In every direction from the remote high country Victorian township of Omeo, the roads out go up over a range of mountains or along a river valley, with the annual variations in weather keeping road crews busy keeping the roads open and maintained.
Based just outside of Omeo, Bernard Flannagan is one such operator who undertakes numerous road maintenance and earthmoving projects and, along with wife Brenda and son Jake, have built up their business since its inception in 1984.
Today, along with a variety of earthmoving gear, BJ & BM Flannagan run five trucks in their fleet, with their original truck purchase, a 1975 Kenworth K-Series cab-over still on duty as required.
Coming from a farming background, and with considerable experience at the controls of a bulldozer, Bernard moved out into the world of earthmoving, working around the Omeo district on a variety of projects.
As the business grew, a truck soon became a necessity, with Bernard purchasing his first Kenworth off a local trucking operator who was winding up their business.
“I bought the old Kenworth off Andersons Transport of Benambra,” he said.
“Clive Anderson used to drive it. I put a bogie float behind it to cart the dozer around. As time went on we were doing more projects for the local shire and DELWP (Department of Environment Land Water and Planning) doing roadworks and needing to cart gravel, so we bought an International S-Line gravel truck.”
Working across a wide area as the business grew, more trucks were soon on the agenda with Bernard looking for a truck which would stand up to the rough treatment which would be metered out in the mountainous environment, which culminated in the purchase of a Kenworth T904 as a replacement for the K -Series float truck.
“A long time ago I had a bit of a vision that I would like to buy one of them (T904) when one came up for sale and that’s what happened in 2009.
“I bought one off Max Radford at Trafalgar, and a couple of years ago I managed to buy the sister truck to it – they came off the line one after the other. Max Radford had them built as log trucks, so they are identical except one has a bull bar.”
Both Kenworths are stirred along by Caterpillar C-15s which he holds in high regard.
“They are a good big strong motor which will go all day with 550 horsepower, cross-locks and what have you, so they are perfect for pulling a dozer up and down the forest roads. The Kenworth with a C15 is the ideal truck to do it.”
With one T904 towing the float and the other running as a truck-and dog tipper, and with the International having a bulk water tank fitted in 2019, the Flanagan’s purchased a T404 SAR and dog trailer to bolster the gravel cartage side.
All the trucks in the operation are solid performers with Bernard having only good things to say about both the International and the Kenworth’s which have served them well over the years.
“The old S-Line has been a fantastic truck. It’s an ex-Boral tipper unit. It has double skin rails in the chassis and is nearly indestructible and I quite like the Kenworth’s, they are good heavy trucks.
“The old cab-over Kenworth sits in the shed a bit but is still registered, we pull a little digger around and do the little jobs with it, so the old girl still gets and about,” he said with a smile.
Having worked as far afield as Yarram and Maffra in western Gippsland in the past, the Flannagan operation today covers a wide area to Orbost and the NSW border and up into the Snowy River country, including annual grading and gravelling jobs on the infamous McKillops Bridge Road.
“We pick up work through the bush, anywhere from Bairnsdale to Corryong and right around to Mt Hotham and Dargo,” he said.
The company undertakes roading work for DELWP, and the local shire along with environmental work for the local Catchment Management Authority.
Summer is also a busy time on standby for firefighting duty with DELWP, with the 2019-2020 black summer fires in the Upper Murray and East Gippsland stretching the resources and keeping the T904 and float particularly busy.
“We were floating dozers over to Eskdale to Corryong through the bush, wherever there were fires we got called to, we were out for weeks and putting in long days at the time,” he reflected.
Today, Bernard reckons his operation is at a decent size, and good, solid second-hand trucks have all played their part in building the business which it seems will be staying on the books for some time yet.
“We all keep pretty busy, and our trucks are a very important part of what we do, otherwise we have to call on other contractors and they are always busy.
“But as things go by you see opportunities, you just start off small, slowly build the business up and make it happen!”