ROBBY’S RETIREMENT RIG
Robby Votino defied the ‘no experience, no job’ malaise pervading the Australian trucking industry, heading to the mines where he obtained his road train licence. Now he’s a successful owner-driver. Peter and Di Schlenk write
ROBBY VOTINO is very particular with his equipment for a couple of good reasons. Firstly, he bought his Kenworth T359 brand new. Secondly, he’s looking at the well-cared-for rig to see him out to retirement.
“I’m very fussy with my gear because this is my asset,” Robby states. “Without the truck on the road I’m not making money.”
Robby says his other vital asset in his owner-driver business is his wife Claudia, who not only looks after the books, but helps clean the truck as well. He also receives great support from his two daughters Stephanie and Daniella.
Subcontracting to Boral, he carts asphalt and quarry products with a couple of Hamelex White tippers.
He says he enjoys the work and the opportunity to meet new people.
Robby had been out of the tipper game for a while, selling his previous truck six years ago and spending time in the mining sector.
A diesel fitter by trade, Robby first began working for Halliburton in the Cooper Basin for nine years after completing his apprenticeship, firstly as a diesel mechanic/truck driver and then as a blender operator.
“When I finished my trade I went for my semi licence but was unable to get a driving job because of having no experience. So I got a job with Halliburton doing fly in/fly out in the Moomba gas fields.”
That was in 1996, when he drove his first Kenworth, a C500. During his time at Moomba, Halliburton bought a fleet of Kenworth T950s.
“I got my road train ticket with Halliburton as an operator on hydraulic fracking and we would need to move up to 15 trailers each setup and operation. The road trains cut down the trips.
“They put us through our road train tickets – that was great. It was good experience.
“The company was able to cut the travelling time in half when moving equipment from point A to point B.”
Robby left Halliburton in 2003 when Claudia fell pregnant.
He bought a truck, an old Ford LTS 4000, which he used to work on as an apprentice mechanic.
He found work with the Ford in a sand and metal yard.
“That’s how I got into the business,” he explains. “I had a lot of breakdowns with the old Ford so I decided to go new.
“I’d seen the T350s on agitators so I went down to Kenworth and looked at the brochure. I just thought ‘wow’!”
The result was a T350 tandem tipper. Robby later bought himself a little 2-axle pig trailer from Adelaidebased specialised transport equipment manufacturer Barry Stoodley.
“It was only a 300hp C10 and was underpowered with the trailer, so I sold that and bought another one with a Cat C12 with a bit more horsepower,” he says.
Robby kept the Kenworth for six years until returning to mining.
“I decided to sell the truck and move on. I was trying to get out in iron ore for a long time and finally got in there with help from a good mate.”
Up in Karratha, Robby was working two weeks on, one week off; one week day shift, one week night shift, and then home for a week.
“It was a good experience,” he recalls. “At the end of the day, because you are putting in the hours, it’s very fatiguing and you need the week home to recover.
“I probably got in at the end of the iron ore boom but it was a good experience because most of my mining experience had been in oil and gas.”
However, Robby never thought he’d get back into the tipper industry, always believing he’d retire after his career in mining.
“With the family, I was after job security, so you go back to what you know,” he says.
“I knew I was going to buy another Kenworth. I know they work, their reliability, they are cheap to maintain, but I priced up three other trucks as well.”
Robby had three quotes from different manufacturers but the T359 ticked all the right boxes.
“It had a light tare weight of 9.6tonne, excellent visibility, and it was an extremely comfortable and easy truck to drive.”
Robby’s three Kenworths have been bought through CMV in Adelaide, each time dealing with salesman Bob Malusa.
“Bob and I have actually become good friends; I have a lot of respect for him and his family.”
The T359 has a 440hp Cummins ISMe5 coupled to a Fuller 18-speed UltraShift Plus on Kenworth Airglide 460 rear suspension.
“All of my trucks have been autos; for around town you just can’t beat them,” Robby says. “The technology is so good. This one doesn’t have a clutch and I tell you it is amazing.”
Another factor that impresses Robby is that the T359 comes with engine brake and cruise control on the steering wheel.
“They have come a long way since the T350,” he continues. “The finish inside the cab is beautiful; there’s gold trimming around the gauges and I custom built this with black interior.
“The grab handles in the cab are great and there is no effort required to get into the cab. The steps are wide and easy to negotiate.”
Robby worked as a diesel mechanic for Cummins in Karratha so it made sense to have Cummins in the new truck.
“It’s a beautiful little engine, great on fuel and not as noisy. It does a great job and pulls up the Adelaide Hills without a problem.”
“I can go up the Mt Barker freeway in 12th fully loaded, but I go up in ninth and then gear-drop the revs to 1500 and get better fuel consumption.”
Robby loves how Kenworth trucks can be custom built to his needs.
“The resale on these is great, you can’t beat them,” he smiles.
“But I know that this truck would see me through to retirement – and I’m only 43.”
“You go back to what you know”
Robby bought his Kenworth T359 brand new, which he intends to keep for the long haul
Robby Votino alongside his Hamelex White trailers