Teletrac Navman Fleet Focus | Passion Projects

 
Passion Projects
 December 2020    Story Wayne Munro Photos Gerald Shacklock

There were moments in West Auckland transport operator Richie Malam’s education that he really enjoyed: Like watching all the trucks go past his school. LOL.

During lunchtimes and intervals, “I used to stand at the fence and watch Barry Butterworth go past in the Black Bitch.” Yep, the black Kenworth W924AR tractor unit owned (and given its now totally un-PC name) by the legendary Kiwi “outlaw” speedway racer and truckie.

With Richie being a Westie, some of the locals were among his favourites: The Lendich and Antunovich Contracting trucks, for instance. And other contractors like Ian Spedding, the Lipanovichs and their Macks and the R.E. Jackson trucks. In fact, Richie’s first ride in a Kenworth was in Spedding’s first KW, in the mid-1970s.

The thing is that Richie is not only the son of a truckie….he’s also proudly able to boast of four generations of forebears who drove or owned trucks.

And that includes a great-great grandfather who started out as a horse and cart carrier – way, way back in 1893…working out of what is still the family property in semi-rural Oratia.

Subscribers: Please LOGIN to read the full article

Gallery

There were moments in West Auckland transport operator Richie Malam’s education that he really enjoyed: Like watching all the trucks go past his school. LOL.
During lunchtimes and intervals, “I used to stand at the fence and watch Barry Butterworth go past in the Black Bitch.” Yep, the black Kenworth W924AR tractor unit owned (and given its now totally un-PC name) by the legendary Kiwi “outlaw” speedway racer and truckie.
With Richie being a Westie, some of the locals were among his favourites: The Lendich and Antunovich Contracting trucks, for instance. And other contractors like Ian Spedding, the Lipanovichs and their Macks and the R.E. Jackson trucks. In fact, Richie’s first ride in a Kenworth was in Spedding’s first KW, in the mid-1970s.
The thing is that Richie is not only the son of a truckie….he’s also proudly able to boast of four generations of forebears who drove or owned trucks.
And that includes a great-great grandfather who started out as a horse and cart carrier – way, way back in 1893…working out of what is still the family property in semi-rural Oratia.
Charles Mills, then only recently arrived from England, later introduced the first freight truck to West Auckland – nearly a century ago.
In a family where following tradition clearly runs deep (the 51-year-old Richie is, by the way, the fourth in a line of Richard Malams, stretching back to his great granddad!), it’s absolutely no surprise that he’s long since become a transport operator.
As he puts it: “I think I’ve got trucks running through my blood somehow.” 
There’s no doubt about that when you spend time with Richie (real name Richard George Malam) and his Dad Lindsay (real name Richard Lindsay Malam) at the Oratia farm where members of the Malam family have lived for 127 years (so far).
Ghosts of the past are everywhere here: It’s where Charles Mills ran his horse and cart operation, where he ran a blacksmith shop and where the old house that generation after generation of Malams have lived in, still stands.
And more recent ones: The ghosts of Richie’s boyhood – the passion sparked back then by the likes of the Butterworth, Antunovich and Lendich Kenworths showing through in the form of a growing number of KWs in the 10-truck R&R Malam fleet, owned by Richie and Lindsay.
Along with the company’s flagship 2018 T909 (which, unsurprisingly, is the truck Richie drives), there’s a 2004 T950, a 2007 T904 tractor unit, a six-year-old K200 and, most tellingly, a 1981 W924AR that’s still in daily  work. It just happens to be a truck once owned by the Antunovichs.
Elsewhere, an old LW924 Kenworth sits in an even older shed, awaiting restoration redemption. There’s a treasured touch of Barry Butterworth around Richie too: He owns a Ray Alach-built speedway midget car that the legendary Butterworth (who died in 1993) raced…
And, much more significantly, he owns – and is now painstakingly restoring – the very same Black Bitch Kenworth that excited his attention when he was a schoolkid. He bought it off Butterworth’s son Floyd (who drives for R&R Malam) six or seven years ago…making the promise that it will be fully restored to its original specification.
The old “like father, like son” proverb prevails with Richie and Lindsay and their history in other ways too: They both also share a passion for classic American cars – 1955 to ’57 Chevs, in particular – some of which have had an emotional/sentimental history for both the family and the trucking company.
