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The Highlanders

Nestled in Tasmania’s Central Highlands, the aptly named Highland Haulage of Mick and Chris Linger rely on old-fashioned values, the adoption of new technologies and proven reliability of Western Trucks and Detroit engines to stay ahead of the pack.

Mick Linger isn’t one to mince his words. A no nonsense straight shooter with eyes for the future, and for a long time Mick has had clear goals in mind for the company, “Highland Haulage Pty Ltd” that he and his wife Chris started. Setting the wheels of his plan in motion almost two decades ago when he and Chris formed Highland Haulage by specifying heavy-duty Western Star prime movers as the backbone of the Company’s fleet.

Based in the historic picturesque town of Deloraine at the foot of the Great Western Tiers in Tasmania’s central highlands. Highland Haulage has grown from a sole trader, single truck operation starting in the early ‘90s to a small company of six 4900 Western Stars, four in the Highland Haulage’s striking blue livery and one in white, and over a dozen trailers. Early on, Mick accepted that growth was inevitable if he wanted to provide a superior level of service to his client base, however the rapid rate at which growth occurred was something that neither he nor his original business plan were able to forecast.

Highland Haulage’s impressive fleet of 4900 Western Star and Freighter trailers concentrate on providing general freight and specialised refrigeration services from Tasmania across Bass Strait along the eastern seaboard from Melbourne to Far North Queensland. “Our business is not just about trucks, we provide a total transport solution,” Mick said.

Highland Haulage maybe in a niche market, but even so, there is no escape from freight rate under-cutters. Loading both ways is, as in most forms of transport, is crucial to maintaining cash flow. “Basically we transport locally produced products north and return with anything from raw materials to agricultural equipment,” Mick added.

“We also have several regular contracts with long standing loyal clients which provides stable work for the majority of the fleet,” Mick said. “This includes several service runs throughout our home state of Tasmania along with approximately 50 trips to Sydney and to destinations such as Brisbane and even Townsville further to the north.”

Despite freight rates almost remaining static for the last quarter century, Mick is a firm believer that adopting new technologies and specifying components according to need rather than tradition, will lead to higher profits for his company, and it’s a belief that appears to have paid off.

“Don’t work for nothing and give people their money’s worth,” Mick revealed. I’m not into cutting rates, I just do the best possible job and expect to be paid fairly for the work that I do.”

Mick approaches specifying new equipment like that of an accountant with a finely sharpened pencil. Combining a broad knowledge of the transport industry and his understanding of customer’s needs with consideration for future regulations, he configures his trucks and trailers to safeguard the highest interests of his company.

As the conversation continued on Western Star, Mick related the reasons why he decided to purchase 4900 prime movers all those years ago.

“They’re one of the best prime-movers that are set up for interstate right from the start,” Mick explained. “Plus they’re extremely spacious inside for the drivers and importantly we get good back up service from Westar Trucks in Melbourne.”

“All our 4900’s are powered by 14-litre Detroit’s with the exception of the older white one which is one of the first Constellations and it has a 12-Litre Detroit. We get good fuel economy from them and they’re reliable to boot, and all have been extremely good vehicles. We run a stringent maintenance program, and we have very little downtime,” Mick commented. “All our maintenance is carried out locally in Deloraine by Meander Valley Diesel while Meander Valley Auto Electrical see to our electrical needs. It might cost a little initially to keep on top of everything, but when you weigh that up against the cost of downtime it is really is a worthwhile investment.

As the conversation rolled on, Mick proceeded to describe what he believes are key ingredients to the company’s success and by far the most important of these is a suitably skilled workforce.

The gleaming presentation of his trucks is only one part of a bigger picture. Mick has firm beliefs about the role that drivers play in establishing and maintaining the image and professionalism that the transport industry portrays to clients and the community at large.

“We run one truck and one driver in our trucks,” Mick commented. “The personal pride that each driver has in his truck is clearly evident and we even have their names sign-written on the driver’s door.”

Quality of service and the resultant ‘word of mouth’ are aspects that Mick attributes to the continued growth and success of Highland Haulage.

“Our drivers are the most important part of our operation and it’s their passion and heart that make Highland Haulage what it is,” Mick said. “Sure we spec the best equipment possible and run the best maintenance practices, but without our dedicated drivers we couldn’t provide the high level of service our customers enjoy.”

“We treat our drivers as professional too,” Mick added. “These 4900 Western Stars are the elite in terms driver comfort and we’ve optioned them with bunk air-conditioners’ and all the trimmings for long-haul trucking.”

As conversation shifted from prime movers and drivers to trailers, Mick explained that the company recently purchased a Freighter drop-deck “Ezyliner” to go behind the latest Stars.

Freighter’s EziLiner design has replaced the use of buckles and straps, on a traditional tautliner with a single high tensile synthetic cable running through a series of arcs along both decks of the trailer to generate vertical tension on the trailer curtains, providing significant operational efficiency in respect of time savings per load/unload cycle.

According to Mick, the EziLiner-drop deck combination provides freight task flexibility, adding that, “Because the drop deck allows us to maximise load volume, we find that we can make multiple drops and pick ups as we work down from Brisbane to Melbourne and with the added benefit of the EziLiner curtains, I know our customers benefit from it’s ease of functionality and the fact that we are able to move more quickly, load and unload their goods.”

In terms of fleet size Highland Haulage may be considered small, but the effectiveness of their fleet management procedures and work smart polices are already manifesting themselves as long term-term sustainable growth. Because at the time of writing Mick is waiting for the delivery of another Detroit powered 4900 Western Star.

January 29, 2014 | Posted in: Articles



Australian Trucking Quarterly