A spectacular rig...in a spectacular environment:
e FH16 750 hauls a load of stems up a forestry road at Pohokura
AS THE BIG VOLVO NEGOTIATES SOME VICIOUS WASHBOARD corrugations on a steep hill in the Pohokura Forest, northwest of Napier, driver Greg (Scooby) Springer says he’s sorry. Sorry, that is, for the punishment it’s taking: “I mean, for this sort of work….it’s a shame really to bring it off-highway,” he reckons.
Then again, he argues aloud with himself, “I get out at the end of the day and I’m not bent over.” He realises that sounds like an indictment of the Kenworths he drove before this FH16 and hastens to add: “But, like, the Kenworths are good too – don’t get me wrong.”
It’s just that he thinks the king-of-the-road Volvo is better. Unbeatably so.
It’s why, when given the choice by his boss – Pan Pac Forest Products contractor Barry Hermansen – he elected to go for a Volvo.
Well, to be fair, not just any Volvo, but very specifically an example of the truck that rates as the world’s most powerful production highway truck – powered by Volvo’s 16-litre, producing a jealousy-inducing 750-horsepower/551kW and 2618 lb ft/3550Nm of peak torque. It turns out that the B&P Hermansen Logging 8x4 is one of New Zealand’s first two FH16 750s to go into logging.
Committed Kenworth customer that Hermansen has long been, he had a couple of reasons to allow Scooby the say: For one, he had some bad experiences with the Cummins Signature EGR engines in his last batch of Kenworths – three K108Es and a T408.
In 2011 he bought the four EGR-engined Kenworths – putting him smack, dab in the middle of living unhappily with “a problem engine.” Says Barry: “Cummins supported them in the end, but I had a few issues with them.”
Unhappy as that experience was, he clarifies that it wasn’t the main reason for the Volvo purchase: “It’s been Scooby’s choice because, you know, I did say that this may be my last round of trucks.” By the time the latest purchases have done their five years/800,000kms – the typical life of a Pan Pac unit – he could be eyeing retirement.
And he adds: “I’ll be into my 70s by then and I wanted to know what he was doing….maybe he might want to buy it off me after I retire,” he reckons with a laugh. Scooby, totally deadpan, jokingly nixes that idea: “Probably wrecked by then.”
Hermansen also really rates and appreciates Scooby as a driver – and wanted to encourage him to stay with him. And that was more important than exercising his own preferences: He has been, he says, “a Kenworth man….and probably deep down I still am. I’ve got a soft spot for them.
“There’s something about the old Kenworth…. You’ve gotta be able to get up in the morning and look outside and say ‘mmmhhh, I like that – and that’s why I’m doing it.’
“I dunno whether I could do that with a Hino or…..I won’t run other brands down….well, I shouldn’t have said the Hino… But, you know, I was gonna say Mitsi and all that….”
Barry’s trucking career started with a two-decade stint driving for a dairy company in Dannevirke and he didn’t get his first taste of logtrucks till the factory closed down in 1988. He shifted from the Manawatu to Napier, to drive a Pan Pac contractor’s self-loading logger.
Six years later he started with Pan Pac on his own account, taking over a four-year-old Foden. He bought a Volvo FH in 2002, but since
then it’s been Kenworths – building up to running four of ‘em for Pan Pac.
Last year that dropped back to three units, with the sale of one K108E to nephew Craig Moorcock. Early this year another K108 was traded on the new Volvo, leaving Barry with the FH16, one of the Kenworth cabovers (dedicated to stem work) and a T408E – “both coming up five years old.” A T659 Kenworth is on the way to replace the 408.
Running four trucks is “a bit of a handful” – particularly now that “I’m in my retirement years….so I just want to spend a bit more time enjoying life. I’m 67…you don’t know how long you’re here for.
“I do a lot of my own maintenance – the little stuff – and so our weekends are pretty full-on, you know. And I just wanted to downgrade a wee bit – to a couple of trucks and have a bit more spare time.”
Whether that develops into retiring anytime soon, he’s reluctant to predict: “You never know. You have trucks in your blood – you’re not too sure how long it’s gonna be.”
There’s a clue to his thinking though in the name on the Volvo: “The Last of the Summer Wine.”
