MAIN TEST - Still a good turn of the wheel left yet

Friday, July 27, 2018

As tragic as it is, in 2020 we say goodbye to the Freightliner Argosy, an old friend and a loyal servant to many an operator. But 2020’s a good turn of the wheel away yet and there’s plenty of reason to write the order for a truck that many we encounter describe as “a bloody good machine to me”.

Travelling around the traps there’s no question in the minds of many operators today that bringing the Freightliner Argosy to New Zealand in 1999 was a great move. Bill Hammond, Tom Twist, and more recently Brodie Drummond when Craig McCauley photographed one of his new Argosys for our monthly Top Truck, join a myriad of others who have stressed the importance these reliable heavily laden merchant vessels – that’s what Argosy means – played in building their businesses.

There’s no greater champion of the Argosy flag, or the people who sell and support them, than Dave West, managing director of Riordan & West Transport, located in Puni, just west of Pukekohe. The distinctive blue and white Argosys have been a fantastic advertisement for both the Freightliner and Riordan & West brands since the first one rolled out of the yard in 2000. In the succeeding 18 years a further 18 Freightliners have been purchased, including two Century Classes and a couple of Coronados, but there’s no mistaking which model comprises the bulk of the vertebrae in the Riordan & West backbone. Today the fleet stands at 17, comprising 12 Freightliners that include the last of the two Century Classes, three UDs and an International Paystar used primarily as a transporter for Dave’s race truck – which is, of course – a Freightliner Argosy. The latest Argosy to grace the gateway is the majestic No 6, and it’s certainly a step away from the company ’s traditional bulk machines with its sprawling Domett flat deck body and trailer affording 19m of load space. W ho’d have thought in 1982 that the LOA then would one day be the useable deck length – on a truck with a sleeper! It ’s a 90” mid-roof cab and runs the Detroit DD15 and an Eaton 18-speed AMT. We met driver Rob Tonkin in the company yard at 4.30am on a mid-winter’s morning with a load of coil steel bound for Seaview in Lower Hutt. Of course, the glass-half-full, Kiwi bloke who is Dave West was there, and we all enjoyed a drink and quick yarn before Rob checked the state of the Desert Road, climbed aboard, switched off the flood of interior lighting, selected the appropriate gear, didn’t let the clutch out, and gently eased some throttle on. No 6 climbed the concrete drive, out onto the narrow, climbing tree-lined rural road that runs past the depot, and started picking up gears as she attempted to get the 49 tonne of truck and load behind her proud badge rolling.

‘D’ for Dave. ‘D’ for Detroit.
Riordan & West is Detroit country, always has been, probably always will be. It dates back to the Internationals that serviced the original piggery located on the Puni site back in the day. As you read on you’ll discover the Wests are loyal to good suppliers.

“ We’ve had a couple of Cummins, through acquisition. They ’ve gone okay, but certainly not given us any reason to want to change,” said Dave.

As we said, under No 6’s flat floor is our old friend the 14.8 DD15 producing 418kW (560hp) and 2500Nm (1850lb/ ft) of torque. It ’s a familiar face in the engine scene now but still one with plenty of trick bits to raise its appeal. At the top of the tree is probably the engine’s Euro 5 emissions rating without the need for DEF. Talk to any driver and there’s still plenty of grumblings around DEF, particularly in regard to the fragmented refill network. We’re long past the point where not having DEF at every diesel stop is acceptable. Anyway, DD15 is an EGR DPF unit, built ground-up for that emissions system and first released to the world in 2007. It has four valves per cylinder, a cast iron block, low inertia hollow camshafts, and a rear gear train. It has what Detroit calls Amplified Common Rail System (ACRS) which is essentially a gear-driven highpressure fuel pump producing pressures in the rail of 13,000 Psi, with final boost produced hydraulically in the injector itself. The system is capable of five injection events per cycle. The other bit of cleverness is the turbo compounding system. Not in series, but one old school basic turbo to boost manifold pressure for air intake management and a second that creates the manifold pressure differential for EGR to happen, pumping an extra 37.2kW (50hp) back into the engine’s rear drive train. The combination of the two (ACRS and turbo compounding) is the magician that produces the lightening 1.5 seconds between asking for peak torque and delivery – something the company calls Demand Torque Response. The DD15 has a B50 life of 1.9 million kilometres, meaning its design intention was that it ran that far before requiring the sump or heads off for anything. That engineering confidence is reflected in its extended warranty offering, which runs to one million kilometres, 15,000 hours, or half a million litres of diesel used, whichever comes first.

