MAIN TEST – Mixing business with pleasure

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

If you are going to talk trucking Kiwiana, it doesn’t come any more connected to all that’s Aotearoa than Uhlenberg green. The latest addition to the famous fleet sticks with a brand whose roots in the company echo all the way back to the beginning of the 70s, and like any Bridge Street beast, it’s a beautiful work/life mix.

In September last year we took a look at Kenworth’s new T610 working in a business that was engaging with the famous bug for the first time. Waiau Pa Bulk Haulage work in the aggregate supply chain, mostly in the wider Auckland area, and their new unit in 6x4 and 4-axle trailer bulk tipper configuration will spend its life on short lead, quick turnaround, high productivity permitted work. Looking for a truck that could handle the HPMV work over an extended life cycle, they’d turned to Kenworth based on a great run from the DAFs in the fleet and the support for that product from Southpac Trucks. What was interesting was that they’d chosen a brand new Kenworth model based on the reputation its predecessors had worked to establish.

When we set out to sample the other variant in the T610 family, the SAR, we wanted to go for the opposite, a tried and true Kenworth enclave that was sampling the new offering for the first time, a truck that was going to work on much longer leads, but probably one still working in the HPMV world. So, the next question became, who?

Some time passed and one day the phone rang. It was Daryl Uhlenberg, from Uhlenberg Haulage Ltd in Eltham, and in the course of the conversation he said words that were truly music to our ears: “Oh, and we’ve got a 610 SAR coming in the next month or so if that’s of any interest. It’ll be working Taranaki to the Mount, mainly on boxes with a 6-axle skele B-train.” Aside from the fact that we couldn’t wish for a better counter test to the WPBH truck, everyone knows that when Uhlenbergs buy a truck, asking whether it’ll be of interest is like asking ‘should I put chips with this fish?’ “Yes,” we said. “That’ll do nicely.”
With the SAR having external cleaners and all that, the propeller heads will be fizzing already, saying it should be the other way around given the dust of quarries and tip-heads versus the clean, slick running the Taranaki machine will see. But here’s the thing, aside from the fact we learnt back in September that the air cleaning capability of the 610 in non- SAR guise is more than adequate for site work, there’s more to consider.

If you want to see a mass exodus to the toilet and coffee urn, attend a conference when some poor bugger presents his address on aerodynamic considerations. For many of us, a truck is not just a tool, it’s an expression of who we are, our attitude, our approach, our personal standards, our brand, our life’s work – our truck is a blank canvas for us to tell the world who we are. One of the best examples of executing the union between commercial success and personal expression is Uhlenberg Haulage Ltd. For the Uhlenberg family, buying a truck goes well beyond any negligible aero-benefit. For them the truck is …

…not just a number
Many years ago there was an article written that said the reason some humans feel such an attachment to their vehicles was because vehicles fell short on only one requirement qualifying them as living. Using the famous MRS GREN acronym for defining a living thing, a vehicle qualified under movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, excretion, and nutrition, falling down only on reproduction. Interesting, slightly tongue in cheek for sure, but everyone reading this knows the validity of the sentiment. Sometimes it goes well beyond just one truck and pervades an entire company.

In the June 1987 New Zealand Trucking magazine test of one of the company’s Mack Super Liners, Mike Uhlenberg said: “The only thing we have to offer is good service, so the image of our trucks on the road is important. They have to be seen as good, reliable trucks that are well presented.” Just like their dad, Mike, spend any amount of time with Daryl, Chris, or Tony, and you’re in truck heaven. Sure, there are the frustrations that come with running any business, but underlying the daily ‘noise’ is a love of trucking that permeates every nook and cranny of the entire entity. And it’s not just a reflection of passion; the Uhlenbergs are savvy businesspeople and they know full well the fleet itself is the best marketing and recruitment tool – bar none. If trucks are your gig, then Bridge Street Eltham, is one of this country’s pilgrimage points.

The T610SAR’s extra width is a godsend for sure, but she’s still a snug cab in day-cab configuration. No hoarders please. ‘Say aghhh.’ Morning checks done. 2.00 am and we’re away. Chucking the back can on in Waitara.

