Operator profile: Forrest Logistics

By: Ricky French


How Jason Clift handles oversize transport challenges and why sunglasses rarely leave his head

 Jason Clift
Jason Clift

While the image of over-dimension trucking might be one of brawn over brains, Jason Clift knows that getting an oversized load from A to B requires a keen and focused mind.

As director of Brisbane-based Forrest Logistics, Clift has learnt over many years that many of the headaches you’ll have in moving the big stuff will come from juggling paperwork and permits, not on the road.

Operating out of a small but comfortable shed over the back fence from Archerfield Airport, the sun blazes down, heats the gravel and bounces a harsh white light sharply off the white flanks of Clift’s trusty pilot ute.

You get the feeling sunglasses are a permanent feature of Clift’s face.

It might be hot, but he keeps a cool head. He has to.

He’s organised over 60 police escorts for over-dimensional loads in the last few months. But it’s inside the simple shed behind the computer and the phone that Clift really works his magic.

It’s a never-ending process of form-filling and navigating through the complex hurdles of bureaucracy in order to rubber stamp the passage of the trucks.

But if anyone can do it, Clift can.

He likes the challenge of making big things happen and knows the game well.

But Clift admits he still has many things to learn and is always willing to listen to other professional operators.

 Acid tank for galvanising plant
Acid tank for galvanising plant

Think big

Forrest Transport Services was founded by Steve Forrest in the 1980s.

They were the primary transporter contractor for engineering group John Holland, whose jobs included major infrastructure projects at the peak of the mining boom, including building marine wharf structures through North Queensland at Abbot Point and Hay Point.

Clift worked for John Holland at the time and was the first contact between them and Steve Forrest. He learned the ins and outs of over-dimension transport; what could be done and what the challenges were.

After four years in that role Clift took an opportunity to come over to Forrest Transport Services to help coordinate their transport.

"Steve’s business had grown to the point where he needed someone to come in and help. So I came in and worked with Steve for five years."

With Steve Forrest transitioning into retirement Clift took over the business in May 2015. Clift also had a request.

"I said to Steve, ‘Do you mind if I keep the word "Forrest" because that’s our brand.’ He said no problem." Forrest Logistics was then born.

In the two years since taking over Clift has worked feverishly to get it through the tough times when the manufacturing industry took a dip.

"During that transition period we made the business a lot more viable by downsizing and diversifying. We re-employed all the drivers we had, but didn’t employ office staff initially."

Today Clift’s wife Charmaine works in accounts part time, and Clift employs nine drivers and two administration staff. He uses subbies during the spikes, but he won’t give the work to just anyone.

"We use the same subbies because I can trust them. We hand-pick them and use the same ones all the time."

 Lifting the lid on the Kenworth
Lifting the lid on the Kenworth

The fleet consists of nine trucks and fifteen trailers. He’s got Kenworths and Freightliners, plus specially modified, extendable trailers with steerable rear ends and two-position king pins.

The aim is to get as much as you legally can onto the trailer. His recently purchased 48 foot extendable flat top opens up to 23.3 metres in length, and having the two positions on the king pin and a sliding suspension allows him to maximise the amount of rear overhang.

While most truck maintenance is outsourced the trailers are usually done in-house. Wayne Kelly is one of Clift’s drivers and is also a qualified diesel mechanic.

He happily tinkers away on the trucks when not required on the road. Lifting the lid of his favourite Kenworth he proudly says, "You could eat off this chassis it’s that clean."

A mind of steel

"Steel manufacturing is still the biggest industry we service," says Clift, who adds that 65 per cent of their business is Brisbane-based.

The job usually consists of picking up steel from a manufacturer’s workshop, dropping it off to a galvanising or coating plant, then picking it up again and taking it to a building site. Every step of the journey has challenges that Clift has learned to adapt to.

For a start there’s the matter of arranging odd bits of oversized steel on your trailer.

Fabricated steel often has big cleats that stick out at inconvenient angles and make loading the truck akin to putting together a giant, awkward jigsaw puzzle.

Clift gains an advantage from using high, movable bearers on all his trailers. The extra height means he can lay the steel with the cleats facing down, giving a flat base to build the rest of the load on to.

 Precise night operation at Brisbane Airport
Precise night operation at Brisbane Airport

"It gives us a head start," he says. "A lot of our clients say they like that set-up."

Once you’ve got your head start you still have to visually work out in advance which items to load next and how each piece interacts with the next. A mistake and a reload means lost time, especially with the size of the steel.

"Our guys are all very well trained. If you can imagine turning up to a workshop and seeing 15 tonnes of steel sitting on the ground. That’s what you’ve got to do: work out how to get it all on the truck."

It’s also important to protect the steel, especially once its been coated. Clift says the two major protective coatings are hot-dip galvanising and powder coating, and both need to be protected.

"We take a lot of pride in ensuring the painted steel is delivered in good order. Spending a few extra minutes using carpet to separate the touch points minimises the chances of the paint surface being compromised."

He says the dimension of a load is usually more of an issue than weight.

"With structural steel we’ll fill the truck up before we get to a problem with weight, due to the nature of its irregular shape. 15 tonnes would be a very good load on the back of a trailer."

Other freight carted by Forrest Logistics includes steel pile casings, portable buildings, girders, retainer walls, modulised gantries for the mining industry, oversized tanks and even railway tracks. It’s enough to keep Clift’s problem-solving mind happily ticking over.

Transition to NHVR

The transition from a state-based permit system to the more national NHVR hasn’t been without its headaches for many operators. For Clift it has meant a longer wait to get permits approved.

 Clift carrying out trailer checks
Clift carrying out trailer checks

"It’s been a bit of a clumsy transition in my opinion. I think there are still a lot of hurdles to get over, but we are keeping an open mind."

Clift says he’s not alone in experiencing frustration with the time it takes for permits to work their way through the system.

He says it was faster with the old state to state system, where permits would generally be issued in two weeks.

"If you’re travelling with an oversize load that requires a specific permit and travelling interstate then you must go through the NHVR process.And that process at this stage is taking a lot longer.

"That’s the main criticism I commonly hear. I do support the change to NHVR for issuing permits but it needs to get better. I’m sure it will improve over time."

Driving business from the office 

Clift is somewhat rare in that he doesn’t come from a truck driving background. He doesn’t hold a truck licence, but he understands acutely what makes an over-sized trucking business work.

He knows all the permit systems and the hurdles authorities make you jump through to get your over-sized freight moved.

In his office is a notice board that has forms in sequential order as they make their way through the various stages of the approval process.

It involves liaising with councils, telcos, power providers, government departments and customers.

 Trailer awaiting a load in Clift's yard
Trailer awaiting a load in Clift's yard

A recent big project involved carting 34 over-sized structures into Brisbane Airport, across the tarmac during a brief lull in flights in the middle of the night.

"It was a precise operation," says Clift. "We had to ensure our timing was perfect. Sometimes we only had ten minutes left up our sleeves."

The job involved 34 police escorts and "a few sleepless nights," but it went without a hitch.

Big things ahead

In a little over two years Clift has put his own mark on a successful, stable business.

"The last twelve months have been good for us, and we’re in a position where we can be viable in the lean times. We have loyal clients and a good core group of staff."

He’s learnt from the best and knows that the best results come when you pass on your experience to others’.

"Steve’s been a great mentor. I really haven’t changed much to the business model. It works really well. I’ve worked in a lot of high pressure roles and that doesn’t faze me. I thrive on it. I’d rather be busy than not busy."

The way things are going, Forrest Logistics can only expect to get busier.

Read the full feature in the December edition of ATN. Subscribe here.

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