International Truck Stop - King of the load

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

‘Cans’ are the go-to for the bulk of freight moved around the globe.


Photo: This is the only surviving FD-8.20D1 container tractor that has been refurbished.

The Port of Rotterdam is the gateway to continental Europe. From old it has been of great importance to the economy, but the more so since the first container shipments began in the mid-1960s. The method of packing goods in a steel box conquered the world and in 1966 this led to the start of the Europe Container Terminals (ECT) in Rotterdam.

In the first year just under 10,000 containers were handled, but three years later that number was already over 100,000. After signing an important contract with Sea-Land in 1988, the huge Delta Terminal was constructed directly on the North Sea shore. By this time a new in-port transportation system was commissioned that consisted of a heavy-duty truck-tractor that pulled a nearly 100-metre long rubber tyred train. ECT called it the Multi Trailer System (MTS) or Trolley System. Because a customary terminal tractor could not handle the 250 to 300 tonnes gross loads, ECT drew up a tender for a custom-built truck-tractor with 6x4 drive and at least a 298kW (400hp) diesel engine coupled to an automatic transmission. In 1979 ECT asked DAF, Mercedes/Titan, and truck and trailer manufacturer Floor to each build a prototype that could be tested in real working conditions as part of their bids for the lucrative order. At the time, the Floor Truck Company had just introduced the Second Generation Motor Panels cab on their FTF chassis.


Photo: The Detroit powered 6x4 prime movers were designed to pull container trains of up to 300 tonnes.

A large number of drawbar skeletal trailers were also needed and the first 4-wheel steer units were developed and built by DAF. Subsequent orders, however, went to Dutch machinery manufacturer Buiscar of Apeldoorn. This firm had a great tradition in the building of carts and trolleys for internal transport. The system that initially was developed for ECT but later also became commercially available, consisted of a train with seven to 10 coupled trailers pulled by a heavy-duty prime mover. All trailers were self-tracking and braking and could be coupled automatically without the driver leaving the cab. The set up was developed primarily to save time, an important focus in container handling.

In 1980 Floor received the order to build two trucks to be tested in real working conditions. The 6x4 drive model FD-8.20D1 tractor was equipped with a two-stroke 8V92TA Detroit Diesel with blower and turbo that transferred the power via a 4-stage Allison HT750DRD automatic transmission to a GKN-Kirkstall rear tandem. According to the specification sheet the V8 Detroit turned out 343kW (461hp), but in the case of the ECT tractors this was turned back to 308kW (414 hp), which was done to prevent the FTF losing grip when moving off loaded in wet conditions. Empty the rig was limited to 30kph, and at weights over 150 tonnes to 20kph.

Test drives with the very first Multi Trailer Train were staged at Rotterdam Airport. After these trials had proved successful a deal was closed with Floor in 1985 to supply 15 new model FD-8.20D1 truck-tractors for operation at the just-opened Delta Terminal. The FTFs performed so well that three years later a follow-up order was placed for five more vehicles. These did not feature Kirkstall axles at the rear, but Kessler products. Because worldwide containerisation was on the up, between 1991 and 1994 another batch of FTF tractors joined the port fleet. These tractors sported some cosmetic changes such as a new grille. Including the original prototypes, Floor built 40 units for the ECT. All vehicles were fitted with a sturdy ballast box that held two blocks of concrete weighing 14 tonnes total. They also sported a heavy-duty front bumper, a special drawbar coupling, and a strong steel cage above and behind the cab for protection. The word goes that at least one FTF tractor was completely written off when a loaded container fell from a quay crane. Only four of the famous FTFs survived. One is sitting idle in the Port of Abu Dhabi, a second is in the hands of a Belgian truck collector, and the other two form part of the FTF Museum owned by Ton Spaansen in ‘t Zand, the Netherlands.


Photo: With a top speed of 30 kph, Ton does not venture far from home

Ton’s interest in the Floor products goes back to 1973 when the family firm bought an FTF truck and trailer to transport sand, bricks, shells and building materials.

“At the age of 25 I drove the rig each day to Belgium on a 1000-kilometre return trip hauling mine stone,” says 71-yearold Ton. “I just loved it! Notably the sound of the screaming V8 Detroit when it had to tackle a hill made a big impression on me. Three years later we bought another FTF tandem truck, but because I was asked to fill a different role in the business my family not long after decided to sell it again. Some 19 years later I ran by chance into this very truck and I bought it right back. This was also the start of my hobby, restoring old commercial vehicles. Some years later my wife Ans and I founded the FTF Club, and in 2006 the FTF Museum.’’ The real eye-catchers in the museum are the two ex-ECT tractors and a huge FTF off-highway dump truck that once operated at a nearby steel mill.

“It was not easy to obtain these rare beasts,’’ says Ton. “Both companies are world players and all communications with them go over many desks. And you need some luck too. In 2003 we heard that the ECT wanted to do away with nearly all their container tractors and we were lucky to get unit number 940. This was not only the last tractor that the ECT had purchased from Floor, but also the last FTF built before the truck maker shut its doors for good in 1994.’’


Photo: All trailers could be automatically coupled from the driver’s cab.


Photo: The interior still needs some renovation work. The FTF did not do many miles, but the engine meter shows 35,000 working hours.

This truck is shown in the museum ‘as found’. W hen ECT’s last working FTF (unit number 936) was put out of service in 2008, the museum managed to obtain this too. In recent years it was refurbished in part by Ton with the help of mechanic Klaas Poutsma, although some panel work to the ballast box, as well as sandblasting and spraying the complete vehicle, was contracted to a professional body shop. The intention is to take the rare FTF also out to classic truck meets, but this is easier said than done with a top speed of only 30 kph.

After the FTF era ECT turned to Belgian specialist truck and trailer manufacturer MOL Cy in Hooglede. MOL was well known as a producer of terminal and ro-ro (roll-on roll-off ) tractors. When the ECT asked them to develop a completely new multi-trailer tractor they came up with the 4x4 drive TG280. This purpose-built vehicle was equipped with a (320kW) 430hp 6-cylinder 12.6-litre DAF diesel engine that was coupled to an Allison HD4060 automatic transmission and a Steyr VG 2001 transfer box. Axles were Kessler with front and rear capacities of 16 and 25 tonnes respectively. The F230 cab was also sourced from DAF. Later versions of this sturdy compact worker have a Renault or Iveco cab fitted and engine options are now Cummins, Iveco, and Volvo diesels. The full automatic trailer coupling is retained in the MOL TG280 tractors. ECT bought several dozen of these terminal tractors that can pull container trains of up to seven trailers with a maximum gross weight of 350 tonnes. But no matter how good they are, the MOL tractors cannot match the sound that a screaming V8 Detroit makes under full power!


Photo: Wagon number 936 during the restoration in the Spaansen workshop. In 2008 number 936 was the last FTF put out of service.


Photo: All done.