Heavy Weight

Warwick-based family business, Wickham Freight Lines, maintains an enviable reputation among its peers as a steadfast and reliable long-distance carrier that has, in recent years, increasingly embraced the benefits of Performance-Based Standards for its growing interstate tasks.
The Wickham crew in front of its 350th Kenworth, a T909.

It isn’t simply a question of whether a process or product doesn’t work for one of its competitors.

If it can stand up to the benchmark asked of it by Wickham Freight Lines, then it’s more than likely already a key asset in its operations.

Those same operations involve moving dozens of B-doubles and multi-combination units, whose presence in recent times has grown significantly within the fleet, up and down the east coast of Australia. Steve Lord, National Workshop Manager, has been with the company close to 17 years.

In that time, he’s had a box seat to watch its consolidation as a premier long haul carrier, with a national reach, delivering general freight and refrigerated goods.

“The fleet is changing at the moment because the NHVR has made it a lot easier to permit trucks and have approved vehicles running around on specialised legs,” he says.

“You’ve got Kenworth T659s on the highway now pulling B-doubles which was once unheard of.”

Amid the changes at the fleet, which have been gradual over time, one thing remains constant: it’s choice of truck.

Kenworth is, as it has been for the past four decades, the main go-to.

Wickham Freight Lines runs an imposing interstate Kenworth fleet that, for many years, was primarily based on the K200 platform.

Wickham Freight Lines B-double.

With more permits increasingly afforded bonneted 34-pallet B-doubles in recent times, courtesy of the NHVR, Wickhams has subsequently found itself transitioning from its stock and trade cabovers to conventional trucks.

Moving forward Steve anticipates they will run an even split between the two across the fleet of 200 prime movers.

“This is what the PBS and permit scheme can provide,” he says. “It’s opened some doors to make the freight task a little bit more flexible and it allows for better utilisation of your gear. Moving much more freight with the same amount of gear is what everyone is aspiring to.”

He adds, “You get out on the highway now and the combinations you see just blow you away.”

Operationally, adjusting to the new environment is of profound consequence. It affords, for one example, the opportunity to assemble a roadtrain at its Warwick headquarters and drive it straight through, uninterrupted, to a yard in Melbourne.

Wickhams, previously, would have dispatched a Moree-bound roadtrain via Cobar across the outback, before circling back to Moama where they would get decoupled. That’s a considerable detour for anyone.

“There’s a lot of hours out there off the beaten track,” says Steve. “You’re nowhere near help. When you’re driving a semi-trailer, anything is possible, anything can happen.”

When a truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere, as they have before, headaches compound fast. A mechanic will spend five hours in the car just to get out to them.

For Steve it’s also exciting to see the likes of eight-wheeler K200s with quad-quad B-doubles running about. Wickham’s runs A-doubles into Brisbane on a dedicated route from the depot straight into port.

That same combination has also been to Sydney and back on a trial run. The small cab short wheelbase locked the unit into an A-double permit they have since revised to incorporate a big cab, which was squeezed up moving the turntable forward and removing the bullbar, to facilitate the route access.

Wickhams didn’t rush into PBS. They chose to wait to see how early adopters fared mainly for assurances the equipment was suited, under the scheme, for the long-term.

Decisions in fleet management at the business are now more directly downstream from it. This year Wickhams added more Kenworth T659s and T909s than they’ve had in a long time.

Another ongoing project was the introduction of Dana disc brake axles on a pair of big cab Kenworth K200s. The trial after more than 1.9 million kilometres hasn’t ended.

K200 prime mover with Dana running gear.

One of the two Kenworth K200s with Dana disc brakes all round.

The sister trucks, as Steve calls them, are nearly identical. That’s to say 600hp Cummins engine, 18-speed Eaton manual transmission with a Dana 46-170 tandem drive.

From the outset, Steve’s intention was to build a truck with disc brakes and pre-set hubs all round.

“We’d been having a drama with drive seals and steer seals,” he says. “The fact is you’ve got to put a lot of work into drum brakes to keep them maintained. It was a test purely for our own benefit to see if there was a product out there for a 7.3-tonne front axle with disc brakes, which we run as a spec. That’s how we ended up with Dana front and back and disc brakes all round.”

