Giti Tyres Big Test | A test of two halves

 
 December 2020     KENWORTH T909 36-inch mid-roof sleeper 6x4   Story Dave McLeod Photos Gerald Shacklock

This Giti Big Test is like one of those footy matches that live up to the good old cliché – that it’s a game of two halves.

Which is fair enough, because that’s exactly the sort of life that our test truck leads.

New Zealand’s first Kenworth T909 with a 36-inch mid-roof sleeper cab is a Taumarunui-based heavy-haulage tractor unit – devoted to shifting heavy machinery (mostly forestry loaders, haulers and the like) around the King Country and, more widely, around the central North Island.

It involves a real mix of on-highway and off-highway operation. So, typically enough, today’s test first saw the Central Equipment Movers unit deliver a secondhand heavy log-loader from a yard in Taupo…to a logging crew working on a farm woodlot near Otorohanga. Almost all strictly main road running – “a cream run,” as driver Kyle Gibbs describes it.

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Traditional all-rounder is the way Kenworth describes the T909 model. But it’s more than that – it’s a trucking icon, a truck driver’s dream ride….

And in this day and age of technology, innovation and efficiency it’s funny to have a truck like this on the roads and for it still to be seen as the pinnacle of most truck drivers’ careers. You can’t help but get excited about driving it.

Kyle Gibbs has had the privilege of being thrown the keys to a brand-new T908 back in 2007…..and now getting to drive the country’s first T909 36-inch mid-roof sleeper. 

Kyle, Taumarunui-based with Central Equipment Movers, has a logging loader that needs to be delivered from Taupo to a farm block just out of Otorohanga – and I take over the wheel from Wairakei. 

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Giti Tyres Big Test - A test of two halves


This Giti Big Test is like one of those footy matches that live up to the good old cliché – that it’s a game of two halves.
Which is fair enough, because that’s exactly the sort of life that our test truck leads.
New Zealand’s first Kenworth T909 with a 36-inch mid-roof sleeper cab is a Taumarunui-based heavy-haulage tractor unit – devoted to shifting heavy machinery (mostly forestry loaders, haulers and the like) around the King Country and, more widely, around the central North Island.
It involves a real mix of on-highway and off-highway operation. So, typically enough, today’s test first saw the Central Equipment Movers unit deliver a secondhand heavy log-loader from a yard in Taupo…to a logging crew working on a farm woodlot near Otorohanga. Almost all strictly main road running – “a cream run,” as driver Kyle Gibbs describes it.
Then, as if the much-experienced heavy haulage driver Gibbs has saved the best till last (but actually, it’s because he was hoping that this morning’s rain would have cleared-up by now), here we are in a pine forest to the west of the Pureora Forest Park, not far northeast of Waimiha.
Now, it’s not very far – a mere 26 kilometres or so – from this skid-site in Boston Forest, to Benneydale, where Kyle has to deliver the 30-tonne Hyundai grapple loader he’s picking up.
But around 17k of that is on Pukemako Road – a tight, twisty and vertically testing forestry road.  
And that makes it a decent test, for sure, of the new, purposebuilt Kenworth 6x4 tractor unit and its three rows of eight Modern Transport Engineers low-loader.
Kyle and pilot Taylor James soon have the Hyundai 250 loaded and secured and Kyle starts the journey with the heavy-duty Eaton Fuller RTLO22918B (2250 lb ft/3050Nm-rated) 18-speed Roadranger in 1st low as we pull away from the skid-site.
He’s not bothering to upshift, happy to have the combination crawl along for the immediate, reasonably tight turn that demands that he use all the available road to get around.
Straight after that we’re into a downhill with a sharp left-hander. There’s no need for the Cummins X15 engine’s two-stage engine brake though: Kyle has the T909 at walking pace….5km/h. There’s a tree stump on the inside of the corner’s apex. Kyle uses the pushbutton control to adjust his mirror to keep an eye on it. 
Once we’re past that obstacle, Kyle upshifts…but only up to 3rd high. On the engine brake’s strongest setting he starts down a hill to a bridge – doing 15km/h with the X15 revving at 1500rpm.  
