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Savage River Run

Merely the mention of Savage River conjures up visions of wild white water torrents running through steep rugged rocky mountainous terrain.  That vision was not far from the mark as Howard Shanks discovered when we sent him on a Heavy Haulage run to the Savage River magnetite mine.

A week or so earlier Hazel Bros, Burnie operations manager Garry Walsh, or Walshy as his known on the west coast, rang and explained they were shifting one of four Caterpillar 789C dump trucks from their depot in Burnie to the Savage River Mine.

He told us that its not a long trip in terms of distance, but that it would take at least four hours negotiating the tight turns and steep climbs.

“We will be loading the machine around 6am if you want some photos of the boys tying it down,” he added before hanging up the phone. We did.

A little before 6am the following Tuesday morning we arrived at Hazel Bros Burnie depot where there was a flurry of activity around the massive stripped down Cat dump truck.  

This is the last leg in a journey that has seen these 789C Dump trucks make the journey from a mine site in South America to the Savage River Mine on the tiny island state of Tasmania. Savage River is basically a mining town which fluctuates according to the price of its minerals and the richness of its seams, at the moment there’s a hive of activity due the mining boom and demand for the magnetite which they mine.

It is reported that early sailors knew that there were considerable mineral deposits in the area because the rugged mountain ranges interfered with their compasses. What they didn't know was that the force interfering with their compasses was the huge deposit of magnetite at Savage River some 25 km from the coast.

Mining activities in the Savage River open pit involves the use of conventional off highway rear-dump trucks and hydraulic excavators, with drilling and blasting being used to prepare the ground ahead of mining. The processed concentrate slurry from the concentrator is pumped 83km through a 229 millimetre internal diameter slurry pipeline to the pellet plant at Port Latta for shipment. It takes aproximately 14 hours for the slurry to travel from the mine to the port.

“The current mining boom has these dump trucks in high demand,” Garry explained. “There is an eighteen month waiting list to get a new one. These are second hand and arrived here with 20,000 hours on them. We picked them up from the wharf and bought them to our depot here where the high-altitude engines in them were replaced with ones suited to our conditions.”

“Because we share this depot with our sister company Statewide Cranes it made this the ideal site to carry out the refurbishment of these machines,” Garry continued. “We transported the wheels and bodies up earlier in separate loads. You’ll see why when we get going,” he added.

The Caterpillar 789C dump truck sits in the 181-tonne (200-ton) truck
Class and for those not so familiar with dump truck models it’s in the middle of the Cat range, the biggest is their 797F, which boasts a 400-ton payload, but more on that another time.

These 789C dump trucks are powered by the 69-litre Tier 1-compliant 3516B engine, which produces up to 1417kW (1,900HP).  When fully assembled their operating weight can vary from 126 – 141 tonne depending on the type of the body used and they have a top speed of 53 kph when loaded. Their nominal payload is 177 tonnes (195 tons).

As it sits on the deck of Hazel Bros, six rows of eight platform trailer this stripped down 789C weighs over 78 tonne and has a height of 5.4 meters.

Loading the dump truck was pretty straight forward, three cranes were used to lift the 789C off the timber blocks, which were duly removed then the platform trailer backed in underneath and it was then lowered onto the deck. The whole operation took a little over an hour. Thankfully, there was even time for coffee before the Tasmanian Main Roads escort cars would arrive just before 9am.

Hazel Bros Kenworth C508, is the biggest heavy duty specked truck in the island state, rated at 200 tonne, and it’s no ordinary C508 either.  It is optioned for extreme heavy haulage conditions, and it’s worth spending a few moments checking out the specifications. As you’d expect power wise under the hood is a Cummins Signature rated at 600 horsepower, coupled to a Fuller RTLO22918B transmission. The tailshaft is Spicer’s SPL250 that connects to Sisu planetary drive rear axles with cross-locks, all riding on Kenworth’s KW6-60A21T steel spring suspension.

They have a full-length chassis insert, which is what the old truckies called a “double-rail-chassis”.

It’s also worth sticking your head under the bonnet and checking out the rugged front end which is something that you’ll only see on these more rugged specked C508s and that is the 9.1 tonne Kenworth slipper spring and which boasts Meritor’s heavy MFS73LA front axle and twin steering boxes.
Because this load was so heavy and due to the steep grades an additional pusher truck was coupled to the rear of the platform trailer to assist in pushing up the hills and braking on long downhill stretches.

The pusher truck was an old Mack V8 Valueliner, powered with 500hp Mack V8, coupled to an 18-speed transmission with Mack rear axles on their camel back suspension.

It takes some special skills to synchronise driving two separate prime-movers pushing and pulling the same trailer. Mick in the Kenworth up front was in constant radio contact with Lincoln in old Mack at the rear.

Right on 9am, the first of two Tasmanian Main Roads Transport escort vehicles pulled out of Hazel Bros depot with the roof lights flashing to block the road for Mick.

“Are you right Lincoln?” Mick called. “Yep” came the reply. With that the 84 wheels started to roll. The first of the big pulls starts straight out of Hazel Bros gate with the steep climb out of Burnie up to the highland plateau.

Standing at the top of climb waiting to take a photo of the procession the only sound that could be heard was that Mack V8 and it was cracking. Old truckies will remember that sound, for the younger generation it’s a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand-up.

Out in front the escort cars were getting traffic to move off the road. This dump truck took up the entire road.

One of the funniest things to see is the view from Mick’s Kenworth when passing some of the cars that have pulled over, where their occupants lean away from the load as it passes.

As the morning rolled by so to did the miles and by midday the procession was well into the mountains. It’s here where you appreciate the skill of these heavy haulage drivers as they negotiate the steep twisting turns where the rear hubs of the dump truck miss the sides of the hill by inches. All the while Mick is glancing in his mirrors keeping the truck in the centre of the road, and calling gear changes and braking points to Lincoln behind.

There was an opening at the top of one mountain, which afforded a spectacular view back down the valley where the road meanders around on long climb. Here that old V8 cracked again resonating up the valley. Both Garry and I stood there smiling listening the “old school” engine. “They were the last of the good Mack’s,” Garry mussed as he climbed back into the ute.

By mid afternoon, Mick flicked on the right hand indicator and then turned into the Savage River mine site.

Moments later a swarm of men appeared around the truck and before long the wheels were fitted and Mick pulled the platform trailer out from underneath the dump truck.
Well that’s another one safely delivered,” Mick smiled.

Words and Photography by Howard Shanks

August 17, 2018 | Posted in: Articles



Australian Trucking Quarterly