Mills Freightlines marks 50-year milestone

By: Tamara Whitsed


mills1 Paul Mills loves 'sitting in the truck and having two shiny trailers swinging behind me'. And the family business’ strong management team allows him to spend plenty of time on the road. mills1
mills2 Mills Freightlines’ 2015 Freightliner Coronado 114 with 58-inch XT sleeper cab. mills2
mills3 The 2015 Coronado 114 carts grain, gypsum, lime, fertiliser and scrap metal. mills3
mills4 mills4

We talk to Paul Mills about the fourth-generation truck company

 

Paul Mills was watching the weather radar when he spoke to ATN recently. Storms were frustrating grain growers and carriers at the start of the South Australian grain harvest.

Paul operates Mills Freightlines with his wife Jayne Mills and his parents, Gavin and Margi Mills. The business is based in Brinkworth, 150km north of Adelaide, SA.

Most of their clients are farming families. Some have supported Mills Freightlines since Paul’s grandfather Bob Mills began carting farm supplies in a Ford Thames Trader in 1966.

Paul is quick to praise his parents’ ongoing role in building the dynamic business which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Gavin oversees all facets of the company and Margi is a vital part of the accounting team. Paul’s sister Toni Ashby also works at the business, managing operational health and safety.

Paul and Jayne married in 1994 and today Jayne is in charge of coordinating Mills Freightlines’ trucks and day-to-day business.

Their son Thomas has continued the Mills tradition into a fourth generation.

Having such a strong management team makes it possible for Paul to spend time on the road.

From March until August each year Paul collects gypsum from his family’s two gypsum mines and spreads it on farms in the Mid-North, Upper-North and Yorke Peninsula with a Mercedes-Benz Actros 2644. 

Harvest

Each November his focus moves to the grain harvest. Right now the Mills fleet is busy carting cereals and pulses to Viterra silos from farms throughout Mid-North SA.

The family runs 23 trucks. Eleven are used for the company’s recycling business, Clare Valley Waste, which specialises in the collection of curb-side recyclable waste.

Several truck brands are represented in this fleet – Volvo, Isuzu, Iveco, Fuso, Hino and Mercedes-Benz.

The 12 trucks in the red and white Mills Freightlines fleet are all from the Daimler stable – three Mercedes-Benzes and nine Freightliners.

The newest are a 2015 Freightliner Coronado 114 with a 34-inch sleeper cab and a 2015 Freightliner Argosy.

They were both purchased in 2016 and old black-and-white photographs have been reproduced within the white stripes in celebration of the 50th anniversary.

‘50 years, est 1966’ is cut into the stainless trim, and ‘Celebrating 50 years’ is painted on the removable road-train-sign covers.

Long-term drivers have been an important part of Mills Freightlines’ history. Shane Verran has worked for the family for 38 years. Bart Burford has spent 21 years with the company.

Pye Gray has been there for a decade and Paul is impressed with the 69-year-old’s energy and enthusiasm.

They value young drivers too. Jake Verran, 26, joined the team eight years ago and now drives road trains.

Paul has been visiting Daimler Trucks Adelaide since he was a baby in his father’s arms. Back then it was a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

"We’ve had a couple of very good salesmen who’ve looked after us, and very good parts people."

Gavin and Margi operated 1418 Mercedes-Benzes back in the 1970s. They updated with more modern and powerful Mercedes.

But Paul says by the mid-1990s they were looking for a truck that was "more fuel-efficient, carried a bit more weight, with a bit more horsepower".

So in 1996 they bought a Freightliner FL112 with a 460hp Cummins. "It was light-weight but still had plenty of horsepower, and it was B-double rated."

Today most of the Mills Freightlines fleet is powered by Detroit engines. The newest trucks have 560hp DD15s.

"We’re very happy with our Freightliners," Paul says. "They’re ergonomically well-designed inside. They’re driver-friendly. They’re very comfortable."

He likes the Freightliners’ comparatively low tare weight. "It still has the fuel economy with the Detroit in there, and the horsepower to get the job done."

The trucks travel as far as Western Australia and Victoria. Incitec Pivot Ltd (IPL), Geelong, is among the company’s oldest clients. 

Recycling

Purchasing Clare Valley Waste back in 2007 was a significant milestone in the company’s history.

Today this division of the company employs about 12 people, collects curb-side recycling from four municipalities, services five transfer stations, and has over 1000 skip bins.

Paul predicts Clare Valley Waste will continue to grow. "There’s always waste."

The family’s two businesses complement each other. Mills Freightlines carries some of the Clare Valley Waste recyclables.

Paul is confident the business will celebrate many more anniversaries.

"I don’t plan on going anywhere until I’m probably up towards 70 years old, and then I’ll let the kids come in and have a crack at it if they choose to."

Bart's back!

Bart Burford returned to work at Mills Freightlines with a prosthetic leg last November, and is determined to get back behind the wheel.

The 46-year-old’s right ankle was badly crushed last April when he fell from a trailer.

The situation grew worse in hospital when his leg became infected. Surgeons explained it would take up to four years and many operations to treat the injury – and there was no guarantee they could save his leg.

They told Bart it would probably take less time to recover from an amputation.

Eager to get home and back to work, the father-of-four opted to have his right leg amputated below his knee.

The operation on May 25 went well, and he was home with his partner Sharon by June 10. "I wouldn’t have made it without her. She’s been an absolute rock," Bart says.

With support from Mills Freightlines, Bart returned to work in November.

He says they have been extremely helpful since his accident. "They’ve bent over backwards and seen to my every need."

Bart has been training the company’s younger drivers while working through a list of medical appointments and licencing assessments in a bid to regain his truck licence.

He even had to show an occupational therapist that he could change a truck tyre.

"Anything that they throw at me, I can do. It just takes me a few minutes longer."

When ATN spoke to Bart late last year he was excited to have "ticked all the boxes" and optimistic his MC licence would be reinstated before Christmas.

"I’m just waiting on the paperwork."

The reward for his determination and hard work will be climbing back into the driver seat of Mills’ 2015 Freightliner Coronado 114 with a 58-inch XT sleeper cab.

"It’s a beautiful truck. I did 80,000km in it before I had the accident."

He says it is easy to climb in and out of the truck, and there is plenty of room to move around inside the spacious cab.

"If you’ve got the passion and the fire in your belly you’ll find your way of doing it, and doing it safely."

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