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The Wild West

The light north west of Townsville at sunrise has a surreal golden softness and while the tourists who flock to the town were busy watching the sun slowly climb out of the ocean to the east, Mick Lenton tossed a bag of clothes into his Western Star 6900 and turned the key.

Queensland’s northwest region is arguably one of the more picturesque in the state and home of the infamous dinosaur trail. Which means for the most part it is cluttered with tourists, darting around like lost ants on their ‘holiday of lifetime’? Some locals’ say, that’s good for the economy, some have other ideas and the truckers, well…

In the dry season the bulldust is knee deep. In the wet season that bulldust turns a soupy mud and makes travelling through the black soil country virtually impossible. For many trucking companies the start of the wet can be likened to playing “Russian Rollet”, you take the risk you’ll get there and back without getting stuck or stay at home...

Even though the wet was still a little way off the humidity was already building. In the cabin of Mick Lenton’s Western Star 6900 the air conditioner made the environment extremely pleasant, compared the hot sticky conditions outside.

This is the first leg Mick and his 6900 would make into the Wild West corner of the state to deliver three trailers of lick blocks to Dalgonally Station north of Julia Creek, this week.

The history of Dalgonally Station is a fascinating tale of intrigue and tenacity that begins over 3000 kilometres away at the bottom of the continent, in the early 1860s.

History reveals that two brothers, Duncan and Donald McIntyre, who had migrated to  Victoria made the historic overland journey to the north west with 10,000 sheep and 25 horses however due to regulations at the time were forced to sell the sheep along the route. After taking a work searching for the ill-fated Leichhardt Expedition, they established one of the first cattle stations in the region calling it “Dalgonally” on their return. Early records reveal that Dalgonally comprised of 1,177,000 acres, today however that has been reduced.

Mick’s plan was to make it to Julia Creek by nightfall and camp there at a mates place for the night. Then head out just before sunrise the next day, to unload in the cool of the morning. Temperatures out here from mid morning onwards can average between 40 to 45 degrees Celsius, which is damn hot by anyone’s measure.

Even so, out here in the North West, where the roads are often unfenced, travelling at night or in the early hours of the morning can pose a real problem with wandering stock, kangaroos, camels and horses all posing potential hazards.

This 6900 Western Star is Mick’s second. His original 6900 is still running strong and notched up over one and half million kilometres, and at the time of writing this new one had clocked over a little over 50,000 kilometers. Mick reckons this new Western Star 6900 is by far the best truck he’s ever driven and really well suited to this type of work. The large radiator and the raised cabin mean that cooling the engine isn’t an issue and that was one his biggest concerns.

He can recall times, not so long back when he was forced to drop down two or even three gears simply to allow the engine to cool.

“You don’t have to do any of that with this new 6900, Mick stated pointing to the temperature gauge. “It’ll sit like that (95-100ºC) all day, its terrific”.
Mick specifies Freighter trailers for his operation because of their durability and low tare weight. His latest Freighter trailer is the Flat-Top-Drop-Deck, which is the lead trailer in this roadtrain. Mick cites this trailer as  real versatile trailer, capable of carrying anything from machinery, silage bales to palletised freight. He added that the it can also be used as single trailer or as a tag in a B-Double configuration.

Mick speced it with the optional hydraulic ramps together with the beaver tail rear end which allows machinery to driven on to the trailer.

In terms of driveability the package of smooth ride from the wide cabin of 6900 Western Star Constellation, the power of the Cummins engine under hood and rugged durability of the truck’s construction make it an all round versatile unit.

“It is really well put together truck,” Mick volunteered. “I’ve been really impressed with it’s overall performance and so far I haven’t had any problems with any of it including the engine, which I cannot fault either.”

The ride inside the 6900 Western Star was exceptional. Mick added the handling of this truck is by the best he’s ever had. Observing his steady hand on the wheel from the rider’s seat and the seemingly effortless ease Mick guided the Constellation along the rugged outback track it’s road manners were equally as impressive.

Up here in the Top of the Australia continent where the average temperature is around 40 plus degrees, and with gross combination mass around 120 tonne, being able to maintain an average of 90 kph all day is testament enough that Western Star have really got the cooling right with this big beast of burden.

Mick reckons that the Signature engine in his truck far better than the early models and he’s more than happy with the performance, and so far it hadn’t missed a beat.

The big Statosphere sleeper bunk is also another feature Mick reckons Western Star have done well. “There’s plenty of room to stretch out when you sleep and storage for all the gear you need to carry,” Mick explained. “See we might be away from home for a week or even three depending where we are working.

“When you consider that you can sit on 90 to 100 kph up and down hills all day long with 120 tonne on the back and the fact that these trailers are like giant kites, that is pretty dam good in my book.”

Story and Photography by Howard Shanks

April 17, 2018 | Posted in: Articles



Australian Trucking Quarterly