Turning big rocks into little rocks’, is a rather modest way of describing Duggan’s family-owned enterprise. Backing the Tasmanian civil engineering and construction industry for over 90 years is a more accurate claim.
Based at Cradoc, alongside the Huon River in Tassie’s south, Duggans live up to the job description sign written on the door of their Kenworths – quarrying, civil construction, precast, and premixed concrete.
A third-generation family business, the enterprise has grown from a small-scale trucking operation in 1927, to a multi-facetted business providing all the required product and expertise for local civil engineering and construction projects.
“Harry (Duggan) purchased a truck and, with his first employee Eddie Beechey, they completed a road construction contract,” Managing Director, Stephen Duggan, said of the company’s earliest beginnings.
Harry and wife, Edna had 12 children, including seven boys. Five of the young Duggan boys joined the family business, which now meant Harry had to find something for them all to do.
Back in the ‘30s, Tasmania’s Huon Valley was known around the world for the quality of its apples and there was a huge amount being grown in the region for export. During the harvest, the Duggans were carting the apples from the orchards to the river boats, which then sailed them up the Derwent River to Hobart. Harry also owned and operated the local school bus, which he sensibly doubled as the family car. But apples weren’t going to keep the family business fully occupied, and Harry and the boys branched out into general cartage, dairy farming, apple and pear growing, juice extraction, and cartage of gravel and sand.
As a sideline to the gravel and sand cartage, Duggans also dabbled in the onsite mixing and placement of concrete. Over the next 40 years the company built a reputation for its service to private and government engineering projects, but it wasn’t until the early ’80s that the Duggans decided to concentrate on this aspect of their business.
Under the guidance of Harry’s sons – Alan, Greg, Daryl, and Leon – the quarrying and concrete side of the operation was further developed.
“Duggan’s business now revolves around value adding to the quarry resource that we use in our civil works premix and precast concrete production and general sales,” Stephen said of the changes.
Today, Duggans employs a staff of 70, operate over 100 pieces of plant and equipment and keep seven Kenworths and a DAF busy delivering product to construction sites across Tasmania’s south.
Their first Kenworth, a T350 tipper set up with super dog trailer, arrived in 2007. The T350 might be the smallest truck in the model range, but it’s still a Kenworth and after 12 years of service it was fitted with an auto transmission and converted to concrete agitator to work alongside the two T359 6x4s and one T359A 8×4 concrete agitators in the fleet.
“It’s been given a second life; you cannot fault Kenworth’s longevity that’s for sure,” Stephen said of their T350.
“We haven’t been in the position where we need to trade one, or turn one over, but we know Kenworth’s resale value is the best you can get.”
While resale value is an important consideration for family-owned fleets, it wasn’t the lure for Stephen.
“The real selling point for us down here working in our conditions is that four bags per axle AirGlide suspension. For getting offsite, off-road and even on-site – with the terrain we have to deliver to – it’s an important consideration,” he explained.
“Kenworth’s airbag suspension has been trouble-free and we’re using it on both our tippers and aggies. It’s solid, stands up well and keeps everything upright.”
While its concrete batching plant has the distinction of being the southernmost concrete batching plant in Australia, Stephen explained that there are quarries closer to Hobart than Cradoc.
Consequently, Duggans doesn’t try to compete, but concentrate on servicing the Huon Valley. Its pre-cast concrete operation is the exception, which the company supplies to the construction industry throughout Tasmania
“I am proud to be a Tasmanian. The business is 92-years old, and we now have the next generation coming through… so the 100-year celebration is looking good. There are about ten of us here with the Duggan name,” Stephen added.
While proud of the family’s enterprise, Stephen says the family name isn’t a free ride. Essentially, any Duggan that wants to join the company has to bring a useful skill and is encouraged to get a trade or a profession before joining the business.
Stephen is a mechanic by trade and ended up running the workshop before moving into the office. His father, Alan was the General Manager for many years. Two of Stephen’s four sons, Richard and Thomas are both mechanics at Duggan’s with Thomas running the workshop, but he also works alongside two of his brothers, four of his first cousins and some second cousins. All descendants of Harry and Edna.
With his mechanic’s background, Stephen appreciates the engineering and workmanship that goes into the Kenworth build.
“You can see it in the bracketing, especially with the air lines and wiring… they’re trouble free. There’s no other truck on the Australia market, or built in Australia that comes close to a Kenworth for quality and durability. We had no hesitation in putting an agitator on our first T350, even though it is 12 years old,” Stephen explained.
“That’s the beauty of Kenworth. You can sit down with someone and get a truck designed how you want it… a bonus is that it’s Australian made!”
Duggan’s purchased two new Kenworths in 2018, a T409 tipper with superdog trailer and a T359 8×4 hook truck. The hooker truck is a big investment for Duggan’s, set up with bins it cost more than the T409 truck and dog. The hook truck is a versatile piece of equipment and its bins can be loaded with 13 tonne of product for customers.
On the day KWDU observed it in operation, it was doing local contract work on council street refurbishment. With low overhead power wires on-site, the bin was placed on the ground making it a safer option for the excavator to load.
“A big part is the OH&S advantages,” Stephen said of the T359.