Green for go
Irrevocable laws of the universe: the earth orbits the sun, the solar system orbits the centre of the galaxy, and the Uhlenbergs buy ‘speccy’ trucks. Boom! Fleet No 1 is no different. A stunning piece of kit, purpose-built to execute a task, meaning no sleeper this time, but that detracts not a jot. In season the daily ‘to do’ is a couple of export meat boxes ex Taranaki to Mount Maunganui, and empties home. Taranaki to the Mount; now that’s a classic piece of Kiwiana truck track if ever there was one. Messenger, Awakino, Mangaotaki, King Country, Kaimais, and back. State Highway 3 north is one of the corridors that Mike Uhlenberg built his haulage business on, and what a road to test a man and the resolve in his ambition. Interestingly that is literally the case, as Mike’s first owner-driver contract in 1966 was to the Ministry of Works maintaining the metal sections on State Highway 3.

It’s just as well they had the more docile run out through Taranaki and into the Manawatu as a Yin to the Yang. Mike Uhlenberg’s strategy for sorting out the northbound topography was displacement and horses…and plenty of both. And it worked. Hills are not such a pain in the arse when your truck has that much tow you need to slow down for corners on the ascent. It’s a philosophy the brothers were ingrained with as they grew up, and if your dream as a salesman is to turn up at Bridge Street and convince them of the benefits of an 11-litre motor pulling higher weights north, then you’d better make Ray Croc look like Frankenstein.

Photos: Although Uhlenbergs spec mainly AMTs in the fleet nowadays to protect aftersales and operator breadth, a large chunk of the drivers still drive them in manual.

Welcome home
The T610 SAR’s wrangler is one Craig Kelly. A Stratford lad originally, with a wonderful and rich history in and around the world’s greatest industry. Craig’s spent the past two decades in Australia, returning home with his family just prior to Christmas. Although he knew of the Uhlenberg boys years ago through the stockcar scene, he’d never driven for them before.
“Yeah, I made an enquiry, there was a position going, and here I am. Incredible really. It’s a great company to come home and work for. The induction took two weeks and man, you go through everything. Even though you’re itchin’ to get goin’, when you are solo you actually feel like you know where everything is and what to do.”
We used the term wrangler for good reason. The term means someone in charge of horses or other livestock on a ranch. If the 610 SAR is Craig Kelly’s ‘ranch,’ then yes, he’s most definitely in charge. When you jump in a truck you know within seconds if both you and the driver are along for the ride, or if they have its number dialled. If Craig Kelly was a farmer – and he almost was – you know that when he yelled at the heading dog to heel it’d be at his side in a half a heartbeat.

Trucking starts when trucking starts
We met Craig at 2am on a clear Taranaki morning in the Bridge Street yard. It got infinitely better for us when Craig said his wife Dee was a chef by trade and had made extra gourmet sandwiches for us, and it got infinitely better for him when we told him the team he had supported years ago, the Canterbury Glen Eagles, had finally broken their hoodoo and won the superstock teams champs national title in Palmerston North that weekend. It was going to be a great couple of days.

The prestart done, a quick wash of the windscreen, and Craig slipped the Cobra shift into D. We had lift-off. Instantly we were reacquainted with all we’d liked about the 610 in the WPBH truck. The relaxed position, the physical relationship between the driver and their place of work – ergonomics, the visibility both out front and left/right courtesy of car-like A pillars and low unobtrusive mirrors, and the noise – not too much, not too quiet. And most of all, the outstanding job Kenworth have done in retaining the ‘Kenworthness’ in the sleek 610 shed. What we also noticed in this machine though, was the liveliness. The X15 had a real sharp note, and bolted away whenever progress was halted. On the back was one box so we were only 36-odd tonne all up at that point, but you sensed straight away that this motor was a good ‘un. And it wasn’t just us; Craig thought it went well, and Daryl told us that other drivers who’d taken it on a run had thought it pulled really well also.

Photo: Homeward bound at Kihikihi.

The other ‘can’ was at ANZCO in Waitara, so it was into there to swing it on. An experienced side-loader operative, Craig had no problems and made it look easy. We were in and out in a jiffy.
With the hamlet’s residents snuggled into their teddies, Craig motored quietly out through the streets, rolled up to the intersection with State Highway 3, wound the wheel around counter-clockwise, and like so many other magnificent green bonnets of the past, the SAR’s hood swung through ninety degrees, faced north, and then he let her have it. With 53 tonne in tow the Cummins X15 seemed to get into it like a pig dog eating a bowl of Tux biscuits. Although the containers tried to resist their date with destiny, the tachometer rose and fell in a perfect rhythm and the odometer steadily climbed through the numbers.

