Gold Coast fleet embarks on its final run

Struggling to find enough drivers, this transport operator often had to fill in the gaps himself – but as the doors close, he’s looking forward to a change of pace.

Second generation truckie and transport operator Karl Thomas, 44, got the trucking bug early on, following in the footsteps of his father.

“Dad had two trucks, and funnily enough, it was driver troubles that got me into this industry in the first place,” said Thomas. “He had a driver blow up both his trucks in the space of a week, so we picked them up and did rebuilds on them that, in hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have done. That got us going again. We actually saw one of those trucks, a Kenworth T600, hauling loads around Brisbane years later and Dad said it was the best truck he had ever owned.

“Dad had trucks from before he was married and before us kids came along. He started in the early 70s in Perth, during the mining boom, and that’s where he met Mum.”

The company’s primary operations revolved around transporting produce to the markets.

Thomas got his truck licence when he was 19 and after a few years of driving for his father, the T600 was traded in so he could get a truck of his own. 

That was in 2002 and was a K100E, which he still has today. “A mate bought it off me when I moved to Perth, then I bought it back off him,” Thomas said.

And with that Karl’s Transport was born. 

During the years that ensued, he sub-contracted to numerous companies – they included Sneath’s Transport, Harris Refrigerated, Wickham Freight Lines and HPS Transport.

It was some years before Thomas bought his second truck, eventually growing his fleet to 14 trucks and 20 trailers, carrying mainly fresh produce to the major markets, along with servicing contracts to cart fresh fish and tyres.

The Karl’s Transport depot is located in Alberton on the Gold Coast, with five of his trucks based in Adelaide. The trucks ran across Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Thomas is originally from Murray Bridge, SA, and that was where he started in trucks before moving to Perth and eventually Queensland. “I caught the mining boom in Perth, which is what really put me on my feet. In a few years I was able to pay off a new Kenworth and a house. From there, I moved to North Queensland and began transporting bananas for Blenners Transport.”

Unfortunately though, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. With bananas being his main workload, Cyclone Yasi, which hit in early 2011, delivered a devastating blow. “I had just bought my own trailers to do the bananas – and then there was a year of no bananas. It was HPS Transport that helped me through that rough period. They treated me like family and kept the work coming in. From 2012 is when I was really able to start growing the business,” Thomas explained. 

Karl’s Transport was going from strength to strength, but then when Covid hit, so too did the struggles to find good drivers, which ultimately led to Thomas’ decision to close up and sell off his fleet.

The fleet of 14 trucks ran across Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

“In the end, that was the real reason I’ve decided to pack up. I couldn’t get enough drivers, especially in Adelaide. I had a young bloke over there work for me for a day and he did really well. I flew over to interview him for the job and he didn’t even turn up,” he explained.

“I need to have a fair bit of trust in my Adelaide drivers because I don’t have a depot there so the drivers take the trucks home. I got to a point where I was flying to Adelaide for two weeks out of four to fill in the gaps, and then I was coming back here running trailers in from Gatton overnight.

“I was pretty worn out with what I was doing, and my family were pretty keen for me to get out too but it’s a hard thing to do. I’ve been really happy with the guys I do have, I had such a great crew but just didn’t have enough of them in the end. I was filling in the gaps myself while trying to run the business and do all the admin and paperwork too.”

When asked abouts his thoughts around fixing the driver shortage issue, he said, “If there was a solution I’d still be operating. I think Australia is in trouble. This is where it’s ended up.”

Thomas says he had been contemplating closing the business for the past 18 months and felt that now the timing was right. “I was watching second hand truck prices, which are doing really well at the moment. I felt like I could work for another five years but then if second hand prices go down, I wouldn’t be any better off.”

All but one of the Karl’s Transport trucks will be up for grabs at an auction hosted by Ritchie Bros., with Thomas holding on to his 1997 Kenworth T601. 

An interesting truck that’ll go under the hammer is a brand new and unused 2023 Kenworth W900SAR Legend, which he purchased when the limited edition model went on sale for one day only nearly two years ago, in July 2021. “That was supposed to be here 12 months ago, so it’s 12 months late. It’ll be the shortest time I’ve ever owned a truck. I picked it up on May 13 and had it listed in the Ritchie Bros. auction on May 16,” said Thomas.

The depot was based on the Gold Coast, with some of the trucks also based in Adelaide.

Looking to the future, he revealed it won’t be long before he’s back behind the wheel, “I plan to do some sub-contracting but want to have a bit of a holiday first. I won’t be working as hard as I was, I’ll work when I want to. Driving trucks is something I’ve always loved doing, so I’m looking forward to being able to do it without the pressure – and turning the phone off when I go to bed will be a nice change.

“In the truck, you can hit the open road, turn the music up, and you get to see Australia for better or worse, through floods and through drought. You can also surround yourself with the right people – and there are a lot of good people in this industry.”

For now, however, Thomas is looking froward to an upcoming motorbike tour he’s booked, that’ll travel between Alice Springs and Birdsville, an outback town on the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert in Queensland. “That’ll fill in the gaps of places I haven’t seen while driving a truck. I also have a 1979 Toyota Landcruiser that Dad gave me, so I’ll do some camping and catch up with family too. My brother and sisters have kids who I’ve barely seen because I’ve been so busy running this business. I’m looking forward to being able to spend some time with them.”

The Karl’s Transport fleet will be auctioned through Ritchie Bros. National Unreserved EOFY Auction on June 21-22. The auction event will be held exclusively online and interested buyers are urged to register to bid via the website, with bidding opening on Saturday, June 17. 

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