Persistence of Vision

Sunshine Coast carrier, Gibson Sand & Gravel, is one of three fleets in Australia asked to give a 12-month appraisal of the new Western Star 48X.
Western Star 48X tipper and dog trailer.

Based at Beerwah in the spectacular foothills of the Glasshouse Mountains, Gibson Sand & Gravel has been a permanent fixture for the better part of three decades on the Sunshine Coast, where it carts quarry products for major suppliers to concrete and asphalt plants.

The business has undergone a few iterations since the 24th October, 1994 when owner Wayne Gibson established it.

At first using body trucks supplying builders and plumbers from a yard, then as a truck hire business and finally, once the quarry work began to flow, as the truck and dog operation it is today.

Major contracts with Holcim encouraged further investments in equipment and with that came fleet expansion. Up until 2015, when Wayne purchased his first new truck, the business had been primarily relying on second hand equipment.

The Western Star fleet has since multiplied exponentially with a few older Macks maintained for miscellaneous work and spill over seasonal demand.

Western Star 48X with dog trailer leaves the quarry.

It was a CLR Mack powered by a Detroit Series 60 engine, that refused to quit, which first pointed Wayne in the direction of the Western Star 4800 product with its reputed Detroit DD15. Detroit was offering one million kilometres, 500,000 litres of fuel or a five-year warranty, which ever came first, that ultimately helped make the final decision for him.

“They’re a solid work truck and basic to operate,” he says. “This is the main reason I got onto them.”

With each subsequent contract he secured, Wayne bought another Western Star 4800 — 19 of them to be accurate.

The Detroit DD15 with an Eaton 18-speed RoadRanger gearbox is entirely suited to his operations which are informed by distinct environmental considerations. No great distances are involved, but site access can be tricky with lots of lower gear shifting and confined jockeying of vehicles that are reliant on noticeable power to weight ratio, durability, low centre of gravity and traction.

All but two of the fleet are 20-metre-long truck and quad dog combinations. That’s the sweet spot for the business as it enables a 38.5 tonne payload at 57.5 tonne gross.

The Gibson Sand & Gravel yard is conveniently located ten kilometres either way of its main quarry partners. When the trucks aren’t shuttling between the two, they are deployed south to occasional jobs in Brisbane.

“We’re right smack bang in the middle of our working area,” says Wayne. “This is fortunate given we adhere to compliance within a 100-kilometres of our main site without filling out logbooks.”

Gibson Sand & Gravel are evaluating a new Western Star 48X as part of a 12 month trial.

Naturally they can go further than that with additional approvals from the PBS network. On non-PBS access routes, they are, however, restricted to 50.5 tonnes.

The newest addition to the fleet will be from the X Series launched late last year by Western Star. Wayne has ordered a 48X after taking part in an evaluation program organised by importer and distributor Penske Australia for the better part of a year.

“The idea is for me to pick it to pieces and let them know where improvements can be made,” says Wayne. “It’s a good highway truck. I have been noting efficiencies and improvements that can be made to it.”

The Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission has taken some getting used to at low speeds, given the rest of the fleet’s vehicles are shifted by stick and there are plenty of soft sites with sandy bases affected by heavy rains in the subtropical climes.

“It’s comfortable and you’re not crunching gears all day,” says Wayne. “Most of my drivers are well over 50, some in their 60s and one or two in their 70s. One of these days I’m going to run out of people who can handle a manual transmission.”

Wayne says it’s only a matter of time before the older drivers get used to an AMT, given there has been some initial reluctance on their part to adapt.

“It’s taken me a long time and they’re a different style of truck to drive, particularly in those tight situations,” he explains.

“Most of the older fellas I know who drive trucks all day have some sort of issue with their left shoulders from changing gears. A lot of people who get into the automatic trucks won’t drive anything else. I imagine that will happen here eventually.”

Wayne Gibson of Gibson Sand & Gravel.
Wayne Gibson.

Initial data confirms a noticeable 10 per cent improvement on fuel economy. According to General Manager Richard Hellings, the loan 48X, with its Detroit DD13 Gen 5 525hp engine, is impressing particularly thanks to improved power through its advanced engine management system.

“For a smaller engine than the 15-litre it produces about the same horsepower,” he says. “The fuel economy is way ahead of the older trucks and it’s pulling just as well as the DD15s.”

That’s vital, too, given the new Western Star 48X Detroit DD13, displacing comparable horsepower as the older trucks but at a significantly lighter weight, helps add extra payload capacity of 39.5 tonnes.

