Trucks like this need experienced drivers.
Trucks like this need experienced drivers.

Mean in green and ready to carry Australia

THE STICKER on the LandCruiser's rear bumper was emphatic: 'Truckies', it announced, 'Carry This Country'.

Who could argue with that? After all, at the last count there were some 426,000 trucks of various kinds plying the nation's roads, between them shifting more than two billion tonnes of freight.

That forthright bumper sticker might have been more accurate though if it had been referring to particular companies because, in the world of road transport, not all trucks and trailers are equal.

Take Doolan's Heavy Haulage as an example. The Moorabbin, Victoria-based, firm is one of those specialist companies that does its damnedest to carry the entire country, often on just one truck.

Doolan's does not do regular line haul work, even though it has "a vast fleet” of semi-trailers and capable prime movers, according to company general manager, Warren Mitchell.

Instead, as the name over the gate suggests, the company specialises in heavy and oversized loads - really oversized and extremely heavy loads such as mining and construction equipment, petro-chemical plant, heavy earthmoving and industrial machinery and any other huge pieces of equipment that regular semis and B-doubles can only dream about.

Want to move a railway locomotive? Not a problem for this outfit.

Not content with its already impressive collection of oversized, heavyweight carrying equipment, Doolan's recently took delivery of one of the country's biggest trailers, a 30-metre long, semi-modular, steerable low loader that can comfortably carry more than 200 tonnes.

This trailer is so special its manufacturer, Queensland's Drake Trailers, posted a birth notice of sorts on Twitter. It read: 'As trailer manufacturers, delivering a steerable is a pretty special moment. In the Doolan's Heavy Haulage colours she is even more impressive, mean in green with a 7-row, a 4-row and a 2x8 dolly on her back.'

Drake Trailers, part of the Drake Group, has its national manufacturing and retail base in the Wacol industrial area near Brisbane, the impressively large site located in something of a transport hub and bordered by the Ipswich and Logan motorways, the Centenary Highway and Progress Road.

Doolan's specialises in heavy and oversized loads.
Doolan's specialises in heavy and oversized loads. Russell Frost

The company builds between 250 and 350 individual units a year, anything from a dolly to a clip to a full trailer, it's 'regular' semi and B-double units sold under the O'Phee name.

True, Drake's production team is used to trotting-out big trailers but even for them, the Doolan's job was a 'biggie' in so many ways because, in the world of heavy-duty trailers, this one is a true heavyweight and there is absolutely nothing delicate about it.

Eleven axles in a seven and four configuration (with the option of adding an extra axle line to maximise weight capability), the separate 2x8 dolly mounted between the prime mover and trailer and the trailer itself which, at 30 metres long, tips the scales at around 55 tonnes.

It gets more interesting. The four-row axle 'clip' can be removed and replaced with a single or double clip or added to, taking it out to 13 (axle) lines for better weight distribution and management.

"It's all about handling weight,” Drake Group sales manager, Sam Drake, said of the monster trailer.

Bringing this giant baby into the world is no easy task either, according to Sam.

"From the initial planning and design stage to completion takes between three and four months,” Sam said, pointing out that, when it comes to monster trailers, there is no such thing as an off-the-peg design.

"Drakes specialises in low-loaders for oversized loads,” he said. "Everything is customised.”

Moving huge loads around the country is almost a military-style operation.
Moving huge loads around the country is almost a military-style operation.

In the case of the Doolan's trailer that meant adding hydraulic suspension and a hydraulic gooseneck so drivers can lower the overall height in situ to maximise overhead clearance so the rig can more easily roll under bridges and powerlines or ease through tunnels.

The trailer's standard width is 3.35 metres but it can be hydraulically widened to 4.88 metres to better cope with wider loads or highway pinch points.

Trailer steerability is achieved using a design that incorporates a wedge in the turntable that engages the truck's fifth wheel.

The turntable itself is managed using hydraulic rams mounted under the deck in a master/slave arrangement, the system developed in-house by the Queensland company.

The bottom line? "It's well over a million dollar piece of kit,” says Sam Drake. "About 1.5 million, actually.”

Building such a beast is one thing, managing its operations is another thing entirely, from the prime mover all the way through to the roads it can use, says Doolan's GM Warren Mitchell.

"The prime mover needs to be something heavy-spec with a big engine and rated to 240 tonnes. It's got to be something with a low final drive ratio, too. That's very important,” said Warren.

Even the drivers are special, people with star status earned by having the talent to manage a combination weighing north of 200 tonnes. As far as Warren is concerned, only the best of the best get to saddle-up in something this big.

READY TO ROLL: The trailer's standard width is 3.35 metres but it can be hydraulically widened to 4.88 metres to better cope with wider loads or highway pinch points.
READY TO ROLL: The trailer's standard width is 3.35 metres but it can be hydraulically widened to 4.88 metres to better cope with wider loads or highway pinch points. David Price

"Trucks like this need experienced drivers so we want people who have been with us for years and worked their way up through the various trucks or have come in from other companies and really know their stuff,” Warren said.

"Drivers need to be the best of the best and they are hard to find. They are a special breed.”

Moving huge loads around the country is almost a military-style operation with precise forward planning and continual communication between the company and local councils, state road authorities and regulators.

Paperwork and red tape need to be handled. Getting permits can be time consuming and, not surprisingly, there are lots of rules, regulations and established protocols to be followed to ensure smooth operations. "Moving a truck like this takes a great deal of forward planning. Often we are dealing with situations that are quite fluid, things can change very quickly.

"They can repair a road, for example, and raise its height just enough to cause problems with bridges or overhead power cables,” said Warren. "There are always lots of driver communications involved.

Asked about the changes to the national heavy vehicle laws currently being discussed, Warren said some headway is being made but progress is snail-like.

"Those discussions are ongoing but they are going ahead more slowly than they really should be,” he suggests, diplomatically.

And while the industry waits for those changes to come, Drakes and Doolan's continue to provide the wherewithal that keeps 'carrying the country' - just like the bumper sticker says.

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