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Bee Specific

Proven reliability combined with affordability is seeing Kenworth’s T403 making new roads into niche market areas. In fact, this model is giving its competitors a decent sting in process as Howard Shanks discovered. 

A few days before in Wagga Wagga, central New South Wales, Inland Truck Centre’s Brenton McKay asked if I had a few spare minutes and offered to show me a new Kenworth T403 he was delivering into a unique operation later that day.  

The truck in question was one of the latest T403 models in the 2012 Kenworth range, that was being delivered and set up as a rigid with a ringfeeder coupling to tow a dog trailer along with a moveable frame on the truck’s deck to carry a Donkey forklift, but more on that later.

“The T403 model is great truck for operators in vocational applications who need something with a bit more power than a T359 and can handle robust application such as tipper truck and dog applications,” Brenton explained. “It has a big truck feel and there’s plenty of room in the cab for the driver and under the hood so its easily serviced.”

“But best of all it is affordable and boasts a host of standard features that make it an economical truck that suits a wide variety of applications,” Brenton added.

A short time later, Stephen Roberts, one of the new owners of this T403 arrived with a smile and quickly began checking over his new rig.

Stephen, along with his brother Ian is the third generation of beekeepers in the Roberts family. The boy’s parents, Pat and Wendy, currently manage their company, Australian Rainforest Honey, which grew from humble beginnings selling door to door and at the Sydney markets into one of the leading exporters of honey in Australia.

They now own over 2500 hives and have exported over 204,000 kilograms of bulk Australian honey to Europe and Asia over the past 18 months.

Stephen told us that they have located their packaging plant close near Wagga Wagga as it is close to their harvesting source which maintains and improves the product quality.

“Over the years we’ve performed extensive research into both plant flowering periods and methods to control nectar collection,” Stephen explained. “This avoids contamination from neighboring flowering plant species and ensures the astute bulk honey buyer of consistent quality standards.”

“The demand for our export honey is so great at present that we do not have any to sell locally in Australia,” Stephen added.

It’s little wonder then that they have a small fleet of Kenworth Trucks to haul their beehives around central NSW.

“In my mind Kenworth are the only truck to purchase,” Stephen began. “Because they are extremely well constructed and very reliable. We really need proven reliability in our operation because we have to carry the bees during the night when they’re sleeping in the hives. During the day the bees are extremely active as they go about gathering their honey.

Essentially the Kenworth T403 is a no frills working man’s truck and has limited options that enable the vehicle to be tailored to suit a wide variety of applications.

“The standard engine in the T403 is the Cummins ISX EGR 450HP with 1650 lbft torque, which provides ample power and importantly good fuel economy,” Brenton explained. “In this truck we’ve retained the standard Eaton RTLO16918B transmission, however there are several transmission options including the Ultra-shift and heavy-duty RTLO18918B is available for more robust applications.”

“We also stuck with the standard Dana E-1421 Front axle and Dana DSH40P rear axles on the Kenworth Airglide 400 suspension, however we took the Alco 10-stud disc wheel option, which reduces the tare weight a little,” Brenton continued.

“The 28-inch IT sleeper enables us to maintain the ideal deck space and provide a comfortable sleeper compartment which Stephen requires each night he is away,” Brenton added.

A few days later, with the aid of a crude mud-map that Stephen had scribbled on piece of paper I found his T403 parked among a stand of Australian Ironbark trees, with the silver Kenworth windscreen cover stuck to the windscreen, just before dawn.

I tapped on the door as instructed and Stephen duly appeared from the 28-inch integrated bunk.

He was eager to get the bees unloaded before the sun rose too high. “They (the bees) get pretty cranky if you try and unload them or move them during the day,” he mused.

“He tossed me a white set of overalls, which had a mesh screen and thick gloves, “you’d best put this on unless you want to be stung”, he added.

This is the second Donkey truck mounted forklift that Stephen has purchased, having another mounted on a Kenworth T358.
“They’re a good forklift for a number of reasons,” Stephen began. “Firstly they’re like our Kenworth’s, well built and reliable. Secondly, the fact we can carry them on the truck means we can tow a dog-trailer with beehives so we have maximum payload and productivity.”

“They’re great in the bush because they have all-wheel diff locks and they’re light which means they don’t sink in soft terrain. Also I can move the loading frame from the rear of the tray when loaded to the center when empty for better weight distribution in a matter of minutes. Check out the forks too, they have a hinge, which automatically folds them up as the Donkey loads itself on the truck.”

It is surprising how quick the sun rises when you’re in a hurry to unload a truckload of bees just dawn. Stephen reached into the toolbox and grab a cylindrical tin, “this is my smoker,” he said as he stuffed it full of dry leaves then lit it.

“I’ll give the hives a good smoke to calm them down while I unload the forklift from the truck and spread the beehives around,” he volunteered.

Stephen told us that bees communicate in two main ways - by scent or smell (also called pheromones) and by movement (for example, the waggle dance to show the location of a food source in relation to the hive and the sun).  

He added that the smoke puffed onto a colony of bees hides other smells, such as the alarm pheromone emitted by guard bees at the hive entrance. Consequently the smoke confuses the other bees and some bee researchers suggest that the ‘chain of command’ in the colony breaks down. With the right amount of smoke, bees just do not know what to do for a short time, and this gives me an opportunity to carry out my work without too much difficulty or risk of being stung.  

Half an hour later Stephen had unloaded his bees, put the forklift back on the deck and was rolling up his straps.

Even though its early days, Stephen said he is more than pleased with the performance and economy of the ISX engine. “It’s one the best Kenworth trucks I’ve ever driven he concluded.

Words and Photography by Howard Shanks

April 17, 2014 | Posted in: Articles



Australian Trucking Quarterly