Rock solid: Queensland’s Red Rock Transport
Based on Queensland’s Darling Downs, Red Rock Transport has evolved from a Volvo N7 one-truck operation to a small fleet of Kenworths and a couple of restored reminders of its origins. Warren Aitken writes
“So, I started out in 1989 with a single-drive Volvo, a 40-foot stock crate, and now we’ve got 22 trailers, four road-train dollies, six Kenworth prime movers, the old S-line and some of my old trucks I’ve restored.”
It’s a rather humble and understated summary from a man who’s spent nearly six decades entrenched in the diesel-fuelled arena of transportation. It also downplays the life that Lyndsay ‘Red’ Johnstone has forged out – not just for him but for his wife, his son and his family, as well as his employees. Or as Red emphasised several times, “our greatest assets”.
Welcome to Red Rock Transport, Inglewood, Queensland. I’m presuming there are very few followers of early English botanists that read this publication, so familiarity with Inglewood the town that was first discovered by the famous English botanist Allan Cunningham (like we didn’t already know) may be a little lacking. It is a place familiar to many interstaters, particularly those Melbourne-bound who have stopped for a Chiko Roll at one of the cafés in the small town’s short main road.
Though small in stature, Inglewood is as iconic and as Aussie as you can get. The town’s slogan
I was driving an old Leyland Octopus 8-wheeler … imported from England.
is actually ‘Catch The Country Spirit’ and if you don’t pick up on that by the fact everybody waves when driving around, then I suggest you just sit down and chat to a local.
Lucky for me, the local I got to sit down and chat to was ingrained Inglewood identity Lyndsay Johnstone (from here on known as Red). Red is born and bred Inglewood and his trucking story goes all the way back to the early 1960s when he would hear the big lorries hauling through town, running between Melbourne and Brisbane. Like a lot of us at that age, school holidays were spent in the passenger seat of a truck.
Red’s relatives owned a gravel screening business that stretched from northern New
South Wales all the way through to southern Queensland, so he was kept very entertained mucking around on loaders, trucks and generally anything that could make noise.
It would come as no surprise that when Red graduated from high school in Toowoomba, he got a ride home on the Thursday night and come Monday morning he had his first full-time job with Ron Johnstone, a quarry material transport company that gave many youngsters a start in the Inglewood area.
“That was the start of my driving career,” Red recalls. “All we did then was cart gravel out of creek beds up to screening plants.”
His first rig at Ron Johnstone’s was an AB International with a 282 petrol motor. “We graduated to 6354 Perkins,” Red tells me. “Then I was driving an old Leyland Octopus eightwheeler. It was imported from England.”
The current fleet stands at six prime movers, all of them sporting the famous KW badge. One of Red’s original S-Lines still graces the yard with its presence and his admiration for International is also now displayed with a couple of beautifully restored trucks and another couple in varying states of restoration.
While Red’s name has been bandied about the most during this read, he is the first person to point out the team involved in the company’s success.
Red’s son Shane has been instrumental in the business as has his wife Rosemary whom manages the office alongside Shane’s wife Rebecca.
Shane started at Red Rock at a very young age. He also spent time getting his apprenticeship and even went up to check out the crocs and deliver chemicals throughout the Northern Territory before eventually returning to the fold with his family to partner up at Red Rock.
Shane’s influence is never more evident than in the eye-catching appeal of the trucks. The set-up and appearance has been driven by
Shane, but the up-keep has been carried forward by the company’s drivers. Their pride in their trucks is admirable and feedback from the public reinforces that.
The other vital aspect of the Red Rock drivers is the ability to multi-skill, especially with small town businesses being very much at the influence of the greater community.
Inglewood was once a thriving tobacco-growing region. For a long time, it was also a major producer of railway sleepers.
Farming has always been prevalent yet ruled by Mother Nature in much the same way grain has. Chicken farms and timber yards have flourished and struggled in the area. Throughout all these dips and waves, Red and his drivers have had to adapt and learn in order to survive and remain competitive.
Red readily admits his drivers are the company’s greatest asset. Their ‘jack of all trades’ abilities are vital in small-town transport.
Throughout the course of a working week the truck can be doing cattle one day, timber or cardboard the next, hook up for a load of chickpeas or grain and finish with cotton bales.
And we haven’t even discussed the switch from single to B-doubles and road trains.
So while Rosemary has the caravan hooked up ready to drag him into retirement, Red keeps finding more nostalgic old trucks in need of restoration.
“I still love it,” Red adamantly announces.
“Your customer wants to see you out there doing it every day, they want to see you out there loading cattle and stuff and I still love doing what I’m doing.”
I still love doing what I’m doing.
Above: Red and wife Rosemary with a couple of beautifully restored Internationals
Above: Father and son trucks: Shane Johnstone’s immaculate T909 with Red’s stunning SAR parked up in the yard