A ‘Steeley‘ resolve for service

20 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 27, 2019

Peter Steele‘s coalface knowledge and desire to give his customers unmatched levels of service led him to Walinga feed bins and Total Transport Engineers in Mount Maunganui. The result has everyone smiling, not just the diners!

Photo: The Steele Transport Volvo feeds unit looks super-slick on road, but looks are only just the start.

“The great thing about working for Pete is he‘s a salesman who‘s not afraid to deliver on the promises he makes! Literally!” laughs Barry Liddall. Barry laughs a lot incidentally; he‘s a happy fellow. “I mean he‘ll get in the truck after me and just keep going until it‘s done.” In fact, Barry benefits from his boss‘s service first, roll your sleeves up approach in more ways than having him as wingman on the truck. The truck oozes Peter Steele‘s years in the business – in its features, add-ons, adaptions, and ergonomics. “There‘s no way I would ask my driver to do something I‘d hate to do. Take the air-operated Ringfeder,” Peter points under the truck‘s tail bar. “I‘d hate to get under there half a dozen times a day and try and uncouple, banging your head. Just put a pneumatic coupler in the control box and it‘s easy.” But let‘s take a step back for a moment from the stock feed rig we‘re poring over, back about four years in fact. Forty-fiveyear- old Peter is not a truck man, he‘s an agricultural feed man through and through, starting his career in the Fonterra-owned RD1 chain. Looking for something outside the corporate world he went to BLM Feeds in Taranaki just under nine years ago, a move he recalls as a life-changing experience. “BLM was a great time. It was an energetic, exciting business that empowered its employees and rewarded innovation and initiative. We grew the business fourfold in only a matter of a few years; it was a hell of a journey.” An imminent price war in the molasses industry saw BLM sell out to Gardner Smith, who shortly after was absorbed by Grain Corp.

“We went from a team of 30-odd, to 300, and then about 3000, and it just wasn‘t the same,” said Peter. “We had our own trucks at BLM, drivers we paid a premium who understood the importance of their role with the customer. Grain Corp didn‘t see themselves as a transporter of stock feed so that was all subcontracted out and we lost that critical advantage.” In 2015 Peter left and began selling feed for OSP Feeds Ltd in their Taranaki operation, and within a short time saw the opportunity to rekindle the differentiator of absolute service. “It‘s all we have to offer really. There‘s not a great deal between products and price, but service is something we can use to differentiate us from the rest,” he said. In 2015 he started Steele Transport Ltd with an ex Fonterra Volvo FM and new Walinga feed body, sourced through their New Zealand agent Scarlett Hydraulic Technology in Christchurch, who in turn contracted the fit-out to Craig Gordon and the team at Total Transport Engineers in Mount Maunganui.

The truck-only set-up worked a treat, servicing local farms and completing up to seven loads a day from the OSP store in Bell Block. But expansion saw the need for trips farther afield, and in 2018 Peter ordered the new trailer and bin, a unit that went on the road last September, and one that‘s performing magnificently. Normally, the story might say ‘beyond expectation‘ but that would be wrong. Harking back to the start, Peter‘s never been afraid to get in the trucks and ensure the customers‘ needs are met. That means he‘s learned from both the sales perspective and the driver‘s seat what makes a great feed truck, and so that‘s what he designed. “You always have to draw the line at some point because everything costs, and even though there are still some little things I‘d tweak, it‘s pretty bloody good,” said Peter.

Photo: The OSP unit in its daily rounds. The remote makes seeing and operating the auger easy.

Why Walinga?
“Walinga are certainly a cut above anything else,” said Peter resolutely. “Believe me, I‘ve done hours of homework and had a lot to do with the market. It‘s a family owned Canadian company and one that prides itself on quality and continual improvement. So many things. Independent control of the bin and boom augers so the driver doesn‘t have to faff around managing loads on the boom auger by adjusting the discharge from the bins. The way they‘re built, being a three-quarter open top, means it‘s so easy and fast to load. It‘s got meaty baffles, and bracing back to the end walls. It‘s a 20-year body. And the continuous improvement – the boom augers in the truck are chain driven, but when the trailer arrived its augers were gear driven. Likewise, Phil Kirton at Scarlett and Craig Gordon at TTE were both fantastic. “We‘ve done some things too, some of it shared information through the industry, like fillets in the boom access door plates so the inside working surface of the door is matched to the boom, meaning the meal passes by without dropping into the door recess, gathering in the rubber seals and buggering them.” The Steele truck is a hive of applied experience, and one thing Peter is adamant about is his customers will get the product they‘ve ordered, no less, and just as importantly, no more. “It‘s a real issue in the industry. We‘ve installed vibrators on the bins to make sure nothing is held up and our unit has access topside with safety handrails and a wide walkway. It just has to be.

