Feature, TOTM

Crème de la crème – Western Star 6900 Constellation

NOVEMBER TRUCK OF THE MONTH: The Western Star brand is no stranger to the Land Transport fleet, but the company’s blue 6900 Constellation known as ‘Sunrise Ruby’ well and truly stands out from the crowd. Warren Aitken chats with the Land family before following driver Ken Coupe for the long run across ‘the paddock’.

We are all a little guilty of reminiscing, daydreaming of a bygone era, whimsically recalling and longing for ‘the good old days’.

Well, today’s story has ended up being pretty well driven by that premise. Celebrating the good old days with the good old trucks. I should point out though that that is not how the story was originally pencilled in. In fact, there never really was a story plan.

When I first laid eyes on this stunning big blue Western Star at the 2022 Casino Truck Show I just wanted to get it in front of my camera. No deeper meaning, no ulterior motives, it was all about the appeal of the big 6900.

To quote the youth of today, the gigantic Star was ‘snatched’. For those of us who don’t vape, play Minecraft, or live life on TikTok that means ‘damn, that looks good’ and ‘damn, this Western Star looks good’. Hence my goal was purely to get the truck in front of my camera.

Then I met the man behind the wheel, Ken Coupe. I also met the man behind the truck, Robert Land, and I also met the company behind the man that’s behind the Land Transport truck.

Next thing I know I am lacing up my workboots, jumping behind the wheel of another Land Transport truck and accompanying Ken across the paddock to Perth, just so I could score some cool photos of one of the last ever Western Star 6900s built.

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Before I headed off with Kenny for the 10,000km round trip to the Western Australian capital, I sat down with the Robert, Land Transport’s national transport manager and eldest son of Land Transport’s founders Barry and Raewyn Land.

I was extremely keen to learn the history of a company that has managed to evolve and adapt so well to the current climate in trucking, a climate ruled by regulations, restrictions, policies and procedures.

Land Transport has not just survived but thrived, while also managing to hold firm to a lot of the old school ideals and principles from the good old days of trucking.

The company, which now has around 70 linehaul vehicles, began nearly four decades ago and has become a leader in its field, with its modern fleet, cutting edge logistics management and highly qualified staff.

Yet at the same time the work they do, the core values of the staff and even their adherence to workday staff barbecues, reflects the pride they take in their old-school ways.

Land Transport is one of those few companies where everybody in every yard knows how to tarp down a load – and regularly do. They buy and spec trucks to suit not just certain roles but specific drivers.

Land Transport is a family-fuelled company that knows how to move any kind of freight and over the last 40 years has pretty much moved every kind of freight.

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On a side note, when I mentioned everyone in every yard knows how to tarp, I wasn’t including myself. Technically I don’t count as I am a relief driver and, thankfully, I was given a tautliner to take to Perth.

I take comfort in knowing there are so many tarping connoisseurs at Land Transport for next time though as my tarping skills are about as sharp as an undercooked chocolate cake.

“My dad and his mate Trevor Young started the company back in 1984,” Robert says, explaining that he was three years old at the time but already on his way to becoming a fully-fledged truckie. “I was just one when I did my first run in dads T-Line.”

The International T-Line wasn’t his dad’s actual truck. At that stage Barry and Trevor were both working for Ernie Loughlin in Toowoomba. It wasn’t until Robert was three that he said “goodbye” to the old T-line when an opportunity arose for Barry.

“Dad and Trevor decided to get their own trucks and have a go. They started Young & Land together but also had their own trucks under individual businesses. Dad was BJ & RI Land and Trev ran a truck under TJ & SD Young,” Robert explains.

Across the paddock

At this stage of the interview Barry Land joined Robert and me, helping to paint a picture of the early days of Young & Land.

“In those days it was mainly machinery. A lot of the places are gone now but we used to do a lot of John Deere and stuff out of Dalby and that,” Barry recalls.

