Class is eternal

32 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 7, 2018

Kenworth‘s second release in the Legend series sees a baker‘s dozen heading our way to their first owners. However, only one T900 will end up retracing its own genealogic steps to where it all began – the bush and hauling logs.

There‘s no main test strapline this month. The reason is simple; this is not a test. This is a celebration. A celebration of a bonnet line that dates back 55 years. A celebration of a shape and a presence that can be counted among an elite group of trucks that not only had a Pied Piper effect on a legion of future drivers, but also celebrated the role of the truck in the broader society. Although the ranks of those once wide-eyed followers who climbed aboard back in the day can now see retirement looming at some point down life‘s highway, they still currently form the backbone of what‘s keeping this country moving. We have to ask ourselves what the message is in all that.

This is also the celebration of all that ‘s Kiwi and one man‘s influence on the rekindling of a classic 27-odd years ago. And last but not least, this is a celebration of the eternity of class. That although the heart will always usurp the mind, with this truck, owners, drivers, and even those purveyors of all that ‘s plain – accountants – can still rest easy with the outcome of a decision to buy a piece of modern history in 2018.

Where do you start?
You start in the Hawke‘s Bay at 5am when the lights of a log truck, trailer up, rolling into the outskirts of Waipukurau, appear in the windscreen from the midst of a thick fog. “Is that it?” The excitement is almost palpable. The familiar yellow chassis and silver bolsters of a Satherley truck create a stir at the best of times, and we‘ve been tricked once already this morning. But not this time. Out of the murk appears the number plate LGD900. Strangely there‘s a calmness in the ute as we realise what we‘re seeing is a gleaming new vision of the past. It‘s like a scene from one of Sir Peter Jackson‘s finest. It also reinforced to us how right it was to wait for this truck. New Zealand had a huge part in the genesis of the original T900 back in 1990/91. Mount Maunganui-based Mike Lambert, a legend himself in the world of log cartage and wood product handling, petitioned Kenworth for a model that harked back to the robustness and classic lines of the W Model, a truck he felt was the perfect machine for his line of work. A truck that looked like a log truck should. “ We‘ve got a bunch of early 1980s models in the fleet now and we get people coming in and asking if any are for sale.

That doesn‘t happen with any other brands,” said Lambert at the time. New Zealand Trucking magazine tested the first T900 to ever turn a wheel in anger, gracing the world stage in the famous red and white Lambert Livery. Driven by Arthur ‘Boots‘ Ryan, the test truck spent the day dragging logs out of woodlots into the Kinleith Mill at Tokoroa. That was a test, and rightly so. At the time the T900 was a production truck, available to anyone and everyone who had the dosh. Today that ‘s not the case. As right as it might be on every level to write this feature on a T900 Legend heading into the bush for logs, you can‘t test a truck that ‘s one of only 256. You can stand outside Bayswater now screaming for one, holding your breath until your face turns blue; they ‘ll just stare at you through the window and wave. All the T900 Legends have their first homes. For most it‘ll be their only home. Most will only ever know one livery. In Bevan Satherley ‘s inimitable and laconic style, “It ‘d be the last thing sold… after the mailbox.”

We don‘t care what the cab‘s laid out like and how it stacks up against today ‘s market. Comparative analysis formed no part of a single buyer‘s consideration prior to placing their order. If you‘ve bought one these machines, then grabbing the cab handle, the door latch, and then the steering wheel is the only way to haul yourself into the cab. This is a memory of a simpler, more honest time. This truck is an escape. But an escape that can still earn a quid nonetheless.

Do what I do
We follow the Kenworth T900 Legend, build No 164, for the next hour deep into the Wairarapa, to the Wimbledon Forest. Driver Shane McFarlane has been driving trucks since day dot. Hailing from Gisborne there‘s not much this genuine, clever, down-to-earth bloke hasn‘t done. The first thing we notice trundling along behind the truck on the narrow roads out to Porangahau and on to Herbertville is the style, not just of the truck, but also the man. A log truck of the era in the hands of a driver taught the craft the way they did back then. There were precious few brake lights or resonating engine brake sounds. The Legend simply drifted along, driven in accordance with what the road allowed, not what the schedule deemed. For many, the lessons encompassed in that hour alone are endless.

Photos: Like travelling through time, seeing a T900 emerging from the scrub… it‘s got to be the ultimate stop for any Tardis.