“Barry, and me for that matter, have to be able to ensure every last gram is out, and the bin is clear prior to loading. A lot of our work is to dairy goat farms and they‘re GE-free and also not allowed palm kernel, so having 200kg of PKE hung up in there you can‘t see or get to is not an option. Contamination and short delivery in the feed industry is becoming a real issue, as are trucks driving along with billowing covers due to a buildup of feed in the tracks not letting the cover sit in the right place. It‘s not the drivers‘ fault entirely, they can‘t get to it.” Both bins have pronounced wind lips protecting the cover at the front, and the unit gets a full compressed air dust-out prior to loading. Peter wanted the rollover cover on the truck to work from the back, so the TTE team built an ingenious swivel on the rear that allowed the cover to be rolled over from the ground without the boom auger interfering. “There‘s a lot, the pneumatic coupling pin, the drip-free hydraulics, the pressure release on the hydraulic line so coupling‘s never an issue if there‘s a tiny bit of pressure in the line, the broom and air-lance cubbies that are safely away from the bin but right there when needed. It‘s all small stuff that counts for a lot “Some have said I was mad powering the whole thing off the truck only, but we only have the Volvo so it‘s not like there‘s anything else that can tow the trailer.”

Access and assembly
Phil Kirton was the go-to man at Scarlett Hydraulic Technology Ltd. “We‘ve been the agents for Walinga here since 2007, a product line that rose with the dairy boom and the realisation that targeted supplementing, even down to the level of the individual animal, could have an impact on the annual dairy cheque in the order of 22%,” he said. “Walinga make around 300 blower systems and feed units for trucks a year, and have a strong emphasis on quality and reliability, seen in things like hydraulics and bearings. “Scarlett Hydraulic Technology has worked to improve installations, forming relationships with the likes of Lusk Engineering in Ashburton and Modern Transport Trailers in Invercargill to standardise and establish reliable and economical PTO and electrical architecture needed to ensure the quality of installation equals that of the blower system itself. “We oversee the process from trade to farm. We‘ve just developed a solid-state four-layer controller with fault override, so even if there‘s a fault in the system it can be overridden and the silo filled, then a repair undertaken. This has added longterm reliability to the electronics.” Looking for someone in the North Island who fitted Scarlett‘s requirements, Phil went to Craig Gordon at Total Transport Engineers in Mount Maunganui, initially for the Volvo fit-out and then for the trailer build. “Craig‘s great,” said Phil. “He‘s an engineer of exceptional quality and gets right into a project, wanting to help solve problems, innovate, and deliver what the customer wants. Combine this with Pete‘s creative drive to get the right bin and we have a truly excellent product.” The bins arrive from Canada in CKD form, requiring assembly, installation and set-up. In the case of the Steele truck there was the added input from the customer, who wanted the unit built in a way he knew would better serve driver and farmer alike.

“Both units, the truck initially and then the trailer, were fantastically rewarding projects. Everyone had their expertise and yet everyone listened to each other, and we‘ve ended up with a great result,” said Craig. “The Walinga componentry is well constructed; with each build we had the bins assembled in five days, ready for paint. “The trailer‘s a monocoque design and we‘ve made it all entirely modular, meaning our dollies simply bolt underneath, so adding the fifth axle in the future is easy.”
TTE added their touches to the build also, things like turning the trailer ladder across rather than straight up the back, giving more cascade for Barry and Peter while climbing, as well as sprung light bars on the rear trailer dolly for better visibility and safety at night. “Peter didn‘t want the retractable hand rail protruding over the front of the trailer in the lowered position, so we were able to form a rollover end extension that was flush with the front of the body in the lowered position. In the raised position it forms a physical end barrier and also has an integrated ‘caution‘ sign,” said Craig.

Photo: Barry Liddall (left) is a happy man with the setup, as is boss and workmate Peter Steele.

Out on the road
Of course the man who enjoys the benefit of all this endeavour is the jovial Barry Liddall, and even if he wasn‘t one of life‘s happy chaps before Steele Transport, it‘d be hard for him not to be now. Like his boss Peter, Barry‘s a Taranaki lad born and bred, and he‘s had a life on trucks, working the length and breadth of our fair land, much of it on bulk work, much of it with Freight and Bulk Transport in New Plymouth. “I‘d been doing a bit of relieving and started working for Pete this year. I‘d had nothing to do with feed trucks before, it intrigued me and the learning curve was certainly steep, but it‘s really good. I love the job, and meeting the people. I‘m always home at night and it‘s so good having a boss who helps deliver the promises they make,” laughs Barry. “And this set-up is just primo. So easy. I‘ve watched others working now, and Pete certainly knows how to set one of these up. The trailer would track the best of any I‘ve ever towed; you don‘t even know it‘s there.” The unit runs on eight axles and standard weights, able to carry a 25 tonne payload. Peter said the ex Fonterra FM has been a great machine to date, and they‘re certainly well maintained trucks. Barry agreed, saying it goes “bloody well, and doesn‘t have a single rattle”. We can attest he was dead right.
“You have to have the right gear and the right drivers,” said Peter. ‘The drivers are your business‘s front line and form important relationships with the customers. My previous man had to leave due to family health issues, but Barry‘s going great and he‘s a really good man on the actual driving and manoeuvring. As for the gear, Walinga are the benchmark in my opinion, and there are only a few things I‘ll tweak on the next one,” he laughs.

A few finer features

Photo: Peter Steele winds the cover from the back of the truck via the ingenious TTE-designed system.

Trailer rail in the up position, the caution sign on the end is clearly visible, as are the guards on the front of the bodies to stop the wind getting under the covers. End of the handrail tucks over the front when in the down position. Beefy brace and baffles.

Photo: High mount couplers with a pressure release valve, and pneumatic couplers that Barry operates from the control box.

Lance and broom caddies.