Rock Solid

By: Warren Aitken , Photography by: Warren Aitken


Based on Queensland’s Darling Downs, Red Rock Transport has evolved from a Volvo N7 one-truck operation to a small fleet of Kenworths and a couple of restored reminders of its origins

 

The fab four of Red Rocks’ fleet. From left, Red’s T409, Scott ‘Johnsy’ Johns well-kept T658, Shane’s T909 and Gary’s beautiful SAR

 

"So, I started out in 1989 with a single drive Volvo, a forty-foot stock crate and now we’ve got 22 trailers, four road train dollies, six Kenworth prime movers, the old S-line and some of my old trucks I’ve restored."

It’s a rather humble and understated summary from a man who’s spent nearly six decades entrenched in the diesel-fuelled arena of transportation. It also downplays the life that Lyndsay ‘Red’ Johnstone has forged out – not just for him but for his wife, his son and his family, as well as his employees. Or as Red emphasised several times, "our greatest assets".

Welcome to Red Rock Transport, Inglewood, Queensland.

I’m presuming there are very few followers of early English botanists that read this publication, so familiarity with Inglewood the town that was first discovered by the famous English botanist Allan Cunningham (like we didn’t already know) may be a little lacking. It is a place familiar to many interstaters particularly those Melbourne bound who have stopped for a Chico roll at one of the cafés in the small town’s short main road.

Red and his lovely wife Rosemary with a couple of beautifully restored Internationals

 

Though small in stature, the Inglewood is as iconic and as Aussie as you can get. The town’s slogan is actually ‘Catch The Country Spirit’ and if you don’t pick up on that by the fact everybody waves when driving around, then I suggest you just sit down and chat to a local.

Lucky for me, the local I got to sit down and chat to was ingrained Inglewood identity Lyndsay Johnstone (from here on known as Red).

Red is born and bred Inglewood and his trucking story goes all the way back to the early 1960s when he would hear the big lorries hauling through town, running between Melbourne and Brisbane. Like a lot of us at that age, school holidays were spent in the passenger seat of a truck.

Red’s relatives owned a gravel screening business that stretched from northern New South Wales all the way through to southern Queensland, so he was kept very entertained mucking around on loaders, trucks and generally anything that could make noise.

It would come as no surprise that when Red graduated from high school in Toowoomba, he got a ride home on the Thursday night and come Monday morning he had his first fulltime job with Ron Johnstone, a quarry material transport company that gave many youngsters a start in the Inglewood area.

"That was the start of my driving career," Red recalls. "All we did then was cart gravel out of creek beds up to screening plants."

His first rig at Ron Johnstone’s was an AB International with a 282 petrol motor. "We graduated to 6354 Perkins," Red tells me. "Then I was driving an old Leyland Octopus 8-wheeler. It was imported from England."

Red Rock Transport’s stunning SAR, with Gary McArthur behind the wheel, on its way back to Inglewood

 

He admits the Leyland had its issues, so it got sold and Red moved onto another International, a CD 1840 with a 160 Cummins, followed by a 1970 R600 Mack. On a side note, it was at this point Red pointed out the window at another of his restoration projects – the very same CD1840 that he used to drive.

I questioned Red about the licence requirements in those days and he fondly recalls going down to the local cop shop to get his trailer licence and the local cop remarking, "I thought you already had your semi licence? You’re always driving through here." It definitely was a different time.

After the gravel work, Red took the reins of a 1419 Benz when he started driving for Michael Brosnan. For 18 months he ran regularly between Inglewood and Brisbane carting timber down and general goods back. He even got his first Sydney run in a 1424 Benz.

With a wife wanting to see more of him and a child on the way, Red decided he should undertake an apprenticeship and spend more time at home, so he started working for Bob Tait Machinery.

I asked how difficult it was to give up the driving for a mechanic’s life. "It didn’t worry me," Red admitted amusingly. "’Cause I did more driving than (being a mechanic)."

Bob Tait had his own low loader so when things needed to be moved Red was back in the driver’s seat.