Like the (no-longer-owned) ’57 Chev that Lindsay and wife Barbara helped Richie buy when he was just 14 – too young to even legally drive it! Most notably, that car was sold to finance Richie’s stake in R&R Malam when he and Lindsay started it 30 years ago.
But that, remarkably, was 97 years into the family’s history as a carrier in Oratia, in the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges. 
It all began with Charles Mills buying the farm at Oratia shortly after emigrating from Manchester…and then establishing his carrying business.
When, in the early 1900s, daughter Amelia married Richard Thomas Malam – the son of another early West Auckland settler and renowned brickmaker – the young Richard (Dick) joined his father-in-law in the carrying business.
In fact, when Mills bought a Model T Ford in the early 1920s, it was Malam who did all the driving.
Lindsay says that the family history, passed down through the generations, has it that his Granddad Richard (Thomas) drove everywhere in the Ford – even on the primitive roads over to the west coast, across the Waitakeres. Out to Whatipu at the Manukau Heads, and over to Piha and Karekare – the latter with a formidably steep access road.
Lindsay, who lived a lot of years with his grandparents, heard many of the old stories and recounts a couple of them: “Driving down to Karekare they used to have to cut a tree at the top of the hill and tie it under the back of the horse-drawn wagon to use it for a brake…!”
His Granddad also reckoned that he’d have to back the Model T all the way up the Piha hill, so that the petrol, gravity-fed, would make it to the carburettor.
Lindsay doesn’t know how or why, but believes it was probably due to the Great Depression that the Mills/Malam carrying business petered out in the late 1920s or early ‘30s – despite the fact that the large number of Dalmatian settlers who’d arrived in Oratia soon after Mills generated a lot of extra business from their fruit orchards.
During the Depression Dick Malam took on all sorts of jobs: “He worked on building the Scenic Drive, using his horse and scoop, and also worked in the native logging mills at Piha and Karekare as a labourer, like everybody else. He even did some time down in the goldmine in Waihi.
“They had five children to bring up through the Depression, so it was hard going.”
Lindsay’s not sure exactly when he started, but his Dad, Richard Charles Malam (born in 1914), eventually resumed the family’s involvement in driving trucks.
Lindsay reckons his Dad “always liked trucks. Around the farm we had a small Bedford with a little hoist on it for doing firewood.” There was plenty of manuka (ti-tree) on the property, which the Malams cut and sold.
Despite his own liking for trucks, when Lindsay left school at 16, he got a job at a city garage, doing mechanical repairs on cars and light trucks. He did get some truck action – driving a light truck picking up spare parts around the city and taking customers’ trucks to the testing station.
But after four years (just a year after his grandfather died, in 1964) he scored a job with a real trucking company (and quarrying, earthmoving and farming business), J.S. King & Sons in Wainui, northwest of Auckland.
After a few months in the workshop, he got what he really wanted – driving one of the company’s 15 or so trucks, a 1956 Leyland Comet 90 tipper, with a single-axle trailer.
The company worked all around the Auckland region – as far north as Warkworth and the south heads of the Kaipara Harbour, and south to Meremere and Pukekohe.
A series of Butterbox International ACCOs followed – first a petrol-engine version, eventually a 185-horsepower V8 Perkins-engined model.
And then a switch, in ’74, to a brand-new CW50 Nissan Diesel – a brand that Lindsay stuck with for the next 26 years.
The J.S. King operation had been split into various divisions – the trucking business renamed Wainui Metal Transport and the workshop renamed Progressive Maintenance. In ’72 it had become the Nissan Diesel parts and service agent in the lower north area – and three years later that was expanded to sales of the Japanese make, covering the area from Wellsford north.
Lindsay was offered the salesman’s role: “So I was a truck and trailer driver on a Friday night – and on Monday morning I was a Nissan Diesel salesman. So it was in at the deep end.”
It was, he soon found out, “a hard road – a very hard road.” It took him four months to sell his first truck: “The biggest problem was that the Nissan Diesels were significantly more expensive than the other three Japanese brands. So, to convince people to buy a Nissan Diesel, it was fairly hard work.”
