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Haulin’ Cotton

We sent Howard Shanks to Queensland’s central highlands region to take a run in one of the latest Kenworth models, the T909, that’s hauling cotton over some of the state’s roughest roads.  

 This new Kenworth T909 had been delivered a few months back, however as the rains hadn’t eased much since Christmas and the flood waters only just receded, it had spent the past few weeks parked up.

I met Jason Hayne and the Kenworth T909 he drives for Andrew Keely’s Myamba Contracting, at the Moura Cotton Gin as arranged on the outskirts of town. Jason had not long climbed in it and admitted that he was still getting used to it.

He told us that here in the Central Highlands region roadtrains are restricted to only two trailers.

Moura is a small town predominantly servicing the surrounding coal mining activities as well the farming community, and remnants of the local coal industry adorn the surrounding parks. The town was first established in 1936 as a farming centre near the existing Moura Station.

The run from Moura out to the cotton farm today would take a little over two hours, half an hour or so to load then a good two and half hours to return.

Our route this morning would take us 150 kilometres or so west along what’s officially known on maps as the Dawson Highway to Rolleston.  However a few more apt names for this track could be the “Broken Windscreen” or “Busted Spring” Highway which better reflect what will probably happen to your vehicle if you’re brave enough to travel on it.
Ok, we’ve had our whinge about the road… time to get back to cotton cartage.

At Rolleston we’ll veer south along the Carnarvon Highway for half an hour before taking a hard left on to a dirt track that will take us into the heart of the Arcadia Valley, where cattle and cotton farms thrive.

Forty minutes or so into the trip Jason eased off the throttle and guided the T909 into the tiny Bauhinia Roadhouse, whe
re he would fuel up the Kenworth’s three 450 litre tanks. This morning he reckoned he’d have to pump in at least 1150 litres, and at today’s price that will add $1769.85 to his fuel bill.
It takes roughly 15 minutes to fill the tanks, which meant there was time to order a sandwich and grab a coffee.

Testament to just how tough these Australian made Kenworth trucks are, was right here in the roadhouse parking lot. Here an old W-model from the eighties and classic T950 from the nineties are both still toiling away after years pounding away on these notoriously bad roads.

It’s little wonder that Kenworth have earned the phrase “AUSTRALAIN MADE WORLD’S BEST”.

Not far out of Bauhinia the terrain changes as the road crests part of the Great Dividing Range. The countryside is unusually lush and green with thick vegetation after the extraordinarily long wet season.

While Jason jostled with the bumps on the back to load, it’s probably worth running over a few of the features of the new T909.

Most noticeable on the T909 is the new 7-inch diffuser tail pipes, which allow cool air to travel up through the exhaust to help control exhaust temperatures and are an important component of the Cummins DPF system.
(Although at the time of writing we were informed that Cummins no longer require the diffuser tail pipes which mean that future T909 models will revert back to traditional 6-inch stacks). 

For the higher horsepower options, like T909 model comprising Cummins cooled EGR ISX and Signature engines, Kenworth have introduced a Cummins Particulate Filter integrated with the engine’s cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) technology.

Drivers also benefit from the upgrades to the T909. Firstly the HVAC (Delphi Heater, Ventilation and Air Conditioner unit), which is already a proven performer in the cabover models, has now been added across the conventional range.

The Delphi unit provides improved efficiency and air flow and a better in-cab operating environment – keeping drivers and passengers warmer in winter and cooler in summer. An integrated serviceable filtration system helps provide a dust free cab environment.

New doors have been introduced with standard electric windows across the entire range. These new doors also provide improved door handles and central locking for greater operating ease. The standard keys have been upgraded in heavy duty steel for enhanced durability. There are wider padded arm rests with integrated window and mirror controls for increased comfort and convenience.

While Jason was getting the T909 ready to load, Paul Hatch, from Hatch Farming, who operates the loader showed us how the IPhone’s barcode scanner is saving time and paperwork in this year’s cotton harvest scanning each bail’s barcode. Incidentally each bail is approximately 2.4 meters wide and 2.3 meters in diameter and weighs approximately 2.5 tonne.

Half an hour or so after arriving at the farm with the tarps now tied down, Jason stirred the big Cummins under the hood into life and poked the T909’s nose back towards the Moura cotton gin.

The Freighter Outback trailers behind this Kenworth T909 are no ordinary trailers either, they’ve been designed and built in Australia as well, to withstand the worst that the country’s roads can throw at them, and they don’t come much worse than this rough corrugated, pot-holed track.

We’re told that when Freighter engineers were designing the Outback trailer, they understood that a new approach would have to be adhered to in order to meet their goal of outstanding reliability and durability. Experience reveals that if a part is loose or vibrates, it will eventually fall off. If it’s cantilevered, it will eventually crack.

So the Freighter Outback trailer comprises massive main-rails coupled with more cross-members that give the “Outback” its core strength. It has heavy duty coaming rails that are 25 percent deeper than standard rails along with Freighter’s VE50 heavy duty spring suspension designed specifically for outback road conditions. In addition it has a heavy duty tow coupling, dual tyre carrier and lockable toolbox all designed to withstand the rigours of the off road use found in outback Australia.  

Australia’s cotton industry is a lucrative one indeed and continuing the remarkable post drought resurgence for Australian cotton, the industry is now predicting this year’s national harvest will be the largest ever recorded, producing over four million cotton bales.

Cotton Australia’s production forecast estimates, 1,785,000 bales will be grown in Queensland, while NSW will account for 2,271,000 of the national total, giving a harvest worth around $2.3 billion dollars.
While most people will remember the start of this year as flood, cyclone, flood, the season has actually produced very good cotton growing conditions allowing for some recovery of crops that went under water.

Growers unaffected by the floods are telling us they expect to harvest personal best crops in many areas and that productivity is driving the national crop forecast upwards. The previous record Australian cotton harvest was before the drought back in 2000/2001, when around 3.6million bales were produced.

It was late afternoon when Jason finally pulled the first trailer onto the weighbridge at the Moura Cotton Gin.

Then a few moments later he rolls forward to weigh the second trailer before he heads around the unloading bay.

Jason pulls the tarp forward, and folds it into a purpose built carry rack mounted on the trailer’s head-board. He admits it saves a lot of time at the other end if he spends a few minutes packing it neatly when he’s unloading. He added that it’s vitally important to ensure that all the ropes are tied tightly so they don’t get caught on anything on the return leg of the journey.

Words and Photography by Howard Shanks

April 17, 2014 | Posted in: Articles



Australian Trucking Quarterly