As for the new FH16, Barry reckons that Volvo salesman Scott Robinson has always kept in touch, despite his history of buying Kenworths. So one day “I said ‘look Scott, come and see me when I can buy a 750.’ ”
The FH16 750 has been, since it was launched in Europe in early 2012, the world’s most powerful highway production truck. Kiwi operators have bought an extraordinarily high number of them – 35 to date…..most of them working in linehaul, but some doing livestock and one working as a tipper.
But, until recently, the 750 hadn’t made it into logging. That’s because, says Volvo Truck national sales manager Clive Jones, there’s been a “careful approach” to introducing the 750 into NZ. And that approach, he adds, has “proved worthwhile,” as the 750 “has been superbly reliable.
“Having the highest horsepower production truck in the world is one thing – but our key focus is always on reliability and support.”
One day last year, Hermansen says, he duly got a call from Robinson: The 750 was now available for logging – on application
(as with every 750 sale, says Jones, due to high global demand and very limited engine availability).
The longtime Kenworth man decided: “Oh well, let’s give it a shot.” Sure, says Barry, he could have simply settled for a lesspowerful FH16: “Like, we could have had a 700 – no worries at all.” And, he concedes, “50hp more is not a lot.”
But, at the same time, he’s a man who believes that there’s no point settling for less than what’s available. As he puts it, when you go into a bottle store for beers “you don’t go and take a bottle out of the crate, do ya! So we’ll just go for the whole hog….”
So what if they’d said no to okaying the 750 for logging – would he have told Scooby that it was going to be another Kenworth?
“Nah, I think I would have still given him what he wanted….we’d have gone the next size down.”
It’s a spectacular confirmation of how highly Hermansen regards the 56-year-old who came to drive for him eight years back – “a
cabover man” who’d previously been driving linehaul in Emmerson Transport Kenworth K100s.
Why Scooby’s dislike of conventionals? “Just not used to them really – with that bonnet out the front.”
Quiz him on his preference for the Volvo and he mentions its “armchair comfort…its handling, how steady it is…how you’re not bumped around.”
Driving this, chimes in Barry (who’s been at the wheel of the newcomer while Scooby’s been on holiday), “you’re not working – you’re just sitting there….enjoying the drive.” It’s a logger – but it’s also “as good as anything on the road.”
Barry warms to the subject: Driving log trucks, he says, “IS a good job. You get out in the backblocks. But sometimes we wonder why we do it – in the mud and crap – eh Scooby.”
This morning it’s all good – foggy but otherwise dry: “Whereas… last Friday night, when that storm come through and you’re out in it, and you thought why are you doing it!”
But even in those moments (or maybe even more so then), the Volvo shines through: “Nah, it’s pretty good. You’ve got seat-warmers and stuff. You know, you get in damp….and straight away you start to feel warm.”
The rig is an eight-axle convertible unit – an 8x4 truck and a fouraxle Patchell trailer. Sliding bolsters convert it from carrying stems, up to 18-metres long…into a shorts unit, handling log lengths ranging from 4m to 7m on the truck and 5m-11.3m on the trailer.
It operates on an HPMV permit allowing it to run up to a 46-tonne GCM and 23m total length on 50MAX routes – this primarily used to cart logs to the Pan Pac mill at Whirinaki (which is what we’re doing today – with stems). But if it’s running to the Port of Napier it has to stick to 44t – simply because the scaling sheds are on streets that haven’t been approved for HPMV weights by the local council.
The sliding bolsters and extra hydraulic stuff on a convertible means it’s a little heavier (the truck tare is up 500kg, to 12.5t) than either a dedicated stems or shorts unit – this one tareing at 18-tonnes.
Barry would have liked it to be a nine-axle unit, so it could make the most of an HPMV permit but, as he explains, Pan Pac likes the versatility of a unit that can cart stems and also still be put on woodlot work, which often calls for units to negotiate tight farm tracks.
The sleeper cab Volvo’s work takes it to the steep, rugged country of inland Hawke’s Bay and Poverty Bay – as far north as the remote Ngatapa Forest, due west of Wairoa…or directly east into the ranges, or south as far as coastal Wairarapa.