Loads can be fully optimised due to Red Rocks’ state-of-the-art scales

 

His own show

Red happily had the best of both worlds at Tait’s for eight years until the downturn in the Inglewood area put pressure on all the local businesses. That downturn was what eventually pushed Red out on his own.

A small stint carting fuel for Finemores Transport was followed by a flaming good idea – starting his own show. And that’s what he did.

In an ironic twist, the opportunity was there for Red to buy out one of the same guys who he used to go for rides with when he was a kid. It wasn’t the old Commer Knocker he’d originally travelled in as a kid but felt like it wasn’t far behind.

"Les Osborne sold me an N7 Volvo with a single axle 40ft single deck stock crate," Red recalls. "Stepping out of a 400hp Cummins into a 210hp Volvo that did 83km/h flat, I thought my world had come to an end." But that little Swede was the seed for what has now become an outstanding fleet.

After the Volvo, Red was able to slowly start introducing his beloved International brand into the expanding fleet. Beginning with a tougher than biltong T-line and followed by numerous S-lines, Red’s country loyalty shone through.

His third S-line, which was the ultimate in hypocrisy, being both "the greatest truck I’d ever drove" yet also "the greatest mongrel of a truck I’d ever bought" may have cost him a small fortune, but it didn’t diminish the soft spot he held for the International brand, nor the Cummins power.

As the years flew by and the fleet expanded, another progression enveloped Red Rock Transport. The International brand diminished and another iconic badge took its place.

In 2004 Red purchased his first Kenworth, a K100G around the same time as Red Rock Transport bought out local company Brosnans Transport, taking over of the cartage of timber from the local mill. Since that first cab-over classic the KW badge has been as common as the Cummins badge in the Red Rock yard.

The current fleet stands at six prime movers, all of them sporting the famous KW badge. One of Red’s original S-Lines still graces the yard with its presence and his admiration for International also now displayed with a couple of beautifully restored trucks and another couple in varying states of restoration.

Red gets ready for a short move, loading a couple of decks of cattle

 

Family operation

While Red’s name has been bandied about the most during this read, he is the first person to point out the team involved in the company’s success. Red’s son Shane has been instrumental in the business as has his wife Rosemary whom manages the office alongside Shane’s wife Rebecca.

Shane started at Red Rock at a very young age. He also spent time getting his apprenticeship and even went up to check out the crocs and deliver chemicals throughout the Northern Territory before eventually returning to the fold with his family to partner up at Red Rock.

Shane’s influence is never more evident than in the eye-catching appeal of the trucks. The setup and appearance has been driven by Shane, but the upkeep has been carried forward by the company’s drivers. Their pride in their trucks is admirable and feedback from the public reinforces that.

The other vital aspect of the Red Rock drivers is the ability to multi-skill, especially with small town businesses being very much at the influence of the greater community.

Inglewood was once a thriving tobacco growing region. For a long time, it was also a major producer of railway sleepers. Farming has always been prevalent yet ruled by Mother Nature in much the same way as grain has. Chicken farms and timber yards have flourished and struggled in the area. Throughout all these dips and waves Red and his drivers have had to adapt and learn in order to survive and remain competitive.

Red readily admits his drivers are the company’s greatest asset. Their ‘jack of all trades’ abilities are vital in small town transport. Throughout the course of a working week the truck can be doing cattle one day, timber or cardboard the next, hook up for a load of chickpeas or grain and finish with cotton bales. And we haven’t even discussed the switch from single to B-doubles and road trains.

So while Rosemary has the caravan hooked up ready to drag him into retirement, Red keeps finding more nostalgic old trucks in need of restoration, as we as still climbing the stock crates, loading bins and accumulating kilometres.

"I still love it," Red adamantly announces. "Your customer wants to see you out there doing it every day, they wanna see you out there loading cattle and stuff and I still love doing what I’m doing."

Father and son trucks: Shane Johnstone’s immaculate T909 with Red’s stunning SAR parked up in the yard

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