The 15-litre Cummins has the 600-615 horsepower rating (that’s 447-458 kilowatts in metric speak), delivered at 1800 revs. Its 2050 lb ft/2779 Newton metres of peak torque is on tap at 1200rpm.
As the descent eases a bit Kyle upshifts into 4th low, at 20km/h and 1800rpm. We approach the bridge and he lifts off so we slow as he lines us up. We’re at 3.5 metres overall (the trailer’s been widened to 3.3m, but the machine has around 100mm overhang each side) and as we approach the bridge, he puts it into 1st high and listens to pilot Taylor’s guidance as we cross.
Says Kyle: “It’s nice to have another set of eyes and you’ve got to know you can trust him – that exactly what he’s telling you is exactly what’s happening. If he’s telling you there’s another foot out on the left, I can’t see that – I’ve got to know he’s right and I’m not gonna clip the bridge.”
Heading for a small uphill, Kyle picks up speed and gears till he’s got the Roadranger in 4th high, the Cummins at 1700rpm, at 25km/h.
“You could maybe….come up a gear faster, but then quite often you’ve got to back off for a corner like that, and the trailer will suck a lot of power out of the truck as it’s pulled around the corner. 
“There’s a lot of tyres you’re trying to drag across and turn. You don’t want to be grabbing a gear halfway around a corner.”
The road’s drier than Kyle thought it might be, but there’s still plenty of corrugations and potholes. The road’s narrow too – narrow enough to necessitate pulling over where possible to let oncoming trucks go by. 
We get up to 30k, in 5th high – but not for long: A super-tight hairpin bend looms up: “We don’t really want them any tighter than this,” says Kyle.
“This is really hard on trailer tyres…. and this one is particularly bad because it dips in the centre there.”
He sums it up, decides to take it in 3rd high, but then at the last moment, decides to go down one more, explaining: “You have to back right off and let the momentum work.” 
We go around at 6km/h, the Cummins almost idling at 1100rpm. And then we’re straight into a reasonably steep hill. We start up it in 4th high, at 1900 and 30k but when the revs drop to just under 1500 he downshifts a full gear – so now we hold at 20km/h, climbing through a corner, with the Cummins revving at 2000. Kyle’s working on the basis that we’ll be able to stay in this gear to the crest – and he’s right: The revs slowly ease to 1700, at 17km/h.
For the steep downhill that follows, he puts the Roadranger into 2nd high, letting the engine revs rise a bit: “We may have to use the service brake – can’t let it run out too much and gain speed because I know we’ve got a sharp right at the bottom. If it was a straight ahead we’d normally pop it up a gear and then another one.” 
After stopping to let a ute go past, Kyle pulls away in 1st high: “We’ll probably only get to 2nd, because it’s such a sharp right hander ahead.” At 1900rpm and 13km/h, he stays out wide to get the trailer around: “The problem with that is it’s not as hard-packed on the outside of the corner, so you can get a bit of wheelspin.” As it happens, we don’t.
Just in case though he has – as usual off-highway – switched the traction control system off, because it “will kick-in if it gets too much wheelspin and it will drop the throttle as a response – and that can be quite off-putting. And sometimes it causes a bit of a problem.”
He shifts up to 4th low and then takes a split, looking ahead to the next uphill looming up: “We can grab a whole gear but it won’t hold it.” We end up at the top of the low range – doing 28km/h at 2000rpm.
As the revs drop to 1500 Kyle downshifts a half-gear – taking it back again a little further up when the revs climb back up to 2000. He stays in 4th high to the crest, even though the engine fan kicks in and takes a bit of the guts out of it.
Now we move up a half gear into the high range for a slight downhill run at 33k. Our pace isn’t dictated only by the hills and the corners: “Some of the condition of the road determines the speed too,” Kyle points out. Taking a run at the uphills, for instance, isn’t an option – not without risking hammering the gear. 
On a fairly flat to gently undulating stretch he gets up to 6th low, our speed around 50km/h. That’s nice and comfortable on a road like this, Kyle confirms – “plus it’s less harsh on the trailer.” In fact, if not for the potholes, he’d have a little more speed on.
Another climb through some S bends drops us back to 5th high, initially maintaining 35k at 1650rpm. With the crest looming he’s happy to let the Cummins lug down a bit more than usual, down to 1400.