Tough as some of that country is, what the FH16 HA brings to the task is formidable: The 5500mm wheelbase truck comes, of course, with the Volvo D16G750 16.1-litre engine, which produces its 750hp/551kW of peak power between 1600 and 1800rpm – but has fully 700hp/514kW from below 1300rpm, all the way up to 1900 revs.
Its 2618 lb ft/3550Nm of peak torque is available from 1050 to 1400rpm, with 2212 lb ft/3000Nm of that on tap all the way from around 975rpm…up to 1700. The engine braking effect from the VEB+ engine brake is 570hp/425kW at 2200rpm.
Volvo’s 12-speed I-shift ATO3512D automated transmission with
overdrive does the shifting. It has RTH2610 hub-reduction rear axles, with a combined rating of 26,000kg, running on Volvo RADD-GR air suspension. Up-front are Volvo FAL 13 axles, together rated at 13t, on two-leaf parabolic springs.
It’s equipped with disc brakes (on the trailer as well), ABS, an electronic brake system (EBS) and Volvo’s Stretch Brake, which automatically calls on the trailer brakes when it senses a potential jack-knife situation. The truck’s telematics are enabled for Volvo’s Dynafleet fleet management system.
We meet the truck at around 7am at the Pan Pac mill at Whirinaki, on the coast just north of Napier, where Barry’s just delivered a load of stems.
Helpfully, he’s requested the run out to Pohokura – to give us a “real test” of the Volvo. Even though he doesn’t like subjecting the newcomer to the rough roads there…and a really muddy skid-site.
He’s a thoughtful bloke about his trucks and so it’s helpful too that he’s joining us – to give us his perspective on the 750. So we get in a good chat on the straightforward first 40km of the run – up the Napier-Taupo Highway, to the Waitara Road turnoff.
A couple of key questions, for instance. Like, how suited to tough off-highway work is the 750 – given that its only gearbox option is the fully-automated I-Shift?
Well, Barry reckons, it’s true that a lot of Pan Pac contractors who bought automated manuals in Kenworths, Scanias and so on a few years back, have now gone back to manuals.
It’s a familiar story, as he explains that they were too slow-shifting for the steep hills: He was doing quite a bit of relief driving in his Kenworth K108Es out to particularly steep forestry tracks at Ngatapa (further north of Pohokura), and he reckons: “You know, I’d just about have to have a party with myself when I could come out without stalling.
“But they have got so much better – I can’t knock them because I’m not comparing this to the latest (Eaton) ones.
“But I did a lot of reading on this one here (the I-Shift) and I was excited about it. Because, on paper, and according to everybody talking about it, it’s the best on the market. And I do like it. The
more I drive it, the better.
“When I first started driving it, I was doing a lot in manual.” Now he’s at the point where he’s driving it in auto mode all the time when it’s unloaded – and loaded on-highway…albeit in the I-Shift’s Power mode, “because I just feel they (the shifts) get a little bit too lazy.”
Loaded, in the forests and on back-country gravel roads like this Waitara Road, the I-Shift’s always in manual mode, so he can order up the shifts: “Because they’ll change up when you feel they shouldn’t change up. Even the salesmen will tell you (that) an automatic truck, no matter what brand it is, doesn’t see a hill coming, you know. It waits till it gets to the hill and then does it.”
Except for, I suggest, those equipped with predictive cruise control – like Volvo’s I-See, which uses GPS technology to “see” the road ahead and downshift accordingly: “Yeah well we could have had
I-See in this for another $5500 I think it was, but I couldn’t see the benefit of it for us. There’s this forest…and the next one is flat, you know.
“This’d be one of the steepest ones we’ve got at the moment. This and Putere (northeast of here). This is probably the worst.”
Scooby’s in total agreement on where the I-Shift can and can’t be left to its own devices: “I’ll normally stay in manual in the bush. I feel it better. I tried automatic but it just kept wanting to change – and you didn’t want it to.”
But he’s impressed with how well the I-Shift performs in auto mode when the rig’s fully-loaded, once it’s on the Napier-Taupo Highway “on the way home” – even on Titiokura (the well-respected Titiokura Saddle hill: “Put it in auto, on cruise control, and let it do it. And it does. Yeah it’s cool.
