Life in a log truck is hard to beat
THE clock is showing 4.25am as Tom Gigliotti makes his way back out onto the Hume Highway at Wodonga, his Mack Super-Liner quickly building up speed heading southbound through the early morning darkness.
With a load of saw log radiata pine from the Barley Hill plantation near Bullioh, Tom is aiming to be the first truck over the weighbridge at 6am, about 100km away at the D and R Henderson mill at Benalla.
Tom steers the 600-horsepower Super-Liner for Dunstans of Wangaratta and the Mack makes easy work of the run down the Hume before a quick stop at the company's depot to top up the fuel tanks and give the truck a quick hit with the hose.
Established in 1950 by father and son George and Ray Dunstan with a Ford log truck and later a Caterpillar D6 Bulldozer, the Dunstans operation is now a diverse one, working on projects including optic fibre cable installation at Telfer in Western Australia and gas pipeline project work at Wandoan in Queensland.
The logging division is largely still centred around the northeast of Victoria and southern NSW, with about 12 Mack trucks and loaders out working on hardwood and softwood haulage along, with associated projects such as fire prevention and road building works.
As such, the yellow and white fleet can be working as far afield as Tumut in the north and Mansfield in the south, with Tom and his truck centrally based at Tallangatta.
With tanks full and a clean windscreen, good time is made to Benalla and once over the weighbridge, unloading is quickly taken care of and the truck is back on the highway.
Having run as a B-double earlier in the week out of the Guys Forest area, Tom had dropped his A-trailer to work out of Barley Hill and as the night turns to day it looks like the winter weather will be kinder than a few days previously.
"There was snow at Laurel Hill around Tumbarumba a few days ago,” he said.
"I went across to Visy Tumut and dealt with ice on the road, it was very ordinary there first thing on Monday morning, the trailers were wanting to step out a bit.”
Tom joined the Dunstans team earlier this year, having made the move from a harvesting crew to hauling the product to the mills around the area, but the 31-year-old is no stranger to driving a Mack around the mountain roads.
Having grown up locally at Bullioh and after completing an apprenticeship with Komatsu in Wodonga, Tom has worked around the northeast Victoria region for a number of years, including float and tipper duties for Tallangatta Construction and Maintenance and in recent times doing machinery haulage work and operating a forwarder for Galzon Logging.
His current Super-Liner rides pretty well empty and Tom reckons it's well suited to the job.
"I have spent a lot of time in Macks,” he said.
"I did four-and-a-half years in TCM's Macks and I like the older ones but in saying that these are nice - I like the comforts and this is good and it's not too bad to get turned around in the bush.”
Having progressed back through Wodonga and out around Lake Hume, Tom leaves the Murray Valley Highway at Bullioh and soon after hits the dirt, calling his location out on the UHF as a steady flow of trucks make their way out of the plantation.
The 14km road put up and around the side of the hill is known as the "Richmond Highway”, named after one of the plantation company's team members when the area was planted out with radiata pine in the late 1980s.
With the Mack running an Air-CTI system, Tom drops the tyre pressures down to about 32psi to give the truck a softer ride on the unsealed terrain.
"I spent a few years building these type of roads,” he said.
"(Dropping the tyre pressures) you look after the road and you also look after the truck.
"I go past the workshop every day but you don't want to be fixing the truck all the time.”
Tom lets the Mack amble up the side of the hill and once on the summit drops back down through a series of switchbacks to the loading area.
Pulling in behind another Dunstans unit, Tom's next load is earmarked for the Alpine MDF mill at Wangaratta, with the smaller logs going to be pulped.
With the smaller timber loading takes about half an hour and Tom is in contact with the loader operator via a portable UHF radio.
The skills of the loader operator are on display in positioning the load on the Elphinstone skel trailer.
"He does a good job on the excavator, considering it's a fixed hardwood grab,” Tom said.
"It's a lot easier to load off a forwarder as you can rotate the logs or pick a bad one out easy enough.”
The day is clear and sunny but at about 650m altitude the wind is strong, blowing off the nearby summit of Mt Bogong, which is visible in the distance as Tom pulls out and up to a clearing to throw his straps and give the truck a check before the descent.
Fully loaded at about 45tonnes, it's a slow and steady descent down the side of the hill to the valley floor, with Tom working the wheel to keep the truck in the right place on the narrow road on the descent.
"Without getting near to the table drain, you've just gotta stay away from that edge as far as possible,” he said with a smile.
It's about 10.30am by the time Tom is back on the black top for the run down the Murray Valley and Hume Highways and with the good weather and trouble-free run so far, Tom is aiming for another reload out of Barley Hill before calling it a day.
It's a job that sits well with Tom and sees him home with his young family each night.
"I like the aspect of being out in the bush and being out of town,” he said.
"I enjoy the bush work either in a truck or on a machine and on days like today, especially with good weather, it's smooth sailing.”