It’s the same on the next climb – Kyle this time letting the revs drop to 1300 just as we make it to the top.
Just as Kyle saved the toughest part of our test till last, this forest road saves its steepest pinch till last – not far short of us getting back to tarmac of the Mangakino-Benneydale road. 
For this climb Kyle prepares by slowing, so he can downshift two whole gears from 5th low. As he explains, it’s easier on the driveline to grab it now, rather than trying to change halfway up the hill.
The revs rise towards 1900 and we’re at 15km/h. On a really steep pinch the fan kicks in and the revs drop to 1500….but recover to 1700. 
Kyle says maybe he’ll have to grab another gear…..but at the critical moment, as the revs drop to just under 1500…they then start to pick up again.
Says Kyle: “Anything lower would have been too low and any higher we’d have lost the momentum. Anytime you don’t have to crack the torque on a hill for a gearchange, the better your momentum.” 
The drive out from the skid-site has been, he says, a reasonably typical taste of the off-highway running the T909 is doing all the time. If it’d been wet a couple of corners might have been a bit harder to get around, traction-wise. 
There’s also the fact that the weight balance of the load and the combination is a tradeoff between the perfect positioning of the big log-loader for optimal handling and traction off-highway and the need to keep the Kenworth’s axle loadings legal for the highway – thus, in this case, necessitating positioning the Hyundai a little way back.
Talking of balance – our experience with the on-highway side of the heavy-haul T909’s daily existence started early today, back at Central Equipment Movers’ Taumarunui satellite yard.
There’s a fair bit of déjà vu about this test: NZ Truck & Driver met Kyle in Taumarunui early one morning 13 years ago – to test the brand-new Kenworth T908 tractor unit he was driving for Jilesen Contractors….the first of its kind in the country.
That Kenworth, with a 625hp/466kW C15 CAT ACERT engine, boasted (just like his new 2020 drive) 2050 lb ft/2779Nm of peak torque, ran a RTLO22918B Roadranger and towed a three rows of eight transporter….also the same as this. And, of course, Kyle was using it to shift heavy machinery around the King Country and surrounding regions…just as he is now.
There’s a lot that’s the same (or similar)…and a helluva lot that’s different as well: At the time of our T908 test, Kyle had been with Jilesens for 11 years – first driving an R Model Mack and Mitsubishi tippers, then doing about eight years of low-loader work, with a 450hp CH Mack.
After about five years on the T908, “I decided that I had to get out and try something else” – namely heading to Western Australia to drive iron ore roadtrains for a couple of years. At that time the quad-trailer combinations were the biggest road-registered vehicles in Aussie, he says – running at 170 tonnes all-up, with 120t of ore. The unit ran 24/seven, doubleshifted – clocking-up 9000kms a week.
“I lived the dream, as they say,” Kyle jokes: “I loved it and hated it in equal measures, because my family stayed here in NZ and I would do six weeks in and two weeks home. But it was a really awesome experience – an adventure that I really needed to do and will never regret. I learnt a lot and the conditions there are so extreme. I loved it but it was a hard lifestyle.”
Back home he decided to satisfy a couple of hankerings – doing flatdeck work….and running inter-island. He got both behind the wheel of a Freight Lines T404 Kenworth, doing general freight nationwide: “I got to tarp a lot of loads and stuff like that which is rare these days….went everywhere from Whangarei to Invercargill…. It was cool.”
His planned two years of that – “to get inter-island work out of my system” – was cut short when longtime friend Colin (Scania) James offered him a return to transporter work with Central Equipment Movers. 
The family business, set up by Scania and wife Deb in 2005 and now with sons Matthew and Taylor both involved – Matthew driving a 250-tonne-rated Kenworth C508 and Taylor now a qualified over-dimension load pilot (who is, in fact, leading the way today) – was keen on basing a transporter in Taumarunui (Kyle’s longtime hometown) to meet a growing demand tied to increasing logging activity in the King Country.
So, four and a half years ago, Kyle started with Central Equipment Movers, driving a T404SAR Kenworth, with a four rows of four self-widening low loader. When that trailer couldn’t handle the increasing number of bigger jobs that were coming up, especially off-highway, a four rows of eight transporter was rented – and this new T909 and its new MTE low-loader were built.
