A retirement of a different kind

Kelvyn and Shirley Fuller may have recently closed the doors to K&S Fuller Transport, but the name carries on, with one very special truck.

You see for Kelvyn, now aged 78, trucks have been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. He was already starting to hone his truck driving skills, under the direction of his father, before he could even reach the pedals. “This is not a job,” he said. “It’s a disease!

“I’d go out with Dad all the time so I could drive the truck home. I was driving on the Hume Highway without a licence from the time I was about 17. I’d pull up at the weigh bridges and they’d ask to check my logbook, but no one ever asked me for my licence.

The couple at Kelvyn’s 21st birthday.

“In the old days, it was great to be on the road, everyone was mates and pals. Even if you didn’t know their real name, we made up names and that’s what we knew them as.”

Kelvyn and Shirley started K&S Fuller Transport at Peak Hill in central NSW in 1966, with just one truck – a Leyland Comet. When asked how he initially got into transport, Kelvyn laughed, “I blame my father for it. He was mainly doing road building and farm work; and my brother Stanley and I drove the dozers and tip trucks. Dad bought the Comet when I was a kid and it just sat in the shed. After Shirley and I got married, I told my father I wanted to buy the truck so I could cart wheat. That’s where it all started,” he explained. 

One truck grew to two; the second truck was an International, which was used to cart livestock.

“When we had our son and daughter, I said to my wife, ‘how are our kids ever going to find a job in this little town once they finish school’. So we moved interstate, partially for our children’s futures as well better work opportunities.”

They purchased their first brand new truck, named ‘Miss Kelly’ in 1972.

The couple moved to south-east Queensland in 1973, where Kelvyn began working as a sub-contractor, running from Brisbane out into western Queensland, and as far as Roma. In 1988, with the fleet growing, they established a depot in Hemmant, which was their home base until 2022. 

Shirley was always part of the business, initially doing the bookwork for the company as well as keeping Kelvyn fed and clothed. The size of the fleet outgrew the original depot and necessitated a move to a larger property, also in Hemmant, in early 2022. 

Over the years the company grew and expanded. At its height, the business was running a fleet of 23 trucks and around 30 trailers, largely servicing western and northern Queensland, primarily carrying chilled freight with custom built split system trailers. The main customers included grocery and convenience stores (e.g. IGA, Drakes, Foodworks) in outback towns. They were also able to keep smaller customers in the same towns supplied, including restaurants, clubs, pubs and butchers – sometimes with as little as one or two cartons. 

For some of the smaller towns it was a big event when the K&S Transport truck pulled in.

Additionally, they serviced a number of McDonald’s stores, through a contract with Martin Brower, in northern NSW, and western and northern Queensland. The twice weekly run from Brisbane to Roma, Mt Isa and Charters Towers is the second longest McDonald’s route in the world (the longest is believed to be in Canada).  

Though Kelvyn didn’t want to retire, with Shirley’s support he knew the time was right.

But recently, Kelvyn and Shirley made the heart wrenching decision to close their business and retire – well, sort of.

Kelvyn had been driving trucks almost on a daily basis up until earlier this year, so it was hard to give trucking up altogether. “I always had my bag at work ready to go, so if someone didn’t turn up, I’d hit the road,” he said.

“It was a tough decision because there are a lot of customers we’ve had for 40 years.

“I felt like it was important work to be able to supply all these stores with the goods they needed. I didn’t want to give it up. But my doctor told me that if I don’t stop doing what I’m doing, I’ll end up in a wheelchair – so I thought it was time. I gave all our workers and customers three months’ notice. 

“I also had my own truck that I drove for a long time. It was a Kenworth K200 that was about 15 years old. That was the oldest truck we had. They only let me drive the old ones – they say I don’t look the part in the new ones!

“I didn’t want to retire, I’m embedded in the game.

“But my son and daughter didn’t want to carry on with the business, and with recent world events and a subsequent shortage of drivers, it was getting harder to fulfill our commitments. Having said that, we have had an excellent core group of staff who have been with us for many years and who have represented the company with pride, and helped establish our good reputation in the community.”

All of the company’s trucks were put under the hammer in early February, except for one, a brand spanking new Kenworth Legend SAR, with all the bells and whistles. It’s modelled on the iconic Kenworth W900SAR, built and sold in Australia from 1975 until 1985.

The new Kenworth Legend SAR travels between Brisbane and Far North Queensland and is driven by Mark Gaedtke, one of the company’s longest serving drivers.

“The Legend SAR looks exactly like the old models from a distance but it’s not the same of course. I purchased that truck when I was in a state of despair and I needed cheering up!” he joked.

Kelvyn ordered the truck back on July 8, 2021, when the limited edition rig went on sale for one day only, in celebration of Kenworth’s 50 years of manufacturing trucks in Australia.

Of course, at the time, Kelvyn and Shirley hadn’t yet cemented any retirement plans. 

“My wife asked why I was keeping that truck and what I was going to do with it. We live in Bulimba now and there’s all these flashy four-wheel drives around. So I told her I was going to take my flashy truck out on the weekend to buy the paper and some bread!” 

Though that’s not quite the case. The new truck has been put straight to work. It was delivered earlier this year and travels between Brisbane and Far North Queensland. But it isn’t Kelvyn who’s behind the wheel. 

Instead, it’s long-time K&S Transport driver Mark ‘Jumbo’ Gaedtke, 69, who steers the new beast. “He’s been here a long time, just about as long as me,” said Kelvyn. “Everyone who has driven the Legend SAR tells me it’s absolutely beautiful to drive. Jumbo is in it all the time now. He’s like me, he has the disease and can’t stop. For the past five years I’ve been asking when he plans to retire and he says that as long as he’s healthy enough to do it, he’ll keep going. Trucks have come a long way, they’re easier to drive and a lot more comfortable now.” 

The first time Kelvyn actually drove his new Legend SAR was for our photo shoot.

In fact, the first time Kelvyn had the pleasure of driving his new truck was when he drove it down to Gibson Island for a photoshoot for this article!

There were also two older show trucks that didn’t make it to auction either, a 1977 Kenworth cabover and a 1986 Kenworth SAR. Instead Kelvyn and Shirley passed them onto their nephew Jason Fuller, who runs a service workshop.

Kelvyn and Shirley passed this classic 1977 Kenworth cabover onto their nephew.

“Jason has driven for us a fair bit over the years, especially over the last few years when I’ve been short on drivers,” said Kelvyn. “He has the bug too. He’s spent many hours on the old SAR and the cabover, which I used to drive. It looks better now than when I started driving it 30 years ago. I keep joking that it looks so good, I might get back into interstate!”

Though it’s just the one actively working truck Kelvyn has in his possession at present, he’s hoping it’ll soon be two. “I also have another SAR getting fixed at the moment because it was damaged by the floods in Rocklea about a year ago. The water went up to the roof. I still want to get that back one day.”

Over the years the K&S Transport trucks have been a familiar sight in outback Queensland, and at times have proved a lifeline for communities affected by floods, cyclones, bushfires, drought and whatever other disasters have been thrown their way. They have bent over backwards to ensure they could continue to supply their customers with what they needed. Kelvyn has always gone a step beyond and has made many lasting friendships with his customers, to the extent that he and Shirley have been invited to weddings, parties, birthdays, golf tournaments and other social activities that exemplify the bond he has created with his loyal customers. 

Kelvyn and Shirley will be missed in the industry, and particularly in the numerous rural and remote communities they serviced throughout Queensland.

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