Dundalk Truck and Trailer and how the distribution of Guinness has changed

Commercial Motor
February 5, 2020

Meeting worldwide demand for Guinness is a 24/7 operation – great news for one family-run haulier that has the ‘black stuff’ running through its veins.

World-famous Irish stout Guinness may be brewed in approximately 50 countries and available in more than 100, but its spiritual and historical home is, of course, Dublin. The company began here in 1759 when entrepreneurial brewer Arthur Guinness famously signed a 9,000-year lease at £45 per annum for the unused brewery at St James’s Gate. Ten years later, on 19 May 1769, Arthur first exported his ale, some six-and-a-half barrels to a customer in England.

We’re a bit further north – in the county town of Louth, Dundalk – to meet Sean Hand, owner of Dundalk Truck and Trailer (DTT) and see how distribution of the ‘black stuff’ has changed.

The exit slip road of the main north-south M1 motorway is a mere 200m away. “That’s more luck than planning,” he laughs, explaining how his bungalow and yard were purchased a long time before the motorway was a twinkle in the Irish National Roads Authority’s eye.

Hand’s link to the brewer are pretty obvious. The firm’s ‑ flagship truck, a Volvo FH540 Lite Globetrotter, comes complete with smart Guinness and Six Nations rugby livery. But in addition to pulling Diageo-owned tankers on a trunking route between Dublin and the firm’s Global Supply facility in south-east Belfast, Sean also uses his 13 trucks and 18 trailers (a mix of skeletals, curtains and fridges) for a host of other general haulage work for a variety of customers across the locality, including some container work out of the Port of Dublin.

Ale and Hearty

“We are still very much a family-run operation,” Hand comments, talking about the business his father, Oliver, started back in 1979 with an AEC Mandator flatbed. “It was pretty much general haulage around the area in those days. He was open to carrying everything and anything.”

That original business, Oliver Hand Transport, evolved into DTT and is run today by Sean, his sister Claire and mother Gretta. “My son Ryan works here now too, as does Claire’s son Ciaran,” adds Hand proudly. The lads spend most of the time in DTT’s workshop, which runs as a third-party garage as well as doing repair and maintenance on its own vehicles.

The association with Guinness dates back to the early 1980s back when the brewer had two operations in Dundalk. One, The Great Northern Brewery on the Carrick Road, was the home to Harp lager, first brewed in the town in 1960. “Without exaggeration, Guinness is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation,” stresses Hand. And since the world’s appetite for stout is never satisfied, the distribution process never stops.

DTT operates three trucks on the Guinness tank work, and driver turnover is low, with most staff tending to make a career here. One employee is nearing 40 years with the company, while another has celebrated 19 years. The fleet is a mix of makes and models, although the newest additions are all Volvo FHs. “We have eight in total, all Globetrotters or Globetrotter XLs,” says Hand.

All new trucks come with a two-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, but all non-essential servicing and parts replacement is done by DTT’s workshops. “Doing the repair and maintenance in-house doesn’t make it cheaper, but we do it because we have our mechanics and the workshop is in our yard, so there’s an obvious saving of not having to travel back and forth to the dealer,” Hand comments.

Getting the round in

We catch up with Cormac Quigley, who drives the Guinness-liveried FH540 Lite. “We run from the brewery in Dublin up to Diageo’s bottling plant in Belfast. We normally average one-and-a-half trips a day, but if the traf­fic’s on our side, we can sometimes manage two.” Quigley’s head-turning FH bears the registration number ‘191 D 1759’. The ‘D’ stands for Dublin while ‘1759’ recognises the year Guinness was established. Although the dual carriageway from Dublin to Belfast is hardly climbing the Alps, the journey time is still critical for the smooth running of the operation. “The FH540 is averaging around 8.5mpg, but she’s running at top weight almost all of the time,” Quigley says.

Both of the latest FH 540 XL Lites have mini mid-lift axles to keep kerb weight to the absolute minimum. “The weight of the combinations we run is a seriously critical element,” Hand explains. As a rough guide, 30,000 litres of Guinness equals 30 tonnes in weight. Diageo’s stainless steel tanks also help to keep the weight down, allowing DTT to stay within the 44-tonne threshold.