Our day with Kyle and the year-old Kenworth starts out in pretty miserable weather – but the transport run across to Taupo is straightforward and provides a good opportunity to chat with Kyle en route.
So I climb up the T909’s three well-spaced steps and settle in as we head off – the RT busy with pilot Taylor regularly relaying helpful info on what lies immediately ahead.
Kyle reckons that the choice of this truck was a bit of a team effort – but for him it was a complete no-brainer: “I’m one-eyed me. There’s a lot of other brands I like – and I love a good truck, doesn’t matter what it is. But me personally – for this job there was only one choice for me: Kenworth.” 
Kyle says that they did look at other trucks though, including a European cabover “that would have been a beautiful truck – but it’s not for me. Some of those Euro trucks can be quite isolated from what’s going on, because those cabs just ride so beautifully. 
“I think you’ve got to feel it through your feet, the steering wheel and the seat. I like a traditional style of truck with a big hood on it too, twin exhausts, some chrome and a truck that looks, sounds and feels like a truck.” 
Once the Kenworth was decided on (the James already owned the C508 and Kyle’s T404SAR, as well as a Western Star) the family and Kyle sat down with Southpac Trucks salesman Adam McIntosh and brainstormed the specs. 
“Everyone had an opinion of what’s good and what’s bad – we threw them all in the hat with Adam and he steered us in the direction of what, engineering wise, suits Kenworth.”
That’s how they arrived at the 36-inch mid-roof sleeper – suggested by McIntosh to provide a bit more working space and storage. This one is a NZ first, so it’s cab format that isn’t well known, but there was general agreement that it was “not a bad idea: It’s got plenty of room in it and you’ve got the benefit of the outside storage lockers to store your gear, hard hats and wet weather gear.”
The mid-roof version was a must, simply because anything taller just isn’t practical for Central Equipment Movers’ line of work: “Sometimes we’ve got to do haulers with a pole – off-highway. If the hauler’s sticking out over the front of the truck, with the ropes and everything, it just doesn’t lend itself to doing that. And there was no real need for it – we don’t sleep in the trucks as such.”
The Kenworth’s rated to a 140-tonne GCM – but with the three rows of eight transporter its biggest payloads on-highway top out at 40-odd tonnes, and that’s only on very specific routes. It can take heavier loads with the addition of a dollie. 
Off-highway though, Kyle says, “it’s pretty common” for the trailer alone to shift a 50t log processor or even a 60t log hauler. Given the combination’s 27.5t tare weight (16t for the trailer, 11.5t for the Kenworth), that’s an impressive 77.5-87.5t all-up running weight.
Deciding on the driveline was a matter of sticking to the tried and true: “We already knew what running gear works – the same as our 13-year old Western Star. It’s a pretty common setup.”
Engine-wise the Cummins X15 was the only option (not that he’s complaining) and the heavy-duty 18-speed Roadranger is a “tried and tested” heavy-haulage standard. 
Kyle reckons he’s quite pleased with the X15’s performance: “It goes well and it’s still early days – it’s only got 80,000km on it, so it’s starting to come right now.”
He says though that the Cummins did take a little while to get used to: “You’ve got to keep it high up in that rev range – they have a real hollow spot if you let them die down too much. Sometimes you’ll drop a gear and it won’t pull itself up again. That took a bit of getting used to.” 
He concedes that in the past he may have been a bit of a lazy driver – letting an engine lug down quite low in the revs. So that had to change: “With this one, as long as you keep it in that good range – above that 1600 revs mark – it’s great. 
“If you’re gonna drop a gear on a hill you want those revs to be coming back in above that 1500-1600 mark. 
“If it comes in under that, it feels like there’s nobody home. It’s caught me out a number of times and I’ve ended up dropping two gears to try and get it back.”
Kyle is very much a Roadranger fan – because, he explains: “They’re either in gear or they’re not – no false neutrals or anything like that. It’s up to you. It’s direct off the box….you know what’s going on.”
