Features, Trailers

Over 60 years in the game for trailer legend Lionel Moore

When asked what he attributes to his company’s longevity and success, 75-year-old Lionel Moore answers quite succinctly.

“You just need to listen to what the customer wants and build it – it’s quite simple really.”

Lionel was just 14 years old when he got his start in the trailer making business – and as he explains, it was merely by chance.

“My father told me I had to go and get a job. He said start at the bottom end of town and go doorknocking, so I did and it was Bill O’Phee at O’Phee Engineering who took me on. That was in 1964,” said Lionel.

“Bill asked what I could do – I told him, I don’t know but I’m looking for a job.

“Then he asked if I could grind steel and I said I’d give it a go.

“So I hopped on a grinder for three hours and once I was done, Bill asked, ‘Have you finished that already? Well we better get you something else to do!’ That was my introduction to engineering at the tender age of 14.”

Lionel Moore (centre) has taken a step back from the business, with sons Shayne (left) and Grahame (right) continuing to drive the business forward. Image: Moore Trailers

Lionel went on to work by Bill’s side for 27 years before going out on his own and establishing Lionel Moore Trailers in 1988.

As he recalled, “Bill gave me a day and a half off to go back to school to finish my exams, which I passed, and when I came back he said ‘I’m hiring apprentices, are you interested?’”

After completing his boilermaker apprenticeship, Lionel worked his way up through the ranks. “I progressed on to become leading hand, then I rose to floorman by my third year where I was in charge of the whole workshop, which at that stage was 79 men. Then I was promoted to production manager, leading 115 men and then I moved onto sales and then sales manager.”

He stayed in that last role until O’Phee Engineering was sold off in 1988.

Flash back to 2001: Lionel and Shayne. Image: Moore Trailers

Then by November that same year, he had begun building his own trailers, admitting, “I originally started the company to help keep my two sons Grahame and Shayne employed. I had a little bit of workshop equipment that I owned so I rented a corner of a shed from a mate of mine – and therein lies the start of it.”

That shed was in Pittsworth, a rural town 40 kilometres from Toowoomba, Queensland, which the company still calls home to this day – though the 6000 square metre facility on its 27-hectare industrial block, is a far cry from where it all began.

In 2020, the company moved into its current $15 million production facility, which effectively doubled its trailer building capacity. And there’s more to come, with a $5 million expansion on the cards. Plans are currently with council awaiting approval. 

Lionel took a step back from the company’s day to day operations about five years ago, though he still heads on site one or two days a week. “Just to make sure things are right,” he said.

The business is now in the hands of the second generation, with Shayne serving as managing director and Grahame in the role of operations manager.

As Shayne explained, they’ve both been by their father’s side since the beginning. “Grahame and I started here in 1988 while I was still in high school finishing year 12. We built our first shed out here in 1994 and never looked back. From just the three staff, we now have around 127 staff. My daughter is at the front desk too now, so that’s three generations.

“We’re looking to build a specialised blasting, painting and finishing division, consolidating our production,” Shayne continued. “We’re getting up to producing 500 trailers a year.

“Once the new facility is open and at 100 per cent capability, we should be able to grow that to 600 trailers a year.”

Humble in his achievements, Lionel says he had luck on his side when he started the business, though it’s pretty obvious that it came down to much more than that. Throughout the years, Lionel was able to recognise exactly what the market needed and built it.

“I had some very good friends in the industry who were very supportive and gave me their faith to build trailers for them. I was also lucky that during my time as a production manager I got to do compliance work too and had used my qualifications for certifying trailers,” Lionel said.

Lionel (centre) with his kids Grahame Moore, Karen Moore, Belinda Pauli and Shayne Moore. Image: Moore Trailers

He had an idea for a type of tipper that was missing from the market. “I started building a smooth side tipper, which was completely different to what we were building at O’Phee. I’d been a salesman for so long and realised there were so many people in the farming industry who wanted a no-frills trailer, without all the flashy chrome.

“It needed smooth sides, so it could be used to cart up to 40 tonne of grain and then in the off-season, farmers could use it to buy their fertiliser direct and cut out the middleman.

“The farmers needed a budget unit. Back then I was selling it for $35,000 while everything else on the market was upwards of $50,000.

“I gave farmers what I knew they wanted and that was my base. They’d ring you up and order a trailer and you knew they’d come and pick it up – and no one ever tried to get me down on price.”

But by around 1992, the landscape was changing so Lionel started to expand his offering. “Floods and droughts came and went, so I started building double deck stock trailers and quad axle floats – I custom built to whatever the customer wanted,” explained Lionel.

“Around 1992-1993, there was recession and drought. I began building double deck stock crates. It was a basic unit that worked. With cattle trucks, everyone wants doors to slam shut differently and to have different latches and hatches, so you have to listen to the customer and build exactly what they want. Everyone operates their crates differently because they’re operating in different environments.

Lionel says he originally started his trailer building business for his sons, with the trio working side by side for decades. Image: Moore Trailers

“Customers were needing all these odd things that I knew nothing about so I’d take photos and measurements and build that for them. You need to be prepared to listen. There’s a lot of salesmen who don’t do that, instead they just try and get the order and then build something the customer doesn’t actually want.”

Then by the early 2000s, Lionel Moore Trailers branched out into drop deck trailers, a strategic move brought on by a huge boom in the gas industry. “There were a lot of guys starting out in the gas game so they needed drop decks and flat tops. But again, they wanted them built differently. You’d see people ordering 10 trailers at a time from other manufacturers, then they’d get to the mine site and wouldn’t be allowed in,” said Lionel.

“So I went to the mining companies to find out what safety aspects had to be built into these trailers. We were the first trailer builder to receive specifications from the mining companies themselves of what they would or wouldn’t allow on site.

“When I saw what they wanted, I thought this would take bugger all to convert a trailer to be mine site approved – so I got the scoop from my competition because they didn’t look deep enough into what was required. All of a sudden, I had a heap of orders for these trailers.

The Moore Trailers site has grown significantly over the years, with plans for further expansion awaiting council approval. Image: Moore Trailers

“With our trailers you knew you could drive straight to the mine site and get the tick of approval. It was by really looking into the job that was required and building what was required. That kept us going – and still keeps us going – and helped to spread the Moore name right across Australia.”

While he’s still very much invested in his craft, Lionel’s semi retirement means he’s got time to explore his other passions, like continuing to work on his hot rod. “I spend my time mucking around with a bit of metal there,” he said, admitting he’s been working on it for a whopping 25 years. “I’ve been working on it for a long time but I keep changing ideas – I’m the hardest person to please!”


  1. While not in the trucking game, this is a great story of a great man who had vision and foresight with a good ear.

    All the best for you and the Company

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