Australia is an outlier country for running with a provisional 7.3-tonne front axle weight. That requires, among other considerations, the bearings up front to be twice the size as the kingpins.

Wickhams is partial to a heavy spec given it ultimately delivers better durability. Cognisant of potential issues arising from a mismatch of running gear, Steve stuck with Dana for uniformity.

“The two trucks have been trouble -free at this stage,” he says. “Dana has done a lot of work with their front differential — it’s noticeable.”

Dana has greatly improved the lubrication and oil dispersal especially on the power divider area of the differential where it matters most. Oil is now circulated, using a 40-micron stainless steel gauze filter, onto the front of the diff giving the powder divider a far more reliable lubrication according to Steve.

“The way they were doing it before just relying on splash was a bit antiquated,” he says. “But we’ve had other trucks in the past here with Dana diffs in them and they haven’t had a bad run. They are more than reasonable for reliability.”

These particular trucks, to which Steve refers, were purchased from Fletcher’s when it went into receivership.

All five Kenworth 404SARs were using Dana products and performed extremely well.

“That was probably the catalyst that gave me leverage when we were spec’ing these trucks,” says Steve. “I’ve got one at around 970,000 kilometres and the other at 950,000 kilometres and no sign of any drama with the diff. No excessive backlash nor anything that would lead me to believe a million kilometres is where they stop.”

Kenworth T909 with commemorative livery.

The two K200s are hauling B-doubles up and down the Pacific Highway. The task consists of delivering goods between Brisbane and Beresfield en route to Sydney. One truck, however, traverses the New England Highway once weekly, return.

The other K200 covers the same route only less frequently, perhaps every five or six weeks.

“They’re not New England Highway trucks,” Steve says, referring to the north-south freight route, undergoing upgrades at a glacial pace, between Toowoomba and Newcastle, “as a bloody goat track” characterised by repeated gradations, for over 800 kilometres.

“You’re climbing and running down hills and you’re climbing again. It’s hard on gear,” he says.

“Trucks running down the Pacific are getting 2.4 kilometres per litre pulling a B-double. Whereas you put them on the New England and they probably get 1.8. It equates to about $200 a leg difference in fuel cost.” The team have been experimenting with different fuel calibrations on one of the vehicles.

They dialled back the X15 Cummins engine from 600hp to 550hp. Though it’s near impossible to pick them apart on fuel economy when they’re on the Pacific with only as much as 0.1 l/100kms separating them. But, even still, the conditions always matter.

“A blustery week for trucks carrying Tautliners is like sailing into the wind which naturally affects the fuel economy,” Steve says. “On a crisp night they are both close to doing the same.”

In late September, Wickham Freight Lines opened a new trailer washbay on its premises. It can wash a full B-double in just eight minutes. Before it washes the van, it performs a prewash of the undercarriage.

Tugs rather than trucks are used to move the trailers in and out of the washbay. Two separate single trailers can be washed simultaneously in the bay beside the B-doubles. According to Steve 1,000 trailers have been washed this week already.

“We could get eight trucks in there if we wanted to,” he explains.

“It’s an impressive show. The boss loves it.”

Wickham Freight Lines head office.
Head office near Warwick is modelled on a Kenworth K200.

The main Wickham offices, built in 1997, comports with the trend of distinct buildings on the premises.

Modelled on a Kenworth K200, the main facility leaves no doubt as to the ongoing allegiances of the fleet. At around the same time the washbay was introduced, the company took delivery of the 17,000th Kenworth – a T909 – sold by Brown and Hurley.

It is, historically speaking, the 350th Kenworth ever purchased by the fleet.

Steve, who can still remember his first day at the organisation, as it was his daughter’s birthday, has under his watch, seen the fleet expand from 60 units, mostly powered by Detroit 60s, to the powerhouse it is today.

“We’ve got K200s here that are 14 years old that are coming up on 2 million kilometres that have probably spent four years on local already,” he says.

“A K200 sourced from Bundaberg not long ago has done 1.8 million on the original engine. That’s happened in about 4.5 years. That truck has travelled 920 kilometres every day since we’ve had it. That’s a Kenworth for you.”

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