Not that he believes a manual is essential for this work: “There are trucks out there that are doing this with automated transmissions, but if you’re going to use them it would have to be a proper, fully automated transmission. Those automated manuals are not the chop for this type of work. I’ve driven them before on highway trucks… “
In fact, he points out, Central Equipment Movers’ Western Star had its original AMT swapped for a manual: “Too many problems with it – with gear selection. And there’s one thing an automatic transmission can never do – doesn’t matter how good it is – and that’s see what’s in front of you in the bush.
“It can’t pre-empt what’s going to happen in another 100 metres. You can drive them in manual and bypass all of that but what’s the point then? Might as well just have a manual.”
The 2250 lb ft/3050Nm-rated EZY Pedal Advantage 3 VCT+ is, in his opinion, a really nice, light clutch – but there was a teething issue with it: “Early on, I could feel a vibration through the floor and when it went for its first service they worked out that it was the revised clutch linkage. There wasn’t enough sideways movement to allow for the bounce in the cab and the twist in the chassis under load – it was taking up all the slack in the linkage and therefore holding pressure in the clutch…..making it come out of adjustment.” Southpac Rotorua put in a new linkage and it seems to be good now, he says.
The Kenworth cruises along with the Cummins at 1600rpm at 86km/h in top gear, which Kyle says “is bang on the money: If we had any higher diff ratio it’d be too low in the rev range and you’re up and down the gear lever all day.”
When it came to the ratios for the Dana Spicer D52-190 heavy duty (23.6t-rated) diffs “we more or less just duplicated the diff ratios that we had in the previous truck – but they were a little bit lower – 4.72s I think they are (whereas this has 4.78s).
“You find that even when we’re loaded, because of that gearing range it’s still pulling nicely – even in top gear. It’s in the nice part of the power range.”
Fuel economy, of course, is not something heavy-haulage operators can afford to worry about: “You can’t do what we do and have exceptional fuel economy.” All Kyle knows is that he can usually run about four weeks on a tank of AdBlue.
Retardation-wise, Kyle says that Cummins’ two-stage engine brake is “a good package – it works. You can fit aftermarket hydraulic retarders if you really want to but we don’t really see the need for it.”
He does have a gripe though about the engine brake controller: “Normally it’s on a stalk on the column and you flick it on and off, up and down for the stages. But they’ve changed it to the steering wheel buttons and it’s hard to find when you’re turning the wheel – it’s not in a fixed position. For me personally it’s a bit of an issue, I would have preferred it to stay on a stalk or on a button on the dash.”
The Kenworth’s extra heavy duty Neway AD246/10 rear air suspension and the taper-leaf springs on the Dana Spicer D2000F heavy-duty, 7.3-tonne front axle are, in Kyle’s judgment, “fantastic. That’s why we chose to stay with the Neway air suspension – because it just gives such a better ride. Traction-wise it’s good, even though we don’t have anything like central tyre inflation to help off-highway. It’s a real nice-riding truck – the 5400mm wheelbase I think is bang on…not too long, nor short (which tends to kick back a little bit). I can’t fault it.” 
The suspension is completed by the air suspension under the cab and by the ISRI 6860/870 Pro air suspension seat, which Kyle says, has got “a good seating position and infinite choices: Sometimes you might raise the seat up a little bit – say when you’re going through a tricky bit and you want to see over the bonnet.” It’s duplicated for the passenger.
According to Kyle, “you get a lot more steering feedback on a truck like this than say a European. But having said that, this is way over and above similar trucks I’ve driven – it’s got a real nice, light feel to it. It’s very relaxed.”
The cab is spacious and well laid out – traditionally Kenworth with diamond pleat, button-tufted crimson vinyl trim…and yet there’s also a modern feel to it. Kyle likes a clean and tidy working space: “I’m a bit anal about that. You’re getting in and out of the truck all day, with mud and everything – it can become a really untidy place really quickly, so I take off my shoes outside. This is my workspace, so I like it uncluttered.”
The steering wheel comes with buttons for the cruise control, a high beam flash and the engine brake. All the major switches and controls are now on the dash – within arm’s reach.
Kyle likes the new screen that came with the EROAD electronic RUC recorder and nav system: “I find it handy with its little reminders. It keeps you in check. Plus it tells you what road you’re on and speed zones....”
