot vehicle, a Land Rover Defender when the need arises.
“All the stuff that goes on in the background, the permits and paperwork you need to have sorted before you get in the truck, especially lately with COVID takes up so many hours,” said Russell.
The ARWC fleet could best be described as ‘diverse’ with the International and Iveco sharing space at the company depot at Baranduda with a Freightliner, and a Western Star which tow drop-deck/machinery trailers along with a Sterling and Kenworth, both of which are set up as truck and dog tipper units.
“We are not brand-biased at all – we just about have one of everything!” said Russell with a grin. “We haven’t got a Mack, but Jess wants one so that might be the next purchase!”
The ARWC operation has a local focus but runs across Victoria and will go where required by the customer, having also bought machinery out of Queensland and Sydney and hauled equipment across to Port Augusta.
“We want to be diverse in what we do, we support a number of the local ag machinery dealers,” Russell said.
Having also experience in emergency operations with earthmoving gear, last summer’s fires in North-East Victoria also put the ARW team to the test.
“We support DELWP (Victoria’s Department of Environment Land Water and Planning) a fair bit, we took a bulk water tanker up to Walwa when the fires started and 2 months later we were still carting gear in and out of the bush – it was about three weeks from when it started to when we could get home,” said Russell.
With COVID forcing the cancellation of this year’s Henty Machinery Field Days, one of the busiest times for the ARWC fleet hauling tractors and machinery has been curtailed but Russell reckons the flow-on effect may not be too bad for his business.
“It’s a double-sided coin, we have missed not having the work this year but it’s looking to be a good harvest season, so machinery still needs to be moved, we haven’t been sitting on our hands.”
With the machinery side of things ticking along nicely, the two tipper units in the fleet have also been utilised doing road works for some of the local councils and have recently spent a good part of 2020 in the Upper Murray and around the Batlow-Tumut areas doing site clean-ups after the summer fires.
Given the nature of the work involved the drivers employed by the couple need to have a special skill set along with being able to drive a truck.
“We find our best operators come from a mechanical, farming or earthmoving background – we need someone who can load a D6 (bulldozer), chain it down properly and get it off at the other end – often we turn up and there is no operator in sight – you’re there by yourself, its dark and there’s no phone service so you need someone who can handle the situation,” said Russell.
“We have got a good mix of blokes who work well with the business, they have the nous to sort problems out and will take the time to chat to the customer than just get in to make a mile – that is a big thing for us.”
The future is looking promising for the couple as the wheels of the company trucks keep turning and making a dollar, with Russell and Jess focused on providing a strong level of service which in turn will help grow the business.
“There’s a lot of money tied up in the gear we move, and customers have to have the confidence in you to get the job done,” said Jess.
Russell concurred: “We want to have everything in the background sorted and be compliant, to be seen as a professional outfit and not just seen as a company that runs a few trucks.”
Perhaps if Jess has the casting vote the next truck to wear the ARW logo on their flanks might include a Mack…time will tell!