To shift or not to shift?
The other big difference between the two 610s is the transmission. The WPBH truck sported a gear lever, whereas the Uhlenberg machine has the Eaton UltraShift PLUS 18-speed AMT. That means there are all the ADEPT smarts available; the trouble is, SH3 north isn’t a rolling ‘coasty’ sort of road, and Craig prefers to drive it in manual.

Digressing for just a moment, that’s not an uncommon trend at Uhlenbergs. The 30-truck fleet is a 50/50 split between automated manual and fully manual gearboxes. “With one recent exception, the transmission choice nowadays is AMT. It’s the great thing about having three brothers voting at the table, you never get a hung jury,” laughed Daryl. “I can be a traditionalist but it’s a case of future-proofing the fleet in terms of post-life value and driver pool. Autos are more expensive to buy and maintain, but most of the guys like them; although when you ask, probably half drive them in manual. So I question my logic really; the newest K200 added to the fleet recently is driven by a traditional stick-man, so a stick is what he got.”

“I just like the control at these weights and the bloody things can get too busy wanting to change too many gears,” said Craig.
Swinging through the flat corners at Uruti there was no doubt the SAR had a plenty in tow, and before we knew it the SAR was at the foot of Mt Messenger. Now Big Red was really working for its keep and it was immediately apparent where Craig wanted the X15 to do that work, keeping the big Cummins in the top half of the performance curve.

“At these weights on this hill you just can’t let it lose revs,” said Craig, as the Kenworth approached the notorious ‘sisters’.
As the truck wound its way up the hill, the beautiful LED headlight beams looked like WWII searchlights, veering left then right, and approaching the hardest climbing left-hander of the three corners he dropped a couple of gears, holding the revs at 1800 and peak power. When the Kenworth found one box at 45 degrees to the line of the tractor and the other at 90, you’d have thought for a split second someone had thrown a mooring chain on the back as the tachometer plummeted and speed washed off. But the motor quickly said enough was enough, and as torque joined in, the inertia was overcome and around the bend we all went. Why would you want to sleep when you can have a front row seat for this performance!

Brute strength and intelligence
Creating something this modern without ‘over-sterilising’ the situation is a colossal feather in Kenworth’s cap. Retaining the aspects of the encounter that actually appeal to a human is critical. Put us somewhere where we lose interest and we get bored, and that inevitably leads to inattention.

The SAR is certainly not shy on smarts. Having the Eaton UltraShift PLUS sitting in behind the X15 means the truck carries the ADEPT technology, short for Advanced Dynamic Efficient Powertrain Technology, meaning a suite of techy bits allowing the gearbox and engine to natter constantly about the situation and make decisions on optimising performance and economy based on load, speed, and grade. It’s the ADEPT software that differentiates the e5 Cummins and the X15, and it is able to be retrofitted.
Looking at what’s involved, SmartTorque is essentially a load-sensing functionality that delivers torque pursuant to load, and so empty for example, the engine delivers lower torque than when the truck’s loaded. Constant evaluation means the adjustment is always happening and torque delivery is a fluid thing.

Photo: The SAR bores into the Kaimais.

SmartCoast is a roll function that works around whether the truck is on a five percent gradient or less, and the upper and lower droop settings on the motor. The later are the configurable parameters on the motor where fuelling starts and stops. Off the shelf droop settings are 2 and 0, meaning on a downhill the engine will coast up to 2km/h over the maximum speed setting and then everything hooks up and the engine brake comes on. The zero means that when a hill is encountered the engine is into it straight away, whereas if you had an upper droop of 2 you’d coast in and the engine wouldn’t fuel until the hill had washed off 2km/h. Now, before you throw your good old Kiwi arms in the air and bellow ‘Ya what? No fuel into the start of a hill?’, remember this rolling country we’re talking about, so in the right conditions you’d get a nice roll on over the crests and in the dips with just the occasional rattle of the ‘jakes’ and ‘brmm’ of the motor, blissfully happy as you felt your wallet getting fatter with all the coin not pouring out the exhaust unnecessarily.
Aside from the run into Mokau between Tongaporutu and Mohakatino, northbound SH3 isn’t that conducive to ADEPT’s gifts, and if you want to get two heavy boxes to the Mount on the same calendar day, you’ll need performance. Having said that, there’s probably a bit to be gained if Craig aims the SAR southeast toward Wanganui and beyond. It would be an interesting experiment.