The two-piece windscreen option was chosen for this truck – partly, says Kyle, because it’s a really traditional look: “It’s how the old-style Kenworths were.” But it’s also practical: “If you get a stone chip on one side you don’t have to replace the entire screen.”
The mirror setup has the large oblong one above and a smaller, round, convex wide-angle below. Kyle reckons they’re really good as they’re heated and powered – the latter a must: “If you’ve got a wider load on, you can quickly flick the mirrors out to see what you need. Backing the trailer off the road into an entrance-way or turning around in the bush, you can lose sight of your trailer, so they’re super handy. There will always be a few blind spots in a truck like this but that’s something you get used to.”
There’s no overhead offside mirror, because a lot of the time the unit’s working with a pilot and, as Kyle says, the pilot will “know what you’re trying to achieve. They’ll hop out of the ute and guide you onto tight bridges or into tight places. The extra set of eyes really helps.”
Kyle’s pride in “his” new rig is abundantly clear – his Kenworth love shines through: “I know guys who have got some high-horsepower Scanias, for instance, that are doing his work and they love them – and they would be a beautiful truck.
“But me personally – it’s hard not to buy into the Kenworth thing when you’ve bought a new one and gone through the whole Southpac experience. You sit down with a guy like Adam (McIntosh) that knows his stuff, you ask him something and he always has an answer for it – and it’s on the money. You ask him about diff ratios and he’ll tell you what this truck over here’s got in it, and he’ll say this worked well and this not so well.”
Kyle loves that in one sitting you can completely spec the truck: “You choose your wheelbase, you choose your diff, your gearbox, your front axle, what type of rims, the dash layout, the interior colour, the mirrors, the intakes….whatever.
“You tell them what you want and they build it for you, within reason. This is my truck – there’s not one exactly the same as this anywhere. Similar but not exact.” 
He likes the fact that “it’s got a presence on the road” – so much so that he gets plenty of comments from other drivers and members of the public alike.
Mind you, he does confess that one look-good feature – the big, flat, polished alloy front bumper is a bit low for some of the places it gets into.
Nevertheless, he’s adamant that a truck is a workhorse – and “it’s still got to be practical.” And the T909 is: “It does everything we want it to do and it does it with ease. Having driven quite a few Kenworths and quite a few bonneted trucks, this is the standout of them all. They’ve evolved, they’re a bit nicer, a bit quieter, a bit smoother.”
At a machinery sales yard at the north end of Taupo, our first load awaits – a 32t Hitachi grapple log loader that’s just been sold to a harvesting operator. Kyle and Taylor don’t take long in setting up the MTE trailer and getting the loader on board. It’s a process they always prefer to do themselves, to ensure the trailer isn’t damaged.
Kyle’s impressed with the MTE trailer, which has an 80,000kg GVM. He particularly likes that its hydraulic suspension height can be adjusted (by 200mm or more, he reckons) and the trailer hydraulically widened, using a handheld remote. Maximum width is a potential (but rarely practical) 3.7m – but more regularly it’s out to 3.5m or today’s 3.3m.
It doesn’t have onboard scales because, says Kyle, “we find that with the off-highway work you can have a bit of trouble with them. Some of the twisting and turning can make them faulty…and we felt they were unnecessary for us.”
Loaded, the combination (including the load) is 20 metres long, 3.5m wide and 4.8m high – a decent enough load for the drive to Otorohanga.
We start off in 1st low (empty Kyle says he’d be in 2nd or even 3rd) and on the reasonably flat road he takes full gears – one at a time, shifting at about 1800rpm. Only once he’s into 6th high, at 40km/h, does he start splitting gears, ensuring that he’s back on the throttle at around 1600rpm after each shift.
“Any lower than that you start to lose the torque band of the motor.” The last half gear into top sees the revs settle at 1550 at just under 90k.
Despite the large and hefty load, the trip is uneventful – cruisy even. Not far past Mangakino there’s an example of the sort of extra demands this line of work puts on drivers and pilots – a bridge that the permit requires Kyle to slow to 20k, down to 4th high as we drive across straddling the white line (our pilot prepared to stop oncoming traffic up ahead of us). Says Kyle: “It’s part of the job. You’re constantly speeding up and slowing down.”
