Fuelled up: Restored Mack Valueliner still going strong
There is a certain symmetry to this story about a legendary tough Australian working truck that was a first for its owners and a groundbreaker for the company’s tasks. For 20 years Lowes Petroleum Service’s 1990 Mack Valueliner helped build the foundations of a thriving business.
Today, the Valueliner still wears the original Lowes colours, rebuilt as a gift for Don McRae – one of the company owners who was also one of the Mack’s original drivers.
The characteristics of the truck in question – toughness, loyalty, longevity and durability – reflect the core attributes that have made Lowes Petroleum such a success. The subsequent rebuild of the Mack, specifically the attention to detail, parallels what has been one of Lowes’ defining traits in an extremely specialised industry – fuelling up the country.
Lowes Petroleum’s 350hp Mack Valueliner has been part of the family for almost 30 years, being the first tractor unit the company put on the road. It was also one of the first independent prime movers allowed into Brisbane’s fuel terminals, a very big deal in the early 1990s.
Fuel companies had for years been solely tasked with getting the fuel out to all their distributors, originally by rail then onto their own tankers. The move towards distributors picking up their own fuel was the best way to accommodate the changing fuel scene, specifically the greater consumption.
Lowes Petroleum Service itself began in the small New South Wales border town of Boggabilla back in 1977. For those unfamiliar with the metropolis of Boggabilla, it epitomises the old three families,
That Mack got the wheels turning rapidly for Lowes.
four pubs kind of town. However, back in the ’70s it was a thriving little hub, servicing many smaller local centres as well.
In 1977 a young Norm Lowe was working fulltime as a railway station master. In order to keep the coin flowing he was also working a second job that involved cleaning the workshop at the local fuel dealer.
Norm was able to see the forthcoming change in fuel distribution needs and, alongside his brother and father-in-law, he put in an offer to purchase the dealership. Lowes Petroleum Service was born.
In those early years of fuel distribution, health and safety were things you joked about when retelling stories in the pub on a Friday night.
Many would remember unloading 44-gallon drums without a tail lift … all you needed was a bit of ‘oomph’ and a few old tyres on the ground.
As the company grew in that first decade, accumulating and absorbing other local distributers, Lowes also gained another important partner. Don McRae came into the fold in the late ’80s and was one of the original drivers of Lowes’ first semi unit.
The entire rebuild of the Mack was a surprise gift for Don at the company’s 40th birthday last year. I’m sure he still thought it was out in the yard as a pot plant holder.
Originally, the bulk fuel was delivered to rural outlets like Boggabilla by train while dealers such as Lowes sold and delivered from their own bulk tanks. Soon enough the trains stopped steaming in and major suppliers started trucking it into small distributors. This allowed for more regular top-ups for Lowes. However, like any business it was hard to manage when Boggabilla was almost at the end of the line and its top ups were difficult to accurately schedule.
The Lowe’s team watched the local climate change as horsepower gradually outgrew horses, the local tobacco farming industry was going up in smoke, and cotton and cotton gins wove their way into the landscape. Broad-acre farmers were
1. Lowes first prime mover, the Mack Valueliner, sits proudly beside the restored International which belonged to the company’s first-ever NSW customer, Jack Sloan2. Another classic Lowes workhorse, a Kenworth K108, leaves the Goondiwindi yard3. Terry Hartin clocked up a fair percentage of the Valueliner’s nearly four million kilometres at Lowes 4. While the outside has had the makeup applied, the 350hp engine maintains its well-travelled appearance 4