Western Star Trucks, Daimler Truck Group’s, pre-eminent builder of bespoke trucks built a unique blue and black truck, named Beauty and the Beast, for the Mid America Truck Show hosted in Louisville Kentucky earlier this year. The truck was built to showcase the company’s more than 40 year proud history of building custom-made Serious trucks.
The truck, a Serious Western Star 4900SA, was built and dressed on one side as a classic metallic blue highway hauler covered in marker lights and polished chrome (Beauty) and on the other side as a matt black heavy duty no nonsense work truck (The Beast).
Western Star truck’s Serious life began in 1967 in the White Western Star factory located in the lakeside resort town of Kelowna, British Columbia deep in the Canadian Rockies.
The brand has its roots in logging trucks which can be found from Vancouver Island on one side of the globe, to three quarters of the way round the world to Tasmania and New Zealand on the opposite side. This serves as founding principle for the brand which has always been a manufacturer of severe duty off-highway trucks first, and has subsequently expanded into the premium end of the highway truck market.
Unfortunately in South Africa, over all length laws prevent the use of long nose or conventional trucks for general purpose everyday haulage, but almost three hundred of these Seriously magnificent machines have found their way into South Africa over the last ten years. Whilst distributed and supported by Mercedes-Benz South Africa into various specialised ‘off-road’ applications, they are doing jobs that no off-the-shelf truck could possibly undertake.
According to Duncan Prince, Product Manager of Western Star Trucks in the Freightliner/FUSO division at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Western Star trucks have carved themselves a niche as mining application dump trucks, abnormal load haulers and break-down trucks.
“We have enjoyed notable success with our Serious Trucks in applications where the job is just too big and difficult for a normal truck. We at Western Star are able to build a truck from the ground up, specifically designed to cope with the prevailing conditions and the task at hand,” comments Prince.
A prime example of this philosophy is illustrated by the numerous heavy duty Western Star breakdown trucks seen on the roads of most of South Africa’s major metropolitan areas.
Western Star has really come to the fore in this application because Western Star break-down trucks or “wreckers” as they are referred to in the US are built with a one piece heavy duty chassis that is built ex factory to the > 7m wheelbase required in break-down truck applications. Not only does this mean that a custom built Western Star wrecker chassis is far stronger than a conventional truck with extended chassis, but that the chassis is excessively heavy with aftermarket reinforcements welded into the chassis, which not only make the chassis heavy but are also the point at which extended chassis typically fail when you can least afford it.
South African spec Western Star wrecker chassis are then also built with heavy duty single reduction rear axles capable of handling combination masses of between 75 and 100 tons depending on customer preference, yet the single reduction axle design utilising either rubber or air suspension, means that the rear end of the truck weighs around 500kg less than a comparable European truck which really counts when it comes to getting the breakdown truck plus towed vehicle over a weigh bridge.
A recent example of Western Star’s Serious approach to custom truck building being applied to a heavy and difficult application was when a mine in Limpopo province required a low-bed to transport tracked drill rigs and bulldozers. The machines weighing 60 to 80 metric tonnes have to be moved from bottom of the mining pit to the mine workshops - a distance varying between 6 and 18 km. Driving tracked machines this distance is not only very slow and noisy, but very expensive because of the considerable amount of wear incurred on the undercarriages of the machines when moving any distance at speed (speed is relative here being 3-6 km/h).
To make the job more arduous the equipment has to be hauled on mine roads which are frequently slippery because of mud when they are wet, and loose gravel when they are dry. Adding to this, the mine roads in and out of the mining area are built on inclines of 8-10%, reaching 12% in places when going round corners.
The options available to the mine were either to convert a 180 ton dump truck into a truck tractor to pull a trailer built using an old 180 ton truck rear axle which is not only astronomically expensive, but makes for a large ungainly beast that will never be able to run on a public road. Using a conventional 80 ton class low bed with 6x4 truck tractor, two axle dolly and four axle trailer in this application is also not an option. This is because not only would a unit like this run out of traction and ground clearance on the first gravel incline it saw, but big trailers with two articulation points require considerable driver skill to reverse the rig.
Faced with all of these problems the Western Star truck solution was to supply a Serious Western Star 4900EXHD 8x6 truck tractor with three driven axles at the back of the truck. The idea behind this is that the trailer now has reasonable ground clearance when traversing rough terrain, and only one articulation point making the rig a lot easier to reverse. The true brilliance of the solution though, is that the weight of the trailer and payload are placed on the driven wheels of the truck tractor where it counts because the weight of the load can be turned into traction for climbing the steep slippery ramps out of the pit.
To complete the solution, the truck was also built with a high capacity compressor that blasts out over 1 000 litres of air/minute, so that filling the air reservoirs on this multi-wheel rig is not an all day activity.
Lastly, to make the driver’s life easier and safer, the truck has been fitted with an Eaton Fuller 18 speed auto-shift transmission. The auto-shift transmission is a conventional twin countershaft constant mesh transmission that is electronically shifted with lightening fast speed (just over a second for shift) which is very useful when pulling extra-ordinary loads up steep, difficult inclines. It also adds a considerable margin of safety in that the driver cannot find themselves in neutral going down a proverbial mine shaft if they were to botch an attempted downshift on a decline.
Looking to the future Ian Riley, Divisional Manager of the Freightliner/FUSO Western Star division at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, states that despite economic pressures, the market for these specialised Beautiful Beasts remains positive because South Africa is a developing country with an economy rooted in the production of natural resources, which calls for trucks where a big, Serious one is the answer.