Bush MAN

Bush MAN logging

 

ARTICLE: Thanks to NZ Trucking Magazine…

When it came time for Trevor Pilbrow to put another logger to work in the bush up Northland way, he knew it wouldn’t be an American rig. Some time ago he was convinced that the Europeans have the edge in the bush, arguing that comfort is hard to beat when you are driving on bush tracks for a living. Despite his great affection for Scania, he made a choice that might have surprised many in the region…

We don’t often get up as far as Northland, but when we do, we wonder why we don’t make the effort more often. We mostly only hear bad press about the region with rogue councils, hard-times, closures and high unemployment dominating the headlines.

However, the area is a scenic gem and there are plenty of hard workers in the region if you know where to look – with the forestry sector being one of the most industrious. Frankly, the number of logging rigs on the roads up there nearly outnumbers the campervans, at this time of year at least. Come the summer and the road-maggots will soon outnumber everything else.

The amount of country under Pinus up that way is quite staggering really, and to prove the point, Marsden Point rates at about second equalas the biggest log handling port in the country, after Port Tauranga.

Sitting cheek to jowl with the oil refinery, the juxtaposition of logs with a background of the stainless steel refinery seems odd.

Of course, the diesel in the tanks of the army of logging trucks originates from “The Point” and the locals take quite a pride in having this complex in their back yard. So they should too, it’s as important to the nation’s economy as is logging. It’s just a bit shinier, although there are a few trucks on the road that’ll give it a run for its money.

We did a rough mental count-up of the trucks pulling into the C3 log handling yard and even though our maths still isn’t all that good, the overwhelming majority of logging rigs originated from America.

And Rotorua and Tauranga. Yep, there’s so much logging going on up in the North these days that there is a healthy representation of some of the bigger names from further south and east on the roads.

Without making lists of who’s up there, the RFH and Lamberts of the world still like their American iron, as they should, American hardware has long been proven to last the distance. They don’t have it all their own way however, and the numbers of European loggers cruising the roads is steadily growing with Scania seemingly the most popular choice, although Mercedes- Benz Actros are well represented in the local area too, mostly courtesy of Smith and Davies.

There is an odd MAN out however, with Trevor Pilbrow’s TGS 35.540 MAN working in the bush and flying the flag for Germany alongside the Actros rigs floating around.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about hearing that this MAN was working in Northland’s forests,isthat there aren’t more at work under logs given MAN’s reputation for producing some of the toughest military and multi-axle drive vehicles this side of the iron-curtain.

With the New Zealand government’s recent purchase of $135 million worth of Rheinmetall- MAN military trucks to replace the current tired Mercedes-Benz fleet, the brand is certainly back in the news again.

Anybody familiar with what’s going on in Afghanistan will have seen similar Rheinmetall- MAN trucks toiling away in the background as the British Army, amongst many others, are outfitted with them. Our Government has followed their lead, as the brand has given outstanding service in that battle-ground.

While that purchase may have given the brand some instant media exposure and is a very significant purchase, MAN is one of those brands that even though it has promised much in this country, has never quite had the impact on the market that it could have. Some would point the finger, in decades past, at a support network and a distributorship that has passed through a number of hands.

Those that did invest in the truck and understood its strengths and weaknesses became loyal to the brand and there were a number of companies that would have still been buying them decade after decade, particularly down South, if the continuity of backup and supply had remained unbroken. However, the brand never slipped off the radar completely and all that seems history now with the brand really starting to hit its straps and roughly 150 percent more MAN trucks have gone on the road in just the last eight years over the previous 13 since MAN Automotive Imports (NZ) Ltd picked up the
distributorship reins.

While MAN’s overseas battleground honours might count for little in the New Zealand bush, the steep grades, mud, grit and dust that a logging truck experiences in the bush, particularly in Northland which has its fair share of all, provides just as tough an operating environment as what the military could expect to put their vehicles through.

In fact, the tonnages that leave Marsden Point indicate that the winterless north is a bit of a myth. In summer C3 will handle about 9,000 tonne of logs a day, while at this time of year the extraction rates are around 5,000 tonne, due to the damp months reducing the areas that can be logged.