Shane‘s loading time was 6am. The skid was close to the road and it wasn‘t long before a load of privileged logs were on their way to the Port of Napier – come on, if you were a log heading for some bandsaw in Asia, wouldn‘t you want your last ride in a T900 Legend? The trip out was just as serene to watch as the trip in, the Kraft trailer following, giving the odd little dip and wiggle on this most secondary of secondary, shoulderless rural roads.

Bevan Satherley said he‘s been quizzed by a few on buying the 6×4 and 4-axle trailer. Aside from a classic Satherley reply of, “It‘s my money, I‘ll buy what I want ” (Legend!), it ‘s all about horses for courses. “ The H trucks are great and we‘ve got a few but you couldn‘t have a fleet of them. There‘s no one configuration that ‘s the answer to everything.”

And he‘s bang on. Because wood lots comprise a good proportion of Satherley Logging‘s work, and access can be well off the beaten track on roads that have never heard of bitumen, much less an HPMV certification. In addition, tracks into such locations are often less than ideal and a CTI equipped 6×4 and 4-axle trolley is still pretty much top of the pops when it comes to getting out of shitty places.

Welcome home

For folk of our generation the only thing missing as we climbed into the cab was the good Mr Dobbyn standing outside singing his ode to the weary traveller……. READ MORE

A youngster in Dad‘s singlet
Unloaded at Napier it was time for a quick coffee on the outskirts of town and a look at the young heart and legs of this machine. While the Legend‘s appearance is intended to be everything we‘ve conveyed, the heritage side of things ends under the shiny surface; for there beats the heart of youth. The Legend series, now in its second iteration, came about largely on the back of modern SCR engines not having the cooling requirements of their EGR predecessor. That meant all the old radiator frontages came back into play and clever people wondered if it might be a good idea to do a heritage model. The popularity of the first T950 release obviously took Bayswater a little by surprise, as the 75-unit production run evaporated within minutes of the order book being opened. Realising this was bigger than Elvis, the approach to the T900 was to open up a 24-hour window of time for placing the order, ‘and we‘ ll build what we get ‘. The result was 256 Legends on the assembly line. That ‘s a pretty handy way to give annual production a kick-along, but it‘s also a stark reminder to the design department. When the co-efficient intoxicated graduates are dreaming up the next truck we all want to buy, they should be sat in a room with an enormous poster of a T900 Legend on the wall and the slogan – ‘ We sold 256 of these things in one day. Remember – sex sells!‘ Tip the gorgeous bonnet on the Satherley machine and thar-she-be, a Cummins e5 X15 looking very much at home in period black with a red ‘do‘ circa an N14 CELECT ‘C‘mon!‘ The engine in the Satherley truck is rated at 447kW (600hp) at 1600rpm with a peak torque of 2780Nm (2050lb/ft) at 1150rpm. Chasing along behind is the Eaton RTLO209018B 18-speed manual (of course). Front axle is the Meritor MFS66-122 on taper leaf springs and out back are Meritor RT46-160GP axles with dual diff lock at 4.3:1, riding on PACCAR AG460 steel pedestal 8-bag air suspension. So that ‘s impressive!

Photos: At Kraft getting the log gear fitted. (Note the square indicators still on board – how much better do the round ones look!) 

No regrets
“There must be some enormous holes under the ground in the Middle, East,“ laughs Shane McFarlane as the fuel tanker whizzes past heading the other way “That‘s the trouble with this bloody job, you think too much about stuff.” The cab fills with laughter. 

This 48-year-old Gisborne son has been resident in Hawke‘s Bay since he and wife Amanda moved their family down in 2003 for work, the lifestyle, and opportunities for their three girls………. READ MORE

…so let‘s do it all over again
Twenty-seven years later, let ‘s head out to a wood lot in a brand new T900 Kenworth powered by a Cummins dressed in black and red, ‘quite‘ new on the engine scene…okay, so the X15‘s been around for a bit and it‘s not really black and red in normal trim, but humour us here.

