Queensland truck body business to close its doors as 88-year-old founder retires

After 63 years in business, this Cairns based truck body builder and trailer repairer will shut shop.

Founded in 1961 by Malcolm Beattie, 88, and operated alongside his sons Darryl and Gary Beattie for decades, B-T Industries became a much loved and respected family business in Far North Queensland.

Over the years, the business developed a solid reputation based on their high levels of workmanship and exceptional customer service.

We’re pretty well known up here. We’ve been around for a long time now and are a bit of an icon up here,” said Darryl.

Both he and his brother Gary worked by their father’s side for over 40 years.

Gary did his apprenticeship at B-T Industries in the early 1970s, while Darryl did his apprenticeship with a major ship building company, before joining the family business in 1980.

When Gary retired a few years ago, Darryl, now 64  and his father, who is now 88, kept the business going – with Darryl in the workshop and Malcolm in the office. 

The family had hoped to sell the business so it could carry on its work, but it was unfortunately to no avail. 

We did try to sell the business because we did have a very good business and a good reputation, but I think up here we just don’t have the volume so couldn’t find a buyer,” explained Darryl.

“There were a few younger people interested but they couldn’t get the finance. So it’s a real shame that all this knowledge and everything we’ve built up over the past 60+ years is just going to go.”

When Malcolm first started his business in 1961, he was actually involved in steelworks for homes, producing things like handrails and the like. That progressed into repairs for earthmoving equipment, before moving onto truck bodies.

“There was nobody really building truck bodies up here so a few people asked if Dad would be interested in doing that,” added Darryl.

“Back in those days everything was a lot smaller than what they are now – they were all single axle. As the industry grew, we were able to grow with it. Even though we didn’t start out as engineers, we were able to grow and develop an understanding as designs changed and progressed.”

It was in the 1970s and 1980s, when the gold and tin mining boom hit Far North Queensland, that B-T Industries hit its peak. “At that point we were building about 100 bodies a year. That was a pretty big deal for us up here in Cairns – the population was only about 120,000 at that stage,” recalled Darryl.

“The most staff we ever grew to was eight, but we were lucky because they were all very good staff. We designed and built all the bodies ourselves.

“When the mining boom hit, that’s when we moved into the tandem trucks, then dog trailers came into the market so we designed and built dog trailers too. All of a sudden it went from a single axle dog trailer to tandem and then three axle dog trailers, then they went to four axles.”

B-T Industries began producing dog trailers when the mining boom hit Far North Queensland. Image: B-T Industries

Before long the business had outgrown its workshop, so the family had a choice to make – expand their business or cut back on the new trailer builds.

They chose the latter option. “Everything was getting too big for us and the workshop wasn’t big enough to handle the bigger trailers so we decided to scale down instead of going bigger,” said Darryl.

“We would’ve had to do a big expansion because our workshop was too small for all these bigger trailers. That’s when we decided to cut back on building the brand new stuff. We stopped that completely in 2017 and we moved into repairs and maintenance.

At its peak, B-T Industries was manufacturing about 100 truck bodies a year. Image: B-T Industries

“In 2017, we also decided it was going to solely be a family business so we scaled back and it was only Gary, myself and my father up until Gary retired. That was hard work and long hours because we were trying to keep all our customers happy.”

That move kept the business going strong, thanks in part to the strong relationships built with major trailer builders such as Shephard Transport Equipment. Hercules Engineering and Hamelex White, who entrusted the Beattie family with warranty work for operators within the area.

B-T Industries had customers coming in from Townsville down south through to Mossman up north.

“We were also decking out trailers, replacing floors, installing tarps among other things,” Darryl added.

“At that point we were so flat out with work – and we’ve been going flat out ever since. We’re only a small company but we have a good reputation. I can honestly say the biggest thing we’ve tried to do is get operators back on the road as soon as we could – because when their equipment is in here getting fixed, it isn’t making them any money.”

And Darryl says they put in the hard yards to get the job done – whether it meant opening the doors early or staying back late, as many customers can attest.

Howard and Andrew Plumb were among B-T Industries’ loyal customers, having turned to the business for its truck body needs for decades. They also purchased the very last body manufactured by B-T Industries seven years ago.

Long-time customers Andrew and Howard Plumb are the proud owners of the last truck body ever produced by B-T Industries. Image: B-T Industries

They said they were saddened to hear B-T Industries closing its doors. “We have been a customer for only 30 years but during that time, Malcolm, Daryl and Gary Beattie have been the benchmark of what excellence is.

“The Beattie family have well and truly earned some time off, after dedicating their careers to the people of Cairns and others who have come because of word-of-mouth recommendations.

“Malcom and the boys had stopped building tipper bodies for a while, when I found myself needing one and, in my mind, it was a B-T body or none. No other builder comes close to what B-T Industries can build and I’ve owned and seen plenty of others in my 30 years with trucks.

“Seven years ago, after months of nagging, they finally caved, and I am proud to say my family owns the last body they built. Our son bought the truck that that body is on from us. He knows the condition of buying the truck off us, is that when he is ready to sell that truck, the body stays in our family, until we too are ready to retire!”

Though B-T Industries will officially close at the end of July, Darryl says he’s not ready to give it up completely just yet.

“I’m sort of retiring but still keeping a finger in the pie,” he said. “We’ve come to a stage where it’s become too much. I’ve enjoyed the industry and it’s the same with my father but we’ve been in it a long time, so we’ve decided to bow out gracefully. We would have liked to sell the business, but it wasn’t to be.

“I’ll keep doing blue plate modifications certificates and will be involved in advising companies up here on how to do any modifications that may need to be done on any truck or trailer. I don’t mind doing a bit of part time work – Dad is retiring but for me, it’s a change of lifestyle. I’m also planning to do a bit of travelling too.”

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