The port exported around 2.1 million tonne of logs last year and there are around 400 truck movements per day through the two log handlingfacilities at Marsden, so the trucks in this region do their fair share of sweating.

The port exported around 2.1 million tonne of logs last year and there are around 400 truck movements per day through the two log handling facilities at Marsden, so the trucks in this region do their fair share of sweating.

Trev’s an interesting bloke, as his 12-years as a publican indicate; he knows how to hold a conversation and he is great company as we get the lower Northland tour.

He hails from Maungaturoto, and once had the lease on the magnificent local pub, which dominates the town. It looks so iconic that it’s probably got an historic places trust sticker on it, and if it doesn’t, it should. He’s spent 35 years as a volunteer fireman in the town and was chief for 13 of them. “When I had the hotel I managed to attend most of the fires,” he said, “but driving trucks makes it a bit harder to be around when they need you.”

Trev actually started off as a line mechanic for the power board, and spent 15 years working his way up through the system before he and his then wife reckoned they were too comfortable and wanted more of a challenge out of life. Hence the 12 years as a publican.

After the pub, Trev wanted another challenge and moved into trucking. After approaching Harry Semenoff of Semco, he took on an International T2670 eight-wheeler under contract to Semco carting milk powder and cement. Trev carted Kauri Dairy Company product “to all points in the North Island” as he put it, but mainly from Maungaturoto to the port of Auckland for export.

He drove that Inter for three years before trading it for a 1993 Foden equipped with a 410 Cummins STI powerplant, which was a jump up from the 400 Cummins big-cam he had under his foot in the T-liner.

His first new truck followed two and a half years later when he put a Mitsubishi Shogun 430 horse eight-wheeler to work. Trev said he was “tickled pink,” to have a new truck after just four or five years in the industry.

The new Roadmaster trailer behind the Shogun was the first of the nine metre decks and could carry eight pallets without double-stacking to achieve a 25.2 tonne load and 44-tonne gross. “Everyone liked it, the forklift drivers, the truckies and it was better for the product,” Trev pointed out.

He’d backload with cement and, on occasion, have to drag Portland product down to Auckland at short notice. “That’s the beauty of trucks over trains,” he said, “Eight or nine hours later after picking up the phone you’ve got 25 tonne of cement in the yard.

Trev liked his Mitsi, “It was a nice economical truck and it had no unscheduled breakdowns. Keith Andrews Trucks did a marvelous job with maintenance.” He clocked 815,000 kilometres in that truck and apart from a turbo at 500,000 clicks and an over-fueling injector that burned a hole in a piston, the truck gave no trouble.

After seven years with Semco, he joined Te Kauwhata Transport for a few years, before Kaitaia Transport, which was a division of United Carriers, took him and the Shogun on as an owner driver. His relationship with United proved fertile. After a while he put his first logging truck to work, a Scania R500 V8, that was followed in successive years by a couple of 530 horse Isuzus’ to give him three loggers as well as the Mitsi.

Trev put the Scania to work as, he said, “I was quite convinced the European was the way to go over American. They are comfortable, reliable and appeal to drivers. It was a beautiful truck to drive on those long runs.” Ther Scania roamed as far north as Te Kao, “that’s about half an hour before you get wet”, up near Cape Reinga he said, and did about 740 kilometres per day.

Life was pretty good for Trev. Four trucks and things were ticking along nicely, until Toll bought out the United Group, “and the rates didn’t seem to keep up with the RUC increases,” as Trev dryly put it. “At least 20 of the owner drivers disappeared out of the United Group, some just left the keys in the ignition and walked away,” he said.

“I myself lost the three log trucks when I was with Toll, they weren’t viable to run. There was no shortage of logs, but it was difficult to match expenses. It was the end of an era.”

“I still had my freight truck but I sold it and bought a R500 Scania and had it painted in Toll’s turquoise livery. I nearly shed half a tear for the Mitsubishi when she went,” he said.