One thing the test of ‘91 was heralding in that hasn‘t changed was a new generation of engines operating in a tighter rev band, and that ‘s certainly stood the test of time. The X15‘s 1100 to 1600rpm sweet zone is where it ‘s at today, not too far removed from N14 CELECT‘s 1300 to 1700rpm range. What has changed is the speed with which Shane would disappear from sight in ‘Boots‘ Ryan‘s two-piece windshield. The 7-axle B-train unit Boots drove was pretty ‘trick‘ back then, with a power-toweight ratio of 10.2hp/tonne at 45 tonne – be realistic, we all did it. However, a fully compliant 45 tonne in the 2018 7-axle Legend 900 log truck and trailer will be shunted along at 13.3hp/tonne. That ‘s a huge difference in every regard. Climbing aboard and you‘re instantly taken back in the best possible way. But not all is as it seems. As Shane releases the clutch pedal and lifts off, we notice ourselves still chatting as we were. The ‘91 T900 recorded a healthy 78dB, exactly what you‘d have expected and even sitting as close to the driver as you were, many conversations would have been interspersed with “Eh?”

Not so in the Legend. We waved the sound meter around and it seemed happy to sit at about the 65dB level. Even snarling and pulling out of the bush with it all going on we couldn‘t get the rowdy meter much more excited. Looking through the screen down that bonnet in a brand new truck working in 2018 puts you in a very exclusive club. Shane‘s enjoying the experience, having come off a T904, another well-publicised Satherley machine.

“It‘s nice and quiet, easier to get in and out of, and visibility‘s a whole lot better. The 904 had hi-rise air intakes and a stainless bug deflector so seeing out of it was a challenge and you‘d easily lose a car out front if you weren‘t careful. This is a lot better. I loved the Cat and BrakeSaver in the 904, that ‘s an unbeatable combination, but this X15‘s very similar in the way you drive it. It goes really well and the Jakes are good. Yeah, she‘s all there really.”

Another journey into the lower Hawke‘s Bay, this time east from Takapau, where we load at Bevan Satherley ‘s own gang, with Bevan on site.

Staff are the key to any business‘s success and it ‘s obviously something Bevan has a knack for. The smoothness of Beau Tresidder on the loader was extraordinary, although like Shane, he was born into the job, coming from a long line of tree musterers. Logs were placed and tapped into place, inch perfect. There‘s no chance loading would result in any ‘dings‘ on the Legend under this man‘s stewardship.

Loaded and chained it was in the cab to enjoy the journey off the skid only a bonneted Kenworth can deliver. One of the great things about this truck is that fact that it‘ll work its arse off its entire life, like any other truck in the Satherley operation.

Photos: Looking right at home, just like his granddad was. The X15 in black and red commemorating the paint scheme of the period N14 CELECT.

Photo: A trucker to the core. Shane‘s approach and general attitude to life and work make him a wonderful ambassador for the industry.

“I can‘t afford an ornament,” chuckles Bevan. And that ‘s just the way it should be. The X15 did what it does best and dragged the unit out over a steep little rise off the skid, putting up a fight to hold every gear, and then Shane held proceedings on the engine brake down the farmer‘s track and out onto the road. Rolling the 30-odd kilometres out to SH2, up hill, down dale, and through a little gorge, the contemporary drivetrain did its thing, infinitely more driveable and user friendly than those early computerised engines Boots and company lived through. We‘ve come a long way with microchips and motors.

With tanks full of the good motor-spirit the Kenworth tips the scales at 10,400kg and the Kraft trailer 5,300kg. That gives Legend a most respectable 29,300kg payload. The slowest proceedings got on the road out was around 38km/h in 5th highsplit (first slot in the high range), so all pretty effortless really. The straight chassis Kraft 4-axle trailer behind the truck is also in keeping, and certainly has a period look about it, but that ‘s more a coincidence.

Photos: Beau Tresidder swings the trailer off and then works his magic putting a load together. 

“I‘ve tried all the fancy stuff, drop chassis and all that, but I look at Pacific Haulage, I don‘t actually know the owners personally, but you have to admire what they‘ve achieved, in the toughest logging country in the country I reckon,” said Bevan. “Simple, gear with no frills, straight chassis on the trailers, no joins. If it‘s good enough for them it‘s good enough for me. I‘m going to keep it simpler.”

Under the period look though the unit still harbours the modern safety features you‘d expect; ABS, EBS and the like, although Bevan won‘t entertain disc brakes. “Not for logging,” he says. “ Too many hassles.”

Photo: All tallied up and ready to roll out.

