Trucking wasn’t always on the cards for Les Blennerhassett. Actually, he fell into it quite unexpectedly.
Les’ family was involved in cattle farming, and after a stint in carpentry, he returned to his farming roots – though he chose bananas instead of cattle and developed a successful banana growing business.
“I started life as a banana farmer. I was using a local contractor to carry my bananas and got tied up with an owner operator who was selling a fridge van,” said Les. Though his initial response was, “I’m a farmer, not a trucker,” he bought the trailer anyway. Without even realising it, that marked the start of what would become a highly successful transport business.
He needed a truck, so he turned to Kenworth dealer Brown and Hurley and bought a brand new T650 in 1988. The salesman who sold him that truck was Tony Burton, who is now dealer principal at Brown and Hurley’s Townsville branch. “The staff at Brown and Hurley are a bit like family, there’s a long relationship there,” said Les, who runs his transport operation with his wife Judy Blennerhassett. They’re also joined by their sons Roger and Ben who have been part of the family business for over 10 years.
Though growth was slow and steady in the early days, business was still picking up. The couple purchased a truck a year for the first five years or so. “It was just something that happened. I had the one truck, then more growers wanted to come on board so I needed to add to the fleet. As more and more customers wanted to come online, I had to buy more trucks,” said Les.
“It was slow growth in the first 10 years but once we got to a size where we could take on major clients and be able to supply trucks every day, that really ramped the business up.”
Over time, transport overtook the company’s farming interests and Les sold off the banana growing side of the business in 2009. Though he’s still involved in cane farming up to this day.
Blenners has many long-term customers that have been with them from the start. “Service and servicing our customers are the number one in our business,” said Les.
For many years, Blenners was focused almost entirely on transporting bananas. Though in 2010 when a cyclone decimated banana supplies, Les and Judy realised they needed to diversify and add other products into the mix. The business went from carting around 120 loads of bananas a week to just four, meaning much of the fleet grinded to a halt.
But by adding mangos, avocados and citrus fruits into the mix, Les and Judy quickly bounced back.
Today, Blenners Transport is the biggest banana, mango, avocado and citrus carrier in Far North Queensland, transporting fruit Australia-wide. It provides freezer, chiller and dry freight services and also transports various food products from the south and into Queensland.
There are now around 160 trucks in the fleet. They’re all Kenworths, and that’s the way it’s always been at Blenners.
The recent purchase of its 300th Kenworth, a feat only ever achieved by a select few, called for a special truck. With Brown and Hurley celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the Brown and Hurley 75th anniversary Diamond Edition T659 fit the bill perfectly. It has been painted in Blenners’ original green colour scheme.
The ‘B&H Diamond’ text laser-cut into the chrome-work hints that this is no run of the mill T659. Only 75 of these limited-edition trucks will be produced, in celebration of the dealer’s milestone anniversary – with all of the orders snapped up within hours and the vast majority already delivered.
With the delivery of its 300th Australian made Kenworth from Brown and Hurley, Blenners Transport now joins the dealership’s ‘Club 300’ – and they’re only the second company to do so, behind Lindsay Transport, which has now surpassed the 400-mark.
Les and Judy were presented with a special plaque during Brown and Hurley’s 75th anniversary dinner in Townsville on Friday June 25.
“Les bought his first Kenworth from us in 1988 and the business grew from there. Blenners is now running about 160 linehaul trucks,” said long-time Kenworth dealer at Brown and Hurley, Jim (JJ) Hurley.
“As I have said many times, a lot of Brown and Hurley’s growth has been driven by the growth of our customers, and the need to service them. Blenners started with one truck and now they’ve just purchased their 300th. We have so many customers like that which have gone on to become major fleets.”
Les was chuffed to be able to purchase his 300th Kenworth. “I guess it’s a bit of an achievement. We’re quite proud that we’ve got to 300 Kenworths. There’s not many in that category, so it’s a great achievement for a family-owned business,” he said.
As part of Brown and Hurley’s recent 75th anniversary celebrations, the dealership held various events throughout June. At the Townsville branch open day, Les Blenner brought along one of his first Kenworth T650s, which has been fully restored. “He’s done a marvellous job of it too,” said Hurley.
The 1993 model T650 was the fifth Kenworth to be purchased by Blenners and Les has had the truck in his possession since brand new. “The first truck I ever purchased was sold and involved in a roll-over and got written-off, so we couldn’t get the first truck, but this one is the same model and has similar specs to that first one,” said Les.
“It was restored in-house with our workshop and paint team. We started from brand new chassis rails from PACCAR and then lots of new stuff was put back into it. It took about 18 months to restore.”
The restored T650 was at the Brisbane Truck Show in May, at the Townsville Brown and Hurley branch in June and will head to the Kenworth Dealer Hall of Fame in August, before returning to Blenners.
Looking ahead, Blenners has more Kenworths that will soon join the fleet, with the business purchasing about 20 new trucks each year.
Catering to its growth, the company’s eight Queensland depots will also soon increase to 10, with new facilities in Cairns and Mackay on the cards, as well as an extension of the existing Brisbane depot.