FH on a diet

With very few nights away from base, Sean Hand readily admits his Guinness tank operation could easily get away with a day cab Volvo FM, maybe even with the smaller (and let’s face it, a lot lighter) 11-litre engine. However, the trade-off would affect his loyal, hard-working drivers who prefer the working environment of the larger cab. There is a degree of showmanship here with the much larger Globetrotter XL cab on the FH plus the heavier D13K540 Euro-6c power plant, but often a happy driver is better for business than saving a few kilos.

The happy compromise for bulk, weight-critical operators such as DTT is the FH Lite, a trimmed-down version of the standard pusher-axle offering. Volvo says the weight saving has been achieved by reengineering several major components, namely a new lightweight 12-tonne hollow tube drive-axle with cast aluminium brackets and mountings, mono-leaf single front spring, and a smaller, lighter 19.5in pusher-axle in the middle that forms the back half of the 16-tonne rear bogie. Other critical kilograms have been saved by including alloy air tanks, an alloy suzie A-frame, Alcoa alloy wheels and a cast Jost fifth wheel. Volvo UK and Ireland told us the FH Lite has been a sales success, with orders currently running at somewhere in the region of 300 a year. Probably for similar reasons given by DTT, it outsells the lighter FM.

Last orders

Hand firmly believes small companies live and die by the product and service they receive from suppliers. There has been a variety of trucks at DTT over the years, and Hand believes Volvo probably offers the best all-round option. “Buying Volvo also has a lot to do with the local dealer, McDonnell Commercials in Monaghan, and especially salesman Gerry Boyle,” he comments, adding it was his father who started the relationship with the brand almost from the firm’s start-up. “They’ve always been very good. The business owner (Brian McDonnell) is a nice, genuine guy, and there’s a bloke in the workshop called Les Wylie. He’s been there, man and boy!

“To be fair the product is equally as good as the sales and aftermarket support we get from McDonnall. Volvo does make a good, solid truck.”

At the time of our visit, back during the Brexit deadlock, Ireland was already getting prepared for what the UK’s exit from Europe might mean for trade. The Port of Dublin was beginning to exert tighter controls, moving port-side hauliers to offsite locations in preparation for bringing back full security screening.

Volvo veterans

In addition to the newer kit, DTT has several other interesting Volvos dotted about the yard. There’s a version 3 FH and an older version 1 Globetrotter, powered by what was at the time the smallest 340 engine. “Despite the low numbers she could pull in her day,” Hand recalls fondly. Bought when it was three years old, he says they decided to hang onto the last version one FH purely because “it seemed like a good idea.”

Perhaps more interesting (well for us, at least) is the little F6S. Originally built as a 4-wheel rigid in 1984, the history of the particular lorry is largely unknown, although Sean believes it was first registered in the UK. “It was bought from two women who drew horses with it. We’ve had it 10 years now and slowly restored it – or saved it!”

The F6S has the smaller ‘Club of Four’ cab, a concept conceived in the early 1970s from a design office in Paris. The ‘club’ was formed by Volvo Trucks, DAF, Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz (Magirus) and what would later to become half of Renault Trucks, Saviem, who all saw the need for a modern, high-quality ergonomic cab. Volvo’s cab was different from the others as it was strengthened to meet Swedish crash test regulations.

Sean’s F6S uses Volvo Penta’s 6-cylinder, 160hp TD60 engine. As a rigid chassis, it was the company’s first 16-tonner for the UK market, broadening Volvo’s appeal across a greater spectrum of the weight range and subsequently opening the door for the lower weight FL4 and FLC. “I have an F10 and FL10 at the bottom of the yard which I will also restore at some point in the future,” he promises.

No going back

Understandably, Hand is keen not to see a return to the regime hauliers had to endure 14 years ago. “You’d have to queue here at Dundalk to get out of Ireland and then queue again to get into the UK at Newry. It could take two hours just to get the paperwork done. One minor discrepancy with your paperwork and you could be sat there for half a day. Businesses in Ireland couldn’t sustain the downtime of going back to that system.”

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