The result? “I didn’t do big numbers. In any given year I always did more than a dozen – maybe 15 to 20.”
So how did he overcome the price disadvantage? “Perseverance really! I visited most people that I could find in the North, every three to four months. Some of them every couple of months.” His biggest deal with one customer was an eight-truck dairy company order.
It helped when the company’s sales area was expanded further south – first down to Albany, then to the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
There was a spinoff effect from Lindsay’s career, of course, on his son. As Richie says: “There was always a truck around home. It was either when Dad was driving trucks or he’d always have a trade-in here. And I’d be washing it or driving it around the yard, even though I wasn’t supposed to. I would have a go.
“All that I wanted to do was leave school and drive trucks. But Dad and Mum said ‘no, you should get yourself a trade. You can always go and drive trucks later – but get yourself a trade.’ ”
So when Richie was 15 he started a panelbeating apprenticeship.
Like Lindsay, he’d developed a passion for classic American V8 muscle cars and celebrated completing his apprenticeship in 1990 by taking a month’s holiday in the US – even quitting his job so it could happen.
Soon after his return home he and his Mum and Dad came up with a plan – one that would allow him to indulge his passion for trucks and tap into Lindsay’s years of experience in the industry: They’d buy a secondhand tipper and start a cartage business at the family property – a 50/50 father and son partnership.
Lindsay would carry on working in his Nissan Diesel sales job – doing the admin side of things at nights and weekends – while the 21-year-old Richie would get his HT licence and drive the truck.
At that time, in the wake of the global sharemarket crash, Richie reckons it was probably the only way he was going to realise his truck driving dream: “A lot of people were still struggling really bad – so I wasn’t going to get a truck driving job anywhere without experience and knowledge.”
His stake in the company came from the sale of his pride and joy – the’57 Chev that Mum and Dad had financed him into when he was just 14. The car was a low-mileage example from a deceased estate – a rare find.
Lindsay already had a similar car – and he and wife Barbara funded Richie’s purchase: “It was a really good old car, but it needed doing up, which I completed during my apprenticeship. It took me a long time to do it…” he explains.
It’s the car he got his driver’s licence in. But, with paying back his parents the money that he borrowed to buy it, “I couldn’t afford to run it (daily), so I used to ride a Honda 125 to work – so I could drive that on the weekends.”
Selling that car, he reckons, “was hard, but at the end of the day, it was all I had. I had no money. That car had to be sold to help purchase the first truck.” 
And he acknowledges now: “I feel that sacrificing that car, as hard as it was, really has enabled me to have what I’ve got today.”
R&R Malam started with a 1977 CW40 Nissan tipper. “Unfortunately,” says Richie wryly, “that truck was very tired and needed a lot of work. It had done heaps of Ks, and had had a hard life.”
Never mind. As Richie says, “we didn’t have any work” anyway. So once he got his HT licence, he set about completely stripping the truck, rebuilding it and repainting it: “And when it was finished, it was a very tidy truck.”
Even then, as he recalls, “there wasn’t a lot of work around. A lot of people said to us ‘Oh, you’re mad! Why are you getting into trucks?’ And, we said: ‘Well, it can’t get any worse! It can only get better.’ 
“So we plugged away there with the one truck. And what I would do is, because it didn’t have consistent work, I would be panelbeating and doing restoration work in the shed. 
“And then, a job would come in – it might be one load, it might be a day’s work and it might only be once a week. But I’d get in the truck, go out and do that.”
Lindsay organised a side job for Richie – delivering new Nissans to customers all over the country and bringing back their trade-ins.
Meagre existence that it was, driving trucks was Richie’s dream come true and he insists still that he wouldn’t change a thing: “Thirty years later, if you asked me what would I really love to do, I’d still tell you ‘drive trucks.’
“I don’t enjoy some of the things about the industry sometimes, but that’s a whole other story.
“The bits and pieces kept us going. Dad was still selling trucks at that time and I didn’t have a family, so I was able to commit all my time to help build the business up. 
“Then we steadily got busier. We started to grow a small clientele and I ended up being out every day.” There was a lot of working with companies doing swimming pool and house excavation work (“there were a lot of houses going up in the early ’90s”), plus pipeline and drainage work for a customer that R&R Malam still contracts to.
