The efficient machine

Saturday, October 14, 2017

An enclave of US iron in the Wairarapa is home to a new Freightliner Coronado 122. Will the first bonneted Freightliner in the Bill Hammond Transport Ltd fleet live up to the great track record its cabover siblings have clocked up in this trucker’s trucking company?

We recently looked over a Freightliner FLA brochure from the late 70s, early 80s, an A4 page with specs on the back and a picture of the truck on the front. The heading and slug line simply read – ‘Freightliner – The Efficient Machine’.

As we’ve learnt in the past couple of months from our Freightliner 75 Years story, that’s pretty much the ethos the whole gig was founded on. One of the true yardsticks of a successful company is their ability to stick with core tenets and values as history trundles along.

It was therefore interesting, some decades after the brochure first graced the showrooms of the US, to be standing in the depot of Bill Hammond Transport Ltd in Carterton talking to Graham Ross, driver of the company’s latest acquisition, a Freightliner Coronado 122 6x4 and 4-axle trailer bulk tipper combination. Graham, a 40-year veteran behind the wheel, had this to say:

“It’s a truck that just does everything well, you know? It’s quiet, got plenty of power, it’s comfortable, easy to get in and out of, has a great engine brake, great traction, and looks pretty good too. It’s just a good, efficient, easy to use truck. Suits me fine.”

The crowned one

Coronado, from Spanish meaning ‘crowned’, sits atop the conventional Freightliner family tree with Century Class and Columbia occupying the other branches in New Zealand. Trip around the states and you won’t see Coronado with anything like the prevalence of the all-conquering Cascadia, not seen here – yet.

When you’re there you get to thinking that maybe every family in the states owns a Cascadia, such is their dominance. When you do see a 122 (Coronado) it’s always ‘blinged’ to the max and outstanding to behold! Sadly, you’d have more chance of finding an All Black at a Michael Cheika  coaching clinic than finding an Argosy in Trumpy’s back yard, but we all know why that is. Coronado over there are the preferred stock item of the OD set – the ‘trucker’s truck’ in other words.

Here the Coronado slots into the mainstream with far more regularity; although, like all the makes, it certainly plays second fiddle to the brand’s cabover offering – the all-conquering Argosy. But VDAM aside, there’s still plenty of sandpit room for conventional trucks in Godzone, and the lucky Coronado featured in these pages has indeed found a great new home in what is truly a trucker’s trucking company.

Loading at Taueru Lime Ltd took fewer than 20 minutes.

Tipping at supply depots is more often a challenge than not.

Note the white cap on the top of the jackknife sensor.

Load and go

A bulk tipper is probably the only job that outdoes log trucks for turnaround time. Run well, a ‘bulkie’ can shift a lot of product from point A to B to C and so on in the course of a day, and there’s no doubting customer-centric Bill Hammond Transport Ltd is run extremely well.

We met driver Graham Ross in the Carterton depot. The Coronado had been spruced up the previous evening and it was straight out to Taueru Lime Ltd for a load down to Upper Hutt.

The road up to the load-out pad is renowned for its ability to test the gradability of trucks coming on site. It’s even a steep walk up on foot, but the Coronado idles up empty without any issue.

“Traction’s been one of its real strong points,” said Graham. “This road causes a few issues for some, but not this truck to date. There were a number of us working on a job recently that required crossing a paddock and this was the only truck getting in and out without a little help.”

Barely 20 minutes after arriving, the Freighty’s big blue snout was heading for the main gate. The lime works is about 12 kilometres out of Masterton on the Castlepoint road. Pulling away from the gate with 29 tonne on board we tip the scales a shade under 45 tonne gross and it’s a solid grind up a hill on a narrow dual carriageway bitumen road. As the Freightliner picks up speed steadily, two things become apparent.

Firstly the ease with which Graham’s about to ‘level’ the Rimutakas, and secondly a reminder of the age-old chestnut about the relationship between power and productivity.

Aside from a love of American iron, a key reason for Bill Hammond’s move away from the Isuzus he had early in the business’ life was power to weight ratio, and therefore trip times. And trip time has nothing to do with speed; trip time is about professionalism. In the hands of an operator with 40 years under his belt it’s all about doing the work he’s been assigned safely, comfortably, and in a timely fashion. With that level of maturity calling the shots, the 12.4hp/tonne that the 560hp DD15 serves up this gross weight, makes the day flow with deceptive ease, and much is achieved.

Like a hot knife...

