FAMILY FREIGHTERS STERLING OPERATION
DUDLEY Abraham sits in his office at Granite Belt Fruit Freighters pouring through a treasure trove of photos, depicting the years and vehicles past.
His hand methodically sifts through the plastic zip-lock bag, a substituted photo album, in search of a familiar worn sepia scene.
Landing on his catch, Dudley’s soft blue eyes light up.
It’s his early-model Dodge, the truck that started it all.
From a family of orchardists on Queensland’s Granite Belt, Dudley’s first experience behind the wheel came when he began making deliveries for the local farmers cooperative.
Slowly but surely, as many in their youth are prone to do, he began to pull away from the family produce business in pursuit of his own interests.
He found himself enjoying his time behind the wheel more and more.
He ultimately purchased a second vehicle.
“I probably felt I liked the trucks more than I liked the farming, that’s the way it went,” Dudley said.
“At the time when I was spending so much time with the trucks my wife wasn’t so happy and I said, well, this is it, take it or leave it.
“But she took it and stuck with me ever since.
“I’m lucky for that, 50 years together next year.”
The farmers cooperative went under but Dudley’s business continued to grow.
He soon found a business partner and established a depot on a Stanthorpe orchard, using the farm house as an office.
In 1999 the business had even peaked the interest of a Gatton transport legend.
“Terry Nolan came up here and wanted to come in with us and expand,” Dudley said.
For a short time the arrangement worked but Stanthorpe’s limited seasons left little room for growth.
“We aren’t as busy and more seasonal in this area, so it fell away when we saw the demand,” Dudley said.
“But in between he helped us build this complex here.
“It was Granite Belt Nolan’s at that stage,” he said, passing a sweeping glance over the depot, workshop and beyond.
In 2005 the business was
❝I probably felt I liked the trucks more than I liked the farming, that’s the way it went. — Dudley Abraham
again met with a challenge, as Dudley “bit the bullet” and bought out his partner, who was looking to sell.
The family again moved from one step to the next, taking on each challenge as fate allowed.
“It’s a worry at times, you sort of just have to take a leap over these things,” he said.
Dudley said he felt overwhelmed at first when taking over the business as a whole, having to stretch from his specialty of logistics into the business side of things.
“I was never involved in the workings of the business, I didn’t have that skill,” he said.
He instead learnt to delegate.
“You rely on other people and surround yourself with good ones,” he said.
Dudley’s sons, Rodney and Glen, were included.
“The boys were here then, they had been working driving and that,” he said.
“All their young lives they wanted to be truckies but when they were leaving school I said no, you’re going to get a trade.”
The caring father hoped his boys would then have something to fall back on.
Yet undeterred they both chose trade fields related to their dream of getting behind the wheel of Dad’s trucks.
Rodney chose refrigeration with what is now Thermo King and Glen did a diesel fitter’s apprenticeship in Stanthorpe.
“Once they did that they came to work,” he said.
The business expanded for a short time with investment, then suddenly the global financial crisis hit its lowest point, dragging Granite Belt Fruit Freighters and many other companies along with it.
The situation came so close to the line the boys, who were looking for land at that time, pitched in to use what little they had to buy their father’s home.
“We went through a very difficult time and were probably on the verge of going under,” Dudley said.
“I said, well can you buy my place to give us a bit of money to keep the business going.
“It left me homeless but with enough money to keep the business going.
“I’ve always been involved in the church and they didn’t have a minister.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to keep it going, it could have failed but I always had a feeling that it had to keep going, I had the feeling it would come good, I wasn’t worried about my own stuff.”
So Dudley lived in the manse, in exchange he helped to run the church for two years.
“The boys at that stage were ready to run the business and I believe this is all provenance that I was guided with these things,” he said.
Ultimately the sons slowly built on the business, setting up another home on the lot, making way for Dudley to return.
From that point on the business started to get back on its feet.
“We now look at things differently because of that time, I said to the boys, we will keep trucks longer and
re-power them with reconditioned motors or new motors,” he said.
“That and the fuel price coming down enabled us to prosper.”
Today the family has 16 prime movers plus local pick-up trucks and 21 refrigerated trailers running produce to Sydney, north Queensland and places in between.
The fleet is a mix of of K610s, Freightliner Argosys and, of course, the last of the Sterlings, which run to Brisbane and back.
“We are the last of them, they are slowly dying off,” Glen, who runs the workshop, said.
“They were a good truck, we had some of the last ones left, both drivers who use them are old-school blokes who love driving them.
“We are giving one a rebuild now, which will be its last hurrah.
“And we do that all here, there is nothing we outsource, we do everything ourselves.
“Rod even taught me his refrigeration trade so we also do all of our fridge work ourselves, with gearboxes and rebuilds and the like.”
Rodney, who focuses on the operations side of things, said he was happy with the position in which the business currently found itself.
“I’m pretty happy with the way things are going, just keeping it at a steady flow now, stability in our fleet is what we are about,” he said.
LEAPS OF FAITH: Dudley Abraham has taken on the challenges of the transport game.
Rod, Dudley and Glen Abraham.
Granite Belt Fruit Freighters.
Granite Belt Fruit Freighters in the early days.
A family effort keeps the business moving.
Ready to do the hard yards.
Granite Belt Fruit Freighters back in the day.
The company is the link between big chains and producers.