Cat CT630 stands tall in family logging company
In a proud family-owned business where reputations evolve on the ability to endure the tests of time and toil among the hardwood forests of Western Australia’s south-west, Cat® trucks have emerged as the modern-day truck of choice.
Based at Manjimup, 300 km south of Perth, South West Haulage is a timber harvesting and haulage company which has been an integral part of the West Australian logging industry for around 60 years. For more than 50 of those years, Greg Smeathers has lived and breathed every aspect of the business.
“This business, the bush, the trucks and the machinery, everything about it has been so much a part of my life since I was a kid. Even my father worked here,” says the sharp 68 year-old, born and bred in Manjimup who first joined the company as a 15 year-old apprentice mechanic in March 1962.
In fact, so ingrained is South West Haulage in the life of Greg Smeathers that just three years ago, at an age when most men are contemplating retirement, Greg and sons Peter and Shawn invested everything they have to buy the company outright.
“I’d had a limited financial interest in the company since 2007,” Greg explains, “and I’d been running the whole operation for years on behalf of the owners. Anyway, when the opportunity came up a few years ago to take full ownership of the company, and the boys were keen to be involved, we bit the bullet and threw everything we had into it.
“At my age it wasn’t easy convincing the banks,” he smiles, “but we got there eventually. Apart from the financial aspects, the thing that got us across the line was that I’ve been totally involved in this company and this industry for well over 50 years. Plus the fact that the three of us are equal partners, and Peter and Shawn have spent most of their lives growing up around the business.
“This company is now their future.”
Meantime, growth has been significant since father and sons took total control. The winning of a major logging contract in early 2014 saw the size of South West Haulage almost double as annual tonnages increased to around 400,000 tonnes.
A vast equipment inventory of harvesting machines, trucks, trailers and service vehicles today includes 24 prime movers with most coupled to trailer sets configured as ‘pocket’ roadtrains, operating on approved routes with overall length to 27.5 metres and gross weights up to 79 tonnes.
South West Haulage operates in two divisions with Peter in charge of blue gum plantation timber and Shawn controlling the harvesting and haulage of native timbers, while Greg applies his vast experience to the overall operation.
Like their father, Peter and Shawn Smeathers are highly experienced heavy equipment mechanics who know what it takes for machinery to succeed midst the constant demands of harvesting and hauling tall timber from forest to mill.
“If there’s one thing for sure, I’ve certainly seen some big changes in equipment over the past 50 years,” Greg reflects.
When it comes to equipment choice, father and sons take a long-term view. “We look for things to last,” says eldest son Peter. “We maintain all our own equipment and have a big workshop with mechanics and maintenance people who know how to build and rebuild things, so unlike a lot of companies we don’t have the need to replace trucks every four or five years.
“The biggest thing for us is durability. The ability to just keep doing the job day in and day out. If the wheels aren’t turning, we’re not earning. It’s as simple as that.”
In a business where equipment is invariably expected to deliver the full extent of its viable service life, Cat trucks are a comparatively new arrival. The first CT630 model joined the South-West fleet in 2011 when Greg was quick to recognise the advantage of a truck with a C15 engine and vitally, no AdBlue or EGR emissions controls.
Since then, however, the performance and durability of Cat trucks have established the brand’s operational credentials to the point where there are now seven Cats in the fleet. In fact, all new prime movers bought since 2011 wear the Cat badge.
“The business case for Cat definitely stacks up,” Peter says firmly. “There’s no question we all have a strong regard for Cat products but if the first truck didn’t stand up to the job, there would never have been a second Cat truck let alone another four or five of them.
“It has become the truck of choice basically because it has done no wrong and it’s a good value-for-money proposition,” he confirms.
As Peter quickly adds though, there’s more to the liking for Cat than mechanical matters. “It’s about the whole package; performance, reliability and service. We have a good relationship with the people at WesTrac, particularly Peter Calligaro (Cat Trucks manager) and when it’s all boiled down, everything revolves around the quality of the people you’re working with.”
The Cats primarily operate in the blue gum operation, hauling up to 54 tonnes of sawn logs to a woodchip mill at Bunbury, 130 km from Manjimup and as far as 250 km from the furthest harvest sites.
“On tare weight the Cats are at least as good as anything else we run,” Peter remarks, “but the big thing for us is that they’re showing all the signs they’ll live a long time in the job without any major issues.
“The C15’s a proven engine, the gearbox and diffs are proven components, and the cabs and chassis are holding together really well.
“They’re doing everything right and when it comes to equipment of any sort, that’s exactly what we’re after.”
For Greg Smeathers, the Cat preference is honed on more than half a century of hard work and enduring performance.
“I’ve been working with Cat gear since I was a 15 year-old apprentice, so the liking for Cat isn’t a recent thing. It’s something that has been built over many decades. The simple fact is I know it’s good gear.”
On the experience with Cat trucks, a resolute Greg Smeathers concludes, “There’s no doubt that when it comes to anything with a Cat badge, we have high expectations.
“The Cat trucks are certainly no different and they’re doing everything to live up to those expectations.
“Better still, I can’t see any reason why they won’t keep doing it.”
All in the family. Greg Smeathers flanked by sons Shawn (left) and Peter.