Looking at vitals for a moment, the X15 in the Uhlenberg machine is an SCR Euro 5 unit producing 459kW (615hp) at 1800rpm and 2780Nm (2050lb/ft) of torque at 1200rpm. Although there’s 15 litres capacity, the cup does not runneth over, and it’s a diminishing return vessel if you’re a rev-head, meaning once you’re over 1800rpm the power tails off, so it’s best that’s your top number. Torque, on the other hand, is flat through until 1600rpm, and when the lines meet power is still sitting at 433kW (580hp) so there are no guesses for where the bulk of the action needs to occur.

As we’ve said, behind the Cummins is an Eaton AutoShift PLUS 18-speed. Up front there is a Meritor MFS73 front axle rated at 7300kg, and out back are Meritor RT46-160GP axles with diff-lock on the front and cross-locks on the rear rated at 20,900kg at 4.10:1. Front suspension is taper leaf springs and shocks, and rear is Airglide 400. Brakes are drum interestingly, with EBSS and ABS obviously. There’s also Hill Start Assist, Traction Control, and DTC (Drag Torque Control).

Photo: Like last month’s Scania, modern fruit in a traditional looking tree.

No rest
There’s little rest for man and machine on this road. The Awakino straight is a house of candy moment considering the beasts that wait just around the corner. It’s always good to let a fresh set of eyes look at your world and Craig says he is appalled at the quality of road signage since coming back. “That corner down around past the Awakino pub, that’s just shocking. No speed advisory at all. Imagine being up here for the first time with two decks of cattle on? You’d be in the river. And marker peg placement. Someone needs to tell you jokers there’s actually a system to putting them in.”

Into the gorge and the sure-footedness of the Kenworth’s handling is evident. There’s plenty of feet on the ground, although it never ceases to amaze us how such a small footprint up front determines directional change for so much mass. It’s going to be more incredible this winter given the surface melt apparent on the network. The Kenworth sits flat though corners and the ride is reassuring. There’s no dip and roll that hallmarked the last two tests, just firm and comfortable, with the bug flat through the corners. If you were blooded in US gear, then this is home. The Uhlenberg truck wasn’t as smooth as the WPBH 610 but that’s due to application more than wheelbase or anything like that. Because the standard 610 has a set-back front axle and the SAR a set-forward one (1235mm against 850mm), the wheelbases weren’t as far apart as you’d think, with only 250mm separating them. So it comes down to the old tractor versus truck. It’s the difference between carrying a pig out of the bush on your back compared with pulling one out on a trolley (if you had to). Suffice to say the boxes certainly let you know they’re there.

Photo: A very outback ‘there’s still a thousand to do before smoko’ style. The Man from Snowy Mountain is most definitely this SAR’s master.

Photo: Fonzy nestled between the front trailer’s rails doing what he does best – keeping things cool.

“The back half moves around more than the ones back home,” said Craig. “Those long, heavy back halves in Aussie just sit there, eh. Not like these things.” Bearing the weight burden is a spectacular TMC 6-axle skeletal B-train set. TMC are the Uhlenberg’s go-to supplier for the skeletals, and this unit complements the front end beautifully in both looks and finish.
The unit is built to cart two 20’ laden containers under a 54 tonne HPMV permit, with the versatility to bring home combinations of empty 40s and 20s, (three TEUs (twentyfoot equivalent units)). There’s a gen set for the reefers nestled between the rails on the front unit and the whole gig runs on ROR disc braked axles and CS9 air suspension, with WABCO EBS and SmartBoard as well. Tare on the unit with the gen set in place is 8920kg.

Photo: The TMC B-train’s striking looks is the perfect accompaniment to the truck, and Daryl Uhlenberg says there is nothing they’d change given the need to copy and paste.

TMC’s Paul (Skippy) Goodman said, “Working with Daryl and Al Dobson [operations manager] was easy. They respected everything we tabled and relied on our expertise.” “Because the weight in the boxes varies, it’s not as economically viable running more than 54 tonne,” said Daryl. “We work on a rough rule of thumb of 18, 18 and 18, meaning tare and the two boxes. It works out bang on.” Cruising in the Kenworth is a low 70dB affair, higher obviously than the Baillie Volvo and APL Direct Scania, but certainly comfortable. Some might say it’s just right, or on the higher side of just right. The 610s are certainly a throatier affair than the K200, but that’s because of ole ‘Horse’ out front, obviously. The Uhlenberg drivers who have had a wheel of the new gig have been impressed with the noise levels, so there you go.

Photo: A famous hole in the wall that’s likely to see its last truck sometime in the next decade.

