Ko Ruaumoko E Ngunguru Nei

In Tests, Western Star, September 2021, Tests September 202128 MinutesBy Dave McCoidOctober 29, 2021

Hi au! Au! Aue ha!!


Some trucks are special; they just have ‘a thing’, and Ruaumoko is most certainly one of those, bonded to its owners and lead driver in a manner that has taken the best part of six decades to piece together. It represents a culmination of so much.

As the rain came down on a cold morning in Tokomaru Bay, Ray and Ruaumoko rolled north through the village limits and glided to a stop at our scheduled meeting spot opposite the Four Square.

Door open, and in we jump. It’s warm inside and Ray Feki extends a hand: “G’day, Dave. Pleased to meet you, mate.”

Crikey, based on what we’ve learned in the last 20 hours, believe me, the pleasure is all mine, I thought.

Greetings complete and settled in, Ray slips the Roadranger into gear, and we’re off to get some logs from further up the coast.

At this point, apprehension washed away from the pit of my stomach. After the night before with Tutu and Raewyn, in the middle of the night, I thought, ‘What if Ray was a fire-and-brimstone sort of helmsman? A ‘2100rpm, split every gear, Jake through town, eight downshifts to stop’ sort of bloke? How would I word it if the majesty of Ruaumoko’s day-to-day life didn’t match that of the truck or the story? Watching him approach town settled me immeasurably, but oh glory be, everything about our lift-off and exit from downtown Tokomaru Bay told me this bloke’s mana befitted that of the truck’s namesake and owners totally. In fact, the further we went, the more and more awe-inspiring it got until we reached the point where I climbed back in the ute with Gav later in the day and said, “Oh, my goodness. I’ve just been witness to one of the great driving performances of my life. The man’s a virtuoso.”

Anyway, what is Ruaumoko aside from being pretty snazzy and fantastically coloured? Well, he’s a classic Western Star 4884 FXC 8×4 rigid logger with big red lurking under that ultra-short square snout – meaning of course, our venerable old friend, the Cummins X-15. As we all know, it’s a 15-litre, six-cylinder, Euro-5 via SCR motor, and in this installation it churns out 448kW (600hp) at 1600rpm onward, and 2779Nm (2050lb/ft) of torque from 1150 to 1500rpm. Behind that is the equally wellrespected Eaton Roadranger RTLO22918B 18-speed manual transmission and, way out back, Meritor RT46-160GP R-series axles perch on Airliner 46,000lb air suspension… With chain clearance! That means it has the appropriate clearances to allow the fitting of snow chains if required. Thankfully, ice roads aren’t a big deal in Tikitiki.

Up at the grille end, Meritor FG-941 axles rest easy on taper leaf parabolic springs and shock absorbers.

Aside from proprietary versus vendor suspensions, mechanically, the Western Star is essentially the same machine as Kane Bennett’s T909 Kenworth, and Zac Brausch’s ProStars. Where they head their separate ways in the construction of the shed, frame, and all the bits and bobs that make it all hang together and sing in harmony. The best way of determining if a build philosophy works is head count. Up here in the far-north East Coast, there appeared to be a lot of Western Stars and Kenworths. Rugged trucks. Durable trucks. Make no mistake, a callout in the guts of it all, inland west of Tikitiki, will likely eliminate that week’s profit, and probably the week after also.

In terms of modern safety accoutrements, the 4884 is showing its age with not a lot outside of EBS, ABS, and roll stability. We all know that some time just down the track, Western Star’s 49X is due to appear, and that will bunt the company logo into equal first as far as safety in a North American truck goes – alongside stablemate Freightliner Cascadia. All that aside, however, I do, and always will, argue that big truck safety’s No.1 contributor is the person at the wheel, and in that regard, Ruaumoko is as safe a truck as you’d ever want to sit in.

Pity about the roads

We and almost everyone else in the industry are at their wit’s end with the roads in this country and believe us when we say there are none worse than northeastern coast. Regardless of who they purport to represent, everyone in the Beehive should hang their head in shame. If these roads are intended to help create and sustain jobs on the East Coast, then something’s seriously amiss in this nation. It’s ludicrous to think WorkSafe might visit a logging site to ensure there’s a safe zone in place, yet not walk into Waka Kotahi NZTA offices on their return to Wellington and ask them what the hell they think they’re doing?

“That huge slump in the road just north of Tokomaru Bay?” says Raewyn. “It’s been there since I was a girl.”

“Yep, that’s right,” says Tutu quickly. “It has, too.

“All the trucks up here pay over $7000 per month each in road tax, for all these years, and we get that to drive on. It’s not right.”

Vaughan in the swing of loading Ruaumoko. The Western Star is one of those trucks that looks perfectly at home on a logging skid.

Ray continues further north, past TePuia Springs, the Ruatoria Junction, and on towards Tikitiki. You can already tell that anything over 448kW (600hp) is pretty much useless up here. The windy, narrow corridor littered with slips, slumps, and sporting a worse than substandard surface, means you pick your way up and down, at least until you’re on the Gisborne side of Loisels hill, south of Tolaga Bay, on the way home.

