You could excuse general manager Adam Ross if he was a little apprehensive when handing over the keys to veteran company driver Glen Bussey for his first test spin.
It’s not the first Mack the family-owned Martins Stock Haulage has had since launching in 1958, not by a longshot, and there are a handful more bulldogs due to roll through the gate later this year.
But the new 685hp Super-Liner is the only outsider amongst 85 beloved Kenworths at Martins, and with its spectacular pink livery, a tribute to all the women in the transport industry, it stands out like few other rigs on the road.
It didn’t take long, however, for Bussey to be won over by the new arrival.
“He jumped out of the truck and all he said was, ‘Holy wow’, so that’s a pretty good indication,” says former truckie Ross, who was also “blown away” by his first short drives from Toowoomba to Martins’ biggest depot at Oakey.
“He’s tickled pink about it, no pun intended, and he’s a role model for the company.
“We’re expecting to get a lot of people approaching him with questions and asking to have photos taken with the truck.
“The pink Mack is a statement of our belief in and support for the women in our company and in the transport industry as a whole, and it will be taking that message everywhere we operate.”
By the time you read this, Bussey should have had plenty of practice spreading the word.
The truck – dubbed The Women in Industry Mack – is already earning its keep, travelling the length and breadth of the country carting cattle in its new “blinged-up” triple road train set of trailers from Rytrans Manufacturing.
A pink truck dedicated to “all the great women” in the business was something that Ross and Martins CEO Jason Martin had spoken about for a long time. Fifteen of the 120 staff at Martins are female with more than 100 years of combined experience in the industry.
With truck supply challenges in play during Covid-19, Ross and Martin struck up a conversation with a salesman at the Western Truck Group in Toowoomba and the stars began to align.
“He said have you ever thought about doing something, a pink one, and I said, ‘Yes, we have but we’d never got back to it’.
“We had a chat, and we thought, ‘you know what, we’re going to do this’. That’s how the whole thing started.”
With many amazing women spread throughout the Martins staff roster right up to the senior level, Ross said going pink was an easy decision to make in the end.
“We wanted to recognise them, not only for being women in a male-dominated industry, but also because all the women in our business are there on their own merits; they’re the best people for that job.
“We didn’t want it to be a pink la-di-da truck, it was always meant to mean something. As a business, we’re very, very proud of what we put out, and the more it got spoken about, the more we thought we’d step outside our business and recognise the great women in transport and agriculture sector as a whole.”
The support has been phenomenal, adds Ross, with the truck a star attraction at both the Women in Lot Feeding Ball and more recently the Queensland Trucking Association’s 2023 Road Freight Awards.
“It’s an absolute head-turner. There are more photos of this truck being taken than anything else.”
Women in Lot Feeding and the QTA are proud supporters – and role models for Martins – and were quick to add their logos to the back of the Mack cab, along with Transport Women Australia Ltd and many others from the agriculture sector.
“The other companies [whose logos adorn the truck] are our 10 biggest corporate customers and they also wanted to throw their weight behind this great cause.”
Each supplier involved in the project also added their unique touch: the painting and the mural supplied by Bel Air Truck Spray Painting, the chrome and lights from Bling HQ, finishing scrollwork from Signs ‘N’ Lines, while Ultimate Shine Metal Polishing put the final finish on it.
Martins is now hopeful that the end result will help entice new faces into the business, one of the largest of its kind in Australia with depots in Oakey in Queensland, and Scone and Dubbo in NSW running prime movers in every config- uration up to triple road trains into some of the remotest corners of Australia.
The livestock operations alone cover all of eastern Australia, from western Queensland to South Australia, while they also have tankers carrying dangerous goods for the mines in WA.
Ross believes the female driver pool is still largely untapped and he’s aiming to get the ratio up 35 per cent at Martins.
“It’s a tough one, but as an employer, first we have to make it a safe working place.
“I think also it’s a bit of a blend of the culture we have here at Martins. We’re a family-owned business, 65 years [in business] this year.
“We also have to get the home life/work life balance right to keep or trucks full, which is something we work very hard on.”
For the right person, the financial rewards are industry-leading, upwards of $150,000 a year, but Ross concedes that it’s not just about being able to drive a truck.
“You can teach a stock man to drive a truck, but you sometimes have a lot of trouble teaching a truck driver to work stock. It’s not something that everyone can do, and it’s quite physical.
“If you’re in the middle of summer loading cattle at Winton, you’re working pretty hard.
“It’s a whole heap of different transport industries rolled into one operator. It’s also about work ethic, personality, and resilience.
“If you’ve got those attributes, you’ve got the job with us, whether you’re a man or woman.”
Ross says young drivers are the future of the industry, but it can’t be left up to the operators alone to solve the shortage issue.
“The associations are doing all this framework around driver apprenticeships, well the insurance companies have to get on board and back them.
“We’re still having a lot of trouble getting young drivers insurance and if we can’t get them insurance they’re no good to us.
“I think the industry as a whole has to push back in that insurance sector a little bit. In saying that, young people will make mistakes, so we have to be there to back them when it does go wrong.”
Drivers at Martins are given a progressive path toward a seat in a road train, up to 12 months of training with an experienced truckie beside them before they are let loose by themselves.
Safety always comes first at Martins which prides itself on adopting the latest technology for its truckies.
Ross says the company was one of the first to adopt Seeing Machines’ in-cab monitoring systems, which has proved to be an indispensable tool. Ross will never forget viewing the footage of one of his drivers being woken by the system’s vibrating seat function soon after it was installed.
“That was the selling point very early on,” he says. “Seeing that footage was the light-bulb moment. You knew you’d pulled the right rein here; it was a great decision.
“At first the boys and girls weren’t happy about it, but we got them in to look at themselves on camera.
“Once they worked out that we’d got the whole cab blocked out other than the driver’s face, that we can’t see what they’re doing in the cab and weren’t spying on them, they were fine about it.
“As an old driver myself, I don’t agree with spying on the boys while they’re lying in bed or cooking, or whatever, but I love the safety aspect and we sleep better at night knowing that if one of the boys or girls shuts their eyes that vibrating seat will wake them up.
“Operations will get a phone call and we can pull that truck up and tell them to go to bed.”
Ross is quick to add they’ll always be predominantly driving Kenworths: “We love our Kenworth trucks.”
But founder Gordon Martin, who proudly posed up recently alongside the company’s 50th Anniversary Edition SAR Legend, is also no stranger to Macks.
“He had over 100 new Macks in his day, a lot of B and R models, so that’s nothing new to us, we’ve just jumped back in with a few. If they perform, who knows.”
The Martins have another three Super-Liners and four Titans due to come off the line later this year.
All the Macks are fitted with sleeper cabs, and all feature the renowned Mack powertrain of the 685hp MP10 engine, coupled with the mDRIVE automated manual transmission.
The pink Mack has been kitted out with all the creature comforts – Bussey could be away for weeks on end – including a custom-made Joe Bradley Fibreglass bunk, stand-up fridge, microwave, TV, and power inverter, among other modern features.
“As fathers of young girls, both Jason and I wanted to dedicate this truck for the right purposes,” Ross concludes.
“We want it to be that every time they see that pink truck it’s not a case of, ‘Look at that pretty pink truck’, it’s something to inspire the girls with and a little something to let them know that if you work hard and dedicate yourself, you can achieve anything you want to do.”