The Coronado wound its way out of the valleys into Masterton and on down the long straights of the lower Wairarapa. Featherston is the gateway to one of the country’s more celebrated climbs, the Rimutakas, and with little fuss the big silver grille poked itself into the climb on the town’s southern boundary.

“She’ll go up faster in places than I drive her up,” said Graham. “Trouble is the tightness of the corners, you can’t go up on gradient alone, most of the time you’re limited by cornering speed. I tend to leave her in fifth high, but without the corners she’d go up in sixth low no problems.”

It was great to have such a direct comparison with last month’s S60 in the Western Star. Even in terms of seat of the pants feel the DD15 is certainly more refined, resonating a magnificent guttural engine note in the cab when torque is being asked to deliver the goods out of tight bends and through steeper pinches. Running a tonne or so heavier, albeit with 560hp on tap (as opposed to 525hp in the Star), theDD15 felt and sounded more relaxed.

The DD15 is a 14.8-litre lump producing 418kW (560hp) at 1800rpm and 2501Nm (1850lb/ft) at 1100rpm with a torque curve that’s largely flat from 900rpm to 1500rpm. A Euro 5 motor without need for DEF, it’s an engine designed from the ground-up for EGR and came with a 10-digit R&D cost over almost half a decade at the time of its global debut 10 years ago. Detroit levels the engine’s lively response at a feature they call Demand Torque Response, which they say gives the driver a 1.5-second delay between requesting peak torque and its delivery.

Their Amplified Common Rail Fuel System (ACRS), innovative compound turbocharging, and low inertia camshafts, are said to be at the heart of the feature. Irrespective of hoopla the DD15 is most definitely a lively furnace. There are plenty of examples now with an odometer well beyond seven figures and owners who say nice things about the contribution the engine has made to their bottom line, Bill Hammond being one. The motor in the Coronado brings the DD15 contingent in his operation to four. Sadly we’re yet to see its big brother the DD16 here in New Zealand.

For Graham, one of the motor’s high points is the strength of the engine brake. Descending the southern side of the notorious range there are only two places Graham needs to dab the anchors, once again, due purely to tight corner radius.

With the Hammond touches the 122 has come up looking just a picture.

I’ll do the rowing thanks

Maybe it’s an age thing but we were so heartened yet again at the sight of a gear lever. The last manual we sampled was the Switzer Valley Mack Trident. As sad as some may find it, the guard is changing, and it’s not necessarily because microchips have the human brain licked when comes to intuition. It’s as much down to fact the new crop of drivers missed the tuition that would have been imparted by the previous generation.

They ended up having no one beside them to teach. Many drivers 35 and under have only ever known AMTs, and that makes cap-ex in most companies a no brainer now. There’s no doubt that tools like Volvo’s I-Shift, Mack’s mDRIVE, ZF’s AS Tronic, and Mercedes’ PowerShift-3 have brought AMTs to the point of mainstream acceptance. Even so, the drivers of each of the last three automated manual trucks tested all said they flicked the gearbox to manual when things got tricky; in Roger Prictor’s case to avoid loss of momentum in shift speed, and in Mark Fletcher’s and Joe Timothy’s cases, to avoid unnecessary busyness.

Listening to the Eaton Fuller 18-speed manual being worked in the hands of someone for whom changing gear is like David Fagan shearing a sheep, reminds you just how clever the human brain is. At no stage did the Coronado sound overly busy, or the driveline stressed on unforgiving terrain as a result of gears being changed when there just wasn’t a need. Yet again, Graham’s driving style added to the relaxed nature of a hugely productive day.

“I’ve driven AMTs before, we had them in the Macks at Regal,” said Graham. “They’re okay, although initially they had to put the heavy-haul mapping programme in them so they changed earlier on the hills. I just prefer the manual personally.”

The Coronado was a spec build that had been sitting for a bit prior to Bill coming along and grabbing it, and there’s no doubt that a good part of the reason for it sitting would likely have been prospective buyers peeking in the window and saying ‘Oh shit, it’s a manual.’ Ten years ago it would have been left because they’d have said “Oh shit, it’s an auto.”

Graham worked the Freightliner into position ready for unloading. Farms in winter are the equivalent of a truck minefield, with ‘green’ races and strainer posts waiting like top-poppers, ready to inflict damage.

She’ll be coming around the mountain...

