Blown Away: Isuzu Trucks And The Hills Bark Blower
Jon Moon started out in 1997 with one truck and a unique landscaping idea—using compressed air to blow and spread bark and mulch into the parks and gardens throughout New South Wales (NSW).
With the design of a “blower truck” brought home from travels in the United States, Jon moved to supplement his family’s landscape supplies business with a unique, engineered fusion of truck, machinery and product. The combination was so winning, his family shut down their landscape supplies yard and went all-in on the blowing business.
Fast forward 22 years and The Hills Bark Blower now runs the largest blower truck business in Australia, with a 14-strong fleet that includes six Isuzu heavyweights: four FYJ 300-350s, an FYH 300-350, a Giga CXY 240-260 Prime Mover, alongside two pre-2000 Isuzu workhorses, a ’99 FVZ and ’97 FTR.
And business is booming, according to Chris Nattrass, The Hills’ General Manager of 12 years.
“About 50 per cent of our clients annually are repeat customers, including landscapers, developers, builders and local councils,” he said.
“The last five years we’ve grown every single year and anticipate 2020 will be another strong year for us. We are continuously looking to grow and look at expanding our fleet in the future.”
The blower trucks serve as the backbone of the business and are fitted with machinery including Caterpillar pump engines, hoses, conveyor belts, left-hand side control panels, oversized bins and blowers shipped from Oregon in the United States.
They pump a range of mulches, barks, gravel, sands and pebbles, alongside The Hill’s special blends of soil and planter mixes into a variety of sites around the state.
With an average eight out of ten blower trucks on the road each day and the FYJ 300-350s slingers running multiple reloads, The Hills need their trucks hardy enough to cop a 1,500-3,000km per week workload.
“Our blower trucks can be required to install in excess of 800 cubic metres of material per day, so reliability is a big concern for us,” explained Glen Baker, Operations Manager.
Glen noted that the business has had an excellent truck maintenance record—but with fewer downtime issues, Isuzu stands out from the pack.
“Maintenance wise, the Isuzus are not letting us down. On average, they’re available more often than anything else we have, so they’re cheaper to run in the long term.”
“Suttons have been very good. They would bend over backwards to keep us going and have worked to build a genuine relationship with us.
“We’ve had some small warranty issues in the past, as most trucks do, and they’ve had those units back to us within the day,” said Glen.
Glen’s favourite part of the Isuzu range is the trucks’ impressive turning circles, which give them unmatched maneuverability in the tight-access areas. In particular, he finds the FYH 300-350 and Giga CXY 240-260 useful in servicing smaller urban worksites—while also protecting the expensive equipment on board.
“They’re a really useful size and have helped us take on different types of jobs, we’ve put them in places our old trucks wouldn’t have been able to get into, which has increased productivity.
“We’ve always done urban and domestic projects, but they seem a lot easier now. The bins aren’t getting damaged in transit and we’re not dinging the sides on anything.”
The Isuzu fleet sports enough power and torque to get the toughest of jobs done—and sometimes, recounted General Manager Chris, The Hills get handed some tough assignments.
“We’ve pumped green roof growing media up to level 33 rooftops, so you can imagine the setup for these jobs is pretty extensive…but it’s a pretty cool and efficient way to get soil up there.”
And how do you go about setting up a 33-level pumping apparatus?
“Very, very carefully!” extolled Chris.
“We use specially crafted brackets that connect our hose and fittings directly on to scaffolding so they’re secure when running vertically straight up the side of buildings.
“Our staff are extensively trained to set up the hoses and the trucks to ensure our equipment never fails.”
Reflecting on sitting in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of the Sydney metro region regularly, Glen noted that the car-like feel and the smooth Allison 6-speed auto of the FYH and FYJs couldn’t be glossed over.
“Comfort, reduced cabin noise, the automatic transmissions and the fantastic turning circles of the 8-and 10-wheeler Isuzus—it’s basically like driving a car compared to other trucks we’ve had.
“We’ve bought six Isuzus in the last three years and haven’t looked at any other type of truck in that time.”