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For­mer cut­ting quar­ter horse rider Justin Clein prefers trucks with bon­nets, es­pe­cially those of the Bull­dog va­ri­ety

Justin Clein prefers trucks with bon­nets, es­pe­cially those of the Bull­dog va­ri­ety. War­ren Aitken chats to the for­mer cut­ting quar­ter horse rider and now heavy haulage op­er­a­tor

IT’S 1AM AND AS QUIET as a Mar­cel Marceau con­cert. For an ex­press run­ner, it’s about half time. For an Uber driver? Not so good. On this par­tic­u­lar day, how­ever, I had to drag my sorry butt out of bed in or­der to go and grab some pho­tos of the well-oiled Clein Group rigs putting in the hard yards. I’ve al­ways had a lot of ad­mi­ra­tion for those in the heavy haulage sec­tor of our in­dus­try. It’s one of those spe­cial­ties where your pa­tience, your at­ten­tion to de­tail and your skill lev­els are stepped up a notch. Con­sid­er­ing my pa­tience runs out while wait­ing on two-minute noo­dles, it’s not sur­pris­ing I’ve never dipped my fin­gers into that pie.

I do like watch­ing the pro­fes­sion­als at work though, and in or­der to get some sit down time with the man be­hind Clein Group, I had to start my day at that mag­i­cal 1am times­lot.

Ea­gle Farm in Bris­bane was my des­ti­na­tion to catch up with Justin Clein. While I wan­dered around try­ing to snap some pho­tos of Clein’s im­mac­u­late 2013 Mack Ti­tan, Justin (who would be driv­ing the Ti­tan) was busy do­ing all the things that have made Clein Group such a suc­cess. Check­ing the load, run­ning through the game plan, check­ing the load again and pay­ing close at­ten­tion to ev­ery de­tail to en­sure ev­ery­thing would run smoothly.

Sit­ting on the MTE 6x8 plat­form and 2x8 dolly be­hind Justin’s Ti­tan was a 12-me­tre long, 5-me­tre high and 75-tonne Tren­cor bucket wheel trencher.

Once Justin pulled the Ti­tan out onto the road, a sec­ond truck was at­tached to as­sist the load up over the Gate­way Bridge. That job was taken care of by an­other fel­low, Dar­ling Downs con­trac­tor Steve Joyce, driv­ing an ex-Clein 2013 Su­per-Liner.

With a com­bined 1,285hp, the Gate­way Bridge was merely an ex­ag­ger­ated speed bump for the team, who would con­nect again at the bot­tom of the Toowoomba Range for the same push pull ma­noeu­vre.

While the sight of the two mighty Macks scal­ing the Gate­way Bridge was im­pres­sive, I found the in­tri­cacy and pre­ci­sion through sub­ur­ban roads to be the high­light of the day. Once again, I’ve had the priv­i­lege of watch­ing sev­eral heavy and wide loads move and the skill lev­els in­volved still gar­ners my ad­mi­ra­tion.

Once we made it to Toowoomba, the home base for Clein Group, the mighty Ti­tan was un-hooked and com­pany driver Matt Wy­att hitched his FH16 Volvo un­der the trencher. Matt would con­tinue out to Roma to de­liver the load be­fore head­ing south for his next job while Justin and I headed back to the de­pot to find out how he went from rid­ing cut­ting quar­ter horses in the United States to run­ning a suc­cess­ful heavy haulage com­pany.

Up on the farm

Clein Group’s yard on the Dar­ling Downs is right out the front of Justin’s fam­ily home. His lovely wife Loretta and their three girls are never far away from the trucks. Look out the front win­dow and the view is full of big red trucks. Look out the back win­dow and the big red trucks are re­placed by big an­gry longhorns. The fam­ily farm en­sures there is very lit­tle down­time avail­able to Justin or Loretta.

The six-truck fleet is dom­i­nated by the Bull­dog brand. “I’ve

“I’ve al­ways been around trucks in some way, shape or form.”

al­ways loved Macks, es­pe­cially the V8s,” Justin ad­mits. That V8 ad­dic­tion is fu­elled by the im­mac­u­late 1987 Mk II Su­per-Liner. It may look like a show truck, but it still earns its keep.

The fleet has peaked at much higher num­bers though. Since Justin first be­gan al­most a decade ago he has rid­den the waves of cus­tomer de­mand in both num­bers and di­ver­sity be­fore find­ing a com­fort­able niche that now drives Clein Group.

“I’ve al­ways been around trucks in some way, shape or form,” Justin con­fesses. Grow­ing up around cen­tral Queens­land and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, Justin’s par­ents were run­ning trucks do­ing gen­eral earth­mov­ing work. Justin learnt how to get his hands dirty fairly early.

The only break from the in­dus­try came when Justin was in his late teens and he had the op­por­tu­nity to travel to the US and work with some train­ers rid­ing cut­ting quar­ter horses. He learnt from the world’s best be­fore re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia in 1996.

The next decade or so saw him gain in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence in all facets of busi­ness. Justin spent time work­ing in the mines, do­ing ev­ery­thing from dozer driv­ing to dragline op­er­at­ing. He pro­gressed fur­ther up the chain into a su­per­vi­sory role be­fore be­com­ing part of a busi­ness ad­vi­sory team, which al­lowed him to see the cogs be­hind the wheels of big busi­ness.

“It was a big change; I did strug­gle with it a bit, be­ing in the of­fice wholly and solely,” Justin re­calls.

“I did learn a lot though, a lot about big busi­ness and how they struc­ture things.”

It was af­ter this that Justin de­cided to start Clein Ex­ca­va­tions and Tip­per Hire.