“We started out with mainly Melbourne and Adelaide and then started doing Perth as well. We didn’t make a lot of money but we had a lot of fun.”

It is strangely fortuitous that the blue colour of the 6900 featured here is very similar to that of the truck that started the company off back in 1984.

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“The first truck was a blue LNT9000,” Barry continues. “We had that for about three years then. It was about 1987 when we bought our first brand new truck – a red, white and blue Ford LTL.

“They were good trucks mate, they had the right-sized motor, 15-speed gearbox … they were a ­bulletproof truck. You couldn’t kill them.”

Barry and Trevor worked very closely together, running Young & Land as one of Queensland’s premier transport teams. As that company grew so did their individual companies.

“At first, I just had my truck. Then I’d buy a truck for a mate to drive, then another truck for another mate and eventually I bought a heap of trucks and no mates,” Barry laughs.

In 2008 Trevor and his wife Shirley decided retirement was a more appealing pursuit and sold out to Barry. The result of that was the end of Young & Land, TJ & SD Young, BJ & RI Land and the emergence of Land Transport.

“I didn’t set out to do what we’ve done, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. We’ve had our ups and downs, like everyone has. But it just makes you stronger,” Barry says.

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He also admits it has been the workers and customers that have made it all worthwhile, many of whom have been with the company for years and decades rather than days and weeks.

“We’ve been blessed with some of the best drivers in the world,” Barry admits. “We have 20-odd drivers that are over the 10-year mark. We’ve got one bloke here, Wayne Briskey, he’s 70 years old.

“Top bloke, we just gave him one of the new Macks and he was that excited he wouldn’t shut up. I had to wind the windows up on the ute and drive away just to stop him telling me about it.”

I did mention the family side of the business as well, didn’t I? That wasn’t a metaphorical statement either.

There is a strong family feeling that runs through the place, from the can-do approach to taking on any and all sorts of freight, to the laid-back, having-a-laugh Friday barbecues at the depots.

There is also a strong family connection within the company. As mentioned, my guide through this story is eldest son Robert, who took on a diesel mechanic apprenticeship in order to kill time between leaving school and being ‘legally’ allowed to drive the trucks.

Then there is the middle son Nathan who managed to escape the truck driving bug, but somehow got bitten by forkie fever and now runs the Toowoomba depot.

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Then there is the youngest son Ben. Another of the infamous Land sons, but not just for the fact he runs a tight ship as manager of the Melbourne depot but also for the effort he puts into some pretty flash units that hit the road down in Victoria.

“If the old girl wasn’t sick of getting knocked up we’d have 10 boys,” Barry jokes. “One at each of the depots.”

Another trait of Land Transport that really affirms their family values is their commitment to the small rural towns around Queensland and NSW.

They have depots in towns such as Moree, Dubbo, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga. From there they service a bundle of other local communities.

“We actually got an award for ‘Service to the Moree Community’ a couple of years back,” Barry says.

“Many places have shut down in those country areas but we’ve kept going. There are also a lot of others who’ve built their businesses off the back of ours. If we don’t service somewhere there will be someone who does, and we work with them.”

Mixed fleet

Well that pretty much rounds up the report on Land Transport, now let us turn our attention to the whopping great Western Star that brought us here in the first place. The big blue behemoth that goes by the name of ‘Sunrise Ruby’.

‘Sunrise Ruby’ is a 2022 Western Star 6900. The crème de la crème of what is now the extinct Western Star Constellation range. It’s not the first Western Star in the Land Transport fleet and will be far from the last.

In fact, there was a time in Land Transport’s not-too-distant-past when the company was all Western Star. That is no longer the case, with the 70-odd interstate trucks now comprising of everything from Western Stars and Mercedes-Benz to Kenworths, Macks and Volvos.

These days truck purchases are based on job requirements more than brand affiliation. Hence the arrival of not just ‘Sunrise Ruby’, but four other 6900s.

“We buy the right trucks for the right jobs,” Robert says.

