One with the Worx


Polishing extraordinaire and gun operator of one of the tidiest 909’s kicking around Melbourne, Mike Batten, turns heads wherever he goes

 

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Welcome ladies and gentlemen, and those who are neither. This is not your standard truck profile. Sure, the photos show an amazing Australian-built piece of art, a truck that packs more wow factor than a Cirque du Soleil performance.

Yes, we will talk about SoilWorx, the family-owned Melbourne company responsible for putting this total package on the road. Of course, I will also cover the driver of this top-notch T909, Mike Batten, a young man that SoilWorx has trained up through its ranks and who now pilots one of Melbourne’s most eye-catching units. But first we need to acknowledge someone else, a young admin office worker by the name of Samantha Johns.

Where am I going with this you may ask? Fair question. We all know truck driving is more than just a job – it’s a way of life, and ever since Gottlieb Daimler first put a 4hp (0.7kW) engine in front of a two-speed box back in 1896 to invent the truck, the truck driver was born.

The day after Mr Daimler invented the truck, Mrs Daimler was asking what he was doing up so early varnishing the wooden rims before work. Since that day, truck drivers’ partners have been suffering for our addictions to the job and to the shine.

When you look at the state of Soilworx’ T909 you realise that it wasn’t shined up like this just so my Nikon could make it look good in the magazine. It was already shined up like this to start work the next day – that’s how you know that the driver of this rig is dedicated.

Poor Samantha is the fiancé of that dedicated driver, Mike. To make matters worse, Mike was sneaky, he actually met Samantha while he was doing a stint as a fleet controller, so Samantha fell for the charms of a ‘joiner turned fleet controller’. By the time Samantha realised what it’s like to partner up with a truckie, it was too late. So, my commiserations Samantha. Yes, this story is about a great company and a fantastic truck, but spare a thought for all the partners, husbands and wives of us truck loving lunatics. An everyday truckie is a tough partner to deal with. A committed truckie, working for a caring company and driving a jaw-droppingly cool, mobile work of art… well Sam, you must be a top lady to endure that.

Mike Batten up front, with the SoilWorx T909, running around as a 5-axle dog

PUTTING THE GROUNDWORK IN

The company that Mike works for is the Victoria-based firm SoilWorx. With an employee base of over 100 people and multiple locations around Melbourne, SoilWorx have been part of the Melbourne landscape (pun intended) for 30 years.

Andrew Ristovski started the business back in 1989 with a Daihatsu two-tonner, selling topsoil door to door around the Melbourne area. When his son Chris left school at 16 to work in the family business a 2233 Mercedes was added and SoilWorx started getting into supplying all manner of quarry products from mulch and rocks to sand and soil.

Over the last 30 years the company has evolved to become one of Victoria’s largest on-sellers of quarry materials. The Daihatsu and Mercedes are long gone, making way for a few different brands in the company’s fleet of 32 trucks. This covers everything from two metre tippers right up to Mike’s 42 and a half tonne payload T909.

The HC faction of the SoilWorx fleet is predominantly made up of Kenworths. Since its first Kenworth, purchased in 2007, SoilWorx has been back to see Nick Gesovski and his team at Kenworth Laverton for another 10.

Kenworth’s reliability and ability to build trucks to SoilWorx-specific needs has kept it heading back to the KW brand as the company and its clients grew. It’s also fair to say that Kenworth’s style and visual appeal is another reason the company steers towards them, as it prides itself on the SoilWorx brand.

Even though the trucks spend the majority of their time in and out of conditions that would mentally wreck a lot of tarseal jockeys, the company and the drivers put a huge importance on the appearance of the fleet. Just looking at the pictures of the T909 kind of makes that point without me needing to type it, but I’m paid by the word guys.

To prove the conditions they work in I was willing to spend hours hanging around the yard photographing the T909 until I could snag a shot of one of the SARs in a dirty condition, that’s how dedicated a journalist I am, willing to suffer hours of stunning rigs, just to get that one shot. You guys are welcome. Catching Mike’s truck dirty, well that’s even tougher. As I mentioned earlier, I felt privileged to see the effort he had put into the truck in for our photoshoot – only to have my bubble burst when he pointed out it wasn’t that clean for me, it was that clean for something called ‘work tomorrow’.

We wonder just how much time Mike ends up polishing. Well, his hard work certainly shows!