However, after a couple of years, his run was changed from Kaitaia to Gisborne carting veneer, to a Kaitaia to Auckland run, which meant he had to employ another driver as the loading and unloading times “didn’t make it viable as I needed to put another driver on to make it work.”

“I decided to sell and sold it [the R500] within a month after advertising it in your (New Zealand Trucking) magazine. It’s in Christchurch now pulling a ten metre four-axle semi in Mainfreight colours, and it looks fantastic,” he said.

Trev decided to have a break from road transport and spent a summer doing agricultural contracting and then started doing casual driving for Craig of G C Stokes Ltd, a log truck operator.

“I enjoy my driving, and after a while I decided to approach Craig to see if he wanted a new truck in his system.” Trev said.

Craig was obviously keen, and Trev went truck hunting. “I very nearly bought one of those new Fusos with the Merc motor,” but reassessed the situation and thought, “I can afford something a little more European.”

“Garry Crane took me for a drive in the MAN and all I could do was to compare it to the Scanias,” Trev said, “I came out of a beautiful truck that I consider to be one of the best on the road [the R500], and I don’t think this gives anything away to the Scania.”

We can see why Trev chose a European truck, “If anything drives me nuts it’s the quality of the roads around here,” he pointed out, and the Northland roads certainly are a mixed bag. There are potholes in this region that’ll make wheel alignment specialists retire wealthy.

I don’t think that we’ll get any arguments about how European trucks can iron out rough roads better than trucks from other regions, but even then, we note that Trev is Mr Smooth when it comes to positioning his rig to miss as many as possible.

The logger will work as far south as the Brynderwyns and as far north as Kaikohe and coast to coast in between.

He didn’t see the need to put CTi on the truck, “there’s only one skid-site out of 40 that I’m not allowed in,” and the expense of installing CTi aside, he’s quite impressed by the standard traction capabilities of the big MAN, which is diff and cross-lock equipped and rides on airbags. “You might need the occasional push at the back of the trailer by the loader to get youstarted on some sites, but it goes well up here. I seldom need to engage the diff-locks, although the sandy dry conditions catch you if you don’t watch out.”

But by far and away, his favourite toy is the ZF Intarder unit that impresses both for its hold back and also for how quiet it is in operation.

The MAN has quite a handy spec. It boasts 2500Nm (1844lb/ft) of torque that plateaus from just 1050rpm to 1350rpm, and the engine seems to love hugging those low numbers. It’ll chug away quite happily where most of us would probably be wanting to drop a cog or two if you were driving by ear, however with maximum torque developed just north of 1000 revs the truck loves hovering low down in the greenery on the tacho.

The engine is MAN’s D2676 12.419 litre straight six and you should hear it coming down some steep slope with the truck hanging off the retarder. It’s got a lovely note, we wouldn’t mind it as our ring tone on the iPhone, but it’s not loud enough for our old ears. Nobody is going to get upset at the noise this truck makes, in town or in the bush.

And that was one of the very points that Trev was so keen on when he put a European to work, the lack of noise and the cab refinement. The engine is Euro 5 and is quite frugal already. It’s achieving 2.1 – 2.2km/l at the moment and sups AdBlue at 60-litres a week, or around 2,500km he estimated.

“The truck is doing everything I wanted it to do,” Trev pointed out. It has to be said that not everybody might achieve these figures as Trev is gentle on the gear, as you’ll find most of the older owner drivers are, but Trev is even kinder than many of them again. “I bought it with fuel economy in mind,” he pointed out.

“The [530hp] Isuzus were good on the flat, but the MAN outperforms them where torque is required in the hills. It’s an improvement on the Scania, he reckons, but having said that, it’s got forty more horsepower,” he said in the Scania’s defence.

The twelve speed ZF-12AS 2531 OD MAN TipMatic transmission makes good use of the torque with crisp changes that rival anything else that comes out of Europe or Scandinavia.

Like all electronically controlled manual transmissions, it’ll need a bit of understanding to ensure that you get the best out of the truck, with the occasional flick into manual when the truck needs a bit of a run up to something, or if it’s going to make an unnecessary change at the top of a rise for instance, however we noted that Trev seemed to keep it in auto for most of the time we spent with him.