So they bought a second truck, a Nissan CW41 tipper, and hired their first driver… “and the work started snowballing.” To help meet the need, Richie started to hire other small companies and owner/drivers to help, “rather than turn the work down. And we also helped others with their overflow work.”
In 1993 Lindsay ended 29 years of working for Heck King and his family to join Nissan Diesel at its Auckland HQ as a salesman.
But he was also continuing to play an active role in R&R Malam, as Richie points out: “At nights and weekends, he was doing the accounts and sending out the invoices, among other admin duties.” 
Father and son also did all their own servicing – and pretty much all their own mechanical work, “unless it was a major.”
As the work (and the clientele) increased – and with more subcontractors being taken on – around ’95 Richie and Lindsay decided to buy a third truck…a 1987 model International T-Line.
Richie explains the choice: “We didn’t have a lot of money. And this truck suited us because we could afford it. But it was needing a complete refurbish, which once again, I did in our shed at Oratia.”
But the next purchase, a couple of years later, broke the mould: This time it was a brand-new 380 Nissan Diesel – bought from Lindsay, of course. Given his love of Kenworths, Richie concedes that, “as much as I don’t like saying it, it’s probably been the best truck we’ve ever owned. We still own it to this day. It’s done a million kilometres and 38,000 engine hours. It’s been a brilliant truck.”
As he recalls, “initially we were never going to have any more than one or two trucks. And then we weren’t going to tow any trailers – we were just going to have six wheelers only. But then a trailer came along – and that was towed by the 380 Nissan. 
“Later that same year, we bought our first Kenworth – an ex-Antunovich W Model, with a big-cam 400 Cummins. So I went from a brand-new Nissan to a 1981 Kenworth – because my love for Kenworth trucks goes back a long, long way.”
And he adds: “To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have a lot of encouragement from anybody for buying the Kenworth – including Dad. He wasn’t for it at all. Nor was anybody else really. They thought I had rocks in my head!”
Lindsay explains: “For the kind of work we were doing at the time, I didn’t really think we’d use a big truck like that.” And it had a big bulk bin on it that wasn’t suitable for R&R Malam’s work then.
Richie concedes that Kenworths are “less manoeuvrable….with less visibility, to a point. But I had a personal thing to prove it to everybody that it would work. And I went out of my way to make it work….and it did. And it’s still working today.”
But it got off to a tragic start with Malams: At the end of Richie’s first day in his beloved Kenworth, close to home an oncoming car came across the centre line and crashed head-on into the truck….in a suspected (and successful) suicide.  
Richie escaped uninjured…but “very shaken up. It does sit with you, but you’ve got to get back up and carry on. And when you see people doing stupid things, it does bring it back to you. When you do a lot of miles on the road sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen.” 
The truck was badly damaged and was months off the road – but over the next 10 years the business, and the Malam fleet, grew steadily. 
In 2000 Lindsay, then 55, retired from his sales job at Nissan Diesel to work fulltime in the family business – not to take some cushy job, parked up in the office, but to drive one of the company Nissans. 
Then in 2004, came a landmark moment (‘specially for Richie): The purchase of the company’s first brand-new Kenworth – a T950. It was, he says, “a huge deal.” And this time Lindsay was totally onboard with the idea – Richie having proven the value of the W Model to the business.
In fact, Lindsay was the one who was against another secondhand truck, taking the line: “Well, we should go the whole hog and buy a new one.”
They also bought another secondhand trailer to go with it – and that’s led to more truck and trailer units (five of them now, with new trailers and truck bulk bodies mostly supplied by Transfleet). There’s also been a 2007 Kenworth T904 tractor unit and a semi tipper bought, because it “better suits some of the jobs we do. There was a gap there that we weren’t filling…
“You can get an artic in where you can’t get a truck and trailer in. So you can cart twice as much as you could on a six-wheeler…”
Again, as Richie explains: “We never wanted to grow as big as we’ve grown, but we needed to grow with our customers, otherwise we were going to get left behind.”
Tracey Murray – one of Lindsay and Barbara’s three daughters – started off doing “little bits and pieces” of the admin work for R&R Malam almost 20 years ago.