Powering up the Mangaotaki Gorge hill the Kenworth hung in at 1600rpm in 13th and 43km/h, and further up the line Te Kuiti was despatched digging in at 1500rpm in 11th and 29km/h. The Kaimais’ steepest pinch saw Craig grab 10th at 1600rpm and 25km/h, so it’s easy to see that once it’s in the sweet power/torque crossover point it takes a powerful lot of hill to knock this steed off its stride.
Likewise, downhill, the engine brake delivered great holdback. It has no retarder, but the latest Jacob’s incarnation in the X15 has greatly improved mid-rpm performance at 335kw (450hp) and it’s certainly apparent even at these weights. In the high numbers, holdback of up to 447kW (600hp) is achieved. Having nine axles there are brakes galore when they are needed, although pendulum brake pedals…yeah nah. We’ll get there, be patient.

The cruising cradle
We won’t go into exhaustive detail on the cab this round as it’s the same shed as the WPBH essentially. The cab’s a stamped, riveted, and glued unit, good for a 20-year-plus service life by all accounts. Its big tricks are space and vision. That extra 300mm width at the B-pillar is epic, and Craig’s got 30% more footwell room over previous incarnations. Like we said, there’s a superb view regardless of where you look, either out front, or side to side. The mirror positioning is a work of art.

The space is good for Craig in particular, because Mr K’s driving stance is pure outback, with a reclined, easy driving demeanour, one that suits thousands of kilometres clicking away under the tyres as you work your way through an eclectic playlist.
The dash is old meets new, with gauges and data screens, the front and centre ones monitoring telemetry and giving driver feedback scores. Craig was a dab hand at getting five big ticks and a ‘well done’ message every time the truck descended. Being a Kenworth there’s a beautiful wrap in the dash, with the navigation/coms/ audio screen, and of course the big new toggle switches and air conditioning/ heater dials built for the flattest, pudgiest, outback fingers.

Finished in garnet red with diamond pleating, Craig relaxes in an ISRI 6860/870 Pro seat. It’s a day cab bonneted Kenworth so don’t put a hoarder on it. Externally, as we said above, the SAR has the front axle further forward, there are the external air cleaner barrels and more traditional grille that doesn’t look like a kissing cousin to the T680 setting its looks apart. Overall it’s more staunch and traditional. Interestingly, Uhlenbergs have taken the top step – the one mounted on the lower door sill – off, the reason being Craig and couple of others have had some stumbles and trips on it. She’s just one, two, in!

Turn and burn
Into the Mount and the combination is alleviated of its burden, and an empty 40’ put in their place. Compared with the trip up it feels feather-like.

Craig flicked the AutoShift into A and immediately the number of gears changed per kilometre went through the roof. “See? They’re bloody annoying. I’d rather just do myself. And if you’re on Messenger and they don’t change quick enough, you’re in real shit.” And it’s not like he’s without experience, having come from a Super Liner mDRIVE combination. We’d agree; having sampled the I-Shift, Opticruise, PowerShift-3, and AS Tronic in the past few months, the UltraShift PLUS still doesn’t have the relaxed cog-swapping feel the big Euros do. But it’s getting there. That said, every driver bar Dave Lattimore in the APL Direct Scania intervenes at some point, and that’s probably due to the ridiculously low workload on that truck.

With just on 40,000km on the clock the Kenworth’s returning 1.68kpl to date. Where does that sit? Good, we think, even with just over 50% load factor most days. Getting 54 tonne to the Mount from Taranaki is no boy’s errand, and there’s precious little rolling available at five percent grade or less. Having said that, would it be good to put a super- Cummins dude in the hot seat and see what he or she could do? Yep, anything like that is always propellerhead heaven. But when your end game is out and out service, sitting behind your desk comfortable in the knowledge that a big, heavy truck working in difficult terrain will turn up unharmed, day after day after day, could you do better than the Kelly factor? We’d say not.

So there it is, a company with a long bug history, and one that runs on not just commercial acumen but also bucketloads of passion. Kenworth’s latest SAR derivative appears to hold that tradition, built for a heavy repetitious run on a torturous track. The reasons for Uhlenbergs buying Kenworths are many.

The fact they last, they present well, and they resell well are but a few. The T610SAR fits right into the fray, it knows who it is – a more refined, spacious version of what’s come before. The drivers and even Mike Uhlenberg himself have picked up on that, and that can only bode well for the truck’s future here. It appears to have been accepted by not only the new, but also the long-time customers. It’s still a Kenworth, even to the hard core by all accounts.