Behind the motor is the clutchless 18-speed Eaton RTLO20918B UltraShift Automated Manual Transmission (AMT). AMTs are another thing for which Riordan & West is a stronghold.

“ The only one that ’s ever given us a hiccup wasn’t even its fault,” said Dave. “ The truck broke a piece off a front spring that bounced on the road, flicked up and knocked the gearbox oil cooler off. She lost her oil and melted the gears.” Up front and down below are Meritor FG-941 axles on parabolic taper leaf springs with shocks, and out back are the perennial Meritor RT46-160GP axles with diff and cross locks at 4.1:1, on 46,000lb Freightliner AirLiner suspension. The truck’s got drum brakes with Meritor auto-slacks, and the trailer has discs. WABCO provide the ABS/EBS, and smarts on both, so nothing unusual or unfamiliar there.

Birthday venue

Riordan & West No 6 has the 75th anniversary spec cab with all the extra bits and pieces to make it that little bit special. The extras list includes commemorative badging, additional sound-proofing, 75th anniversary dash lining, embroidered headrest, and new door panelling upholstery with extra pockets. It certainly gives the inside a lift, no question...... READ MORE

...just can’t wait to get on the road again.
This latest addition to the Riordan & West family sports the Freightliner 75th anniversary package (see sidebar). Out of ‘Puke’, down the Bombays, and south along Highway 27, Robert and I just sat and chatted, the LED headlights illuminating all before us. Back in the Leyland Octopus and Mercedes-Benz 1418 days, any time you left Auckland for Wellington it was almost the start of an adventure probably worthy of a chapter in a book. As we rolled south through Matamata Rob looked at his watch and said, “ We should be unloaded by two-thirty, quarter to three, so we should get reloaded and get north a bit.”

Photos: Rob Tonkin’s approach is cautious, considered and polite, just what the industry needs.

It all sounded so easy and it pretty much was. The Argosy ate the main drag south, the 29.1 tonne on its back proving to be little in the way of a burden to the DD15. Like all modern engines it enjoys life at the lower end. Maximum power is produced at 1800rpm and peak torque at 1100rpm, although the curve’s pretty flat from about 900 to 1500rpm. At peak power torque is still slightly north of 2237Nm (1650lb/ft). That rapid spool-up to full boost is also part of the picture that makes driving this machine in the lower half a no-brainer. Another good – tongue in cheek – reason is sound. The DD15 has a ... well, edgy, if not a slightly annoying top-end note. Its bottom end note however, is among our favourites. Pulling away from 1100rpm or even lower it ’s a gorgeous sounding note. The motor almost tells the driver where it enjoys life – ‘I like to amble not scramble’ it says.

Photo: Rob starts the unload process in Seaview.

Kojak – clean and mean
The Argosy was pretty much garden fresh with only 16,000km on the odometer. Earthquake gully south of Waitahanui is the test of any loaded southbound truck, and it was despatched in 11th gear, at 1800rpm and 32km/h. Like almost everyone we come across, Rob lets the AMT do its thing most of the time, but takes control in the tricky bits, like the Sisters. The unit’s running at 50MAX currently, awaiting its 54 tonne HPMV permit to allow another four tonne. It’s a weight Dave’s found to be a good compromise between productivity and affordability.

Photo: Strong lines and a clean look. An unbeatable combination really. 

“HPMVs are good but I’m not a believer in just handing all the benefits on. They cost a lot more to build and operate and we [the industry] need to be aware of that. An investment should benefit everyone, not just one party, leaving the other with all the burden.”

There’s no question the Riordan & West livery looks great. Asked if there was an origin to the white and blue, Dave simply says, “no, not really...Dad likes blue I think”. Very Dave West. Number 6 stands out even more on account of configuration, meaning a Riordan & West truck in flat deck trim. The low lines of the Domett body and 5-axle trailer versus the height of the mid-roof cab are a great contrast. But what really contributes to the look and lines of the truck is the lack of paraphernalia. There are no stacks or high-rise air cleaner tubes and intakes, just a couple of mirror-mounted aerial whips, roof-mounted air horns, loading lights and a flashing beacon. The standard plastic air intake sits behind and exits through the left-hand cab skirt. It’s a truck that lets the livery do the talking, right down to the matching covers, and we like it...a lot.
Clean lines all contribute to fuel burn too, and every little bit counts on Rob’s five return trips to the capital a fortnight.
Boffins and nerds believe we should all be driving a truck that essentially looks like a blob of snot on wheels, but we all know what they can do. To date, and that ’s only little more than a couple of months, the Freighty’s returning 1.7kpl. Considering the load factor that ’s pretty acceptable for a near-new truck in this bracket, and looking at the warranty parameters on the DD15 mentioned above, 2.0kpl should not be considered out of the question as she frees up.