“I don’t touch nothin’ going up there. I’m in cruise control and auto – and I don’t touch it till I get to the top. Set it on 91k…and it’ll drop down in speed, then once it finds it’s pulling gear, it’s away. It’ll do 45, 47k…I think you go up in 8th. In the Kenworth it’d be 30-odd (km/h), in fifth High.”
At the top he still goes back to manual mode (as he does on all decent downhills) – “otherwise it’ll try to change up.”
Barry rates the VEB+ engine brake as the equal of his Kenworths’ Cummins Intebrake: “I use it all the time – on the most powerful setting.” Well, sometimes backed-off to the second stage, because it’s slowing the Volvo down too much.
Fuel-wise, even in these early days of its life (it’s so far clocked-up just 24,500kms), the 750 is doing well: “In the last 30 days it’s been doing 1.7kms per litre – which is better than the EGRs (the Kenworth K108Es). The new EGR I’ve put on is doing about 1.5.”
About 10kms along Waitara Rd, past the Glenfalls Campsite beside the Mohaka River, the tarmac runs out. The campsite’s a a pretty spot, but one that delivers logtruck drivers an extra hazard, when campervan drivers pull out of the camp and decide to take the tight and windy road north (it eventually comes out at Tutira, on the Napier-Wairoa Highway).
Once on the gravel Scooby selects “off-highway” mode to put the power dividers in on the Volvo diffs, ready for the corrugations. He also uses the Bigfoot central tyre inflation system to take the tyre pressures down (from their “highway unloaded,” 65 PSI) to 31 PSI on the Michelin XDY3 11R 22.5 drivers (the big Volvo came shod with the Michelins – with Michelin X Works 295 80R 22.5s on the steer axles).
Says Barry: “You can go a little bit more, but they’ll come off the
bead at about 25. So if you go sideways or something like that, there’s chance of blowing them off. And it has happened.”
The Bigfoot system (which now runs on all of his trucks), is “good – now I understand it. When we first got it if something went wrong you’d throw your hands in the air and freeze.”
There’s a little reminder of how “back-country” this road is when we come across a “Kiwis crossing” road sign.
For Scooby, coming out into this sort of country on a beautiful morning like this – sunny, but with the valleys so far still filled with fog – is the best part of the logtruck driving job: “Just seeing all this. On a nice day it’s really nice – on a shit day it’s really shitty.”
On one of the many climbs, the Volvo shudders over some pretty severe washboard. In the Kenworth, says Scooby, “you’d be rattlin’ away there.”
Barry chips in: “If you were in the Kenworths, the old cab mounts they’d be rockin’ by now.” In them, he adds: “Sometimes you get into a corner like that and the steering will lock up on you…because it gets the old thing there (as he waves his hand as if it’s vibrating). You’ve gotta be a little bit careful.”
What he likes about the Volvo is that, although it doesn’t rattle or bang, “we are still feeling it (the corrugations)…. which is good too, because if you’re not feeling the bumps, you tend to go over them too hard.”
Scooby agrees: “Yeah, you’ve gotta remember that everything else is still getting rattled around. This hill (for instance) is shocking.” It’s a hill where logtrucks periodically have to tow unloaded stock trucks that simply can’t get enough traction to make the climb.
Actually, he and Scooby decide, the corrugations in the road are “not too bad today….she’s a lot better than I’ve seen it.” Must have
Above & top left: Scooby reckons that the Volvo is exceptional in that it delivers the driver cab comfort and appointments as good as anything on the road....in a truck that’s right at home in rough o road going
Far left: Seat-mounted I-Shift selector sits right by the driver’s left hand, making for easy switching between Manual or Auto modes and ordering-up shifts manually
Left: Roomy sleeper cab includes comfy-looking bunk, with rollout storage bin and fridge underneath it
just been graded, they reckon.
There are other rewards today: We pause a moment as Scooby calls our position on the radio (which he’s done for the last 20k or so along Waitara and Pohokura Roads, to warn oncoming trucks of our whereabouts), just before turning onto a forestry road that twists and turns its way down a steep ridge, the last few kilometres to the skid-site.
