Fleming McDowall was born here in 1927 in Invercargill to Frank and Tui McDowell, owners of the transport business F J McDowall. Fleming began driving trucks by the age of 16 so after his Southland education he naturally started work for his parent’s transport business.
At the age of just 23 young Fleming was in the midst of success. Not only was he operating three trucks in Browns for his parent’s company, he also married Margaret and settled in Browns, Southland.
Three years later Fleming and Margaret started the rural transport business F W McDowall in Browns, where the head office still is today. The business started with only two trucks: a GMC bulk spreader and a five-ton Fargo flat deck. Fleming worked all hours driving for the limeworks and pipeworks, doing his own mechanical repairs, and organising jobs for the next day.
As the 1950s progressed Fleming decided to keep growing the company, so he moved into stock cartage. Fleming and his other drivers would often start carting stock to the sales at 3am: trucks didn’t carry as much back then as they do now. In the late 1950s Fleming ventured into the gravel business when he took over Bob James’ business until 1966 when he sold it.
Fleming hadn’t slowed down and in 1970 F W McDowall Ltd officially became a limited liability business. By 1983 he had about 23 trucks working on rural cartage. This was an impressive feat for a rural transport company but Fleming wasn’t done yet.
During the rural decline of the early 1980s it was Fleming’s ingenious idea to move into line haul freight that would take F W McDowall from Browns to Auckland and everywhere in between. By 1985 freight had really taken off. Fleming and Margaret moved to Christchurch for three months to set up a depot, where Fleming began delivery with four TK Bedfords and two Nissan Shoguns. After this success new McDowall depots quickly sprung up all around the country. In 1986 a depot opened in Invercargill with the sign: ‘F W McDowall Ltd. Freight Nationwide’ and in 1997 a depot was opened all the way up in Auckland.
In 1989 Fleming’s hard work was rewarded with the well-deserved Southland Business of the Year Award.
Meanwhile Fleming still continued to expand F W McDowall’s rural transport in Southland. Both Otapiri Transport and Dipton Transport were added to the fleet in 1988 and in the 1990s Fleming added Kapiti Freight near Wellington, Andimac in Christchurch, and the Mt Cook group freight division.
By 1997 the company was a major force in South Island line haulage and rural transport. It had 16 branches, 21 depots, 220 staff, and a fleet of over 150 vehicles. Pretty good result from what began as a family-run two-truck operation from Browns. Along the way Fleming and the McDowall family gathered a trucking family and many staff worked long and loyally for Fleming and Margaret.