According to Wayne the Western Star 48X fuel burn is a healthy 43.6 litres per 100 kilometres. It’s also the only truck in operation at the business that uses AdBlue.

That’s an advantage, given the 4800s use EGR which often requires a stationary regenerative burn that can take half an hour to complete.

“With the AdBlue that doesn’t happen,” says Wayne. “When the truck is working hard the EGR takes over when it’s idling. The AdBlue controls the emissions. They’ve got both systems.”

That has saved some additional time for the fleet. The next truck already on order, however, will have the larger 16-litre Detroit engine.

“I went for the bigger horsepower,” explains Wayne. “Not that we really need it but it’s handy to have when you want it.”

The majority of the tippers are designed and built by Hercules with a few made by Shephard Transport Equipment, keeping the partnerships local, Brisbane-based.

“I like to spend my money locally and keep local people employed,” says Wayne. “I hail from the bush, so I tend to defer to the smaller guy to keep him going.”

This approach extends to the workshop or lack thereof. There’s no full-time mechanic as Wayne’s preference is to outsource to a local auto mechanic and air conditioning technician. To this end, investing in new and near-new trucks has brought an end to a reliance on an inhouse workshop.

Gibson Sand & Gravel fleet of Western Stars.
Gibson Sand & Gravel fleet of Western Star trucks near the Glasshouse Mountains.

Richard Hellings, 75, has been with Wayne since 2000. He oversees maintenance and performs the NHVR compliance, having driven himself for many years.

“Wayne had a Mack twin stick and everyone he tried to put in it refused because it was just too hard for them,” he recalls. “As I’m fairly old and had driven them before I ended up doing it.”

The eight wheel MIR700 was paired with a Mack 237 motor and a six-speed Mack box. The main box had five gears and the joey contained high, low and reverse. That gave it six forward gears and five reverse modes.

As complicated as the set-up sounds, it’s bread and butter for an experienced veteran like Richard. As a driver, he started out in 1968 on the brutal Sydney to Perth trek, driving for his troubles a 126hp supercharged Foden and later “upgraded” to a truck five years younger, an AEC Mandator.

They were all single drive in those days with a spread trailer.

“It was Gardiner-powered and the revs weren’t huge at around 900 and they went everywhere at 32 mp/h,” recalls Richard. “They pulled well enough hooked to a spread trailer and you could move the front axle on the bogie forward to get your weights right.”

According to Richard, 27.5 tonnes was the gross mass and the only good thing about it was there wasn’t many weigh stations and transport inspectors, as none of the states were synchronised by computer database.

“Most of us had two or three different licences from different states and then they brought logbooks in and that sort of stuffed that up,” he says.

The Western Stars, in Richard’s observation, are quiet, much quieter than the Macks.

“They’ve got plenty of grunt for what we want to do with them and we’ve dialled up the engine management system on a couple,” he says. “The fuel economy is not bad, normally just over 2 litres to the kilometre.”

Having the fleet standardised cuts down on unnecessary inventory in Richard’s estimation. Instead of carrying a quarter of a million dollars in parts to service a variety of different trucks means Gibson Sand & Gravel only holds $100,000 worth of parts on hand.

Richard Hellings Snr, Rick Hellings, Owen Te Hira.

Richard’s son, named after him, is in his 40s.  He’s the fleet tyre manager, who also helps out with general repairs. His son, who previously worked for the business, also carries the same name.

“I had all three of them on the books at one stage,” Wayne says. “The only way I could pick them apart was by their birthdates.”

Even so, Wayne acknowledges the longevity of the company owes much to Richard’s knowledge and business acumen.

“The business would not be where it is today without his assistance,” says Wayne, who recently turned 68. He worked on his birthday.

That involved driving all day, before dinner at home in front of the football.

Living on site, where he is in the process of building a new shed, installing a washbay and concreting the yard, doesn’t afford him much downtime.

“There’s always something to do,” he says. “When you live on site you just can’t get away from it.”

Wayne was raised on a farm in the Western Downs area of southwest Queensland. That was where he first became acquainted with tractors, trucks and heavy machinery.

It’s stuck over the years. Despite many challenges, he has too.

“Wayne’s done a marvellous job persisting, and I think it’s the right word, trying to make a go of it and he’s finally got there,” says Richard. “Nothing’s easy in transport. But it just proves that if you set your mind to it with a decent team you can successfully drive a business.”

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