Bordertown, to the uninitiated, might sound like something out of Mad Max. It evokes images of red soil, cracked riverbeds and a dust-blown outpost exiled to the outer rim of a desert, not yet named by colonial explorers. The reality, however, is a picturesque, diverse farming region located between national park to the north, the Great Australian Bite to the west and the nearby Victorian border to the east. The birthplace of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and the home of the Albino kangaroo, Bordertown boasts a population of nearly 3000, in addition to a vast underground water supply. The fertile soil enables the production of flowers, potatoes, onions and pasture seed including livestock and cereal exports.
It’s also the home of Bordertown Haulage, a company founded in 1973 by Peter Karger, who operates a 10-truck fleet that carries grain and produce, on regular routes through Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and regional areas in between. Interstate trips are often triangulated to maximise returns, which makes the base in Bordertown, en route to and from Mt Gambier, an ideal location.
According to Peter, who serves as Director at Bordertown Haulage, the township maintains a grain storage mindset, a carryover from past days when Section 92 of the constitution allowed for free trade between the states, and grain no longer was a compulsory acquisition for storage at rail sidings by regional grain boards. The region has a long history of irrigation, which necessitates a reliance on fertiliser. Flattop trailers, with side curtains inside the gates, and floor trapdoors were the norm for this task, enabling a return trip often dedicated to general freight. As a result it opened up the widespread transportation of highway grain. The long history of irrigation in the region, which when combined with cereal crops means fertilizer is required all year round, has occasioned a common backload. Just as rail ceased shipping fertiliser on the short task it was tip trucks that were destined to pick up the slack.
“That opened everything up from our perspective. Grain trading was the obvious inclusion into the transport and now forms a large part of the operation. With farmers seeing the improved returns from storing their grain on farm and trading it across the border later in the year, the spread of bulk cartage finally enabled the purchase of the first convertible tipper in the area from O’Phee’s at Pittsworth in Queensland.”
The year was 1982. As the railways started doing less short-haul trucks got involved, moving a variety of bulk products.
Bordertown Haulage soon found its niche in the market. Since it commenced operations, the company has a diversified range of bulk products it carries, including grain and fertilizer, onions and potatoes, and hay – now in increasing demand by farmers due to the serious drought conditions affecting New South Wales. Peter started out with a long nose D-series Toyota, tray top, working on the farm. He grew up in nearby Keith, a small town in Tatiara, the northernmost region of South Australia’s Limestone Coast. After attending agriculture school he went back to the farm where he found work was scarce.
In partnership with his brother, Peter purchased an Acco tray top truck and trailer with a 180-horsepower engine hauling a 23-foot dog trailer. Heavy rains in 1975, washed out the Transcontinental rail line on the Nullarbor. The opportunity arose to carry a load of Ansett Express parcel freight from Melbourne to Perth. Peter, in his ACCO, headed west.
“I was loaded to the gunnels,” he says. “That started my desire to wander around the country side.”
The epic challenges kept coming the following year. He drove a White Road Commander and tri-axle semi-trailer from Sydney to Mt Newman, no less, in Western Australia. Not to be outdone, Peter with a trailer now hand-loaded with pumpkins out of Carnarvon, for the return journey, followed that up by going, coast to coast, from Port Hedland to Sydney. It took more than a week.
“Those were very different times,” he says. “I have to take a moment when I think back to how we had to run things back then.”
Not surprisingly safety remains a major focus for Peter, who has 40 years of experience, in all types of terrain and driving conditions. It’s in large part why he allies his business with Volvo Trucks. Peter recalls he had kept a close eye on the Volvo commercial range for many years prior to buying his first model, a second hand Volvo FH540, which was put on a parcel run.
“A mate out of Cooke Plains had Volvos early on and he swore by them,” he says. “Eventually you jump in and once you see the advantages you think to yourself, why didn’t I do that a long time ago?”
Peter has never been much into twin exhaust pipes and overhead foxtails de rigueur among outback truckers. He has plenty of years working with the noise and grease typically associated with some of the long-haul heavy vehicles. Volvo Trucks are, for him, the modern way to carry out the task, with ease of operation and far less weekly attention required, although, the advanced systems now characteristic to the brand should not intimidate prospective customers.
“Some people can get scared off because they have a lot of monitors and sensors but this hasn’t been an issue,” he says. “I wouldn’t operate a truck without a system in it of some sort so you can monitor how it is being driven. I am also very comfortable to know I’m giving my drivers the safest product out there.”
Recently chosen by Volvo Trucks Australia as its South Australian representative in its Volvo Driver’s Fuel Challenge, Peter, through using Dynafleet, the telematics system he was introduced to following his purchase of a Volvo FH600 in 2015 – his second – continues to notice the benefits. Although he has long been an advocate of improving fuel efficiency, Dynafleet has helped him and his drivers up their game.
“The fact that you can monitor your fuel constantly with the Volvo, can result in it becoming a challenge, even against yourself,” Peter says. “When you’re on a regular run with hills and the traffic and you know your fuel economy will drop down and then come up again, it becomes a little game to see what you can get.”
