Now al­most 30 years old, a re­stored Mack Value­liner is a re­minder of how one truck ac­cel­er­ated a fuel de­liv­ery com­pany’s growth. War­ren Aitken writes

Owner Driver - - Contents -

Now al­most 30 years old, a re­stored

THERE IS A CER­TAIN sym­me­try to this story about a leg­endary tough Aus­tralian work­ing truck that was a first for its own­ers and a ground breaker 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.

Bog­ga­billa begin­nings

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, 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 full time 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 deal­ers. 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.

Fuel de­mand

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 in to 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 Lowes 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. Broad­acre farm­ers were spread­ing through­out the re­gion, need­ing more and more fuel.

The idea of pick­ing up its own bulk fuel and bring­ing it back to Bog­ga­billa be­gan to make more sense. The other op­tion would play right into one of Lowes’ core traits – cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion.

By pick­ing up bulk loads them­selves they were also able to de­liver di­rect to their cus­tomers; a much more ef­fi­cient and cost­ef­fec­tive sys­tem. Tak­ing it one step fur­ther, Lowes even in­stalled bulk tanks to many of its cus­tomers, en­sur­ing they weren’t caught short.

En­ter stage right – the ‘Mack­nif­i­cant’ 1990 Mack Value­liner. Up un­til the Value­liner’s ar­rival, the Lowes fleet con­sisted of truck and dog con­fig­u­ra­tions – a mix­ture of Macks and their rarely found clone, the Leader. The new Mack got straight into the hard work. Dou­ble shifted right from day dot, the truck was load­ing out of the Bris­bane ter­mi­nal straight back to the new home base of Goondi­windi or di­rectly to cus­tomers. That Mack got the wheels turn­ing rapidly for Lowes.

Since that early 1990s’ in­tro­duc­tion of the Value­liner, the en­tire de­liv­ery process changed for Lowes, and the com­pany’s tra­jec­tory fu­elled sky­wards, go­ing from a small-town dis­trib­u­tor to a com­pany with 46 de­pots through­out Vic­to­ria, NSW and Queens­land. Mix in the re­cent joint ven­ture with BP and Lowes is mov­ing over a bil­lion litres of fuel a year.

Be­tween its own ser­vice sta­tions and keep­ing the juices flow­ing at many BP ser­vice cen­tres, as well as all its other clients on farms, trans­port com­pa­nies, fac­to­ries and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, Lowes just keeps grow­ing. The se­cret to its suc­cess? Talk­ing to chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Bernie Mor­ris, it comes down to two things – peo­ple and prod­uct. Lowes prides it­self on the top qual­ity fuel it de­liv­ers to its cus­tomers. That prod­uct has kept it rolling for over 40 years al­ready.

As for the peo­ple, the ev­i­dence of Lowes’ suc­cess is in the team mem­bers you meet. I ran out of fin­gers and toes count­ing the num­ber of years that Bernie has been wear­ing his Lowes hat and, while there might be less hair un­der it, the pas­sion for the com­pany has seen him rise through the ranks to his cur­rent po­si­tion. Al­though in some parts of the com­pany he’s still classed as a new­bie, Matty Lowe, Norm’s brother, can still be found tin­ker­ing around the Goondi­windi work­shop. Re­tire­ment just isn’t an op­tion when you love what you do.

My tour of the re­built Mack was con­ducted by the ex­tremely wel­com­ing Terry Hartin, who started his Lowes ca­reer in the Value­liner as well. Terry can claim to have put a fair per­cent­age of the nearly 4 mil­lion kilo­me­tres on the Value­liner’s books. His af­fec­tion for the truck is ev­i­dent.

How­ever, what I be­lieve sums up the key to Lowes’ con­tin­u­ing suc­cess is in the lit­tle red In­ter­na­tional sit­ting be­side the big Mack. That truck was fully re­stored by Lowes af­ter be­ing do­nated by Jack Sloan and fam­ily, Lowes’ first NSW cus­tomer more than 40 years ago. Lowes has kept them fu­elled up ever since.

“That Mack got the wheels turn­ing rapidly for Lowes.”

Top right: Terry Hartin clocked up a fair per­cent­age of the Value­liner’s nearly four mil­lion kilo­me­tres at Lowes

Top L to R: Lowes’ first prime mover, the Mack Value­liner, sits proudly be­side the re­stored In­ter­na­tional which be­longed to the com­pany’s first ever NSW cus­tomer, Jack Sloan; While the out­side has had the makeup ap­plied, the 350hp en­gine main­tains its well-trav­elled ap­pear­ance

Above: The clas­sic Mack in­te­rior

Right: The bor­der town Bog­ga­billa – birth­place of Lowes Petroleum Ser­vice

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