Like a flashback to 1970s rural New Zealand, we come across a couple of shepherds herding sheep up the road, and we inch our way past. When we turn into the forest about 12km up from Tikitiki, we’re only about 15 minutes from Te Araroa. We’re really in Manuel country here! Actually, we couldn’t be more in Tutu’s turf if we tried. The block we’re carting off is his family block, passed down directly from Manuel-Jose.

“We’re going to replant it and go again,” says Tutu. “Same principle, jobs for whanau and future generations. I think demand for wood will only increase with everything that’s going on. We’ll do it better this time and make sure the trees are better looked after early on. You’ll get a better log and price at the end, hopefully.”

Around and on its way.

It’s a 5km or 6km trot into the skid, straight into a gully, up the other side, down another big one, over a ford and up again. Once over the second crest, it’s a smaller drop, and then the road forks; left up to the barn and house, and right, over a large shallow creek that the roadies have bridged with a causeway. Once across, it’s up and around to the right and onto the skid.

Ray lets Ruaumoko find his way back from the turnaround spur, up the last bit of road to the landing, positioning him to the right under the loader. We’re at Waikura Logging’s Rukuata skid site.

Ray and loader operator Vaughan had the trailer off in no time. Like all classy grapple-men, Vaughan neatly and gently places the Chinabound tourists into position with zero detriment to either his boss’ or the Manuel’s assets.

Approaching a hairpin on the south side of Busby’s.

A quick run around the cab

Considering the state of SH2 and what a log truck has to deal with in the normal course of off-highway life up here, it’s a credit to the cab that there’s not a single squeak yet, even though it’s only 63,000km in. It’s easy to poke a finger at an ageing model and look down your nose at what it doesn’t have, but to be frank, the 49X is going to have to be a lot of truck to carry all its tech, yet hold true to what a Western Star is in country like this.

Noise-wise, the 4884 is on a par with its more prolific rival, and from the standpoint of functionality, it’s the most old-school of the modern old-schoolers. The steering wheel steers, there are 15 gauges and a warning-light bank on the binnacle, with the switches, traction aids, brake valves, a wee engine readout, and air conditioning all on the wrap. Indicator and dip are on the left wand, and hand control on the right. The radio is overhead. Ray’s recently fitted a sub to enhance his daily workspace. “I’m not into that boom boom rubbish; it just adds richness to my music… Which turned out to be ‘our music’ … which sounded bloody great.

Ambiance-wise, it doesn’t have the sporty vibe the ProStar imbues. The Star of the West aligns itself far more to the Kenworth thing in that area, with dark tones and a more classic feel. One aspect we do love is the colouring. Regulars will know I have at times lamented the blandness of modern cabs, but in here there’s woodgrain finish on the dash, heavy, durable plastics and vinyl in black and grey, and burgundy splashes in the door infills. Nice. Here’s hoping the burgundy makes it to 49X, rather than some beanie saving $1.50 per door.

Typical of East Coast country and terrain the Western Star was bought to tame. Approaching a hairpin on the south side of Busby’s. Around and on its way. 34 New Zealand

Visibility is US conventional circa at least one generation ago, but because the air cleaner towers are set well forward, left-right clearance is not that bad, really. Yes, you have the west-coasters and A-pillars to contend with, but considering the amount of glass it doesn’t have, there’s certainly worse around by a long shot.

Because it’s a full bonnet, and not heavily raked, it doesn’t have the view down in front that the ProStar does, but it’s hardly an issue in these sorts of application. The cab is certainly wider inside than Kane’s T9 series Kenworth and appears line-ball with the ProStar (we’d have to get the Lufkin out and check). They’re really the only trucks of recent you can compare it to. Lining it up against the 2.1m Kenworth cab is not apples-with-apples fair – generationally speaking, that shelter will be the 49X’s hunting ground.

With the short square hood, the 4884 has an almost proprietary sightline when positioning it on the road. It doesn’t really fit into a genre. However, what the bigger engine stable does is allow better visibility of the big red horse when the hood is pulled. Yes, it’s tucked well back and intrudes into the cabin space, but it is clearly there. It’s not an audible recognition that there is one in there somewhere.

Succinctly put, in this setup, if you’re not a ‘traditional driver’, shall we say, the Western Star is going to take a bit of taming, and you may never be entirely at ease. But if you do fit that profile, it’s the sort of machine that will probably be akin to your favourite hammer. Simple, durable, reliable, driveable, and obedient. It’ll never argue back; you provide the soul. Just the way it should be up here.

“This truck will last forever”

These are the words I said to Tutu and Raewyn in reference to Ray Feki when we met on the evening of day one for a cuppa.

“Oh good,” laughs Raewyn. “That’s what we want to hear! Yeah, he’s pretty good, isn’t he? We love Ray. He does so well for us.”

“I’ve told him I might buy him one of those wheel polishing machines,” says Tutu. “Oooh, he liked the sound of that!”

Back to the scene. Once the SI Lodec scales indicated it was probably time to cease loading, Ray threw the chains, tightened the rachets, set the Bigfoot CTI and traction requirements, and selected his gear.