Fuel economy has always been one of the key considerations for running his business. He monitors, using Dynafleet, all of his drivers, who, according to Peter, are fast taking it upon themselves to apply knowledge gained and shared by others committed to daily fuel conservation. It’s since become infectious says Peter.
“You challenge yourself each trip to do better than the last one,” he says. “The main reason is simply because you can and then, if you’ve got a certain mindset, then you do. I’ve always watched fuel economy.”
The trucks at Bordertown Haulage are each fitted with a Navman Global Positioning System (GPS), which Peter says he would no longer operate a truck without one.
“Further to that, I would not operate a truck without some form of monitoring of how the driver is driving it,” he says. “If the truck’s fuel economy is down, you don’t know whether it is the way it is being driven, or if there is something actually wrong with the truck.”
The Volvo Maintenance program, according to Peter, has allowed Bordertown Haulage to increase the fleet size to 10 trucks and still maintain its existing staff levels.
“We’ve tried, where possible, to stay out in front of where technology is going with disc brakes since 2002, Air CTI tyre monitors and ABS/EBS braking systems to name a few. I consider the Volvo product adds to this,” Peter says. He often relieves a driver who pilots one of the FH Globetrotters and admits, after over four decades in the industry, and at least 10 years jaded by the prospect of driving, that he now looks forward to it.
“These Globetrotters have given me a new lease on life especially the safety pack option,” he says. “I don’t want to drive a truck that doesn’t have all of the safety features and comfort and I take pride in being able to offer this to my drivers as well.”
The shape of the cab-over, he notes, makes cleaning it an easier task. Peter claims the job of cleaning the entire truck is nearly as easy as it is to wash the windscreen. A suite of safety features that includes the likes of Adaptive Cruise, are fast taking pressure off his daily operation.
“They all add up: the economy and serviceability. Adaptive Cruise, Lane change and Emergency Braking, coupled with the economy and serviceability,” he says. “I never used to get time to drive but now look forward to the drive once a fortnight or more.”
According to Peter, from the time his drivers started using the first Volvo introduced into the fleet, they were .3 to .2 litres per kilometre better off. As drivers, informed with the latest fuel-burn data, improve their performance, the results speak for themselves.
“They excel in comfort and are smoother to drive,” Peter says. “I personally get out of the cab feeling fresh.”
Chain of responsibility, before it was named so, has been a prescient concern for men and women whose drivers and their safety is of paramount importance. It’s no different for Peter.
“If you can prevent an accident from happening and help do your bit to avoid something truly serious occurring where the end result has the ultimate consequence for all involved then I try and provide the safest environment as possible.”
To this regard, the Volvo Truck, as Peter sees it, covers these bases.
In his experience, an American truck without EBS towing a trailer that does have EBS can have dangerous consequences. He recalls a recent incident.
“We had a car in the city pull across directly in front of an FH Globetrotter with the full safety pack and the fully loaded B-double pulled up without hitting the car,” Peter says. “He could have killed the car driver.
We might have had a bent truck off the road, with a traumatised driver and an investigation because of a death. To me it is a no-brainer. With emergency braking they do stop, even with a fully loaded B-double.”
That driver, suffice it to say, who has driven trucks for over 20 years, all over the country, according to Peter, is now an avid Volvo convert.
Bordertown Haulage devotes three Volvo curtainsiders on its produce run into Virginia, north of Adelaide. It’s a regular daily run of 12 hours total turnaround – and presents the perfect opportunity for drivers to use the Coasting option to assist with fuel economy. Peter says it has provided major gains for fuel efficiencies, by managing the vehicle better on declines. In coast mode the vehicle selects neutral and the engine returns to idle, using minimum fuel. By using this feature as much as possible, a significant amount of fuel can be saved. Dynafleet reports confirm, for Peter, that it also serves as an educational tool for drivers who are getting maximum utilisation from the vehicle’s system.
“With the ability to see your fuel economy live, you can see the saving and then have the ability to improve upon it.”
Now all of his drivers are starting to play with it.
“They have begun,” he says, “to talk among themselves as to what they are doing in the truck.”
Bordertown Haulage is serviced by South Central Trucks in Adelaide. The dealership does little things, according to Peter, that he appreciates.
“They make you feel special,” he says. “They still make you as important as the company that buys 40 trucks.”
Recently he required a bull bar replacement, after a driver, on a pastoral run with a Volvo FM 500, emerged through the mist not far from Mt Gambia, to find a full grown cow had wandered onto the highway without warning. He hit it at full speed. The Chris Barron bull bar absorbed the full impact, and diminished what otherwise would have been hefty damage to the body of the truck.
“You could have fixed the damage in your workshop if you had to,” Peter says. “It was bent back and broke some welds. The truck kept running for six weeks while a new bull bar was built. It didn’t miss a beat.”
The FM 500 features the Volvo safety pack, which it uses to navigate a route made hazardous at night by fog.
“You only know the true value of the Volvo safety systems after you’ve been in a near miss situation,” Peter says. “That’s when you see what some of this stuff is worth.”
With his son Angus now taking over much of the day-to-day operations, Peter says he can be seen, more often, in one of the FH Globetrotters, getting his Volvo “fix” for the day.