“IT’S IN YOUR BLOOD” – WHY TRUCKIE ROSS JAMES IS IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL
Ross James is the owner and founder of RDJ Tranz, a transport company based in New South Wales that hauls “just about anything” along the Eastern Seaboard. Ross always wanted to be a truckie, but it wasn’t that simple for a Kiwi from across the ditch.
Hi Ross, first tell us how RDJ Tranz came about?
It was a complete career change. I was a builder and about five years ago I decided to follow my passion for driving. I always wanted to own a transport company and just never got it out of my system.
So I gave my last business away, bought a truck and it progressed from there. I bought an existing business that a bloke owned and began following my childhood dream.
Why was it a childhood dream?
I grew up on a remote farm in New Zealand, and developed an interest in trucks from a very early age. Everything revolved around machinery – it was harvesters, tractors and trucks for me as a kid – I was the happiest boy in the world.
I think it’s in your blood if you’re going to drive. It’s in your veins and it never leaves you. Not everybody can do it, that’s for sure.
I loved it so much when I was younger that I used to drive part time for guys after work. I drove semi-trailers everywhere, so when the opportunity came up to have a career change before I got too old, I jumped at it.
I wanted to have a shot at a new career, but also to create something that could become valuable to someone. I’ve basically been in and out of trucks for 25 years, driving for different guys and they’ve all taught me different things.
When I got the opportunity to start my own little business, I found a niche market (crane equipped trucks) and it was a dream come true.
What sort of materials do you transport?
We cart building materials, predominantly timber, steel and tiles for about 10 different companies. We use the cranes on the back of the trucks to help load and unload the freight.
I found a little market away from mainstream freight, but this means we can travel huge distances, to isolated areas. As the highways get better, people are buying materials from halfway across the country because they know the transport costs are negligible.
How many locations do you transport materials to?
We do the entire East Coast and a lot of regional areas as well. Next week I’m driving through Gladstone in South Australia.
What are the benefits?
I get paid to see Australia, what’s not to love? I love the freedom, open space, fresh air and because I run my own show I’ve never really worked for anyone, so I don’t have people breathing down my neck or barking orders.
I go to a lot of places that most people will never go to and I get paid to go there. That’s my outlook on life. It doesn’t have to be stressful, if you can manage your time.
What are the challenges?
Fatigue’s an issue, but diet is the big one for a lot of drivers. I don’t have a big problem with it because I set a few ground rules – I don’t drink fizzy drinks and I don’t eat chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, when I enter a servo I notice the chocolate bars, but as much as I love them I don’t indulge when I’m out on the road because you can lose count, and then diet becomes a big issue for a lot of long haul guys.
Another serious problem that doesn’t get talked about enough is rest areas. They’re building these great new highways across New South Wales, but there are very few rest areas for truckies.
Now we’ve also got to try to beat the guys with the caravans. As it enters the warmer season, all the grey nomads come out of hibernation and use our truck stops as camping grounds.
Then us truckies have to either run the gauntlet further down the road, or pull over to the side of the highway, with other trucks passing you at 100 km/h. It’s not a great way to get to sleep.
They’re the three main challenges. We try not to set unrealistic time expectations because you never know what’s going to happen – you could get a puncture, or a leak, or even hit a kangaroo.
Why do you choose Isuzus for long-haul transportation?
A lot of guys like to have big flashy trucks, and that’s fantastic. But this is where Isuzu comes in – it fills a much-needed market. It’s about maximising the trucks to their specs and getting every bit of value out of them.
Our Isuzu FVD 165-300s have been amazing. They’re a smart looking truck, they have great resale value, and they’ve got a sleeper compliant cabin for a good night’s sleep.
What advice would you give someone interested in long haul trucking?
We’re a little company, we give a personalised service and focus on looking after the clients we’ve got. When I was starting out people told me “Mate, don’t get too greedy, don’t let your eyes get too big.”
That’s the downfall for a lot of truckies. They see this light at the end of the tunnel and think they’re going to make a fortune, but realistically you can make more money having fewer trucks and fewer employees.
It’s not about how many trucks you have sitting on the road. It’s not even about how many axles you have sitting on each truck. Ask yourself, each axle has $1,200 worth of rubber sitting on it, and do you really need it?
What’s the funniest, craziest or most dangerous thing you’ve ever seen on the road?
(laughs) It’s a hard one actually. The inattention of drivers towards the road is just baffling, between the mobile phones, tablets, make-up and having breakfast, there’s not much we don’t see out there.
Even though they’re putting on make-up, if you leave a space they’ll jump in front of you. People spend so much time in their car, they think that it’s their bedroom, kitchen and changeroom as well.
I saw a guy the other day playing games on his laptop. You get to see an amazing number of things like that. It’s more mind-blowing than hilarious, but it’s an interesting job and every trip is different from the last.
I’m just glad I’m not doing the same thing nine-to-five – it’d drive me batty in the end.