Still, like the September truck, the only question remaining is the brand’s reputation for longevity. The ‘best truck yet’ boots, touted by Kenworth, are still some time off being filled, regardless of how good the early signs are. All we can do to see if that prevails is wait, watch, and take lots of pics…definitely take lots of pics.


Short bonnet Australian right-hand drive
Unless you’re a true Kenworth propellerhead, the name Dave Gilder probably means nothing. To aficionados of Australian truck manufacturing history, Kenworth in particular, Dave Gilder was the young draftsman who in 1974 drew the first plans of what would be the SAR Kenworth.

Through the 60s and early 70s Kenworth was one of a generation of US truck brands resetting the bar for what a truck was able to deliver its Australasian owners in terms of power, durability, and majesty. Although a CKD assembly operation had been run in Australia in the second half of the 60s, it was March 1971 that the first fully Australian manufactured Kenworth rolled off the line of the new component assembly plant in Bayswater, Victoria. When the W900AR (Australian right-hand drive) was released that same year, it’s hard to believe it sported any form of Achilles heel. However, although manufactured in Australia, its design was based on a different jurisdiction on the other side of the Pacific, and as such the W900AR’s bumper to back of cab measurement (BBC) of 2959mm (116.5 inches), prevented it from meeting the National Australian Association of State Road Authorities’ (NAASRA) 14.3m (47ft) overall length when towing the optimum 10.98m (36ft) semi. And it was costing sales.

The initial fix was to deploy the short bonnet S2 variant of the W900, but this truck wasn’t able to take the big motors the W900AR could, and customers didn’t see it as a viable solution.

Photo: The Uhlenberg fleet has in its keep a chronology of SAR history.

Customer liaison engineer Charles Adams told Dave Gilder to draw something up and what materialised was an elevated A series cab and shortened sloping wide bonnet truck, coined the SAR, short for short bonnet A series cab righthand drive.
To Kenworth’s credit, Australia’s need for such a truck was recognised on the other side of the Pacific also, and the ratification process in Seattle was amazingly fast considering detailed redesign work that was needed on mudguard supports, steering, driveline, electrical systems, exhaust, air intakes, throttle, and gear shifters, each area containing anything from 20 to 200 components.
Fewer than six months after Gilder had put his pencil against the set square, the first SAR rolled off the line with its rather cumbersome model designate, abridged to a simpler short Australian right-hand drive. In colloquial tucking garb it was tagged ‘suits Australian roads’.

The new machine sported the S2’s BBC of 102 inches (2591mm), could house a big bore banger, and certainly retained the majesty of the W900’s famous grille. The SAR was an instant success with operators, and has since taken its place as a legendary Kenworth model suffix in most bonneted releases. As Uhlenberg Haulage are probably the only New Zealand transport operation who can sport three iterations of the famous model, all in full working trim, it makes their hosting of our first T610 SAR test all the more appropriate and special.

The man from Snowy Mountain!
If geneticists ever decided to make a true Australasian they should spend some quality time with Craig Kelly, write down the traits, and then find the genes that deliver the result. His early years in Aotearoa and two decades by the billabong have resulted in someone with the wisdom of a tuatara and a sense of humour as dry as the sole of a goanna’s foot. Raise issues like the driver shortage and you’ll receive a gem from the driving compartment along the lines of, “Yeah, well, we could tie ropes before we could ever change a gear.”
If someone told you to sum up the entire problem in a sentence of 15 words or fewer, could you do any better? Then there’s the real rib-cracking laughter when Australasian hybrid meets ‘as Kiwi as it gets’ Daryl Uhlenberg. “Geez, you jokers. We don’t do it like that back ‘ome.” “You are bloody home.” Laughter erupts.

Photo: Craig Kelly typifies the ‘Australasian’ trucker at their best.

Craig hails from the Taranaki town of Stratford where his dad Maurice (‘Moe’) was a professional firefighter, although there was transport in the blood as his grandfather, Stan, ran a small transport operation in Taranaki that comprised a few tippers and a rural mail run. The family moved to New Plymouth when Craig was about five and his first real truck memories hark back to Guthrey Transport in New Plymouth, riding around in trucks and doing odd jobs. He attended New Plymouth Boys’ High, but couldn’t wait to cut out on his own, and when Maurice was transferred to Wellington Craig stayed behind, signing on at the local polytech for a farming degree course. There was a huge work experience component in the course, and as ironic as seems looking back now, he found the early starts farming demanded to be somewhat challenging. As one farmer said to him, “You’re the only cadet I’ve ever had who can get the tractor unstuck after I’ve got it stuck. It’s normally the other way around. Maybe you should consider a new career?” They were wise words as it turned out, and he had actually started a diesel engineering course, and spent time driving a J1 Bedford and Massey Ferguson 135 tractor for his uncles and aunts on their farms.

