Winning in the woodwork

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Brian Smith Timber Transport is aiming to haul over 350,000 tonnes of softwood and hardwood in 2024 with its fleet of Cummins-powered Kenworths and Western Stars.

When Brian Smith bought his first logging truck in 1986 – a White 4000 with Cummins NTC335 power – it was a modest beginning to what has become one of the largest log transport businesses in NSW.

Based in Walcha in the New England Tablelands region, Brian Smith employs 50 staff in a timber industry worth millions of dollars to the region each year. In fact, he’s the largest private employer in the Walcha region, and proud of the fact he can contribute to the small community in this way.

Brian Smith Timber Transport today operates 26 of its own trucks – mainly eight-axle B-doubles – with a further four provided by subcontractors Greensill Bros and Hoffman Haulage. The company has three new trucks on order, two T909 Kenworths and a Western Star 48X, which are additions to the fleet.

As well as the log truck fleet, the Smith operation includes three B-double tipper combinations.

Cummins power is firmly entrenched in the operation, with Cummins Tamworth providing service that Brian Smith acknowledges is “outstanding”. He was one of the first operators to commit to the then new generation 15-litre Cummins in the late 1990s with the Signature 600 ruling in his fleet, its performance and engine braking setting a new standard in the bush.

Cummins support is rated highly by Brian Smith. From left are Cummins Tamworth branch manager Cambell Carmichael; Beau, Katie and Brian Smith; and Cummins on-highway business manager David Paddison.

Big tonnages

“We’ve been hauling around 230,000 tonnes of plantation softwood a year and are looking to ramp this up to over 300,000 tonnes in 2024,” Smith reveals, pointing out that the Walcha region has some of the highest structural grade softwood in Australia, most of it used for housing.

“Our current contract with Forestry Corporation for plantation softwood is 33,000 tonnes/kilometre but we’re actually doing 44,000 tonnes/kilometre.”

The softwood plantation timber is radiata pine and is a completely renewable industry. “I’ve been working in forestry for 48 years and have harvested some areas three times,” he says. In the last three years alone, Forestry Corporation has replanted some 3,500 hectares of radiata pine.

Brian Smith began a new three-year contract with Forestry Corporation this year, during which time his fleet will deliver 270,000 tonnes of softwood logs to Werris Creek to be railed to Wagga Wagga and then trucked to Tumut and Tumbarumba for milling. The timber was initially set for export, however the impact of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 meant Australian mills have been given priority to provide feedstock to keep up with the ongoing demand for housing in Australia.

While the Smith softwood operation is a loading and transporting contract, the hardwood side of the business involves harvesting, loading and transporting, with 60,000 tonnes hauled annually and a fleet of harvesters and skidders doing the job in the bush.

Brian Smith grew up in the Wauchope region of NSW and inherited a strong work ethic. His grandfather Alf started in logging back in the days when bullock trains were used, and his father worked in the bush until his death in 1981.

Brian pulled stumps in 1981 and moved to Walcha, around 90 km north-east of Tamworth.

“I came to Walcha with nothing,” he reflects. “I drove a truck for Lyall Flanagan and then in 1986 I bought my first truck, the White 4000 with a Cummins NTC 335.”

Still actively involved in the business today at the age of 63, whether it’s driving a truck or manipulating the controls of a harvester, Brian Smith shies away from the subject of retirement. In fact, when asked about how much longer he will keep working, wife Katie jumps in with the comment, “till his last breath!”.

The business is obviously a future for the family, with son Beau working in the harvesting operation and daughter Bonnie running the tippers – a future that is obviously in good hands.