Once unloaded it was off to grab a load of stock food to keep some cows happy in a very soggy Manawatu. Ngauranga Gorge was always going to be good test of things. Unimpeded with pesky corners, we could let the DD15 show us its stuff. Graham shared his view on his young charge:

“She’s getting better and better all the time. It’s only a young motor, but already pulling as well, if not a little better, than the C15 CAT I had in the Kenworth 404. It’ll hold the high range now on the Saddle Road whereas the CAT didn’t quite. Okay the CAT was getting on a bit, but like I say, this is young. I reckon she’ll end up stronger. Up here [Ngauranga Gorge] she’s getting further and further in sixth low and eventually I reckon she’ll go all the way. It’s just the very steepest bit I have to knock her back. Once I’m in fifth high I let her go; it’s no use changing up and down on the hill too much, you gain nothing. It’s going to be a very honest 560.”

Loaded to almost 45 tonne again she certainly did give it an honest go and Graham pointed out the place he used to take fifth high, where she’s getting to now in sixth low, and just how close she is to being able to hang on and to pick up revs again in that gear. For now though it’s fifth high, and it wasn’t long before the Detroit started pulling on the bit, but Graham just held her at 1500rpm at 40 km/h with throttle in hand.

A great taste of the DD15’s ever-increasing willingness and gorgeous low speed engine note is the climb to the top of Pukerua Bay from the Wellington side. She crested holding top at 80km/h and 1200rpm – no sweat. It’s a motor that not only sounds sweet in the bottom end, but also is remarkably quiet – irrespective of what it’s doing.

The quietness is something Graham brought up a few times in the day. Climbing hard or descending hard brought up figures of around 70 to 72 dB and cruising along the Kapiti Coast had the screen flickering at around 67.

“It’s an easy place to spend the day. I can use the engine brake anywhere, never a problem,” said Graham.

Bill Hammond is what some might call a realist when it comes to fuel consumption in his trucks. Graham worked the Freightliner into position ready for unloading. Farms in winter are the equivalent of a truck minefield, with ‘green’ races and strainer posts waiting like top-poppers, ready to inflict damage.

“No matter where we go there’s something to climb, and we keep them loaded. We’re absolutely focused on service and as such you can’t expect much better than a 1.5 to 1.6kpl, and that’s about what we get.”

Farming New Zealand is a very sad and soggy experience just at the moment. The importance of having good men on gear was never more apparent than when delivering our load to a feed bin, backing in from a piece of track very recently laid on a sodden Manawatu loam. All the attributes for a classic trucking ‘moment’ were there: a subsiding ‘green’ piece of race, an inconvenient strainer post, and ever-reducing traction.

Graham gradually worked the Coronado into position, diff-locks in, and the load was discharged. Because of the Coronado’s work profile Bill blocked the front of the truck up 50mm to give it that little bit more clearance when things get doughy. The prudence and ROI of doing that was evident right there in front of us.

The Freightliner runs the evergreen Meritor RT46-160GP 46,000lb rear end with diff and cross locks on the company’s own heavy-duty air suspension of the same rating. The truck runs on Alcoa alloys and Michelin 275/70 steer and drive rubber.

Bill put a 50mm block in the front of the Coronado to improve clearance just that bit more.

Body of knowledge

The Hammond fleet is weighted in favour of Transfleet bodies and trailers although the spec builds that have been bought have been Transport and General Engineering product. Bill rates them both as great New Zealand products. New trailers built are all on Hendrickson axles and suspension.

Because the Coronado was a spec built truck it had some tweaks prior to pick-up to suit the Hammond operation, things like installing grain doors and double-skinning the floor to cope with river gravel.

The operation of the Coronado’s bins is easily managed from the ground with elliptical tarps, manually operated. Airbag gauges on the truck and the Wabco smart board on the trailer give Graham all the information he needs in regard to loading weights.


There’s no question the Coronado is a trucker’s truck, and this lucky example has found its way to the trucker’s trucking company. At one point in the day Graham picked up the RT and called a new man who had recently started, just to make sure he was getting through his day all right and give some guidance on the site he was about to tip off in.

If you wanted an example of the culture that pervades the Hammond business, you couldn’t do better than that. As for the truck itself, that’s best left to Graham.

“I enjoy this work. You get the variation on the 7-axle unit you miss out on with the nines. Seeing new places and meeting people. Bill asked me about the truck and I said ‘Yep that’ll do me’. It’s a good honest truck that does everything well. It’s quiet and comfortable, has plenty of power for what I do and great engine brake. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”