“Highway-wise we stick to a fairly small area: Tokoroa, Taupo, Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Otorohanga – so you know most of those roads reasonably well. You’ve been over them before – you know where the steep pinches are, you know where the steep downhills are, you know where the sharper corners are….. But sometimes there is a rural road that you haven’t been on before.”
There’s a lot of planning needed, depending on what you’re carrying, your weights, restrictions on what roads you’re allowed to travel and axle loadings: “Like today, we need to do a bypass down another road because we’re too heavy to go over one bridge. You’ve got to be onto that sort of planning.”
He does most of it himself, calling on Scania James (or even other companies’ drivers) if need be: “The heavy haulage industry is quite small, so if it’s out of our area we’ll ring up other drivers and they’ll tell you what you need to do. Most of the guys are really helpful. 
“We work in with other operators too or pass on work that’s not suitable for us or if we’re too busy.”
Even with the off-highway work, although there are always new areas of forestry opening-up (thus there are new roads) because Central Equipment Movers’ drivers are working throughout the central North Island forests constantly, “we know the roads pretty much – we know where and when we can’t go.”
Off-highway the same axle loading limits don’t usually apply and speeds are a lot lower anyway. Also, says Kyle, in terms of load restraints, on-highway “I tend to be a bit more cautious: You’re not gonna get a ticket for having too many chains,” he reasons. “Off-highway you don’t need to do that, as such.”
But, particularly in winter, off-highway can be much more challenging – with sometimes wet and slippery surfaces: “You’ve got to use the whole road and a bit more sometimes to get the trailer out wide enough. In summer you can just drive out onto a wide-open skid site – but in winter you’d get stuck. It’s just dirt – there’s no metal on them. So you’ve got to be thinking ahead.”
Thus jumping into the ute with the pilot to scout what’s ahead is a commonsense approach.
Knowing exactly where to position the machines on the low loader is also really important: “We shift (machines) off-highway fully rigged, so both the machinery and the centre of gravity is a bit higher. You want to have a machine far enough forward that it puts enough weight on your truck to give you extra traction too. If it’s too far back (in a highway position, for instance, so the tractor unit’s axles aren’t overloaded), you could get into a steep pinch off-highway in the gravel and run out of traction.” 
The Kenworth and its MTE low-loader are, Kyle says, up to the rigours of all this – but what really take a lot of punishment are the rear suspension and the tyres on the tractor unit: “They’re operating at a weight greater than what’s optimum, so tyre wear is massive for us. It’s the roads, the weight, the sharp turning – it cuts them up. 
“If a highway truck is getting 100,000kms out of a tyre, we’ll get 50,000km if we’re lucky.”
The nature of the T909’s work and the fact it’s based in Taumarunui, rather than Tokoroa, means that it probably does more highway work than the rest of the Central Equipment Movers fleet.
On the other hand, “I can spend a week in Kinleith doing exactly what they do – off-highway all day….six, seven trips, all in the forest.”
Personally, he likes “to have a good mix of the two. Off-highway can be less stressful because of the (highway) restrictions – but more stressful ‘cos you’re not driving on a two-lane highway. You’re on a single carriageway, gravel road with tight corners and steep gradients.”
In fact, it is one of the things he loves about this job…that it has its two distinctly different types of work: “That’s what sums up my work….and I think this job with Colin and Debbie is perfect because you’ve got the variety.
“You’re not just up and down the highway sort of thing…and you’re not stuck in the bush all the time. It’s a very good mix of both, you know. Ideal.”
Like I said at the start, this test is like a game of two halves….and so too is the working life of Kyle and his Kenworth.  

Pirelli Hayden Trevor Test

Traditional all-rounder is the way Kenworth describes the T909 model. But it’s more than that – it’s a trucking icon, a truck driver’s dream ride….
And in this day and age of technology, innovation and efficiency it’s funny to have a truck like this on the roads and for it still to be seen as the pinnacle of most truck drivers’ careers. You can’t help but get excited about driving it.
Kyle Gibbs has had the privilege of being thrown the keys to a brand-new T908 back in 2007…..and now getting to drive the country’s first T909 36-inch mid-roof sleeper. 
Kyle, Taumarunui-based with Central Equipment Movers, has a logging loader that needs to be delivered from Taupo to a farm block just out of Otorohanga – and I take over the wheel from Wairakei. 
