Heavy Duty Haulers12/20/19
Specialists in their fields, the veteran drivers at LKC Holdings recount the experiences and years that have solidified their long careers.
LKC Holdings is a logistics company based out of Klang and they transport things too large to move through places you don’t even think about. Think 700 tonne structures through the swamplands of Indonesia, and you’ll have an idea of their capability. The kind of jobs they take on often require crew members with collective decades of experience and technical know-how.
We sat down with their most senior drivers, Vikaraman Muthu (40+ years at LKC) and Rames Ramaneynathan (25+ years at LKC) along with their Senior Operations Manager, Yattisparan Goonasekeran to understand what their experience has been like over the years.
Back In The Day...
The most senior truck driver at the company Vikaraman, began his career in 1972. He and Rames had similar career paths by starting at the very bottom, by first becoming crane operator assistants. However, showing interest and talent, the company eventually trained them for larger, more important roles. Both men you could say ‘graduated’ from the unofficial training grounds of LKC Holdings. When asked about the key factor to their success, the veterans attribute it first and foremost to discipline followed by interest. "Only if one is interested in driving these machines will they be able to learn the ins and outs of its operation,” explained Vikaraman.
A Job Filled With Challenges
According to Yattis, “most of the work involves weeks of surveying the route and looking at every possible challenge along the way. We arrange for escort teams, multiple trucks and at times arrange to get roads to be closed if necessary. But sometimes the unforeseen can happen and that becomes the challenge of the day. Equipment breaking down, not reaching the site on time - these are the big ones.”
It’s difficult to pin down just one interesting story with these guys. “Every single job is interesting. No two items are the same, so there are always unique challenges,” says Yattis.
He points to a photograph on the wall and recounts a story, “this huge cargo we picked up from Port Klang had to be moved to Port Dickson. It’s a tank cover. We had to flip it from a horizontal position on the ‘mother vessel’ to our own barge. It was then moved by our barge to the PD jetty, where two cranes had to tilt it up to a vertical position to move over land. Mind you, once in that position, the cargo was 17 metres high, not including the height of the trailer!”
The experienced LKC crew had to move the cargo in that difficult position over a distance of three kilometres. While that may not sound like a long distance, the team had a lot of trees, lamp posts, traffic lights, and kerbs to mind.
“This kind of job takes months of preparation and operationally, it’s all wrapped up within a week,” explained Yattis. “We got the information half a year before executing the job and the whole team as well as the local authorities had to survey the path to cover all aspects.”
Another time, the crew recounted how they pushed 700 tonnes some 17km In Malacca. “It was this tiny two-lane road, which was the only way to the jetty. At one point the three or four trucks that we were using just couldn’t haul the cargo up a particularly difficult slope. We took about several hours, congesting miles of traffic. In the end it took five trucks pulling at the front and one prime mover at the rear to get the cargo delivered,” Yattis recalled.
What Makes Them Proud
“The work is tough, but when it’s done right, that’s when we have our proudest moments. Nothing beats making a delivery safely, on time and to our client’s satisfaction,” said Rames. Because LKC trusts and empowers their senior staff members, Rames and Vikaraman are normally the first to try out new trucks. Their feedback comes from real world experiences and goes straight to manufacturers like Volvo Trucks in order to optimise their machinery for the oddball jobs that LKC takes up.
Being An Employee Of LKC
“I feel happy and proud. I think there’s a sense of mutual respect here and the company has always given us the opportunity to learn new skills.” said Rames.
“In turn, we also give training to younger drivers. On top of being drivers, we understand that it’s our responsibility to give on-the-job training to the younger generation. Our youngest drivers, Hanafi and Jeffrey are around 30 years of age, but that’s about when you’re expected to graduate to multi-axle trucks.”
“We don’t take things for granted. In this industry, some smaller companies find ways to avoid paying for EPF and SOCSO, but LKC doesn’t mess around with employee benefits like that. In fact, the company even goes a step further, buying us additional insurance for tougher jobs that expose us to danger.”
There Is No Typical Day
“Normally for heavy haulage jobs there are no fixed hours. We don’t even need to punch in and out of work. But on the flipside, whenever the work comes, we’re expected to show up as soon as an order comes in. Just the night before we finished at 5am after an order came in at 10pm,” Yattis explained.
How Times Have Changed
Of the changes he has seen in the industry, Vikamaran admitted that machinery and trucks have advanced tremendously. “Back then, just about everything was a major hazard, especially bridges. In the old days, even moving a 100 tonne object would have you planning out every step of your route and finding out what each road and bridge could support,” he added.
“Nowadays, we have trucks like the Volvo FH with over 600 horsepower. Back then most trucks had much less power, and had manual gearboxes that could send you rolling backward if you weren’t careful,” he continued.
“Trucks nowadays are nothing like they used to be. Even before they develop problems they can warn you about system irregularities. It makes things so much easier for us taking these riskier, longer jobs,” said Rames.
“And if there is a problem, the breakdown services nowadays are a lot more proactive. Truck companies like Volvo Trucks today are often prepared to send a team in with spare parts within a few hours,” Vikaraman expanded.
On the flipside, the logistics industry has also become tougher to operate within. “It used to be a real “cowboy town”, where you could haul the way you wanted if you wanted to,” Yattis elaborates. “Nowadays there are a lot of regulations, self-imposed, client-imposed and government-imposed. But the new trucks make a lot of the jobs easier to conduct.”
“Having said that, I think the younger generation who are going to take over from us need to learn patience,” added Vikamaran. “It’s an essential skill to the job. Having the interest isn’t enough; a typical drive that would take three hours by car can take 10-12 hours when doing serious cargo hauling. And there are no shortcuts to it. Other road users will lose their temper with you, block you at RnRs. You’ve just got to keep your cool.”
“On top of that, just imagine this… the kind of cargo we haul, like a transformer, has us moving at speeds of 15-20 km/h. We’ve even had cargo so heavy, crawling over terrain at 3-5 km/h.”
Both Vikaraman and Rames agreed that newer trucks like the Volvo FH made their jobs a whole lot easier though.
“These trucks are nothing like the old trucks we used to drive. The brakes and gear system are just so much more advanced, with so much adjustability,” said Rames.
Vikaraman continued, “some jobs have us waiting for hours while crew members clear the way for us or for our tyre temperatures to drop. In the Volvo FH has the ‘I-Park Cool’ function, which allows us to keep the air conditioning running with the engine turned off for a few hours.”
Looking To The Future
“I want to keep at this job as long as I am able. I’m now 58 and I’ve been working here as a foreman from the time I was a teenager. I don’t see myself anywhere else,” said Vikaraman.
Rames added, “same here, as long as LKC is around, I want to keep working for them. There’s no pressure, our manager Yattis is great.”
“We’ve had drivers leave the company and apply to re-join right after leaving, so you have an idea of just how nice it is working here,” said Yattis with a smile.