THE WAY OF THE WORX

That seems like a great segway to move from the company behind the truck to the man behind the wheel, Mike Batten.

As previously stated, Mike was a qualified joiner before getting his taste for the road in a delivery van. Seems the call of the road hit him hard and he decided to chase the illustrious truck driving lifestyle. He hit the gold mine when he landed an MR job doing deliveries for SoilWorx back in 2013.

SoilWorx is one of those companies that takes pride in the development of all its staff and when it comes to the guys at the coalface, the drivers, Soilworx puts a lot of time and effort in, and has an outstanding record.

All the drivers sitting in the comfy seats of the truck and dog tippers have worked their way up from MR and HR trucks. This has given the company the unique opportunity to train and teach their staff the SoilWorx way of doing things. It’s also been a great motivator for all the guys keen on progressing when they see that the guys ahead of them have trod the same path. Mike is no exception; in fact, he not only progressed his way up from the HR tippers, but he also took a deviation into the ironed pants and shiny shoes division when he undertook the role of fleet controller for a while.

During the twilight hours, the big 9OH remains every bit as beautiful

SUPER SHINE

I’m not sure if it was the lure of the road that pulled him back or it may have just been watching all the shiny rigs out the office window that did it, but Mike ended up back behind the steering wheel. His welcome back present was actually the keys to SoilWorx’s brand new Kenworth SAR. The company’s workload and coverage area were increasing, and the new SAR was brought in to help. Whilst the truck looked extremely sharp, Mike admits he did take it upon himself to add a few cosmetic additions: some extra lights, a little bit of bling and more than a tub or two of polish.

Soilworx was already renowned for its standout trucks but even the hierarchy took note of the state of Mike’s rig. Just 18 months after his first SAR, the young driver had earned the keys to the company’s next one. This time, the company fitted the truck with just a touch of bling out of the factory. You would think that would be enough for Mike, but no, it merely encouraged him.  He found places to add more and compartments to store even more polishing equipment. Pretty soon it seemed like the entire driver workforce were attempting to blind each other with shine.

This competition aided the company in its on-road presence and as the company continued to expand, so did the need for more trucks. Another 18 months after getting the keys to his second SAR, Mike was approached by the company about a replacement truck. This time a PBS approved beast of a truck that would be the company’s flagship.

The new truck was going to be SoilWorx’s biggest and boldest rolling billboard, and as such the choice was made to step up from the SARs and get a T909. Mike was involved from the get-go as the company worked out what configuration would suit their needs the best.

They landed on the truck and five-axle dog combination that would end up giving them a payload in excess of 42 tonne. Soilworx worked very hard to ensure that Mike couldn’t add anymore bling or lights by putting the maximum on right from the get-go.

The truck was sent to the talented team at RC Metalcraft, who wrapped the tanks, changed the stacks, changed the grill, added Hogebuilt guards, altered the steps, changes the air cleaners – the list just went on! Kentweld fitted one of its stunning bars as well. Did I also mention there was one or two extra lights fitted, just in case you didn’t notice?

Bulk Transport Group in Dandenong custom built the bodies for SoilWorx and fitted them with a 10mm plastic lining as well, making the tipping off process that much safer as most of the product is on the ground before the bins are halfway up.

So, the end result hit the target perfectly. It fulfils the job required of it, delivering product to the many SoilWorx depots. It looks the part, turning heads as it runs around the Melbourne area as well as standing out at the truck shows that Mike takes it to. Finally, it keeps Mike extremely busy, and when I say busy, I don’t mean the 150,000km a year the truck clocks up, the busy comes from the cleaning and polishing that he manages to still squeeze in before and after all the work is done. A great result and reflection on the personnel they cultivate and nurture at SoilWorx.

I’d better wrap this up with a shout out to the lovely Samantha. She’s marrying into the trucking world and it won’t get easier for her. She has got a lifetime of those "I’m just going to give the truck a quick wash and I’ll be home in 10 minutes" phone calls.  She’s got years of catching her husband sneaking glances at pictures of his shining stainless wrapped mistress on his phone. Whilst Samantha will have plenty of time to raise her eyebrows in frustration, we should all tip our hats at the effort SoilWorx has put into their latest work horse and to young Mike Batten.

The future of our industry couldn’t be in shinier hands. Literally.

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