Star of the For­est:

Deals on Wheels - - Contents - Peter and Di Sch­lenk write

Rod Wat­son’s 2007 Western Star

Tas­ma­nian Rod Wat­son, to­gether with his wife Tanya, op­er­ates Rod Wat­son Heavy Haulage. The cou­ple have known both good and tough times in the in­dus­try and cur­rently op­er­ate a C16 Cat-pow­ered 2007 Western Star 4900.

Rod has had thoughts about up­dat­ing, but oth­ers have ad­vised him to stick with the tried and true. The Western Star has Air­Liner rear sus­pen­sion, and he says the 600hp Cat en­gine goes like a train.

“I’ve put a big­ger non-waste­gated turbo on it, and pol­ished the man­i­fold,” he says. “With 70 to 80 tonne on, you can pull away from other trucks car­ry­ing 50 to 60 tonne.”

Rod’s cur­rent setup is in stark con­trast to his early work­ing life when, at the in­sis­tence of his fa­ther Rod­ney Sr, the young Rod be­gan a boat build­ing ap­pren­tice­ship. That ca­reer, how­ever, was short-lived.

“Be­ing young and silly, as soon as I com­pleted

my time I had to get out and go truck driv­ing,” Rod re­calls. “I busted my gut to get a driv­ing job.”

His first driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was with Ted Kingston in Laud­erdale, just out­side Ho­bart, driv­ing a 1974 N12 tri-axle semi tip­per cart­ing sand for Bo­ral. Later, af­ter do­ing time “learn­ing the job on log­ging trucks”, Rod bought his own a NH Volvo.

Al­though he was happy driv­ing Volvos, he pre­ferred Amer­i­can driv­e­lines, so his next truck was a day cab Western Star pulling a float. How­ever, fol­low­ing the death of a for­est worker, man­age­ment de­cided they wanted ev­ery­one off the forestry floor.

“We got called into the of­fice and they said if you are pre­pared to buy big­ger, widen­ing floats, [wood­chip ex­porter] Gunns will give us a con­tract to go in and move gear. It was a safety-ini­ti­ated move and it looked good for a long time,” Rod says.

Rod and Tanya had five floats work­ing across the state and it was all look­ing good.

“We went from turn­ing over $160K when we first bought it 12 years ago to a $1 mil­lion turnover a year, and as much work as we wanted.”

The pair had had a cou­ple of sub­bies work­ing for them as well, but vir­tu­ally overnight it all turned sour.

“The rug got pulled out from un­der­neath us,” Rod says.

Along with the govern­ment, Gunns made the de­ci­sion to leave na­tive for­est log­ging. To com­pen­sate, the govern­ment gave a $25 mil­lion pack­age to pay out all those with con­tracts.

“The peo­ple who set up the pay­outs wanted a har­vest­ing quota,” Rod ex­plains. “If you put your hand up for a pay­out, you had to have a quota. It didn’t mat­ter to them that with­out ma­chines there wouldn’t be a quota.”


Rod Wat­son Heavy Haulage slipped through the cracks. All the equip­ment was sold ex­cept for the 2007 Star, a lit­tle dolly and 3x8 float.

“We had to go to Western Aus­tralia or go broke,” Rod says. “One of our cus­tomers gave us a load

We had to go to Western Aus­tralia or go broke.

to Port Au­gusta. I ended up in Kar­ratha; I got as far away as I thought I could.

“Ev­ery­one wel­comed us with open arms; there was so much work go­ing on. I think we turned over $25,000 in the first five days. I got there at the right time, things were boom­ing.”

Rod was sub­bing to Peter Tip­pett Haulage and spent most of his time work­ing on the sup­port projects for the mines, build­ing rail­ways and wa­ter pipe­lines.

“They worked out that the best way to move the ore is in a slurry line like we do at Sav­age River here in Tassie,” Rod ex­plains. “Those sorts of jobs were seven days a week, it just kept go­ing, and we were con­stantly run­ning with 80 tonne.”

Rod re­calls think­ing that if he had been 20 years younger, he would have been on the phone to Tanya to move join out west.

“I’d have bought half a dozen trucks,” he smiles. “There were a cou­ple of good op­por­tu­ni­ties, and they were strug­gling to get de­cent peo­ple to move their gear.”

He says work­ing over in Western Aus­tralia was an eye opener, but he al­ways had it in his mind to build his busi­ness back up in Tas­ma­nia.

Rod spent 12 months in the west, only mak­ing it back to see Tanya once dur­ing that time. The cou­ple had been en­gaged for a few years, and Rod hadn’t taken the ini­tia­tive, so Tanya set up the wed­ding for Rod when he re­turned.

Firmly es­tab­lished back in Tassie, Rod Wat­son Heavy Haulage con­cen­trates on any ma­chin­ery moves within the is­land state, al­though Rod says he of­ten fields re­quests to take gear across to the main­land, but he prefers to re­main loyal to his lo­cal clients.

“Who looks af­ter your bread and but­ter while you are away?” he pon­ders. “The only thing I have over the big com­pa­nies is that if you need your ma­chin­ery moved, I’m happy to put down my knife and fork, leave my tea and pro­vide a good ser­vice.”

How­ever, he says it’s be­com­ing harder to make ends meet, and al­most ev­ery day he con­sid­ers sell­ing up and go­ing to work for an em­ployer.

“Thirty years ago there were peo­ple that would

end up get­ting some­where. Nowa­days I am not so sure,” he says.

Rod is also find­ing it more frus­trat­ing in deal­ing with the ever-chang­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions, plus the fact that all per­mits are now com­ing out of Bris­bane.

“Here I am ap­ply­ing for per­mits, up­set­ting clients, and now I’m be­ing told that some moves will re­quire trans­port es­corts where we didn’t in the past,” he ex­plains. “That is an extra cost per hour. None of this was fac­tored into it.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Rod be­lieves there are float op­er­a­tors in Tas­ma­nia that con­tinue to cut cor­ners. He adds that he’d like to see ev­ery truck go over the pits to be reg­is­tered ev­ery year.

How­ever, Rod says he still loves the job, al­though he was con­cerned with the forestry in­dus­try go­ing the way it has, he wouldn’t get back out in the bush.

“It’s a nice coun­try out there,” he says. “I re­ally liked it in the Pil­bara and I miss those days, but I love the peace and quiet you can only get out in the for­est. It’s mag­i­cal.”

Left: The well-trav­elled Western Star has done its time in WA and in Tas­ma­nia Above: Tanya and Rod Wat­son

Rod Wat­son Heavy Haulage’s 2007 Western Star makes its way through Tas­ma­nia’s high coun­try. It may be nine years old, but the Western Star 4900 is in good nick.

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