“They’d load the bloody J1 to the gunnels with hay and you had to get it to the barn without losing any… well, you could, but you picked it up. That’s where you learnt control and balance.” Not being one to ignore good advice, he headed for the capital and started driving a Mitsubishi Canter in the tough world of furniture removals at Mana Transport. Craig worked his way up, eventually driving the Sleepyheadliveried Mitsubishi semi-trailer unit. The sea was his only boundary on this job. From there he progressed to Mana International, before moving on and taking a job in Christchurch with Wilders subbie, Graeme Boyce. After that there was a turn at Road Freighters. It was 1998 when the adventurous Craig headed for Sydney. He secured a job on arrival, but when he got lost and couldn’t find his way back to his flat, he thought, “bugger this place”, and boarded a bus for Melbourne.

On the first job attempt there he was told that because he’d never rolled a truck he’d obviously not done enough kilometres or he lacked experience. “I have to say I was a bit bamboozled. Funny thing is, I was helping a towie mate some time later and we had to attend one of their trucks that had come to grief. The driver had learned that cruise control and automatic pilot weren’t the same thing after setting the cruise and then climbing into the sleeper. Says it all really.” But the move to Melbourne was in fact a good one, with Craig finding work at Marsden Freightlines after passing the boss’s pre-employment interview, which consisted of backing a B-train into a finger dock and getting the back trailer as close to the glass of beer at the end without knocking it over. “After driving the Kiwi B-doubles with their short back trailers, the Aussie ones with long back trailers were a cinch.” Suffice to say, Craig was Sydney-bound the next day, map book in hand.

With five and half years at Marsden’s under his belt, he took up a position at Thorpe’s Interstate Transport Services, also home to the famous Thorpe Custom Trucks. “That was a great job. Great trucks. The work included transporting the big tours like Pink and that sort of thing.” In the six and a half years he was with the company, the job took him as far west as Perth and as far north as Cairns, and all points in between. Eventually the warmth and lifestyle that Queensland offered was too alluring and he headed north, taking a job with CJ’s Bulk Handling in Rocklea, hauling mainly scrap. CJ’s are renowned for themed livery on their trucks, and Craig drove a Western Star 4800 series in the theme of the movie Cars.

The final five years in Australia up until late 2018 would be spent at South East Queensland Hauliers (SEQH), both on the road and in operations. The firm specialised in the cartage of containerised grain and solar farm componentry, and Craig regularly headed for outback Queensland. Just prior to departing for home he got a brand new MP10 powered Mack Super Liner, a truck he rates highly. And so now he’s back home, more than likely to stay, with wife Dee and truck-mad son Jack (11). Like so many in the industry he laments the insanity that’s seen parents disconnected from their kids, unable to hand on the driving craft that was handed to them. He is determined that if Jack wants to learn, he’ll learn the old way. “It does no good for the industry or family life. It breeds resentment, prevents bonding time. When Dad is home he’s asleep. The kids end up hating trucks.” Amen to that Mr Kelly. Amen to that.

Your outlook becomes you
Chris Uhlenberg walks into the boardroom, falls back in the chair, throws his head back, and wipes the sweat from his eyes. He’s dressed in a company work shirt, work shorts, and boots. “Shit it’s hot out there. G’day Dave.” He’s just got out of the Peterbilt 357 he’s been driving for nigh-on two decades, a truck that identifies him almost as much as his birth certificate. Brother Daryl and I have been chatting and Daryl looks at Chris and says something in Uhlenberg ‘code’. I laugh, Chris rolls his eyes, and then Daryl looks across at me and says, “You haven’t written much?” My first thought is that it’s hard to write when you’re laughing.

Photo: (From Left) Daryl, Tony, and Chris Uhlenberg. Their father Mike’s greatest legacy will be instilling a love for what they do.

Tony Uhlenberg hasn’t been seen; he’ll be out looking down a green bonnet, making it happen no doubt. You think about the scene you’re immersed in and wonder what father Mike’s greatest legacy to the business will be. Will it be work ethic? Practical skills? Courage? Commercial nous? Probably not. It will be philosophy. It will be outlook. It will be attitude. The greatest gift Mike Uhlenberg will have left his boys when his time is done is to love what they do. To understand that success in trucking is about putting stuff on the backs of trucks and delivering it, where the customer wants it, when the customer wants it, being paid, and enjoying the whole journey you’re on while doing it.

