RJ Trevail brings company's first ever tractor unit back to life

George Barrow
March 27, 2024

“I don’t mind being the oldest rugby player in Cornwall, but I’m not going to be the oldest haulier,” Bob Trevail tells us. At just 73 years of age, the RJ Trevail founder has just finished his 50th year in the haulage industry, but despite insisting he’s winding down, there seems little chance of this most affable of Cornishmen taking a back seat, even though his son Matt has now now joined forces with him to bring in his own expertise in groundworks and plant.

“When I got to about 60, there were a lot of the drivers retiring and I was thinking of winding it down myself, but then Matt came along and we decided he’d do the diggers and I’d do the lorries. Now we’ve got a young pup and an old pup working together and we don’t have any problems with that. It’s worked well and we’re doing it how they want us to,” Bob explains.

The ‘they’ that Bob refers to is the DVSA, or ‘The Ministry’ as Bob regularly refers to it. Having fallen foul of its procedures some years ago, Bob is understandably cautious about doing things the right way. It’s not that RJ Trevail has many run-ins with the DVSA, but Bob freely admits that admin is not his strong point. That’s partly where Matt comes in. With RJ Trevail being chastised
for its record-keeping, Matt is now chief record-keeper and something of a buffer between the strong-willed Bob and The Ministry.

“They hate dinosaurs like me. They can deal with Matthew because he’s got records and can tell them exactly what they want to know,” Bob explains.

A lack of suitably presented documents resulted in a failed TEVR report and RJ Trevail subsequently received a telling-off from the traffic commissioner. The matter was settled, but the incident has undoubtedly had a profound effect on the way things are now run, and highlights the journey Bob has come on since starting out with his first truck in November 1973.

It’s a far cry from Bob’s early days in the industry, starting off working for someone else, driving between Cornwall and London. His route into the cab was largely down to his farming upbringing. “I grew up on a farm, and I knew I didn’t want to milk cows seven days a week, so I went straight into the garage,” Bob says. From working on trucks as a mechanic, the next step was to drive them. As his reputation and contact book grew, so too did the work. Long before pallet networks were invented, Bob’s trips out of Cornwall were soon getting more and more stops, and the route to London was becoming more lucrative for him.

But then the amount they wanted him to work changed, and with a young family, Bob decided being away for the majority of the week wasn’t for him, so he bought the Ford D1000 V8 Perkins he was driving and set up as an owner-driver.


Of course, the first trip sailing under his own flag didn’t go quite as expected, as he explains: “The first trip with me owning that thing, I went to London. It was going to pay £57, then I took a load of tiles out of Leighton Buzzard for £44. Then I had two blowouts on the way down – £132. It worked out alright, but that’s how it started.”

Bob kept the truck for two more years before getting a Leyland Clydesdale, which he wasn’t impressed with. However, despite its numerous problems, Bob’s tenacity for work was perhaps partly the issue. He explains that after speaking with the salesman, he was told: “Mr Trevail, that lorry is not meant to do 112,000 miles in 12 months.” But as Bob tactfully puts it: “I would
have done a lot more if the thing didn’t keep breaking down”.

It wasn’t just the truck that wasn’t cut out for the long hours. Working night and day also took its toll on Bob, who was told in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t make 30 years of age if he didn’t change the way he was working.

That brings us to part of the reason for our trip to Cornwall – a new addition to the RJ Trevail fleet that is rather an old timer. It’s also where Bob says the story really begins, as the ERF, registration OCV 101R, was the first tractor unit he acquired.

“In the winter it was cauliflowers and cabbage, loading back, and in May and June it was potatoes, but always filling in the gaps with general haulage.

“Truth be told, though, it was all a bit of a fluke, because we used to bring timber back for UBM [now Jewsons] from Barking to Truro, but they lost the job and it went down to Sheerness. UBM called me up one day, and asked if I’d do them a favour because they were desperate for timber. They guaranteed I’d get paid and asked me to go to London. I had my own trailer for doing steel that I was using with a timber bolster and twist locks and as I was sheeting down, the manager came out and asked if I would be interested in doing all of the West Country. I said ‘Listen mate, I’m only an owner-driver’, but he asked if I could get a couple of people to work with me.”


“That really was the saviour, so I thought about it, and we did it. We’d stay away all week, doing Glastonbury, Barry Island, and all over, then load back for Truro at the end of the week. Within six weeks, I’d done my yearly turnover – mind you I hadn’t had a penny off them at the time. That all changed when we were waiting for a boat to clear customs in Rochester. There were 18 of us, and we cleared the boat in one go. Then the chap came out with an envelope – it had £26,000 in it – which was just as well because I think the boys were wondering if they were ever going to get paid. That was a brilliant job, though. We had it for over a year until they lost it, but that job in 1978 is what made it really.”

Bob says that he punched the hell out of that truck for maybe two and a half years, recounting his time working while the steelyards were on strike, and off the back of that getting a job to move 1,000 tonnes of steel out of storage, doing so in less than a week – with a little help from his friends.

Unsurprisingly, the stories come thick and fast, but those few years of hard work paid off, allowing Bob, in 1981, to buy the yard he currently owns just outside the village of Rose, near Perranporth. Matt, the youngest of Bob’s four children, had been born two years earlier, in 1979, but it was no surprise to many (given the amount of work he was doing) that a divorce soon followed. The divorce was amicable, but it left Bob needing money, and after convincing the bank manager to lend him £20,000 to pay for the family home, he was off to the next job to repay the debt.

