Star of the Forest:
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.