MAIN TEST March | International Tradition

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

International trucks are nothing new to logging, especially to Self Loader Logging Ltd. Their latest addition is the first of the new 9870 models to go into service. 

Self Loader Logging’s International is a high productivity unit with a permitted gross of 57.8 tonne and is the first of two identical eight wheeler and five axle combinations that entered ser vice in October 2015. The truck works out of Rotorua, rarely straying more than 100 kilometres from the city, it ’s one of many loggers contracted to Rotorua Forest Haulage. 

We met the loaded truck and driver Denis Tutbury at Rainbow Mountain. It now has 36,000 kilometres on the clock and weighed a touch over 55 tonne all up, with a load destined for Lumbercube in Rotorua, a half hour lead from the forest entrance. 

The obvious difference between this and the previous model is the grille. The big powerful vertical lines of the old stainless steel grille invoked a love or hate relationship, but the new teardrop styled plastic grille is friendlier, possibly with Lone Star dynamics, although Denis has been asked, “ What sort of Kenworth is that?” Continuing the grille’s lines into the alloy bumper and adding wide stainless surrounds to the reshaped headlamp mounts enhances the ‘human characteristics’ of the truck, and ensures it is further removed from the ‘air hungry machine’ the previous grille signalled. 

The next obvious change is that the steps are behind the front wheel, indicating the axle forward design. The short cab and set forward axle combine to provide plenty of load carrying space and opportunities for taking maximum advantage of New Zealand’s weight regulations that are governed by axle spread and overall combination length. The steps and monkey bars do make the climb into the cab more difficult and there are no easy step options as there are with the competing K200 and Argosy cabovers. The doors open past the 90 degree mark and once inside the cab it ’s a significant reach over the sheer drop for short arms to close the door. 

Keeping it Kiwi 

Bryan Smith has several New Zealand built Internationals in his Self Loader Logging R Smith Logging fleets. He is happy with the trucks’ performance, but has other reasons for buying the product. An important factor to Bryan is the local assembly, means he can negotiate directly with the manufacturer and get exactly what he It also helps the New Zealand economy and Bryan’s business model strongly New Zealand Inc where possible. 

There are often teething troubles with new trucks and Bryan, in his blunt manner “The acid test is how long it takes to fix the problem and who pays.” He says he has had excellent support and service from Intertruck when issues have been identified. His relationship with Kraft is equally strong, he points out that Graeme Kelly stands by his product and thinks outside the square when it comes to trailer design.

Brian Smith is driven by good business decisions and philosophical attitude about supporting other local businesses. His business runs a number of the locally built Internationals and Kraft trailers. He rates both products highly and the trucks can be tailored so well they’re able to carry the huge 6.4m wheelbase Kraft trailer legally.

The cab’s interior feels much larger than its external appearance suggests. A relatively flat floor and cable operated gear lever mounted near the dash leaves more than enough room to do anything you would normally get up to in a day cab. There’s a surprising amount of room behind the seats and a floor mounted storage box against the rear wall. Since this truck went on the road, Intertruck have modified the driver’s floor well and there is now significantly more floorspace beside the engine cover where the driver’s left foot normally rests. 

The headlining is buttoned, the big doors nicely trimmed, and the dash is typical American featuring woodgrain and a range of switches on the wrap around to the left of the driver, but the first impression is that this is a truck designed for work and to provide a good return on investment without blowing the capital budget. There are no controls mounted in the steering wheel and only the indicator switch and trailer brake on the column, the Jacob’s brake and cruise control switches require a reach to the dash. It looks utilitarian and old school, as well as purposeful and strong. You immediately get the feeling that in ten years’ time it will still look the same, just worn and faded – it is a timeless look. 

The cab is basic, but practical and the mechanical components reflect this philosophy too. The engine is an ISXe5 Cummins unit, it’s the only engine available in the 9870; this one is rated at 615hp and 2050lb/ft. It is SCR equipped and the truck has a Diesel Emission Fluid (DEF) tank fitted. We featured Self Loader Logging’s first International with DEF in New Zealand Trucking in 2014. The engine is well proven and commonly installed by other manufacturers using Cummins ISX engines. 

The gearbox is the ubiquitous 18-speed Eaton and it’s a full manual, although the Ultraplus AMT is an option. The rear axles are Meritor 46-160 units. 

Complete with Kraft logging gear, TRT central tyre inflation and Pacific scales the truck tares at 10,840kg and the Kraft trailer weighs in at an impressively light 6000kg, ensuring the combination can carry about 40 tonne. 

Denis heads the truck towards Rotorua and the first test is the ‘Steps and Stairs’, which have to be tackled from a standing start as the truck leaves the stop sign at the end of the Murupara highway and turns right onto SH5. The engine doesn’t complain at all and Denis quickly and smoothly takes it up through the gearbox. From a standing start the 55 tonne unit is soon in 17th gear and comfortably pulling 70kph at the top of the hill. It’s an impressive introduction. 

It’s quiet in the cab, but the highway is bumpy and the heavy trailer does shunt the truck around more than we would expect. 
It may feel worse because the passenger’s seat is not air suspended and the front axle position may contribute, but it is a massive trailer and that ’s probably the biggest factor affecting the ride. 

