Used Equip­ment Re­view: Wabco dump truck

Ron Horner hops into a Wabco dump truck, which pro­vides a nos­tal­gic trip down mem­ory lane

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Contents -

There are days I am sure we can all re­late to when ev­ery­thing goes from bad to cat­a­strophic in an in­stant. But what about those days when you think it just can’t get any bet­ter?

Wham! Out of nowhere you are hit by the prover­bial ‘rain­bow’.

Well, that is what hap­pened to me while on the Sweets Fam­ily Straw­berry Run­ner Farm on the bor­der ranges of NSW/Queens­land.

Hav­ing had the grand tour of the operation with Phil Sweet and my ap­petite ap­peased by the num­ber of – and var­i­ous types of – clas­sic old gear in work­ing mode on the farm, I came across an old 1960s 25-tonne Wabco dump truck, still in the quarry, fully loaded and ready for the boys to re-com­mence work af­ter the week­end break.

In this par­tic­u­lar part of the coun­try one would think: ‘why would you go to all the ef­fort of tree clear­ing, mas­sive gran­ite rock re­moval, stick pick­ing and top­soil screen­ing just to plant a few straw­ber­ries?’ The amount of pre-plant­ing work is mind blow­ing.

Phil ex­plained to me that straw­berry farm­ing is cli­mate con­trolled and re­quires spe­cific soil types which just hap­pen to be per­fectly suited to the area. I am a west­ern re­gion-type bloke who has grown up around wheat and broad­acre farm­ing op­er­a­tions, where ‘big is best and big­ger is bet­ter’, but this mas­sive land-clear­ing and prep­ping operation for a few straw­ber­ries needs a pretty de­ter­mined and com­mit­ted fam­ily to un­dergo such a task.

To achieve their goals in clear­ing and prep­ping the soil, there are cer­tain types of equip­ment needed and one of those is a truck or several trucks to re­move the mas­sive num­ber

and size of gran­ite rocks that abound the area. Cost is a big fac­tor in mak­ing a profit in any in­dus­try, so over­cap­i­tal­is­ing at any point of the operation is not good for the bot­tom line and it is no dif­fer­ent here.


Now the ‘dump truck’ is prob­a­bly one of the most recog­nis­able and well-known truck for just about any­one to iden­tify with, re­gard­less of what age or gen­der you may be.

Dump trucks have thrilled both lit­tle and big kids for about as long as they have been around, but what may be sur­pris­ing is the num­ber and types of dump trucks that are avail­able these days – both on and off high­way.

In Aus­tralia we are very fa­mil­iar with trucks like the truck and dog, bo­gie or sin­gle-axle tip truck, semi-trailer, B-dou­ble, road train, rear dumper, bot­tom dumpers, side tip­pers, on road and off road, all-ter­rain and min­ing trucks … but none have the same patina as this old Wabco.

In earth­mov­ing terms, no one has had a big­ger in­put or in­flu­ence on the mod­ern-day scene than R. G. LeTourneau. He is renowned for be­ing the driv­ing force be­hind the de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of the world’s big­gest ma­chines. West­ing­house Air Brake Com­pany (WABCO) bought out LeTorneau in 1953, and that was the ori­gin of the ‘Haulpak-Wabco’ truck range which is now run un­der the Ko­matsu ban­ner.

This par­tic­u­lar off-high­way dump truck is owned by Nathan Sweet, Phil’s brother, who has a very suc­cess­ful earth­mov­ing business in Stan­thorpe and shares the truck around the fam­ily op­er­a­tions on an as-re­quired ba­sis.

The truck still de­liv­ers a good day’s work pro­vid­ing you are a com­pe­tent op­er­a­tor and can con­quer the noise, heat and to­tal lack of any mod-cons.


Re­gret­fully we didn’t get time to go un­der the hood. Time was against us and my back was al­ready cry­ing out for a con­sid­er­able break in pro­ceed­ings. I did for one fleet­ing mo­ment se­ri­ously think about climb­ing up onto that big bon­net, but I looked at the height off the ground and the ef­fort re­quired for this old bloke to lift that bon­net and to get the cam­era gear in place for that one shot …

I gave my­self an up­per-cut, sent my­self to my senses and moved up into the cab ... at least I could sit down, even if not get the rest my back was so much look­ing for­ward to. How­ever, I can tell you that it was a scream­ing GM diesel hid­ing un­der that big yel­low bon­net.


The scream­ing turbo-charged two-stroke diesel sounds more like a scream­ing Vir­gin jet on take-off rather than any mod­ern-day min­ing or quarry truck. Foot to the floor and hang on tight sounds the way to go but, in re­al­ity, it is very slow mov­ing. When I first took over the driv­ing po­si­tion I had to dou­ble check if I had re­leased the air brakes and the six-speed Al­li­son auto was ac­tu­ally en­gaged.

