Father and son pave the way for timber salvage

“I think the handpiece on the UHF might just about melt today,” quipped Ken Crockett as he anticipated plenty of radio and vehicular traffic along some of the remote roads and bush tracks in the Victorian high country.

Leading his team of truck drivers and plant operators from local company Tallangatta Construction and Maintenance (TCM), Ken was overseeing the final stages of a roadwork contract in the range of mountains above Corryong in north-east Victoria, which had seen five of the TCM’s fleet of Mack tippers and Cat earthmoving gear on the go for a number of weeks.

Following the devastating fires at the start of 2020 in the Upper Murray region, the push is on to salvage the burnt timber out of the mountains, and as such, a number of the logging tracks in the area needed to be upgraded to cope with the increased volume of traffic and allow for B-doubles to operate efficiently.

Taking on a contract to crush, haul, spread and roll 20,000 tonnes of road materials, along with associated roadworks, the TCM operations were centred around a quarry on Dunstan’s Road up on the Pinnibar Range.

Working alongside Ken as part of the team is his son Ben, each taking the wheel of one of the TCM Super-Liners and Cat loader as the job neared its completion.

The Cat 962 makes the job of loading the TCM Super-Liners an easy one.

Having shifted dirt and been around machinery all his working life, Ken has been an integral part of the TCM business for the last 24 years, and after completing an apprenticeship with Westrac, Ben joined TCM and has clocked up 17 years working alongside his father.

With the exception of a CH model, the remainder of the TCM fleet is made up of Super-Liners.

“If it’s not a Mack, it’s not part of the crew,” said Ken firmly.

Having run R-Models and Value Liners over the years the company has added more trucks as the business expanded.

“When Ben came here, we had some old trucks at the time and he said, ‘we need better trucks and less of them’, but as we have gone along, we have got better trucks and more of them!” he said with a smile.

All the Macks are Cummins powered, with the exception of Ken’s truck and the float truck which have Cat powerplants, and all the trucks have been purchased with a heavy-duty specification to cope with the terrain and the working environment.

“We buy them second-hand and have found log trucks are spec’d pretty well for our job – they have good running gear on them, and they suit our applications pretty well – also working them as a truck and dog unit they are more versatile,” explained Ben.

Having taken on the contract on behalf of the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and VicForests, considerable planning around traffic management was required to ensure the job ran safely and smoothly, given the number of truck movements by both the roading crew and logging trucks, along with delivering the right result for all parties.

“It’s been a bit of juggling act determining what sections to work on to work around the log trucks, we don’t want to hold them up and we don’t want to be held up either – Owen Lord from DELWP works very well at what he does along with Ian Kelly from Vic Forests- they work well together and we are very fortunate to have a couple of overseers who know what they are doing, it’s good to work with these guys and if there’s a problem we can fix it and move on,” explained Ken.

With both tipper units loaded Ken headed out from the quarry along Dunstan’s Road with Ben close behind, with the tip-off point 14 kilometres away on Walker’s Road.

Towing a three-axle dog, Ken was up around 30 tonnes, with Ben out to 35-tonne with his Super-Liner towing a quad dog.

Kicking up the dust along the road, Ken’s prediction about the heavy radio traffic rang true with the UHF crackling as trucks radioed their positions along the bush tracks.

“I marked a few trees where there are some passing bays along the road before we started so you can call in whereabouts you are at,” he said.

True to form with a call over the radio he pulled to the wrong side of the road to allow firstly a loaded Kenworth log truck past and a bit further on one of the other TCM units.

Both Macks made good time to the tip-off point where Chris Robbins was waiting with the grader, along with Gary Enever on the roller to complete to job.

For Chris, the job up in the mountains driving the grader had made a pleasant change doing roadworks on the main roads.

“I love it out here in the bush, it’s better than B-doubles whizzing past you on the highway! It’s been a big job averaging around 1000 tonne a day – when we were back closer to the quarry it was up over 2000 tonne a day, but it’s been good, with working on the fires and now this we have had a busy year,” he said.

Tipping off was a simple process as Ken first unloaded the dog before pulling forward and repeating the process with the truck. With Chris waiting, the grader and roller soon worked their magic before Ben pulled in with his outfit and the process was repeated.

Heading back to the quarry for another load Ken was looking forward to the completion of the contract, with only around another half day needed to haul the rest of the road material out along Walkers Road.

With the crusher having been sent back to the main TCM quarry at Georges Creek, the  TCM bulldozer and excavator had also been shifted further out to start on another job for Vic Forests at Mt Boebuck, and as a result Ken reckoned his crew would be keeping busy out and about in the mountains for a few more weeks to follow.

Back home at Tallangatta he lives on 20 acres and he has a couple of classic Holdens in the garage including a 1956 FJ Holden which was restored over 13 years, but it would seem retirement is not on the agenda in the short term.

As he changed gear and the Mack growled along the road he nodded looking out the window at the view of the mountains he said with a smile: “You could retire but why would you when you could be out working in this?”

And with TCM chalking up 25 years of operation recently, it has been a rewarding and satisfying adventure for Ken.

“It has been a tremendous journey – wherever the work is we will go, and we will do what we can for our clients. To be able to be in the business and have your son working alongside you it’s pretty good – it doesn’t get any better.”

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