“I’d go away on a Sunday, go to Watford, tip in the morning, load up, and then head straight to Bristol and then back home, where the driver [George, an employee of the company] would then take the truck for the rest of the week. Then I’d wait for him on Friday night and go and do exactly the same again. I had a good run of that for a long time. In fact, I paid the £20,000 back in 12 months. Between the two of us we did 1 million km in four years,” he says.

Matt recounts how he remembers barely seeing his dad at the time, but the divorce had made Bob realise he wasn’t going to be able to afford to pay for two houses unless he stepped up another gear. He quickly grew the business with a mixed fleet of trucks, one of them being an artic that worked on china clay to Sheffield and Stoke, up until 2001 when the bulk of the domestic industry collapsed.

“That was the end of the long distance,” Bob explains. “I wasn’t prepared to go to 10 or 20 artics, but by that time I had about 10 tippers, going through the ranges from Ford to Seddon to Dodge, then Mercedes as 4-, 6- and 8-wheelers. Then a full fleet of ERFs, which were eventually replaced by Renaults, before going over to Scania in 2009. They weren’t the best at the time, but it got better. The new Euro-6 engines are far superior to the Euro-5s. Then the Volvos started to creep in because the FMX old-style one was coming to an end, and we did a deal that was so cheap that it was ridiculous not to have one.”

RJ Trevail tends to keep its trucks for four to five years, but it’s the maintenance and service side of things that Bob is really passionate about. “We’ve always been fussy on maintenance,” Bob says, once again making mention of the traffic commissioner’s own observations about the strict regime being carried out on the trucks. The problem, however, is the location. Cornwall isn’t awash with dealers and tough competition perhaps isn’t keeping them on their toes in the same way as in other parts of the country. 

“Unfortunately, you get what you get down here. There’s no bad lorries, just [bad] back-up,” Bob summarises.

Having worked extensively with both Scania and Volvo in recent years, though, they have come up with a service plan that meets the complicated demands of a busy fleet working multiple shifts.

The fleet is now at 20 tippers and the yard has had to be expanded to make way for Matt’s machines, which also number around 20 units. There are bays for various grades of aggregate, and the business has now expanded to incorporate more of a builder’s yard with both bagged and loose materials, as a way of complimenting and diversifying from the quarry work. It’s been a real success, not least during Covid, when RJ Trevail stayed open as a critical service-provider to support the highways and maintenance operations still being carried out across Devon and Cornwall, selling out of material stocks in the yard in just two days.

Demand for materials has kept both sides of the business busy, and with it brought a fresh load of new headaches both operationally and logistically that have been overcome with great success.

The major challenge to the business since Covid has been the lack of new drivers coming through to take on the modern demands of an ever-changing and heavily regulated industry – a great example of this being the progressively complex quarry and site access requirements, which are increasingly reliant upon technology.

“We’ve got drivers in their 60s and 70s who don’t even have an email address, and they’re expecting them to go home and use smartphone apps for training and tracking. They’ve got an old Nokia that can send a text message and tell you the time. That’s it. It’s constant [extra] work we’re having to do,” Bob says.

Not one to shy away from an argument, Bob tells us several stories about his drivers being mistreated at a number of sites and him having to personally go and deal with the situation.

Not mincing his words, he explains that “the onus is always on the haulier and that quarrymen should stick to their jobs and not play at being part-time hauliers”.


If Bob’s beginning to come across as quite grumpy, it’s because he is, but that appears to be what’s expected of a Cornish tipper operator. He and Matt both agree that the industry in this part of the world is fiercely loyal and supportive. The local hauliers clearly look out for each other. Bob names CIB Lello, Hart’s Haulage, Westfield Transport and AR Haddy, in particular, as some of the best in the industry.

“They’re the loyal ones. They all fight the same arguments. We stick together down here, we all think the same, and if a driver is getting bullied by a quarry, we’ll fight their corner,” Bob says. “It’s just that maybe I do it more than most,” he adds with an air of mischief. He’s certainly not afraid to speak his mind, perhaps safe in the knowledge that “I’ve done enough time in this industry to know that when one door shuts, another always opens”.

With so much having gone on in the last 50 years, it’s hard to keep up when speaking to Bob and Matt, but one topic continues to be raised – Bob’s retirement. It’s not worded as such, because, in truth, a man like Bob is never going to truly retire from the industry, but there are several references to “slowing down”. Bob tells us how he used to keep 150 bullocks, which is now down to 70. Then there’s the fact that he’s been on not one, but two holidays recently – an experience not previously enjoyed in more than 10 years, according to Matt.


If age and injury have put paid to his career on the rugby pitch, we’re doubtful his life in transport will be relinquished quite so easily. He may not want to be the oldest haulier in Cornwall (Bob says four or five started in 1973 and “we’re still working, still driving and still fighting”) but something tells us Bob Trevail will be around not only for many more years to come, but until everyone else has given up too – even if he says he won’t.

About the Author


George Barrow

George has been writing about nearly anything with wheels for the past 15 years and is the UK jury member of the International Van of the Year and International Pick-Up Award.

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