“When I started I just en­vi­sioned be­ing an owner-op­er­a­tor,” he tells me. “In six months we had three em­ploy­ees then, in the peak of it, prob­a­bly 2014 to 2015, we had 50-odd staff.”

That suc­cess was on the coat­tails of Chin­chilla’s gas boom. At the time, Clein Ex­ca­va­tions and Tip­per Hire were in­stru­men­tal in pre­par­ing and es­tab­lish­ing lease pads and road con­struc­tion for the gas in­dus­try. Like any boom though it even­tu­ally slowed down. With that came a change of di­rec­tion for Clein.

Per­mit prob­lems

Clein Ex­ca­va­tions and Tip­per Hire mor­phed into Clein Group and Justin found him­self trans­port­ing other peo­ple’s equip­ment rather than his own. His rep­u­ta­tion had be­come

well known for get­ting to job­sites on time. That rep­u­ta­tion en­sured a solid client base ea­ger to em­ploy his ser­vices.

With his trusty Cat-pow­ered 2006 Su­per­liner, Justin set about se­cur­ing his niche in the heavy haulage mar­ket. From one truck he has grown to six, man­ag­ing to keep him­self busy in an in­dus­try where the reg­u­la­tions make it tougher for those do­ing things right.

“The per­mit sys­tem is one of our big­gest is­sues, es­pe­cially com­ing out of Bris­bane as it can take three to four weeks to ob­tain a per­mit,” Justin ex­claims as he points out the fi­nan­cial strain that this places on his busi­ness as well as his cus­tomers.

“De­layed per­mits can cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars or more very quickly.”

With per­mits an un­avoid­able is­sue in heavy haulage, Justin has had to deal with ev­ery level of the sys­tem over the years. From the of­fice per­son­nel han­dling per­mits, to the of­fi­cers tasked with en­forc­ing the sys­tem, he’s ob­served how un­nec­es­sar­ily dif­fi­cult their jobs are as well.

“It’s a shitty per­mit sys­tem, but it’s what we have,” Justin points out. He re­it­er­ates that the peo­ple within the sys­tem are great but it’s the sys­tem it­self that fails. The lack of an across­the-board na­tional per­mit sys­tem is a busi­ness killer.

To do ev­ery­thing by the rule book and fol­low the reg­u­la­tions costs a lot of money, es­pe­cially given the new Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity rules. Most per­mits can take up to 28 days, so op­er­a­tors and clients alike never really know when they will be ap­proved. The trucks can be sit­ting idle for days or weeks await­ing ap­proval. It’s that un­cer­tainty that hurts the trans­port op­er­a­tor and the client. Clein, like most heavy haulage op­er­a­tors, has in­vested solidly in the cur­rent sys­tem, but also see how changes to it will ben­e­fit ev­ery­one.

Justin be­lieves it needs to be sim­pli­fied as he ex­plained the process of pe­riod and sin­gle trip per­mits or the need for each ap­pli­ca­tion to go through each coun­cil. Mean­while, I just sat there look­ing like a dog try­ing to do al­ge­bra.

Clein Group now has a ded­i­cated lady with the tol­er­ance to ne­go­ti­ate the paralysing per­mit dance. It hasn’t sped up the process, but it’s made Justin’s life eas­ier.

Cab com­fort

When it comes to the trucks, it’s all about the Bull­dog and the bon­net. Three Su­per-Lin­ers, a Ti­tan and a CHR Mack dom­i­nate

“The best way for us to man­age fa­tigue is to give our drivers the most com­fort­able cab.”

the fleet. There is the one cab-over though, the FH Volvo. While a cab-over is def­i­nitely a cost re­ducer, sav­ing thou­sands on pi­lot ve­hi­cles with a shorter com­bi­na­tion length, Justin is a firm be­liever in do­ing what he can to man­age his drivers’ fa­tigue.

“You just can’t send a driver away for maybe three weeks with such a small cab,” Justin states. “The best way for us to man­age fa­tigue is to give our drivers the most com­fort­able cab.” Hence his pref­er­ence for the bon­neted Macks.

He be­lieves if the govern­ment is se­ri­ous about man­ag­ing driver fa­tigue then it needs to look at al­low­ing peo­ple to have trucks with de­cent bunks to ac­com­mo­date lengthy stays away.

Time away from home goes with­out say­ing for the heavy haulage drivers. The shiny red trucks of Clein Group can be seen among the Vic­to­rian and North­ern Ter­ri­tory land­scapes as well as ev­ery cor­ner of Queens­land and New South Wales.

How­ever, the work­load is at a point where Justin is now able to spend more time at home run­ning the busi­ness.

“We’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to grow again,” he ad­mits, “but we don’t want to do it for the sake of grow­ing.” Justin’s pref­er­ence is to so­lid­ify his com­pany and en­sure he’s of­fer­ing the best ser­vice to his cus­tomers.

“If you’ve got qual­ity equip­ment, qual­ity staff and a good safety record it at­tracts a cer­tain type of cus­tomer.”

Above: While it has a show-pony ap­pear­ance, Clein Group’s 1987 Mk II Su­per-Liner earns its keepOp­po­site top & be­low: The Ti­tan hauls a 75-tonne Tren­cor bucket wheel trencher up the Toowoomba range; At home on the Dar­ling Downs: Clein Group’s im­mac­u­late 2013 Ti­tan

Be­low: The Volvo takes overOp­po­site be­low: Flash­back to mid2017: Clein’s FH16 Volvo hauls a World War 2 Cari­bou along Bris­bane’s Gate­way Bridge. Justin Clein says it was one of his more chal­leng­ing shifts

Above: An ex-Clein’s 2013 Su­per­Liner (left), now owned by Dar­ling Downs’ con­trac­tor Steve Joyce, adds its mus­cle for the big move

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