Denis is more than happy with his new truck, it works seven days, but only on day shift, which is usually about 12 hours and often consists of three loads. He shares the driving with Antony Winiata on a four on/four off basis. His previous truck was a 2007 FM Volvo, it now has 1.2 million kilometres on the clock and still resides on Denis’ block of land at Ngongataha, he usually gets itchy feet before his four day break ends and if the pressure to maintain the stock on his land isn’t too great he does a day or two in the Volvo. He reckons he has the best of both worlds and although he’s just received his gold card, he has no intention of retiring. 
Before long Denis swipes his entry card at Lumbercube and we park in the unchaining zone to ready the load for removal. 
One of two massive clamp loaders lifts the three packets of logs off in three quick movements, loader operator Bubba Kiwara is on the ball with the specialist machine that has some advantages over regular loaders and is probably easier on trucks and trailers as well as doing less damage to the logs. 

When Denis pulls the empty unit up to the trailer lifting gantry we get a chance to have a good look at the long Kraft trailer. It has a 6400mm wheelbase and is the longest fiveaxle log trailer that has been built to date. Because of the International’s short front bumper to back of cab measurement, it can carry a longer trailer than any other known cabover without exceeding the legal rear overhang. 

Moving whole packets at a time is quicker, safer and exposes the gear to a lower risk of damage. 

Kraft Manger Todd Picken says Bryan Smith, the owner of Self Loader Logging, explained what he wanted and told them to just make it happen. The trailer is a credit to their design team, especially the low tare. In a departure from common practice, the bolsters are fixed. The 3.0m – 3.2m – 3.0m spacing provides the option of double bunking logs from 3.7m through to 6.1m, so it becomes a very productive unit. 

Kraft Managing Director Graeme Kelly says their Super-B design is the most productive logging trailer ever built. 
Unfortunately only four have been built, one of which is working in Bryan Smith’s fleet, but NZTA is currently refusing permission for more. Nevertheless, Graeme’s happy that the new unit’s significant capacity will result in excellent productivity. 
A feature of the Kraft logging gear is the chain tensioners designed and manufactured by the company. Denis is with their ease of use and the safety factor over twitches is a good reason for using them. They are compact and positioned so that they ’re unlikely to be damaged when loading and unloading logs. 

Loading logging trucks today is a closely monitored, far safer affair. The general appearance of skid sites is vastly different to that of 30 years ago.

The ride back into the forest is much smoother with the trailer on the back and the truck doesn’t need a gear change due to labouring. In the forest it’s compulsory to use headlamps and Denis points out that the truck has LED units that work superbly when it comes to lighting up the road, as well as having the added advantages of low power draw and long life. 
Although the truck isn’t equipped with electronic RUC, there are plenty of other electronics including a useful MTData communication system and GPS. Two RTs help in the bush and Denis is regularly changing channels as we advise other drivers and eventually the skid site manager, of our progress into the site on a hill east of the Wheo River. 

Closer to the destination the road is showing signs of the torrential rain that has fallen recently. Denis estimates in excess of 100mm fell in a 24 hour period and there are plenty of minor washouts and pools in the soft central North Island pumice. The usual ruts have been accentuated by trucks travelling in the wet weather too. The International rides well over the ruts and negotiates the tight sections comfortably. 

We drive through the skid site to turn around in a tight spot where there is just enough room. The driving wheels drop off the metal and Denis flips the guard off the diff lock switch and engages the lock before attempting to move. The truck pulls away with no inkling of wheel spin and Denis says, “It ’s got bloody good traction.” He reckons it ’s better than the Volvo off highway. 

The trailer is attached effortlessly as Denis and the regular McCormick Logging loader operator team up to couple it. The unit is loaded with three packets while Denis sits in the cab and monitors the onboard scales, safely communicating with the loader driver via RT. 

The trip out of the skid site gives the International a good workout as it climbs a couple of decent hills and drops into the gully to cross the Wheo River before climbing up to the Low Level Road. From inside the cab the only real indication the all up weight is 54.7 tonne is the engine fan cutting in regularly to control the temperature. It is noisier than we would expect, but on highway the airflow through what appears to be a smallish grille is obviously enough and the fan only needs to go to work on long hills. 

The chain game

A recent regulation means loggers can only drive a maximum of 100 metres after loading before chaining up. 

John ‘Jumbo’ Mettam who was logging in the 1960s and told us that back then they never chained their loads until they were out of the bush so that if the trailer slid off the soft road, hopefully the logs would slide or roll off and the driver could keep his foot hard on the accelerator and pull the trailer back onto the road, even if it was on its side. 

The trailers are generally longer now (although Jumbo’s comments included the long pole trailers they used), and combined with better roads (including a lot of sealed sections) and modern trucks the forest trips are much safer. 

Guys like Denis do a great job negotiating the forest roads quickly and efficiently with load weights that are impressive.

Integral rachet chain tensioners have revolutionised the speed and safety of chaining down and unchaining logs. 

We pull up at the forest exit and Denis takes his half hour break, he has a nicely packed lunch and offers us some dried fruit while he chats about the truck. Although he’s impressed with it there are a couple of things he dislikes. One is the cab access, the second is that the cab must be partially tilted to check the engine oil level. The grille does open out to give access to the radiator and windscreen washer fillers, but the dipstick hasn’t been routed to this easily accessed position. 
Bryan Smith watches his trucks’ fuel burn closely and says he is impressed with the Cummins E5 engine’s frugality, it’s a big improvement over the EGR units he operates. 

The new International is a strong truck, what ’s more, it’s a 10 year truck. The mechanicals, frame and cab are all proven no nonsense components and even logging in the central North Island bush it’s likely to comfortably last a decade. Some will be turned off by the lack of refinements, but the new grille, axle position and local assembly will attract many operators.