“There are some places in the bush where it’s good to have a manual,” he pointed out. “The Scanias have a choice of manual or auto and I probably would have bought a manual if I’d bought one of them and would have probably gone manual if MAN offered the same choice. But now that I’ve sat in this for eight or nine months I might not now,” he grudgingly admitted. Trev said that it certainly makes for an easy day on the job. “You really knew you’d done a day’s work after getting out of the Mitsi and
making all those gear changes, but I can do a big day in this and still feel fresh at the end of it and be ready for more.”

He enjoyed his time on general freight, especially running around Auckland, “with all the pick ups and drop offs, but I like the logs for the continuity of work. Every morning there’s logs to be picked up somewhere.”

“My first day on the logs consisted of following a log truck in and doing what he did and from then on I was on my own,” he remembers. Things have moved along a bit since those days, and he says all road transport has become a bit overregulated, and some of the fun has gone out of it, but he loves how the equipment has improved.

This MAN’s cab feels a little tighter on space than the TGX sleeper cabbed MAN working forGuy Small we looked at last year, not so much because of the lack of a bed, but more because the fridge that the TGX has under the bed, is now located between the seats.

“I’m considering taking out the fridge in winter for the extra space, although it was a great thing to have over this last hot summer and the drought,” he remembers. “It was great to be able to reach in and pull out another cold drink all day long.”

The truck, in Trev’s opinion, does suffer a little from lack of storage space having only a set of shallow drawers in the centre console, and a bit over the windscreen, but then it’s not a sleeper cab and the luxury of the fridge would definitely free up a bit of space that could be better utilised. There is no outside access storage and Trev built his own boxes and customised the truck to suit himself. He’s added six LED lights around the combination, because at this time of year his first three or four hours on the job are spent working in the dark.

Trev commented, “It’s a very still cab, it doesn’t bounce around and doesn’t vibrate,” he especially likes the “heavy duty large heated electric mirrors” with the overhanging one to see what’s in front of the truck. Space shortcomings aside, Trev summed up the office as “spacious,comfortable and quiet”, and we agree.

If he does have a complaint, it’s that there “is no suitable cup holder” and he’s quite right, there’s nowhere to sit a drink.

The truck tares at 11,360kg with bolsters and half a tank of fuel, and the Kraft trailer tares at 5,420kg. He originally put the trailer to work in 2009, the multi bolster four-axle unit rides on air-suspension.

Trev gets his instructions via the MTData Portable Data Terminal in the cab which is geonetworked, and loads and clears data as the day progresses. Craig Stokes runs an efficient operation and we see some of his other rigs around as the drive day unfolds. Trev is happy to be working alongside the company trucks. “It works well,” he summed up.

One of the most attractive features of the truck is the 60,000km fluid change periods, when all oils are changed, including the diffs, with synthetic oils right through. He also pointed out that “you won’t find any grease nipples on this truck,” and rates the low maintenance aspect of the vehicle as one of its most valuable advantages.

This model MAN won Truck of the Year back in 2008 in Europe, so the cab has been around for a little while now and they are nearly as common as Volkswagens in Europe, but probably due to the scarcity of the model on our roads, it looks fresh and striking to our eyes.

We doubt that the New Zealand Army buying up large with Rheinmetall-MAN products, including 8×8 drives, will influence the country’s road transport operators’ buying habits, but you never know, it might help focus the spotlight back on MAN.

There is a clash of the Titans quietly unfolding in Europe as the big truck manufacturers square up to each other, having come to accept that there won’t be a magic bullet in their domestic market they are hungry for business in other more relatively healthy economies. Even far flung markets, such as ours, and MAN owner Volkswagen has positioned itself to lead the charge.

If Trev’s MAN proves itself in the bush, as the army’s MANs are sure to in the desert plateau, it may be that MAN might start carving itself a slice of the logging market, to add to the increasing numbers of linehaul trucks they are putting on our roads.