Photos: The truck and trailer are both equipped with cavernous toolboxes. Having drop doors means you need to be a bit careful humping heavy stuff around, and make sure you always do the life-saving final walk around before driving off.

Photos: Deck hatches are handy for chains and binders, and with the deck lengths nowadays, rarely is there the risk that they’ll all be covered by the load when you need a chain – certainly their Achilles heel three decades ago.

A tragedy

The New Zealand Trucking magazine of March 2000 said this about the first Argosy test:

“The Argosy is one of the most important American trucks to reach New Zealand in recent years, because it represents Freightliner’s bid to revive the cabover configuration.” READ MORE

It’s who’s got your back that counts
The Wests are big Detroit fans. It ’s a heartstring thing, they have a connection to the motors that ’s intertwined back as far as Keith arriving at Colville Farms. They’re also Freightliner fans, and Dave doesn’t hesitate. 

“ They’re very good machines. Very good, not perfect, but nothing is. But it’s Trucks and Trailers that make them. I’ve

bought 19 Freightliners off them and every time something’s gone wrong they’re right there. It ’s Trucks and Trailers’ support of the product that seals it for us.” And let ’s not forget the warranty on the Freightliners currently. Four years and 800,000km tells any purchaser that those who sold it believe in it.
Rolling on down country the big climbs and descents disappeared in the mirror; they ’re about a song and a half long now, as opposed to the entire Slim Dusty album the Mangawekas alone once were. Because the Jacobs brake was integrated into the design of the DD15, they are incredibly quiet. There’s barely a rumble from under the floor, at full howl popping the noise meter into the low 70dB only. But the Jacobs hold-back is most definitely there and Rob’s a big fan.

Photo: The Argosy at pace north of Matamata.

The Argosy consumed the flat Manawatu, Horowhenua, and Kapiti with consummate ease, Rob making the most of the cruise control. As per his prediction our load of coil steel was unloaded around 2.45pm and we collected some rather sad and battered looking vehicles for the run home the next day, overnighting in Levin.
Domett and SAF INTRADISC are the Riordan & West standard. The big Domett flat deck rolls on 19.5” alloy wheels and trundled along behind like a big docile dog. Rob’s been super impressed with its tracking, as were we. It was most evident on the run home. Standing on the side of Lake Taupo at Bulli Point, the ease with which he kept the 23m truck and trailer on its side of the road compared with the B-trains that passed was impressive. Long live the truck and dog!

There was much to like about this test. A bullet-proof US truck that has etched its capabilities in the best possible way, not just into the annals of New Zealand trucking history, but also into the histories of many a successful company. A family business, loyal to suppliers who in turn understand that success in their business is contingent on the success of their customer’s business. A young driver, calm and reasoned, still relatively new to the industry, who was given a go, and is loving where trucking’s taking him...literally and figuratively. There’s no question: the Argosy will not be replaced. It will be lost. If you’re an American truck fan Daimler’s other ‘A’ trucks will not fill the gap the Argosy leaves. They come at the same job from completely different approaches, skinning the cat an entirely different way. Should you keep the Argosy on your purchasing radar? Absolutely. It’s a strong, proven product with an exceptional warranty, and fantastically supported by its dealer network, for whom it represents far more than a truck. We concluded by asking Dave what he’s going to do in 2020?

“Have a buy up before then I suppose.”

Go West young man

You could say the Riordan & West story started with the pig farm in Puni in the early to mid-90s but the truth is it started well before that. Why? Because as Dave will tell you, “Dad was always more interested in trucks and machines and that than animals really. I am too.” READ MORE

Branching out

“When I was working as an arborist I would always be the one who wanted to drive the truck, taking it to the next job, or bring it back home. I was the crew boss in the end so I was able to do that,” chuckled Rob Tonkin. “I’ve always enjoyed driving and felt the arborist work had run its time and so pursued the driving thing, and here we are. I’m living the dream really.” READ MORE