There are days that I am sure we can all relate to when everything goes from bad to catastrophic in an instant BUT what about those days when you think the day just can’t get any better ?
“WHAM”, out of nowhere you are hit up the bum by the proverbial “Rainbow”.
Well that is what happened to me a few weeks ago whilst on the Sweets Family Strawberry Runner Farm on the Border Ranges of NSW/QLD.
Having had the grand tour of the operation with Phil Sweet and had my appetite appeased by the number of and various types of classic old gear in working mode on the farm, I came across an old 60’s 25t Wabco Dump Truck, still in the quarry, fully loaded and ready for the boys to recommence work after the weekend break.
In this particular part of the country one would think why would you go to all the effort of tree clearing, massive granite rock removal, stick picking and topsoil screening just to plant a few strawberries … the amount of pre planting work is mind blowing.
Phil explained to me that Strawberry Farming is climate controlled and requires specific soil types which just happen to be perfectly suited to the area.
I am a Western Region type bloke who has grown up around wheat and broad acre farming operations where “big is best and bigger is better” but to be committed to this massive land clearing and prepping operation for a few strawberries needs a pretty determined and committed family to undergo such a task.
To achieve their goals in clearing and prepping the soil there are certain types of equipment needed and one of those is a truck or several trucks to remove the massive number and sized granite rocks which abound the area. Cost is a big factor in making a profit in any industry so over capitalising at any point of the operation is not good for the bottom line and it is no different here.
Now the “Dump Truck” is probably one of the most recognisable and well known by name truck for just about anyone to identify with, regardless of what age or gender you may be.
Dump trucks have thrilled both little and big kids for about as long as they have been around, however, what may be surprising is the number and types of dump trucks that are available these days both on and off highway.
In Australia we are very familiar with trucks like the Truck and Dog, Bogie or Single Axle Tip truck, Semi-Trailer, B-Double, Road Train, Rear Dumper, Bottom Dumpers, Side Tippers, Road and Off Road, All Terrain and Mining Trucks BUT none have the same patina as this old Wabco.
In earthmoving terms there are none whom have had a bigger input or influence on modern day earthmoving scene than R G LeTorneau. He is renowned for being the driving force behind the design and manufacture of the world’s biggest machines. Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) bought out LeTorneau in 1953 which was the origins of the “Haulpak-Wabco” truck range and now run under the Komatsu banner.
This particular Off Highway Dump Truck is owned by Nathan Sweet, Phil’s brother, who has a very successful Earthmoving business in Stanthorpe and shares the truck around the family operations on an “as required basis”.
The truck still delivers a good days work providing you are a competent operator and can conquer the noise, heat and total lack of any mod-cons.
UNDER THE HOOD
Regretfully we didn’t get to get under “The Hood” … Time was against us and my back was already crying out for a considerable break in proceedings.
I did at one fleeting moment seriously think about climbing up onto that big bonnet, I looked at the height off the ground, the effort for this old bloke to lift that bonnet and to get the camera gear in place for that one shot .. aaahhhh !!!
I gave myself an upper-cut, sent myself to my senses and moved up into the cab .. at least I could sit down even if not get the rest my back was so much looking forward to.
However I can tell you that it was a screaming GM Diesel hiding under that big yellow bonnet.
IN THE CAB
The screaming turbo charged Two Stroke diesel sounds more like a screaming Virgin Jet on take-off than any modern day Mining or Quarry truck. Foot to the floor and hang on tight sounds the way to go but, in reality, it is very slow in moving. When I first took over the driving position I had to double check if I had released the air brakes and that the 6 Speed Allison Auto was actually engaged.
However, when the old girl decides to get in sync with the operators aspirations and competency, well that’s another story.
Very little lateral vision, ill adjusted miniscule domed mirrors and closed in cabin makes for an interesting debut run in the old girl. Combine this with 25t of granite rocks on the back, an untried braking system (although WABCO are the leaders in design and manufacture of trucking braking systems world-wide) a heavy steering system, a full dashboard of gauges and plenty of body roll and your mind flashes back to the teenage years of attempted bull riding where one had to “hang on and hope like hell … cause you know its gonna hurt if it goes wrong” !!!
The cab is small, hot and dusty and the old guys would know they have done a 10hr shift in one of these. I struggled to do an hour !!!
A full set of dash gauges (and all working) are clearly laid out in front of the operator, a 6 speed Alison Auto sits neatly beside the RHS of the steering column and steering wheel with throttle and brake floor mounted, diff lock to the left and an antiquated door locking system caps off this very basic truck. Don’t be alarmed though, in its day these were the top of the range truck and used to build Australia’s major infrastructure projects way back to the 60’s.
ON THE JOB
A couple of laps around the paddock along the dusty bush tracks, a quick perusal of the dicky reversing access into the dump site, a few testing times with the brakes and transmission and it was time to stop playing around and drag those twin Cylinder hoist rams into action and get that big load off the big steel plated tipping body.
Oh the feeling you get when the day just gets better and better.
Safely unloaded and breathing a sigh of relief and confidence, I decided to give the old girl a run whilst unloaded. Once the operator has spent a bit of time in the seat and gotten used to all of the old school, dirt, dust, noise, poor vision and heat associated with the WABCO of this age, it is really an exhilarating experience of which is so far removed from the sanitised experience when driving the modern day trucks.
Once I had familiarised myself with the controls and seating, the noise of that big screaming GM, the body sway whilst on road and had dropped the load one could sit back and “chillax”.
My mind wandered back to the old days in the 60’s when I was at Wyangla Dam out near Cowra NSW. My Dad and some of his friends worked during the construction phases of the dam and it was the first time I saw a fleet of, if not the same, very similar trucks in fleet mode hauling blasted rock out of the quarry and onto the big earth and rock filled dam wall.
Fast forward to the mid 70’s where I worked for Eric Newham (Wallerawang) and I ran a couple of similar trucks in a quarry operation and even then I thought I was on top of the world.
It was a great era when a lot of Australia’s infrastructure was built and also a great era of heavy machinery design which nowadays pales into insignificance when pitted against today’s ultra-modern fleets.
This old WABCO 25T Dump Truck is ideal for this type of work, no over capitalising on anything in the early stages of this farming project and does the job expected of it.
This old girl, with all the groans and creaks of an aged and retired Dump Truck operator but with much more patina, worked an absolute treat.
Both can relate to the doing hard yards, years of body abuse, lack of servicing, years of patch up repairs to keep the body going and both proudly holding a place of historical significance.
To the operators of the past whom have all hung up there hard hats and work boots we salute you for leaving an indelible mark on our mining and dump truck history and to WABCO for building such a indestructible truck that has borne the years of abuse and still be delivering and contributing to the quarries of the world today.
We have witnessed a true legacy to the Mining and Quarrying industry !
This was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me and one I will remember for life.