How­ever, when the old girl de­cides to get in sync with the op­er­a­tor’s as­pi­ra­tions and com­pe­tency, well that’s an­other story.

Very lit­tle lat­eral vi­sion, ill-ad­justed minis­cule domed mir­rors and closed-in cabin make for an in­ter­est­ing de­but run in the old girl. Com­bine this with 25t of gran­ite rocks on the back, an un­tried brak­ing sys­tem (although Wabco is the leader in de­sign and man­u­fac­ture of truck brak­ing sys­tems world­wide) a heavy steer­ing sys­tem, a full dash­board of gauges and plenty of body roll, and your mind flashes back to the teenage years of at­tempted bull rid­ing where one had to hang on and hope like hell be­cause you know it’s go­ing to hurt if it goes wrong.

The cab is small, hot and dusty and the old guys would know they have done a 10-hour shift in one of these. I strug­gled to do an hour!

A full set of dash gauges (and all work­ing) are clearly laid out in front of the op­er­a­tor, a six-speed Ali­son auto sits neatly be­side the right­hand side of the steer­ing col­umn and steer­ing wheel with throt­tle and brake floor-mounted, the diff lock is to the left and an an­ti­quated door­lock­ing sys­tem caps off this very ba­sic truck.

Don’t be alarmed though, in its day these were the top-of-the-range truck and used to build Aus­tralia’s major in­fra­struc­ture projects way back to the 1960s.


Af­ter a cou­ple of laps around the pad­dock along the dusty bush tracks, a quick pe­rusal of the dicky rev­ers­ing ac­cess into the dump site, a few test­ing times with the brakes and trans­mis­sion, it was time to stop play­ing around and drag those twin cylin­der hoist rams into ac­tion and get that big load off the big steel-plated tip­ping body. Oh, the feel­ing you get when the day just gets bet­ter and bet­ter.

Safely un­loaded and breath­ing a sigh of re­lief and con­fi­dence, I de­cided to give the old girl a run whilst un­loaded. Once the op­er­a­tor has spent a bit of time in the seat and got­ten used to all of the old-school dirt, dust, noise, poor vi­sion and heat as­so­ci­ated with the Wabco of this age, it is re­ally an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence so far re­moved from the sani­tised ex­pe­ri­ence when driv­ing mod­ern­day trucks. Once I had fa­mil­iarised my­self with the con­trols and seat­ing, the noise of that big scream­ing GM, the body sway whilst on road, and dropped the load, I could sit back and ‘chillax’.

My mind wan­dered back to the old days in the 60s when I was at Wyangla Dam out near Cowra, NSW. My dad and some of his friends worked dur­ing the con­struc­tion phases of the dam and it was the first time I saw a fleet ofvery sim­i­lar

– if not the same – trucks in fleet mode haul­ing blasted rock out of the quarry and onto the big earth- and rock-filled dam wall.

Fast for­ward to the mid-70s when I worked for Eric Ne­wham (Waller­awang) and ran a cou­ple of sim­i­lar trucks in a quarry operation – even then I thought I was on top of the world. It was a great era when a lot of Aus­tralia’s in­fra­struc­ture was built and also a great era of heavy ma­chin­ery de­sign which pales into in­signif­i­cance when pit­ted against to­day’s ul­tra-mod­ern fleets.

The scream­ing turbo-charged two-stroke diesel sounds more like a scream­ing Vir­gin jet on take-off.


This old Wabco 25t dump truck is ideal for this type of work; there’s no over­cap­i­tal­is­ing on any­thing in the early stages of this farm­ing project and it does the job ex­pected of it. This old girl, with all the groans and creaks of an aged and re­tired dump truck op­er­a­tor, but with much more patina, worked an ab­so­lute treat.

Both can re­late to the do­ing hard yards and years of body abuse, lack of ser­vic­ing, patch up re­pairs to keep the body go­ing and proudly hold­ing a place of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

To the op­er­a­tors of the past who have all hung up their hard hats and work boots, we salute you for leav­ing an in­deli­ble mark on our min­ing and dump truck his­tory, and to Wabco for build­ing such a in­de­struc­tible truck that has borne the years of abuse and is still de­liv­er­ing and con­tribut­ing to the quar­ries of the world to­day.

We have wit­nessed a true legacy to the min­ing and quar­ry­ing in­dus­try!

This was a nos­tal­gic trip down mem­ory lane for me and one I will re­mem­ber for life.

1. The Wabco dump truck pulls up fully loaded2. The down-and-dirty dash 3. Al­li­son auto trans­mis­sion does the job4. The scream­ing GM en­gine 5. Heavy duty even by the stan­dard of those days

Above: It can still haul a 20-tonne pay­load

Above: The Wabco dump truck gets the big thumbs up from Ronnie

Top: The tip­per de­liv­ered the load with easeAbove: The Wabco still gets the job done

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