Aside from the fact you DO need an alarm clock to start work at 2.00am,the Uhlenbergs exemplify the adage of ‘if you love what you’re doing you shouldn’t need an alarm clock to wake you on Monday morning…or any other morning’.
The entire business reflects the family’s love of trucks and pride in the brand, traceable back to their grandfather’s foray into buses. There’s wood finish on the office walls, but it’s behind the countless beautiful images of green Taranaki icons getting stuff done. But the Uhlenbergs are no different from anyone else. The sun hasn’t always risen gloriously, bathing them in rays of good fortune. It’s been a battle and some days have certainly been darker than many reading this article will ever have to endure. What there’s always been though, is a love for what they do and an undying belief in the value proposition their brand creates; not to mention the rare ability nowadays to lead the charge from the front, whether that’s in the boardroom or from behind the wheel.

Discounting what’s at the front momentarily, hauling gas is what the green machines are probably best known for, although the ebb and flow of commerce along with a desire to spread the eggs has seen the gas tankers go from two-thirds of the fleet make-up in 1997 to one-third of the 30-strong line-up today. It’s a mixed bag, with transporters, tippers, skeletals, reefers, and side-loaders.
On the Kenworth front the story starts in a typically Uhlenberg courageous entrepreneurial way with a K model imported from the UK in 1971 through Murray Goodall at Pokeno Machinery in Mangatawhiri, just south of Auckland. The truck was a trailer delivery unit for York Trailers in England, chosen by them for reasons of impartiality by all account. It ran a 216kW (290hp) naturally aspirated Cummins motor, 13-speed Roadranger and was single drive, although a bogie drive rear end from an International was transplanted into it prior to commissioning. Mike used the truck on a native timber contract in Taranaki.

Photos: Above: The original Uhlenberg Kenworth. Imported from the UK. Below: The first new W Model. An influential truck in the company’s history.

The first brand new Kenworth arrived in 1974, a W Model with a 350hp Cummins and a 13-speed Roadranger. Interestingly, every truck sale and purchase at Uhlenberg Haulage Ltd is logged in the famous ‘Blue book’. “Now that’s the definition of a good truck,” Daryl laughs. “Bought in 1974 for $44,000 and sold in 1985 for $55,000.” It was that truck that taught Mike the pulling power of an impressive wellpresented truck, not mechanical pull, but commercial, and it’s a philosophy the family has retained. Since that machine, showpiece Kenworths sourced from both sides of the Pacific have featured in the fleet, as have Kenworth’s famous stablemate, Peterbilt.
The company was the first to order the T600A (Anteater) when they slipped into the catalogue in the 80s, although Nupin Distributors put the first one into service. Through the firm’s history W, K, and T models have all been adorned with the famous green pigment, and now it’s the turn of the T610 SAR. “It’s funny, Dad is such an innovator, he’s never been afraid to be bold and try new things, never fearful. He was the first to try air bag suspension in a Kenworth in 1986.

Ran the first 60 Series Detroit in a T600 around 1988 [New Zealand Trucking magazine – April 1989]. I’ve not inherited that so much,” laughs Daryl. “It’s angels and devils for me. An angel on this shoulder saying ‘be brave and try something new’, and a devil saying ‘nah, stick with what you know’. Why branch out? I initially asked Adam [McIntosh – Southpac Trucks] to spec up and order another 409 SAR for this task, but they weren’t available in day cab any more, so I had to try something new. Bugger! Adam convinced me this was the way to go so we went with the 610. Adam’s great, he’s got the passion, he gets it. He fits right in.

“Skippy from TMC is a valued supplier also. He put a lot of effort into sorting the gen-set placement and other subtle features on the B-train. We got the desired result with a bit of debating among both suppliers and the Uhlenberg team.” Daryl also comments that he is well pleased with the entire unit, saying there’s nothing he would change if they went through the build process again. “The angel on my shoulder was correct, the devil was off the mark,” he laughs. “The drivers who’ve driven it love it. They reckon it’s much quieter, roomier, and it goes really well. Oh, and the old man passed it when it was a few days old and said, ‘The new Kenworth. I passed that today. It looks good on the road’. So, I guess that’s the ultimate test passed!”