Last year will be remembered by Allan Duell and his team at Duell’s Furniture Removals as a year of celebration, accomplishment, and reminiscence.
Achieving a feat that few business owners are fortunate, or indeed unflagging, enough to reach, Allan commemorates 50 years of service.
“I just can’t believe how the time has gone by,” Allan says.
“To be upfront, I think, because I like what I do, you don’t think about the time. It goes so quick.”
Allan’s impressive contributions to the transport industry were recognised through his induction into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame at Alice Springs’ National Road Transport Museum.
At the induction, which caught Allan by surprise, he remarked to his wife, Sandra, that he had managed to make it 50 years in the industry largely under the radar. She reassured him: “They see you, alright!”
Allan’s introduction to the transport industry came through his father, Jack, who owned a contract sawmill.
Allan came to appreciate the role that transport played in building, economically and literally, his home of Mount Gambier, South Australia.
In 1964, aged 15, Allan left school to drive his father’s truck. The International, loaded with timber, would be the first of many trucks that Allan would come to drive.
By age 18, Allan was working for Schweppes, delivering drinks to the businesses of South-eastern South Australia and Western Victoria. At 22, Allan, behind the wheel of a Bedford, was delivering for Coca-Cola.
In 1973, a newly married Allan sought the next challenge in his career.
“My dad said that if I was ever going to be in business on my own, I needed to do it while I was younger,” Allan remembers.
“That way, if it didn’t work out, I could at least get on with other things.”
Allan and Sandra opened a local delivery service, freighting goods from both passenger and goods trains that reached Mount Gambier from Kingston, Adelaide and, later, Melbourne.
An undependable Commer van handled mail bags from post offices to rail during the week, both morning and afternoon, while larger jobs, such as containers of groceries and dry goods bound for local shops, were left to a Bedford that came with the contract.
As the railway system expanded, Allan was contracted to transport the furniture of the transferring railway staff. An Isuzu TK with a pantechnicon body was added to the expanding fleet, allowing the business to explore increasing opportunities for furniture removal in Mount Gambier.
Allan also carted goods for Target Australia, first from the rail to the Mount Gambier store and, later, from the Target Distribution Centre in Altona, Victoria, to stores in Colac, Warrnambool, and Mount Gambier. With nine loads a fortnight, Allan held this contract for 15 years.
“Working with Target Australia was a really big help,” Allan says. “I think in the transport game you need to have a bit of luck that you get some company or contract that you have for several years and gets you established. Target made our business at the time.”
With three new Isuzu JCRs, Duell’s Furniture Removals was established. Quickly gaining a reputation as “the Gentlemen of Moving”, Allan and his team have garnered contacts in all capital cities in Australia.
Today, Duell’s Furniture Removals has a fleet of approximately 14 vehicles, three of which are new Kenworths delivered in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
“That’s been a real proud moment for the business”. “The boys say they’re getting sick of people staring at their trucks when they’re travelling,” Allan jokes.
Although Allan runs a varied fleet, with a range of Isuzus, Volvos and Kenworths, there is one thing all his trucks have in common: their eye-catching purple colour.
“In those days, trucks were red or green,” remembers Allan. “So, when I went around to my dad’s place and I said, ‘I’m going to paint this truck purple’.
He said, ‘If you paint that truck purple, you may as well close your business now because you’ll never have any customers’.”
Refusing to heed his father’s warning, Allan and his purple truck were the talk of the railway.
“In about a month’s time, I went around to dad’s place, and he said, ‘If you’ve painted that truck purple, I don’t want to see it’.
“As soon as he saw it, he said, ‘You’re going to lose everything’.”
Looking back, Allan says, “It was a bit of a laugh, and now it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Everyone recognises the colour.”
Allan’s purple trucks have accompanied him on countless trips across Australia, but several memorable ones. A Mount Gambier local once phoned Allan and asked, “Do you cart planes?”.
“I thought he was having me on for starters but then he got really serious”.
Despite Allan’s insistence that he couldn’t move a plane, the caller reiterated that Allan’s reputation for efficient and damage-free transport was what he needed for this move. That was how Allan came to spend a weekend moving a plane, albeit dismantled.
“That would be the most unusual load that I’ve ever delivered!”
Allan also tells of delivering furniture to a dugout in Coober Pedy. The underground home did not have power and so Allan recounts the difficulty of moving the furniture in the dark.
Used to the straight passages offered by his traditional delivery locations, the jagged rocks that made up the walls of the dugout presented a challenge for Allan and his team. Leaving with only a minor hand injury, Allan jokes, “it was definitely a unique experience.”
With 50 years of experience, Allan offers some sage advice for transport operators hoping to own their own business.
“I would recommend you start small and don’t be overconfident. Everyone in transport has felt the highs and lows and you need to be comfortable that you’re not overcommitting yourself financially.”
Today, while Allan isn’t behind the wheel as often, he is still an integral part of the day-to-day operation of the business.
His son, Jason, is the operations manager and Allan is positive that Duell’s Furniture Removals is in competent hands.
“It’s like anything – if you’re passionate enough about it and you get the opportunity, you’re going to make it work.”