Road train off the rails

Rid­ing the his­toric AEC was filled with thrills for James Stan­ford

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

RID­ING in Aus­tralia’s first road train, you can for­get lux­u­ries such as an en­closed cabin. The driver and pas­sen­ger in this 1934 AEC are ex­posed to all the el­e­ments.

They are also ex­tremely close to me­chan­i­cal things, such as the en­gine which sits be­tween them above the floor with no pro­tec­tive cov­ers.

It is quite some­thing to sit there next to the thun­der­ous en­gine, an in-line six-cylin­der diesel, hop­ing it is not about to throw a con­rod through the block, be­cause chances are it would hit you.

And there’s an in­cred­i­bly big cool­ing fan whoosh­ing around be­hind you. AEC en­gi­neers de­cided against a front-mounted ra­di­a­tor and de­cided to lo­cate it be­hind the so-called cabin, with the mas­sive fan draw­ing air on to it.

The idea was to move it away from where it could cop ac­ci­den­tal dam­age and there was also a con­cern it could be choked by grass seeds if lo­cated on the truck’s nose.

There is mesh over the fan and the belts be­hind the driver’s head. But the belts are ex­posed nearer the en­gine and not that far from where I am sit­ting on the flat cush­ion of a pas­sen­ger seat in front of two bat­ter­ies.

I con­tem­plate what would hap­pen if one of the belts was to let go — and de­cide the best op­tion is to not think about it.

There is an­other fan at the front of the en­gine, de­signed to draw cool air in and around it.

It is hard to imag­ine how tired you would be af­ter driv­ing this for a while, the en­gine is so loud and the vi­bra­tions run through the steel ‘‘cabin’’ and the seats.

The en­gine and ex­haust man­i­fold also throw off a lot of heat.

I’m very hot de­spite it be­ing a fairly mild day in Alice Springs, where we are driv­ing.

Just how the orig­i­nal driv­ers man­aged on 40C days un­der the beat­ing sun of the Out­back I will never know.

This in­cred­i­ble truck was built by the Bri­tish As­so­ci­ated Equip­ment com­pany AEC in Southall, Mid­dle­sex. It was de­vel­oped by the Over­seas Trans­port Di­rect­ing Com­mit­tee, set up to in­ves­ti­gate road trans­port in un­der­de­vel­oped parts of the Bri­tish em­pire.

The idea was to re­place camel trains with some­thing that could carry heavy items long dis­tances over tough ter­rain.

The AEC uses an 8x8 trac­tor de­signed to give it go-any­where ca­pa­bil­ity and it orig­i­nally lugged three eight-wheeled trail­ers. The length, in­clud­ing the trac­tor and all the trail­ers, was 21.5 me­tres and the max­i­mum pay­load 40 tonnes.

This might not seem that im­pres­sive com­pared to mod­ern road trains, but it was the biggest over­land load-car­rier at the time.

The lack of a wind­screen or side win­dows was not seen as such a big is­sue be­cause the AEC’s top speed was 45km/h and its av­er­age speed was about 26km/h.

The AEC diesel, which gen­er­ated about 96kW, sat up high with the clutch, main and aux­il­iary gear­boxes, with the four axles mak­ing up the lower sec­tion. A ‘‘stair­case’’ be­tween the two lev­els was made up of a train of three gears.

Only three such trucks were made and it was re­ported it strug­gled in soft sand, mud and some creek beds.

The AEC’s wide track might ap­pear a pos­i­tive, but was seen as a weak­ness when fol­low­ing other ve­hi­cles. In­stead of be­ing able to run along in the wheel tracks of other trucks, its wider tracks meant it had to run wheels ei­ther side of the ruts.

Af­ter the war, the AEC truck was sold to a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion but wasn’t used for long.

It was dis­cov­ered in the 1970s in a junk­yard and nar­rowly missed be­ing turned into scrap metal.

The North­ern Ter­ri­tory Mu­se­ums and Art Gal­leries Board bought it in 1981 and had it re­stored. It is on dis­play at the Na­tional Road Trans­port Hall of Fame in Alice Springs.

Train drain: the AEC, Aus­tralia’s first road train, was lack­ing in com­fort and safety, and didn’t even do a very good job.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.