The climb up into the cab is not bad for a bonneted American truck, with three steps set around the fuel tanks and grabhandles on each side of the nearly 90-degree opening door. 
Once in the ISRI seat it’s not hard to get into a good comfortable driving position. The interior of this cab is best explained by Kenworth themselves, traditional… everything from the gold emblazoned gauges in a woodgrain dash and pintucked vinyl interior. 
On the steering wheel you have a headlight high beam flash and cruise control buttons on the left and on the right are the engine brake controls. On the left stalk are indicator, windscreen wiper and headlight controls and on the right there’s a trailer brake stalk. 
To the left of the driver there’s a semi wraparound dash with more gauges, an entertainment unit, CB radio, aircon controls and switches for everything from interior lighting to crosslocks…plus a double cup holder. On the right-hand side of the dash are engine fan, headlight and PTO switches.
The easy part of getting to know this truck is that there is a gearstick coming straight out of the floor to your left hand – so no looking around for stalks or buttons on the dash to find any Drive, Neutral and Reverse buttons.
There are controls on the steering wheel, but what would be good there would be hands-free cellphone controls….rather than the engine brake controls. They’d be better on the usual stalk as they’re hard to use when you’re in the tight stuff. 
What I do like about Kenworth’s traditional way of doing things is that you can see the dash screws – so when something goes wrong and the mechanic needs to get behind the dash there’s no pulling and twisting at the dash to pop it off…it can easily be unscrewed, what needs to be done can be done…and then it can easily be screwed back on.
Starting out, with the load at 3.5m wide, the West Coast heated mirrors give good rear vision. On both sides you have an upper flat mirror and a lower convex mirror that work well together. 
Gaining speed at 60 tonnes is easy, with the Cummins X15 producing 615hp. The Ezy-Pedal clutch is nice and light and in no time I’m into top gear, cruising at 90km/h. Heading to the Atiamuri turnoff there are a few small climbs and descents that don’t seem to faze the X15 and the 18-speed Roadranger manual gearbox.
At Kyle’s suggestion I downshift full gears at 1300-1500rpm and splits between 1500-1700rpm. You really don’t want to let it drop below 1300rpm as the torque dies out below that, unless you’re cresting a hill. Heading up the gearbox the gearchanges are best made between 1700-1900rpm. These new Roadrangers really are a lot more forgiving than their predecessors.
After the Atiamuri turnoff we hit some tight stuff and pilot Taylor James shows his worth and skill with crisp clear communication on what’s happening ahead of us – as well as warning oncoming drivers that we’re approaching. 
While I’m driving around some tight corners, Taylor calls through to say that a car he pulled over for us hasn’t stayed on the roadside. Thanks to his warning, I can keep the 3.5m wide load as far left as possible as the woman driver approaches. To my astonishment she doesn’t slow down or even look our way and very narrowly misses the rear right-hand corner of the trailer. 
My next challenge with the wide trailer comes as we head alongside Lake Whakamaru and come across some roadworks….with only a ridiculously narrow single lane on the right-hand side of the road, between road cones. 
It’s not helped by the fact that to the right-hand side of the road is a cliff, with overhanging trees and boulders that I need to avoid. 
About one kilometre into this nightmare, the truck’s owner, Scania James, calls on the RT. Kyle’s first words are: “Have you had complaints already!” The suggestion is I’ve collected a few road cones.
The reason for all of this is, after about 2k of cones on the left and cliff on the right, there are some guys working on the Armco barrier!
Once clear of the roadworks we pull over to check the trailer for any cones stuck up and under the unit. There’s none – and I reckon that means I mustn’t have hit any!
The rest of my drive through to Whakamaru and across the dam is a breeze, with Taylor’s piloting giving us a clear road ahead. 
It’s here I have to begrudgingly hand Kyle back his truck. It’s been hard to find the right words to explain my first T909 test, but looking back, the first paragraph of my father’s 2008 T908 test is, I think, a perfect way to sum this experience up: “With this truck, smiling is contagious.”
Kyle smiles while he drives it and I’m still smiling days after driving it. So not much has changed since 2008 for the traditional all-rounder.