“We buy the big trucks for the guys doing the big work, like Perth. The drivers can be in the trucks for weeks sometimes and we don’t want them feeling claustrophobic. They need to have room to relax and feel at home, because it is their home a lot.”

The 68-inch bunk and all the mod cons fitted to ‘Sunrise Ruby’ ensure driver Ken can happily equip himself for a long stint on the road. It also has another advantage that Ken loves.

“It’s too big to go do any of the east coast work,” Robert adds.

I am sure many of you have picked up the name of the truck by now but in case anyone missed it I shall repeat it – ‘Sunrise Ruby’.

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This is a reflection of the lovely young lady that had a helping hand in the setup of this marvellous machine, Robert’s daughter Ruby.

“When we bought these trucks, we wanted to do something different,” Robert says.

“We’d had trucks in different colours before we went to the corporate colours back in ’06 and ’07, and we thought with these being the end of an era for Western Star, we wanted to do something with each one.

“I wanted to do the first one up for Ruby. I sat down with her and the swatch chart and she chose the colours.”

When it came to the design work though, Robert chose to call in a mate who knows how to make a truck look good, Jon Kelly.

I would like it noted, I agree Jon can design a cool looking truck and with this Star he has nailed it again. But I would still be interested to see what an eight year old Ruby would have come up with.

What stands out with this particular 6900, even compared to the others which arrived, is the simplicity of it. It’s not over the top with lights or stainless.

“I wanted to keep it fairly close to how the original old school trucks looked,” Robert says.

“Jon is a good mate and he helped me plan it out. We sent it off to Damo at Masterart Designs to paint it all up and then it went back to Jon’s place to get the extras added. But not too much.”

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Those extras included getting Cliff Brown from Pro Truck Electrical to add a few extra lights, as well as getting the team from Rocklea Truck Electrical to wrap all the tanks.

Some subtle stainless extras were added just to finish off the authentic look Robert was after. As for the addition of a fully carpeted floor, well that’s just a touch of luxury for the big 6900.

“The truck came with all the boxes ticked anyway,” Robert says.

“We order all our Western Stars through my uncle Scott at Pengelly Trucks. He knows exactly what we want.” 

The truck was rolled off the boat in March 2022 and debuted a couple of months later at the Casino Truck Show. The one advantage of wanting to keep it simple and tidy was that, with the exception of the paintwork, it was a fairly quick process to get it on the road. 

We can’t wrap it up without looking to the man that holds the keys to the kingdom, Ken Coupe.

Ken has been with Land Transport for over five years and his dedication to his craft and his pedantic approach to looking after the trucks that were thrown his way had been duly noted by those in the office.

Therefore, once Robert had signed the paperwork on the truck, dedicated to his own daughter, it was Ken who was asked to take the keys.

“I’d never really driven any Stars,” Ken admits.

“I’d had one 4800 for a bit when I started at Land but really I was Kenworth man. Then I got one of the Macks to do Perth and it was like a Rolls Royce. So, when I got asked to take the Star, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going backward.

“I definitely wasn’t. I love it. Not much of a turning circle on a 6900 but it’s a paddock truck. It’s great for out here.”

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Ken’s regular run sees him with a couple of flat-top trailers in tow and carting anything from brand new trucks or state-of-the-art machinery, to palletised freight or dangerous goods.

The truck has now clocked up its first quarter of a million kilometres and is just getting better and better. 

As far as summarising this story, well all I originally wanted was a couple of nice shots of this striking 6900. My trip to Perth alongside king Kenny provided that.

It also reaffirmed the family values and old school adage that has helped Land Transport in its journey.

Our trip had a few hiccups, but we found ways to fix them. It had a few hold ups, we didn’t stress, ‘get there when you get there’, and our trip was packed full of characters.

Happy motoring, Stino, Ross, Ricky, big Ed … to name but a few. All in all, the Western Star 6900 may be the end of an era, but the Land Transport era is just getting warmed up.

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