By 2007 that had turned into taking over around half of the admin work that Lindsay had been doing. Husband Scott, who was then driving for the company (a back injury later forced him to quit), was able to occasionally stand-in for the Malams to look after the trucks in Richie and Lindsay’s absence.
For the next three or four years Tracey and Lindsay continued to share the admin, and then she took over…. although Lindsay “does still handle the insurances and so on.”
The brand-new T950 purchase kicked-in a new era of only buying new trucks, including a 440hp Nissan Diesel and a 350 Mitsubishi the same year. The Nissan, of course, “was for Dad, because he’s a Nissan man,” says Richie: “Couldn’t get him into a Kenworth, as much as I tried.”
It helped Richie’s ability to run the business from behind the wheel of his Kenworth – as he still does today – that around 2014, responsibility for the fleet’s greasing, servicing and repairs (carried out for 20 years by him and Lindsay) was handed over to Steven Dean, at SD Performance in Henderson.
Over the years, even with Lindsay’s deep involvement with Nissans and Richie’s love of Kenworths, the Malams have bought a variety of makes – a Freightliner, a Mitsi/FUSO, a Hino…even an Autocar that they bought to wreck, but ended up running for a couple of years.
But in 2014/’15 the fleet’s Kenworth presence stepped up, with the purchase of a new K200 – adding the cabover to give themselves a unit with a bit more manoeuvrability as well as payload capability…
And the addition too of a new T659 8x4 with a five-axle trailer. The latter was specifically for a job around Auckland and the Waikato.
Lindsay, prompted by the fact his Dad had died at the age of 75 (not long before R&R Malam started up), decided to retire in 2015, when he turned 70: “That’s why I stopped. I was quite happy driving, and I was still driving a truck and trailer on the Northwestern Motorway at six o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night.” 
Since then, he’s been virtually retired – still does a little admin stuff and is still the co-owner of the company, with Richie. Living next door to the yard, unsurprisingly he still “pretty much knows what’s going on day to day.”
In 2019, R&R Malam actually decided to part company with one of their Kenworths – the T659: The job it had been bought for “didn’t really last for us…and the truck was probably a little bit big, a bit cumbersome for what we do. We did make it work and we were using it, but we decided to let it go. It was our least-practical truck.”
Unsurprisingly, its replacement was another KW – a T909 and a short five-axle trailer, that’s now Richie’s truck and, along with the K200, is one of two HPMV units (this one able to run up to 52.7t). 
They kept it in the Southpac Trucks family with the latest addition as well – a new Euro 6 DAF CF. It’s the first AMT-equipped truck in a Roadranger fleet and Richie says of the AMT: “So far I’m still on the fence about it – seems to be doing okay so far, but time will tell.”
The company runs EROAD on some of the trucks – the truck-only 6x4s, primarily for “claiming back the offroad mileage. It has worked on tracking numerous times where the odd customer has challenged us on start and finish times of trucks on jobs. It’s definitely got its benefits,” says Richie. But so far he’s not been convinced to run it across the fleet. 
Interestingly, both Tracey and Richie bring a mix of old-school and new technology to their roles – Richie, for instance, still organising all of the fleet’s jobs out of a diary each evening. While Tracey, working in an office at Lindsay and Barbara’s house, still does the accounts manually – but scans handwritten invoices and delivery dockets and emails them to clients every day. At the same time, she does electronic banking, wages and tax. 
Says Tracey: “I know a few people probably think we’re pretty old-fashioned, but it works for us. It’s tactile and we don’t seem to have any problems (touch wood)!
“I know we will eventually have to (go digital/electronic) – but at the moment it works.”
Tracey takes responsibility for overseeing the company’s compliance and health and safety requirements, assisted by “a good health and safety adviser.” Regular random drug-testing is similarly outsourced.
Ask what a typical day looks like for the 10-truck Malam fleet in 2020, and Richie checks that day’s diary. They’ve been working for seven customers, on a range of jobs that includes carting aggregate and sand to a couple of readymix concrete plants, topping-up bulk metal supply yards and carting metal in and dirt out of a big drainage job and a big civil pipeline project – the latter all on a night shift. 
As usual, he’s been running subbies as well – six of them today. There’s also one owner-driver (whose Mack runs under the Malam name, but with orange paint rather than the cobalt blue Malam livery adopted over 25 years ago).
