Home on the Range

A diverse range of operations, a strong relationship with Toll and a focus on customer service have been key to the success of Toowoomba’s Hillman’s Transport.

Before he became involved in transport Lloyd Hillman was a mechanic, and by all reports, a very good one.

Lloyd performed a lot of turbo work including turbocharging Toyota Landcruisers back in the ‘80s which was before turbos became more common as standard equipment.

Today Lloyd still loves his cars and the single truck operation he started when he hung up his spanners has grown to 42 prime movers and 100 trailers of varying configurations with the transport business now run by his sons Chris and Steve.

Hillman’s Transport operates express freight services which cover Western and Central Queensland including places such as Rockhampton, Chinchilla, Mackay, Gladstone, Longreach, Cloncurry and Mount Isa, as well as all mainland capital cities.

As the Hillman’s Transport operation has grown there are a number of different divisions within the business including linehaul operations out of the Toowoomba base to Darwin and Mount Isa which typically uses triple and quad roadtrains.

Currently six prime movers with similar trailer combinations operate from the Townsville base moving freight to places such as Cloncurry and Mount Isa.

The agricultural division predominantly involves picking up bales of cotton from the various gins around Dalby and transporting them using A-double combinations to the Port of Brisbane to be exported.

The grocery division has Hillman’s prime movers towing trailers to locations such as Armidale and Narrabri in New South Wales.

This involves mainly refrigerated trailers and there are dry goods carried as well. Steve concedes the mining division can be somewhat ad hoc in its fluctuating demands.

The Mack powered roadtrain on site in Toowoomba.

At peak times up to 50 trailers are used to service mining and gas sites throughout the Serat and Cooper Basins, carrying general freight including generators, oil, and accommodation modules (“dongas”).

Hillmans can also provide a dedicated ‘hot shot’ service for when more urgent deliveries are required, as well as OSOM wide load heavy haulage services.

“It was a lot bigger back in 2013-14 before a big mining slow down but it is coming back again now,” says Steve. “Mining just keeps rolling around and where one section goes quiet another becomes busy.”

The diversity of the Hillman’s operations has an influence on the equipment they purchase with an aim to specify prime movers so that they can be utilised throughout the entire fleet.

A truck such as a 600 horsepower Volvo must be capable of deployment in situations that require hauling single trailers up to quad roadtrains on bitumen as well as unsealed roads.

All trucks are on service contracts through the manufacturers and are generally replaced at 1.2 million kilometres.

None are kept longer than five years, and the current average age is well under three years. Hillman’s Transport is an accredited member of TruckSafe as well as the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme for Mass and Maintenance and Basic Fatigue Management.

The company is also certified under the Coal Seam Gas Logistics Safety Code. Volvo, Mack and Kenworth are the dominant brands in the Hillman’s fleet and a couple of DAF CF530 models have been recently added for grocery work.

A total of 30 new Mack and Volvo trucks are on order for delivery in late 2022 and into 2023.

Steve Hillman with his brother Chris.

“We choose trucks for service, especially the service they give us if we break down in the bush,” says Steve. “We believe the Volvo Group looks after us very well. In the past we’ve had other brands seeming to fight over who is responsible for what parts. At Volvo Group they manufacture the whole product, so I haven’t had that argument at all. We also look for reliability. We have trucks which go to 1.2million kilometres and we don’t have many trucks sitting on the side of the road because of breakdowns.”

All vehicles are managed using the MTData telematics system and the Volvo and Macks have the additional proprietary Volvo Dynafleet and Mack Telematics systems which are integral to the management of the servicing arrangements.

“We run the Guardian systems as well,” says Steve of the Australian developed driver monitoring safety system.

“With our drivers it’s about making sure the right people are in the right jobs and we have a strong base of drivers with many who have been here for 15 years. Some of the drivers didn’t like the Guardian system at first but we get them in and show them the footage where someone has had a nod off and I invite their wife and kids to come in and have a look too. It’s not about us spying on people, it’s about protecting lives – theirs’ and other road users. That’s the main thing. We can always replace trucks and trailers, but we can’t replace a life, so to me they are worth their while.”

To match the diversity of the company’s operations a wide selection of trailers is employed to suit individual job requirements including curtainsider B-doubles, 45-foot flat-tops with container pins, a 45-foot drop deck with hydraulic loading ramps, plus sideloaders and extendable 45-foot trailers capable of stretching to 71 feet lengths.

At the height of the COVID situation operations were maintained despite the almost continuous changing of rules relating to border crossings.

The Mack SuperLiner gets washed down.

“We’d come to work in the morning and the rules would have changed about crossing the border by the afternoon and that was our biggest challenge,” says Steve.

“At times it was very hard to keep up but we all pulled together and got through it in the end but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t a challenge. But it’s funny what human beings can do when they have to do it and everyone is in the same boat.”

Steve acknowledges the entire staff rose to the occasion.

“It was a challenge we all had, and we all had to deal with it. If anything, it’s a testament to Australia that we came together and the shelves still had something on them,” he says. Maybe not the full range of items but we still had food available. Everyone could still go shopping and fuel up their cars. I don’t know if that can be said for the rest of the world.”

The ongoing disruptions to the general supply chain continue to present some logistical challenges in relation to changes at short notice of shipping movements both in and out of port.

“In this world we now live in it seems to be short notice on everything and that can become a bit of a challenge when you only get a day or two notice when there are 50 or 60 containers that are supposed to be due,” Steve explains. “The unpredictability of it all is the hardest part at the moment.”

The second half of 2022 looks to be an exciting propsect for Hillman’s Transport as it moves into a new purpose-built facility located adjacent to the BP truck stop at Charlton on the Warrego Highway just out of Toowoomba.

“It’s a big deal for us with a lot more room than where we have been for the past almost 20 years,” says Steve. “We’ve just outgrown where we were.”

The new facility includes five acres of concrete hardstand and a drive through truck wash capable of accommodating roadtrains.

A Hillman’s roadtrain is assembled ready for work.
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