Mercedes Benz is still no.1 in Russell's book when it comes to business.
Mercedes Benz is still no.1 in Russell's book when it comes to business. Graham Harsant

One-of-a-kind Titan is back to former glory

FARMING and trucking go hand in hand. A small farm may have an old banger or two to cart the hay around. A bigger farm may have a couple more to haul the produce to market.

Then there's Russell Tate's farm. His is so big that he can afford to buy a truck company.

Russell has done OK in life. Hard work has brought him and wife, Vicki, a comfortable existence. Hard work can get you a long way but a little bit of luck doesn't go astray either.

Russell's luck is that the farming land he owns has a great supply of groundwater, which keeps his farm land fertile in the midst of drought.

"Farming is my core business. We have 11,000 acres. We have groundwater so we are lucky,” he said.

Russell runs sheep, cattle, and grows wheat, canola and rice. All that produce requires trucks. Growing up, Russell was always around the machinery and loved it.

"The first truck I ever owned was a 1418 Mercedes Benz. Then I went to S-Lines, Inters (they were a good truck), Freightliners, then a mix of Macks and Kenworths,” he said.

When the opportunity came up to buy Deniliquin Freighters, Russell grabbed it. "

The trucks are now starting to do it pretty tough because of the drought. It's a tough gig but it's been good to me the transport industry for the last 40 years. I have no regrets at all,” he said.

Whilst Russell's fleet encompasses a number of brands, he is an unabashed fan of Mercedes Benz, having bought six 2663's in one fell swoop a couple of years ago.

"We bought them on the 'Whole-Maintenance' package. This covers full repair and maintenance and preventative maintenance which covers the trucks from top to bottom at one fixed price, and offers a residual value on the vehicles,” Russell said.

The R700 was bought
The R700 was bought "in a rush of blood”.

So how's the after-sales service?

"Couldn't tell you because I've never had a call out. Ever! They are the best line-haul truck on fuel economy that you can buy. They don't break down so I can't tell you if the after- sales service is good or bad, which is conversely a good thing.”

The last truck Russell bought (of another brand) never even made it home before he had a breakdown call-out. "But it had an EGR engine in it so there you go. That's the reason.”

Russell is obviously not a fan of EGR.

"Safety is also a big thing for us. The Benz trucks have a lot of the safety gear that you would find in a Mercedes-Benz car. We have the 'Seeing Machines' in ours as well.

"If you close your eyes for any more or two or three seconds, the alarm goes off and the seat rattles. How fantastic is that! It should be compulsory. Some drivers resist them and I don't know why because 1: the driver's gonna stay alive, and 2: the machinery will stay in one piece.

"Our company has been going 43 years and we've never lost a driver. I'm 62 and I don't want that to change. I couldn't live with it. Safety is number one. Some of our drivers have been with us 10 or 20 years. They are an integral part of our operation. They are respected and I want to do everything I can to keep them safe.”

As well as the six Mercs, Russell explains that they also have a "few old bangers”.

Fuel tanks were added as the old ones were full of roo dents.
Fuel tanks were added as the old ones were full of roo dents. Graham Harsant

"We've got KW 650s and 658s, a couple of Macks, there's a Western Star...”

One gets the feeling that Russell is understating the fleet somewhat. He also owns a magnificent, one-of-a-kind Mack Titan that was built for the 1996 Brisbane Truck Show.

"It was used as a demonstrator for a period and we bought it with about 400,000 km on the clock. It had been working out in the desert carting crude oil which we were carting as well. We had it on triples and we did that for a few years before selling it to a young bloke in the Northern Territory with about 1.4m km on it. I bought it back about three years ago and it was pretty messy by then.

"Mick Moran down at Avenel, who used to do all the work on our Macks totally rebuilt it to the exact specs that Mack built for that '96 show. We wanted to maintain the provenance right down to the original colours. We pulled the cabin sleeper off and it went to Mark Watson at Shep Motor Panel who repainted it.

"We put new fuel tanks on because the old ones were full of dents from kangaroos. Apart from that and different mudguards, it's pretty much as it was presented in Brisbane. Even the fat steer ties are original.

"With the radius mudguards out in deserts on hot days - with a triple on and maximum weight - we used to boil the diffs because the air couldn't get in. We put an oil cooler on the front differential and the Flex guards to let air circulate.

"The crude oil we carted was really thin and we used to run the truck on it. The only problem was on a really cold night, if you pulled up for a couple of hours sleep, the fuel would wax up and she wouldn't go. We put a heat exchanger on the fuel lines to fix the problem. With V8 power she sounds great!”

The Flintsone is a good old banger Russell uses on the farm.
The Flintsone is a good old banger Russell uses on the farm.

This Titan is a piece of artwork and it is hard to believe it is 23, going on 24 years old.

It is just spectacular. Russell does use the truck.

"It does 40 to 50,000 km per year. I'm actually off to Oberon on Tuesday to pick up a load of cattle.”

Those cattle will be travelling in style.

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