As he’s always done, Richie runs the business from behind the wheel of his Kenworth and reckons that he’s “fairly comfortable” driving fulltime AND organising the trucks at the current 10-truck level, plus subbies. 
For a period about three years ago the numbers crept up to 12 and that convinced him to get rid of two when the opportunity arose. He mentions that he’s lucky that his fiancée Trish is “understanding of what I do…the hours spent driving all day and sorting and dispatching jobs for the next day.”
While Richie concedes they might in future need to get bigger to meet demand, he insists: “We’d rather not. We’d rather work alongside our trustworthy contractors, as we’ve always done.”
He explains that this industry that he loves and enjoys working in isn’t always a joy: “Well, we don’t enjoy it every day, to be honest with you. I think having some good people that you’re working with and alongside is key. Good clients and good allies to work with… 
“But there’s a lot of things about the industry that aren’t good. Cut-throat cowboys…and the disloyalty of some contractors. There’s a lot of that out there now. People climb over each other to get to where they want to get.” 
Lindsay agrees: In the past decade, he says, “it’s been a huge change. And I think that’s probably why we get along so good with old-established companies. We’re all on the same page. We can give each other a job without the fear that the next minute the job’s gone.”
Ask Richie to take stock of where they are, with 10 trucks on the fleet, and he says: “Without being a blow-arse, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved...we started from absolutely nothing – from one old truck that Dad and I bought together. 
“We’ve built up a good healthy business and had a good lifestyle as well. We still have to work hard at it – and you definitely have to keep at it every day. 
“And this is why we’ve never put a transport manager in to run it….in a lot of ways I’d like to have someone else running it and I’ll just drive my truck, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s very hard to get someone to run your business the way you do it yourself. 
“We’ve found that it’s more successful us doing it ourselves. We keep it in the family. And then any decisions that have got to be made, Dad and I always talk about them. We don’t always agree, but we always talk about them together…. 
“And it just works well. And that’s why we don’t want to get any bigger. We would rather work alongside other good companies and all have a fair bite of the cake.”
They’ve turned down opportunities to branch out into other areas of work – primarily so “we haven’t become competition to the people we’re working for.” 
Over time the nature of the Malams’ work has changed – from predominantly residential housing work to delivering bulk loads to concrete plants and aggregate suppliers, plus a lot of civil infrastructure work.
While the work has increased, the client base has slimmed down. Says Lindsay: “It’s smaller – but we’ve got a good relationship with our customers. And some of them go back to basically when we started.”
Every driver they’ve hired, says Richie, “has come through word of mouth. We’d rather park a truck up than have the wrong person driving it – because your driver turns up to the job and if he doesn’t do a good job it’s not very good representation for your company. If you haven’t got good staff, you haven’t really got a business.
“The majority of our work has come from the work that we’ve done for people in the past. And the relationships that we’ve built.” 
So, he adds: “All things going well, we’ll just keep boxing along the same and just see how things go. No great plans.”
There’s passion, sentiment and pride that runs through this R&R Malam business: The family history in NZ transport and in Oratia is something that’s in the blood – and Richie feels strongly about keeping it going: “We are very passionate about the area and the family and what we do here.”
Lindsay too confesses to pride in having restored the Malam name in trucking: “It’s an old name in the West.”
There may not be an obvious succession plan for the Malam business – given that Richie’s 20-year-old daughter Brooklyn, who he reckons “had to spend a lot of time in trucks with me as a young girl, is more into horses, not so much into the trucks.”
Tracey’s son Jacob is definitely a truck guy, and has now taken on working with the drivers to wash the trucks every Saturday and Sunday – taking over the role from older brother Mitchell…who’s now joined the Army.
Richie’s passion includes historic musclecar racing, in a ’68 Z28 Camaro.
But even more so there’s his ultimate passion project – the professional rebuild of Barry Butterworth’s Detroit 8V92-engined Kenworth W924 tractor unit.
It’s like it was meant to be – a path that was set 35 or more years ago, when Richie got the biggest kicks of his schooldays, seeing Butterworth’s Kenworth drive by.  
Navman
NZ Truck & Driver Magazine
Read Now