BOOTHS: A toast to Devron's transport legacy
DEVRON Booth's first association with the Australian trucking industry was forged around the tender age of seven.
His parents, Lindsay and Gwendolyn Booth, had just purchased a 38ha property at Morphett Vale, in Adelaide's southern suburbs, and Devron quickly learned to drive a tractor as the family planted 38ha of grenache grapes and also ran sheep on the property.
As a young boy he also came across Max Schubert for the first time, the legendary creator of Penfolds Grange Hermitage.
Accompanying his father to Penfolds Magill winery to visit Max, Devron and younger brother Brian would often enjoy a ginger beer or soda water while the two adults shared a glass or two of brandy.
Little did he know at the time that those two childhood associations would decades later be the foundations to what is today Australia's largest bulk wine logistics company.
A co-founder of the Booth Transport empire, Devron passed away from pancreatic cancer in July this year, his legacy however lives on.
Albeit cut short at the age of 75, it was a life lived to the fullest, and as the man himself used to say: "I'm here for a good time, not a long time."
"As kids, Dad and Brian were often in the Magill laboratory late at night with their father and Max Schubert," Devron's son and eldest of three children, Stuart, fondly recalled.
"So Devron was a living link to the early years of the wine industry as he knew all the legendary figures, past and present, first-hand. People like d'Arry Osborn, the Hardy family, Wolf Blass and Brian Croser.
"But he claimed his involvement with trucking and the wine industry began before that, as his pregnant mother would accompany his father in the truck on his trips to Penfolds Magill Winery."
Devron and his four younger siblings cut their teeth doing a variety of jobs, depending on the season, helping their parents run their property.
Within a few years, the Booth clan was helping to run more than 300ha as the family share-farmed with other vineyards in the area, including Honeypot Vineyard, where the first Grange grapes came from.
At 16, Devron got his licence, and the very next day he was carting wheat from a local railway station to a grain and fodder merchant.
The foundations of a career in the trucking industry had well and truly been set.
But it was an argument with his father a few years later in 1968 that was the catalyst for the birth of a trucking empire.
The family had been offered a new contract to cart spirit to Griffith in New South Wales. It was arduous work, long hours spent behind the wheel driving between Adelaide, Griffith and Sydney.
Devron returned home to Adelaide early one morning after a particularly exhausting trip, parked his truck in the depot and took his father's ute for the short drive home.
A few hours later, Devron's sleep was abruptly halted when his father stormed in the back door demanding to know why his son had taken the ute.
As family folklore has it, an argument ensued which ended with Devron telling his father where he could shove his job.
His father retorted that Devron could "take the damned trucks - you'll never do any good with them anyway".
Fighting words indeed!
"Dad often talked of his time as a lad, driving the tractor for hours, often all night," Stuart said.
"During these times his mind would wander as he dreamed of building up a fleet of 100 trucks.
"He now had the chance to achieve his dream," he said.
"So his father stepped back and retired from the trucks as he didn't want anything to do with them, allowing Devron to have a go.
"But (Devron and Brian) were very inexperienced coming off a farm ... they expanded very quickly," Stuart said.
Devron and Brian were naive to many things and would take on projects perhaps a wiser operator wouldn't.
"They would grab everything, never say no."
By the early '70s, the brothers received an offer to buy the business.
As part of the offer, an accountant looked over their books and realised they weren't as profitable as they seemed.
He gave the brothers some sage advice - know your costs, know what the cost per kilometre is, same as the revenue from every part of the load, and put the proper systems in place.
The brothers Booth took on board that advice and the business flourished.
By 1982, it owned half a dozen tankers.
In 1988, the company bought six or more tankers - but this still wasn't enough to cover all the work.
Desperate for tankers, Brian rang their opposition to see if he could hire some tankers. To his surprise (and delight), the company offered to sell all its tankers.
Literally overnight, Booth went from 25 to 50 tankers and now had 80% of the bulk wine transportation market.
Along the way the business also ventured into general freight and then bulk milk transportation as a way of balancing the workload.
The wine business is busy during vintage from February to April and then drops off, while milk peaks in October to December, so putting the two together made a lot of sense.
By 1999, almost three decades after establishing the business, Booth Transport had well more than 100 trucks and 150 employees. Devron had finally achieved his lifetime dream of 100 trucks - and along the way achieved a swag of awards, including being inducted into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, alongside his brother.
Soon after, aged 58, Devron sold his share of the business to Brian and started a new venture with his son, Stuart.
That success story is for another time. Even in the later stages of his battle with cancer - seven months after being told he only had six to eight weeks to live - Devron was still showing the dogged determination that had epitomised his life
"He was still bull-at-a-gate and going way too fast. He didn't have time to waste. He was one of a kind," Stuart said.