Walk around with Robbie

Welcome to the new show, Walk Around with Robbie. Jokes aside, it was by far the best way to get to the nitty-gritty on this unit. There’s a hell of a lot to see on any drop-sider, but this one is something different again.

Take a family of multi-decade drop-side operators. Add a 35-year veteran of their business to the planning ‘roundtable’, then give the must-haves and ideas to a South Island transport engineer who is a former trucker himself, always building from the viewpoint of the person who has to work the thing. You’ll end up with something quite spectacular.

There’s no shortage of North Island trucking companies that go south of the channel for a drop-side build, and Lilburns is no exception with Cowan, TES, MTT, and MD all represented. The demographics and farming profile of good old Te Waiponamu still make it a sweet spot for trucking’s most versatile gig.

Rub pads on the sides prevent unsightly wear when stacked.

Interestingly, there’s an increasing number of droppies popping up again in the North Island, and that has to be a reflection of margins and compliance costs.

“The South Island gear is all pretty good really, eh?” says Robbie. “This one’s MD Engineering and so is the next one in the pipeline. Michael [Jelley, from MD Engineering] has a reputation for building high-class gear and being an ex-truck driver himself, he gets right into the project, listens, contributes, and then builds it. You’ll say, ‘We need this’, and he’s like ‘Oh yeah, okay’ then comes up with a solution. Yeah, just a bloody good guy.”

Right then! Off we go…

Springlocks prevent pin loss.

Tare and decks:

“We’re more than happy with the end result. It can do anything and sitting here, it’s come out at 20,690kg fully kitted. At 54-tonne HPMV, that gives us a 33-tonne payload.”

“There is a lot of truck, isn’t there? But, honestly, we’ve had no issues. We deliver to farms and airstrips. It comes down to the operator. The trailer’s been stable, the scissor makes a huge difference.

“The reason for the size is twofold – wool and timber. The truck’s 7.6m deck is designed to take 20 bales on the deck cap to cap, and the trailer at 10.6m is for wool and butt-out timber.”

Angled post slots flick debris away from the shiny bits.


“The sides are all designed to fit neatly inside the deck width. To get that, we need the little wings at the front of the truck body, but they come off and store under the deck if needed.

“We’ve also put rub pads on the sides to stop them from chaffing against each other when stacked. The alloy blackens if they chaffe, and it looks horrible. I think Michael’s fitting them standard now?

“The sides are coated with PremoShield, a hydrophobic coating. It’s bloody awesome stuff and makes cleaning so easy.

“The posts are all spring-lock fixed, so there’s no losing pins anymore, and sides and posts on the left side of the unit are built slightly meatier than the right. That’s because they’re under pressure when the wool is on. The post slots on the front of the truck deck are angled to flick debris away from the polished bits.”

Adrian places the trailer posts and the cover rack hinges back down on top. Note the flip-latches that allow the whole thing to come off.


“We don’t use double swingers. They are light enough for one man to handle easily. They do need to have their lifting handles fitted though.”

Cover racks:

“Michael designed a system for us that allowed the headboard-cover racks to hinge up so the posts can be slotted in front of the headboard. Then it comes back down on top of them. It’s mint! The whole thing can also come off when the covers need cleaning or airing.”

No double swingers, but ease-of-use front-of-mind.

Rope rails and chain hooks:

“I don’t like rope rails that break their lines over the drive wheels, especially if there’s nothing up underneath to tie-off on. We wanted continuous rails for ease of use, cleanliness, and looks. Michael told us that would come at a small deck-height penalty, but that was nothing for us.

“We can tie off right along, and there are chain-hooks on every dropper. That makes diagonal securing of posts and all that a lot easier.

“There are vertical rope rails on the corners also. That’s primarily for lineal strapping of wool, but they’re also bloody handy for everything. She’s got to have the rope rails fitted across the back of the truck and trailer yet. That’s on the way.”

Placing the load on the deck, not your mind.


“We just wanted everything easy. There are separated chain boxes in them and twitch locaters plus enclosed bearer and cover racks. The old-style twitches were the driver’s choice.”

Inflation management and central lubrication:

“Yep, we roll them over the pit every 7000km and give them the once over. But both inflation management and onboard greasing just help.

“Always having air in the tires and grease in the holes can save thousands in this work. Fert and dust, it’s all abrasive. The air system is PSI and came from TATES, and BroLube supplied the grease system.”

How it arrived. Ready packaged.

SI-Lodec scales:

“You’ve got to optimise your payload, but not ‘over-optimise it!’. They’re a no brainer in 2021.”

Packaging and prep:

“Mate, we couldn’t have asked for better than Michael and Mark [O’Hara, at Southpac]. They’ve both been bloody fantastic right through. We all sat down with the drawings, and then Mark got the truck built pre-packaged.

“Everything you see here – the stainless diesel and DEF tanks, where they’re placed and all that – was how it arrived. I think Michael had to adjust two little things. I can’t even remember what they were.”

PSI inflation management and BroLube help keep the wolf from the door between formal tyre and maintenance visits.


“We’ve used lots of stainless because it doesn’t oxidise and is easy-care, as well as looks good. The work’s not easy, so you want to be able to clean them up as quick as you can. Willie Malcom blanked out the sleeper vent because they buggered up the company logo. That man is a genius. There’s no question about that.”

But, there’s the old adage, ‘You can’t have it all’. Robbie laughs, “Yeah, true. We wanted a Lilburn-stencilled stainless flash on the side of the cab, but the tolerances were just too tight, so we had to settle for a stainless light bar.”

Blanked-out vent so as not to ruin the company logo, and a stainless light flash.


What a family. There’s no question the best of all Kiwi traits reside behind the Lilburn Transport sign on Railway Road, Raetihi. Thanks to Robbie, Niketa, Caelen, Rob, Chelsea, and Jack for the time, welcome, and inspiration.

Adrian Takiwa only reinforced that New Zealand’s finest carry the county. A wonderful bloke you should take time to meet.

(How do those shades never slip down?)

Thanks also to Mark O’Hara and the Southpac team for their relentless and enthusiastic help on everything. And thanks, too, to Matt McKenzie, Ringo Makiakama, Matt Webster, and Steve Hawkings for the welcome mats you so willingly rolled out at all the stops. Hugely appreciated.