It’s a stunning vista of wild country – one hill after another, broken by mist-filled valleys – stretching away towards the Ureweras to the north.
Says Barry appreciatively: “This is more exciting to me than driving through Kaingaroa. He points out tracks off each side of the ridge, down into the valleys – we’ve been down all these roads here. They’ve been troublesome roads at times.”
This looks like a helluva road to be coming back up with an 18m-long load stretching out behind, but Barry’s reckons that it’s actually “pretty good.” The four-axle trailer, running on integrated Hendrickson INTRAAX axles and suspension, tracks nicely behind. It feels pretty much like you’re driving a long semi-trailer, Barry explains.
At the log stockpile, there’s a big muddy puddle on the turnaround. How deep? Scooby’s about to find out. It’s okay – it doesn’t make the Alcoa alloys on the rear wheels.
But so much for Barry’s efforts yesterday in giving the Volvo “a little bit of a tickle-up” so it’d be at its best for our photos: “Oh well,” he shrugs, “it’s a working truck.”
He reckons he’s already “had a growling” from Scooby because of “all the stuff everywhere in the cab – yesterday’s paperwork.”
Worse still, in the heavy rain on a skid-site a few nights ago, he was manoeuvring the rig when the offside lower guard, by the bottom step, clipped a log that “shouldn’t have been there.” The panel there’s going to need replacing. He and Scooby both worry too about how long the little lip spoiler below the front bumper is going to last once winter comes – and the ruts get deep.
As Scooby explains: “If it gets soft, the wheel tracks could be a foot deep.” At that point, he adds, it wouldn’t matter “whether you’re in this or a Kenworth – they’ll come back with mud all over their bumpers.” He and Barry are seriously considering pre-emptively removing the spoiler.
Once the Patchell trailer’s lifted off by the loader, the convertible’s stems configuration (already set up), properly reveals itself: The fixed front bolster sits (unused) ahead of the stems logs – with one side folded down. The truck’s second bolster has been slid and locked in a position above the front drive axle. On the trailer, the rear bolster is out of use – at its rearmost posi and laid back, horizontally. The front bolster has been slid back as far as it will go, and is locked there.
Seven or eight long logs is all it takes to get the load up around 45-tonnes – as displayed on the SI Lodec onboard scales. The truck is equipped with an I-Pad, with software connected to the scales, so the weight can be monitored from outside the truck. It’s perfect, reckons Barry, on the skid-sites he visits at night, where he operates the loader: “I just put it in the loader and you don’t have to keep running back to the truck to see what’s happening.”
The logs carted can be quite a bit bigger than today’s lot: “I think the best we’ve had is something like five logs…18-metres long.”
It’s 8.50am when NZ Truck & Driver publisher and tester Trevor Woolston climbs up into the 750, with Scooby alongside, to get a first-hand feeling of how the big Volvo handles this kind of tough terrain.
On Scooby’s instructions the I-Shift goes into manual mode and, even though it’s an uphill start, we’re soon up to sixth and settle
at that for the steep climb: “It’s such gentle horsepower,” Woolston enthuses. “It’s not banging you around.”
This climb’s not too bad, by Scooby’s reckoning. A few months back, they were carting out of a skid-site further down the hill and were forced to negotiate a tight hairpin, right where the log-hauler’s working now.
“This thing,” he says appreciatively of the Volvo, “would romp out of there.” Sure, even if you were forced to a halt in one of the Kenworths, you’d get them restarted again, no problem.
But the FH16 goes one better than that: “This has just got an aid for that (the optional hill start assist)…which is cool. Why try and do what, in a manual gearbox, is a three-foot manoeuvre: Brake, clutch, accelerate…”
The 16-litre, usually so quiet you hardly notice it, is producing a real throaty exhaust note now as we slog up the hill.
Not unexpectedly, the FH16 750 delivers impressively all the way back to the main highway – on the climbs, on the descents, over the corrugations and potholes, around tight corners. Nothing fazes it. The fog’s lifted too! So it’s a perfect morning to be a truck driver, on this job…in this truck.
It’s around an hour’s drive on the windy, hilly road before we make it back to the highway. Now for the challenge of Titiokura.
