Welcome to Kerren’s Comments. Beyond my role as Managing Director of J. Smith & Sons, I function in a number of different roles in the Australian community. This puts me in the privileged position of seeing and hearing firsthand what key decision makers are saying about the direction of the transport and mining industries; and this nation more broadly. This blog space will give you insight into the latest issues and events in the transport and mining industries. I will also comment on local, state and federal government issues from time to time. You can receive my comments into your inbox automatically. Just click on the ‘RSS Feeds’ link below 'Quick Links' and follow the instructions. I trust that you will find my comments informative, insightful and helpful in shaping your decisions.
After 100 Years, a proud Smith tradition continues…
John “Jack” Smith was born in what is now known as Jubilee Street Monkland within the Gympie district in 1880. John was among the original students of the Monkland School. He completed his trade as a blacksmith with Mr. Niesler of Gympie. John traveled west to learn coach building with Cobb and Co in Charleville. Returning to work in Gympie, he won the gold medal for the best horse drawn vehicle manufactured by a Gympie Native at the 1898 Gympie Agricultural Show. Flushed by his early success, Jack established his own business in 1900 in Smith Street at Monkland.
A silver medal was won at the same Agricultural show in 1905 for the best butcher’s cart. During the early years of the twentieth century, production changedfrom coach building to motor body building as motor vehicles became more common. The products were all single unit hand fitted wood and steel cream carriers, cattle crates and tray tops. Jack Smith also has claims on the first caravan built in Queensland in 1926.
Council worksite vans were a steady line of business from that point and the traditional ‘Smithy’ side of the business provided spring making and repairs to the agricultural and motor trades. Jack Smith and his eldest son Bill moved their business from his backyard shed to Monkland Street in the main township of Gympie in 1929, the year of the infamous “Great Depression”. The business survived because of its strong reliance on repairs and rebuilds. Demand for new products gradually increased as the great depression lifted.
Jack had two sons Bill and Jim; both did their trade in blacksmith and motor bodybuilding. Bill entered the business in 1919 and Jim in 1931. The partnership of J. Smith and Sons was formed in 1936. The Second World War interrupted the business cycle again in 1939. J. Smith & Sons was classified as an essential industry due to the importance of transport to the war effort. Jack Smith offered his services free to the American truck drivers who called in at all hours for spring repairs. A shrewder businessman would have taken the American dollars being waved in front of Jack, but he saw it as his patriotic duty to keep the trucks rolling.
On Jacks retirement in 1954, Bill and Jim purchased the business. Billy was the welder and Jim the blacksmith and body builder. The fifties started the Golden Age of Local Government when funding for local infrastructure was abundant. Councils maintained large fleets of road building equipment. J. Smith & Sons developed a solid reputation for tip bodies. They were so well built that Councils used to transfer them from the old truck to the new truck. Councils would base their specification around the “Smith” body. Jim was an innovative builder and built his first semi-trailer in 1971. Bill retired in 1972 and his share was taken over by Jim’s wife Elizabeth.
The Monkland Street premises was far too small to cater for the demand for tip bodies enjoyed by J Smith & Sons. The regular flooding of the town of Gympie cost the company greatly. After the floods in 1974 the partnership J.C & E.A. Smith trading as J. Smith & Sons made application under the Queensland Government Department of Industry Development ‘pioneer industry factory building’ scheme. The application was approved for a factory building to be located on the Department of Industry Development’s Gympie Industrial Estate, South of Gympie, adjacent to the Bruce Highway.
The Hon Fred Campbell MLA Minister for Industry Development opened the new factory on 20 June 1975. Just as 1929 was a turbulent time for the world when Jack Smith moved into his Monkland Street premises, 1975 was a turbulent time in Australia. It was the year the Governor-General dismissed the Labour Government of Gough Whitlam. The mini depression brought on by the anti-business policies of Whitlam’s Labour put a lot of pressure on small business. Jim Smith had the first of two heart attacks after moving into the new building. It was at this time that Jim’s middle son Kerren resigned from his job as a clerk in the Brisbane City Council and was “Thrown in the Deep End” as Production Manager to help the family through this stressful time.
Kerren Smith assumed control of the business as his father’s health prevented a full return to work. While grounded in the traditional quality of the “Smith” product, he was not intimidated to look at new lines of work. Kerren actively sought sales to the large transport corporations as well as maintaining a growing band of loyal owner operators. The Smith product line was rationalised and consolidated to tip bodies, tip trailers, low loaders, tag trailers, road train dollies, car carriers and related vehicles.Kerren developed the side tipper in 1976. He exported side tippers and other tippers to Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. In 1986 he built the first “B” Double in Queensland. The partnership continued until 1989 when the partnership was sold to a company and J. Smith & Sons Pty Ltd was formed. Kerren had to fight the prejudice of the city-based corporations in accepting that innovative transport engineering could be developed in the “bush”. His first major order was for the fabrication of thirty-six “Stinger” car carrier frames for Finemores.
The sugar industry was one industry heavily targeted by Kerren. Its purchasing cycle was opposite that of Council work as new equipment had to be ordered in December for delivery for the crushing season in March and early April. Kerren Smith through his corporate customers Luya Julius, Finemores, Johnstone River Transport and Zarb Transport ended up supplying eighty percent of all raw sugar and cane road transport equipment in Queensland up to 1995. This double pumping of the business using alternate Council and Sugar Industry work allowed him to build the business up to a turnover of $4.2M in 1991.
The introduction of microcomputing in the early 1990s permitted Kerren to lift his sales presentations another notch and it cemented the confidence of the larger corporations. The introduction of CAD sped up production and permitted consistency on large production runs.
The company acquired a graduate engineer Kevin McDonnell in 1994 as the design workload for Kerren became too much. Kevin brought formal engineering skills to the company and added finite element analysis to J. Smith & Sons Pty Ltd design capability. Presently, the Engineering Department has been expanded to a staff of seven. The company is continually expanding, increasing turnover and now employing in excess of seventy people. The staff at Smith’s continue to enjoy the challenge and success that comes with the process of designing and manufacturing world leading equipment. Recently, the Smith Flatpack Car Carrier and the Hydrapede Powered Dolly’s have added a new dimension to the Smith production capabilities. Through new, market leading, innovation the proud Smith tradition continues.