“It provides a very safe way to move things. To be fair, we looked at other trucks, but they were underdone on power when towing a trailer. They weren’t up to scratch with respect to gross vehicle ratings” he added
“With CJD and Kenworth, we could design it down to the last centimetre. There wasn’t much difference in price and it’s better to purchase a truck that’s plumbed up and designed for the application.”
In saying that, Stephen doesn’t think that there’s a truck better suited to agitators and hook applications than the T359.
“For our road conditions and environment the T359 allows us to get into tight spots. The vision and their stability are second to none. They really work for us.”
The T409 was bought primarily to move Duggan’s own resources. First up every morning is a load of sand into the batching plant, and then it’s deliveries out of the quarry. Duggan’s have also been happy with the performance of its five-year old DAF. This positive experience led them to optioning its T409 with the 510hp PACCAR MX13 engine. According to Stephen, Duggan’s was looking for improved fuel economy in the region’s challenging and undulating terrain. What they wanted was a torquey engine that could pull maximum payloads and he says the PACCAR-powered T409 is delivering the right results. The DAF CF85 has an interchangeable body system. When fitted with the turntable it’s used to tow one of six specialised trailers delivering pre-cast concrete anywhere in Tasmania. At other times it has a tipper body fitted and pulls a super dog.
“With the DAF we do mixed work. It can be changed over in ten minutes and spends a lot of time running up and down the highway. We’ve always liked the European trucks as far as comfort goes, and its PACCAR engine fitted with the ZF transmission is a good match. It has a good turning circle and it hasn’t let us down. We have that eight-bag air suspension as well. She is a good package, and now that we can get ‘em built and painted our colour in the factory, all the better. They all come from the same place.”
While some of the Duggan subbies run with larger, heavier gear, Stephen say he’s more than happy with the lighter tare weights of both the DAF CF85 and T409.
“We’re not up and down the highway with our quarry products and premix concrete all the time. Most of our work is within a 100kms radius and we do a lot of spreading work. It’s horses for courses, and 6×4 trucks and super dogs work for us,” Stephen explained.
“One of our biggest clients is the Huon Valley Council and they do a lot of yearly maintenance resheeting roads. The beauty of our quarry is that we’ve got Class 1 material right down to unpaved road materials.”
Stephen says Tasmania is a great place to do business, but adds that it’s a small marketplace so it’s important to deliver service with every load.
“We’re here for the long haul and not five minutes of glory. Every day we’re working with our fellow neighbours. We have some great long term relationships. Many of our employees have been with us for 30-40 years. Likewise, we value our suppliers and the back-up they provide. CJD, the PACCAR dealer for Tassie, with Chris Saltmarsh, have been great at getting the spec right for our needs. I’ve been through PACCAR’s Bayswater, Vic plant twice and that’s impressive. I think the Australian content and Australian build just makes for one very impressive product.”
More of everything…
Chris Piper, a 34-year veteran at Duggans got given the keys to the company’s new T409 after having been behind the wheel of the family’s 350hp T359. Previous to that Chris had driven Duggans’ original T350.
“What’s not to like? More horsepower, and it’s more comfortable and quieter. Yeah, it’s a brilliant bit of gear! It’s a driver’s truck … it’s just enjoyable to drive,” smiled Chris.
“There is plenty of torque and power and I’m now able to catch the DAF!” he laughed.
“It really has been well thoughtout. A nice dash layout and smart steering wheel. Running on the roads down here in the Huon Valley, you need a truck that handles well and has good visibility and the T409 does both.”
Not all of Chris’ 34-years at Duggan’s have been behind the wheel, as he was the concrete batcher for 12 years before taking to the road.
“There have been quite a few steps to get up to this, and I now drive the pride of the fleet.”
Today Luke Duggan is carting and spreading FCR gravel for road reconstruction in Cygnet. Tomorrow he’ll head out to south-west Tassie, towards Strathgordon, with a grader on a float to clear fire trails and fire breaks.
“I get a fair bit of variety,” Luke explains.
“I go all over Tasmania with our own precast panels, and I move all our own machinery with the float trailer. I never know where I’ll be from one day to the next. It’s nothing to be at one end of Tassie at 7.00am and then back in the yard in the afternoon. It’s a bit different than the mainland. Over here you can only drive for a day, or you could fall off the other end of the island!” he chuckled.
The DAF is now five-years old and has covered 430,000kms of the island state. It’s not that many k’s for its years, but Luke stresses that ‘it’s done some hard yards in the hills’ which has impressed him. When it comes to pensioning off the old girl, he’d gladly have another.
Luke had his own trucks and subbied to Duggans before joining the company seven years ago.
“Being so short, the DAF is very manoeuvrable, which comes in handy. Also, I like the auto,” he admitted. “Everyone said you don’t want an automatic, but once you’ve been in it for two to three weeks you wouldn’t go back. It’s so easy on the drivetrain, but I do have the manual option. I tend to run it in manual up in the hills to hold it back.”
The DAF with all its interchangeable extras and drive guards, it can still haul around 33 tonne each trip.
“I’m happy with that considering everything that is hanging on it. It’s a very comfortable truck. I’m not that big but it feels spacious, it’s great to drive, it steers well and yeah, I’d have another one for sure.”