We won‘t go into consumption on this truck. Firstly it‘s a log truck on steep, short haul work; secondly, it‘s new; thirdly, it has the drag coefficient of a housing estate; fourthly, if you‘re reading this article for that reason there‘s more important self-analysis questions that need to be raised; and fifthly, our bet is it ‘ll be about line ball with anything else out there doing the same work. At the end of the day economy is more about the way it‘s being driven than anything else, and in that department, all is well people, all is well.

We whistle along SH2 and the CB is alive with chatter. Shane‘s a well-known identity in these parts and this truck, not to mention his previous ride, have only served to enhance that. But this bloke is from good stock and he‘s as well grounded as the tyres beneath his feet.

“It‘s like the 904 when it first hit the track, attracting a lot of interest. It‘s just something you have to go through I guess,” said Shane.

OEMs spend millions on cabover R&D trying to replicate the ride of an American bonneted truck on taper leaf springs and air. Sitting back down the chassis it ‘s a smooth ole passage and if you‘ve wheeled an old school bonneted ‘K‘dub‘ around the traps, you‘ll know that when loaded right it wrote the book on steering and handling in this category.

Photo: Shane leaves the skid and lets the Kenworth do what they do best.
Inset: A view through a truck windscreen that is like no other.

Take a Legend and make it more ‘Legendary‘
The Legend trucks fall under a Heritage series banner in the Kenworth world and as such they ‘re a celebration of a broader timeline than the base model necessarily represents. Take things like mud-flaps, the full-on bullet style marker lights, and the bug itself – their style certainly predates those of the era in which the T900 surfaced.

The extent to which some have gone in the personalisation of their T900 Legends has surprised, in some cases astounded, Bevan. “ We‘ve spent bugger-all extra on ours, but we‘ve done little things we think connect the truck with the era it came from even more. I deal with Mark O‘Hara in the Southpac sales team and he‘s real good.”

Those ‘little things‘ included swapping out the square indicators for round, removing the stainless headlight surrounds, swapping out the stainless sun visor for a genuine, but never used, T900 fibreglass one, and the old school log frame behind the cab.

“I didn‘t like the sun visor that came with them, I reckon they sat too high. I wanted a fibreglass job and managed to secure one.

“I think Kenworth got this right. I just want to say that. Last time the limited build probably wasn‘t the right way to go, but you can‘t complain about this one. Everyone had the same opportunity,” said Bevan.

Photo: Shane McFarlane at the wheel. Another day in the ‘not so everyday‘ office.

Photos: No headlight surrounds, round indicators, fibreglass sun visor, and retro log frame, This man knows his stuff.

Mark O‘Hara, Southpac truck sales for the lower North Island said, “I was lucky to sell two of these great Legends, and the second truck will be on the road next week [April] with Reid‘s Transport in Palmerston North. I‘ve been selling Bevan and Tania Satherley new Kenworths for the past six years and we have a great relationship that only strengthens by being there for their aftersales issues and general help throughout the build process and logging gear fitment.”

Paid to work

“Ya know, I get a sick of hearing about the driver shortage thing. As long as we have a country where people are paid to sit at home on their arse and do nothing then we‘ll have a shortage everywhere. It‘s our own fault. We‘ve done it to ourselves.” Bevan Satherley shakes his head in disbelief….. READ MORE

Were there any disappointments?
Yes, can you believe that? It ‘s only sentimental though. Turn the key on this ten-and-a -half tonne sentinel of magnificence and you‘d get more testosterone in the meow of a tom cat neutered before puberty. It sounds like a Toyota Corolla starting. We know there‘s technology and cleverness under the bonnet that ‘s hard to foil, but hey, all the good folk at Kenworth needed was a guru to hardwire the ignition into the sound system so when you turned the key an MP3 file burst into life with the sound of a dirty old NTC big cam winding over and it would have been nirvana. After all, the rest of the truck is essentially a mask, so what ‘s one more.

And after all that, this is also a celebration of a realisation. A realisation that looks do matter and not everything from the past is obsolete. Put a new heart and soul in an old hero and not only will the accountant, the driver and the owner be happy, but also the sound of that flute may yet again be heard resonating through the playgrounds and boring workplaces of our nation, calling a new legion of disciples to an eternal classic.


This feature is dedicated to our own John Murphy. One of the goals he set last year was to be here for the test of Bevan and Tania‘s T900 Legend. Murph loved all the tests he did but log truck tests had a special place in his heart……. Read More