Family do the hard yards to build company
DUDLEY Abraham sits in his office at Granite Belt Fruit Freighters pouring through a treasure trove of photos, depicting the years and vehicles past.
His hand methodically sifts through the plastic zip-lock bag, a substituted photo album, in search of a familiar worn sepia scene.
Landing on his catch, Dudley's soft blue eyes light up.
It's his early-model Dodge, the truck that started it all.
From a family of orchardists on the Granite Belt, Dudley's first experience behind the wheel came when he began making deliveries for the local farmers cooperative.
Slowly but surely, as many in their youth are prone to do, he began to pull away from the family produce business in pursuit of his own interests.
He found himself enjoying his time behind the wheel more and more.
"I probably felt I liked the trucks more than I liked the farming, that's the way it went,” Dudley said.
"At the time when I was spending so much time with the trucks my wife wasn't so happy and I said, well, this is it, take it or leave it.
"But she took it and stuck with me ever since ,” he laughed.
"I'm lucky for that, 50 years together next year.”
The farmers cooperative went under but Dudley's business continued to grow.
He soon found a business partner and established a depot on a Stanthorpe orchard, using the farm house as an office.
But by 2005 the business was met with a challenge, as Dudley "bit the bullet” and bought out his partner, who was looking to sell.
The family again moved from one step to the next, taking on each challenge as fate allowed.
"It's a worry at times, you sort of just have to take a leap over these things,” he said.
Dudley said he felt overwhelmed at first when taking over the business as a whole, having to stretch from his speciality of logistics into the business side of things.
"I was never involved in the workings of the business, I didn't have that skill,” he said.
He instead learnt to delegate.
"You rely on other people and surround yourself with good ones,” he said.
Dudley's sons, Rodney and Glen, were included.
"The boys were here then, they had been working, driving and that,” he said.
"All their young lives they wanted to be truckies but when they were leaving school I said no, you're going to get a trade.”
The caring father hoped his boys would then have something to fall back on.
Yet undeterred they both chose trade fields related to their dream of getting behind the wheel of Dad's trucks.
Rodney chose refrigeration with what is now Thermo King and Glen did a diesel fitter's apprenticeship in Stanthorpe.
"Once they did that they came to work,” he said.
The business expanded for a short time with investment, then suddenly the global financial crisis hit its lowest point, dragging Granite Belt Fruit Freighters and many other companies along with it.
The situation came so close to the line the boys, who were looking for land at that time, pitched in to use what little they had to buy their father's home.
"We went through a very difficult time and were probably on the verge of going under,” Dudley said.
"I said, well can you buy my place to give us a bit of money to keep the business going.
"It left me homeless but with enough money to keep the business going.
"I've always been involved in the church and they didn't have a minister.
"I just wanted to do everything I could to keep it going, it could have failed but I always had a feeling that it had to keep going, I had the feeling it would come good, I wasn't worried about my own stuff.”
So Dudley lived in the manse, in exchange he helped to run the church for two years.
Ultimately the sons slowly built on the business, setting up another home on the lot, making way for Dudley to return.
From that point on the business started to get back on its feet.
"We now look at things differently because of that time, I said to the boys, we will keep trucks longer and re-power them with reconditioned motors or new motors,” he said.
"That and the fuel price coming down enabled us to prosper.”
Today the family has 16 prime movers plus local pick-up trucks and 21 refrigerated trailers running produce to Sydney, north Queensland and places in between.
The depot has also been the home to Johnny Apple Crunch, a long forgotten Apple and Grape Festival mascot.
"We volunteered to house and store Johnny years ago,” Dudley said with a smile, looking out at the oversize garden gnome.
"So we have had him for a while.”
Rodney, who focuses on the operations side of things, said he was happy with the position in which the business currently found itself.
"I'm pretty happy with the way things are going, just keeping it at a steady flow now, stability in our fleet is what we are about,” he said.