Suggests Scooby to Woolston: “Throw your boot up it and that’s us to the top basically. All I’ve done is preset the cruise control at 91k, so it’s not gonna get up to that. But it will take you to the top of the hill, changing gear when it’s ready. I love it. That’s what it’s designed to do – to do the job.”
So we start into the climb at 85km/h in top, the I-Shift crisply downshifting at around 1200rpm, until we’re in 8th. And “that’s it,” reckons Scooby. He’s right (of course, since he and the Volvo already know this hill well) and, after dropping to around 38k, we start picking up speed and revs – back up to 46k and 1700rpm before the summit.
Scooby makes a point: “See now, Barry says he always puts it (the I-Shift) in Power (mode) – and that’s still in Economy. I don’t see the point (of going to Power). It’d just rev itself out a bit more.”
Woolston is moved to rate this “the cruisiest drive” he’s had over the Titiokuras since he drove a demo 685hp/515kW Mack Super-Liner – coincidentally, running the same Volvo group 16-litre engine and the same AMT (albeit rebranded as a Mack MP10 and an MDRIVE) – heading north, back in 2013.
Now, he adds of the Volvo drivetrain: “That is pretty bloody impressive.” Scooby agrees: “Specially when you’re doing nothin’ – just sit back and steer it. It’s a pity it couldn’t do that as well!”
Still, when he gets back behind the wheel of the FH16 at the Titiokura Summit for the run back to Whirinaki, he puts the I-Shift
into manual mode for the descent.
He initially settles on 7th at 1400rpm and 30km/h, which he soon reckons is probably a gear too low – so goes up to 8th and uses an occasional touch of the brake pedal to assist it: “There’s nothing wrong with touching the brake. That’s what it’s for.”
The fun part of the trip over, all that’s left to discuss are Scooby’s opinions on various features of the FH16: The stereo radio, he says, has a good range. The aircon system is “awesome… you can put the temperature up and aim it where you want it…”
And the lights are great – that’s the driving lights and the interior lighting. For night work “it’s like daylight in here” – or you can dim them to suit.
We’re back at the Pan Pac mill after a three hours 40 minutes round trip. The weighbridge puts the weight at 45.24-tonnes and the 27t of logs are lifted off – immediately sent to a high-tech scanner that comes up with the optimum cut for each log… even giving it a value.
Within half an hour of our arrival, the unloading’s completed, Scooby’s reloaded the trailer at the gantry and there’s time for a cuppa before the truck’s next run – out to Kuripapango, on the Gentle Annie road to Taihape.
Before it goes, we get a chance to tilt the cab (like most things with the FH16, it’s easily done – with an electric/hydraulic lift).
We’ve seen the D16G750 engine before, but what impresses this time around are the little things – like the lavish amount of sounddeadening insulation that shrouds the engine bay.
Everywhere you look, it’s all about solidity, quality and/or looking after the driver: The likes of the sturdy high-quality Volvo guard mounts, for instance; the substantial airbags under the rear of the cab… the detail work done by Patchell on the logging gear and the trailer (which rides on R168 Bridgestone 265 70R 19.5 tyres, mounted on Alcoa alloys).
Clever touches there include the chain trays in between the guards, nifty ratchet handle stowage, protective shrouds for the fuel tank and the SI Lodec onboard weighing system gauges.
Clive Jones says that with two loggers now working “with exceptional operators…. we’re watching those vehicles via telematics as they go about their daily work.”
And, based on their performance so far, “it’s likely there will be further sales into the future in this segment – provided we can obtain the engines from Sweden.”
If Barry Hermansen’s experience is an indicator, there’ll certainly be more demand. Allowing Scooby to choose the FH16 750 has been, he says with feeling, “a really, really good decision. If it was down to the wife we’d have another one!
“I was a little bit apprehensive after I ordered it – people were going ‘awwh, fuel economy’s not very good in it.’ But it’s been awesome – as good, if not better than the Cummins, you know.
“Its contract maintenance and the truck itself is awesome. And you know, tare-weight-wise we’ve not lost anything on any other unit… .and the extra horsepower makes your day a little easier. It’s just so cruisy.” T&D