Ruaumoko inched away from the landing and down the haul road. The note of the Jacobs reverberating around the valley increased in intensity as the X-15 bore the weight of the load. Down and back over the creek, Ray powered into the foot of the hill, his style lets the truck find its way, and he just gives it what it needs to get the job done. He’s your classic topnotch heavy-haul, off-highway log-truck driver, and his time in the latter fraternity is plainly evident. You can pick it instantly.

Ruaumoko was every bit his namesake as he ground out of the creek up the first big climb at 53-tonne plus change. Both Manuel combinations are plated for 54-tonne, as are most log trucks running the upper coast.

Down towards the ford and the Jake kept things in trim. Ray brought the truck to a near halt, walked it through, then into it again. Up the pull away from the water, climb, climb, climb, then a slight plateau where he took a halfgear, full shift, half again to gather a bit of pace with not a skerrick of stress detected through the seat from the driveline. Up near the top, there’s a steep pinch, and the stick’s out and in, one whole slot, with power really on now and the big fella blasts over the top. Again, there’s not a hint of any discomfort from under the cab. Press repeat for the last gully, and all too soon, we’re back at the main gate. You could sell tickets to that.

Of course, Ray’s typical of his type. “You should see Beau! He’s been logging for years; he’s a gun.”

Chains checked and a pee, and we’re out on the ‘relative’ ease of the main road.

The Western Star is the most old school of the ‘old schoolers’. You provide everything, including the soul. That in itself makes it more appealing to some. The cab is not a vanilla monotone space that would bore even a zombie. Here’s hoping that’s carried over to the 49X.

Rolling along, heading south now, we wind back through Tikitiki and on to Ruatoria as Ray talks about his journey in driving.

“I thought I was okay until I met Colin Everitt from Waihi. He moved down here, and I started working for the business he set up called Prolog. Actually, it was my first log-truck job, a Kenworth K100G sleeper with a C12 Caterpillar. We were carting from this side, right up and around, and down the west to Kawerau. He came with me a few times and changed my style completely. ‘Here, try it this way,’ he’d say. It was a whole new way of driving for me. Yeah, that fella taught me heaps. He was a good bloke.”

Running south, you certainly wouldn’t want to be in anything ‘lurchy’. Ruaumoko’s configuration means it’s ‘on rails’ and immovable. We have to say that given the road and the fact the second steer is right under your chuff, the ride was more than palatable.

As we wound through the extra windy up and down section around Te Puia Springs, the combination’s configuration came front of mind.

“Being able to cart three packets of six-ones means it can do anything really,” says Ray. “I’m a Patchell man through and through; they know how to build a log truck.”

Readers who read the AWE McNicoll ProStar feature in the May issue, will recall us saying the 4884 Western Star is the only truck that out-snubs both the ProStar and the T610 Kenworth when talking BBC (bumper to back of cab). The 4884s BBC of just 2271mm, not to mention its 8×4 option, makes it an incredibly versatile gig in the New Zealand scene generally, logging especially.

Ray checking the chains at Tikitiki.

Ray’s approach to Tokomaru Bay typifies the man. He let all the speed wash away from the unit and entered the town as quiet as a pensioner on an e-bike … quieter maybe. There’s a sharp right hook over the Mangahaniui River and by the time 53-odd tonnes of truck and load arrived at that point, the brakes were only needed to scrub off about 10kph. This is trucking in the community at its best.

Away from town is Busby’s Hill, a shortish climb with a pinch about half way up, after which it undulates along the ridge, before a final nip up, and then down the other side. Ray picked up pace out of town, driving into the foot of the hill in nineth-direct, letting the truck bury itself in the climb before hooking straight into the pull gear from there. Ruaumoko held fifth direct at 1250rpm and 25kph through the toughest bit. As he approached the summit, Ray again let the terrain pull all the speed off the truck and went straight into his descending gear.

“I know,” laughs Tutu later. “Sometimes I’m thinking ‘change down now, she’s going to stop’, Ray’s calmas, and all of a sudden, she’s climbing under power. He just knows, eh?”

Right trees, right people, right truck

Once clear of Loisels hill, south of Tolaga Bay, the road takes a distinctive turn for the better, with longer straights and flowing curves through the farmland, then along past Wainui Beach, and into Gizzy.

Ray’s an ‘owl’, so prefers the second half of the day, and in April this year, Tutu and Raewyn took on a shift mate for him. Steven ‘Opie’ Aupouri is an ex-military man, having spent more than 30 years in the forces, including multiple stints down on the ice. He normally takes Ruaumoko on his first outing of the day and then hands it over to Ray.

“In summer, we’ve normally run a full double, and in winter, shift and half, just to ease time and increase safety margins in the conditions,” says Ray.

Ray’s a certified loader, so as long as he has a safety observer, he can load himself at designated skid sites. That normally means Tutu has an opportunity to go for a ride in the truck he and Raewyn own.

And the answer to the original question? It’s cherryblack, complemented by the sign-writing brilliance of Darryn Caulfield.

“Years ago, I had a V8 car in that colour and really took a shine to it,” says Ray. “I think a Western Star conventional suits a dark cab. Cherry-black is just a bit different from the normal darker shades.”

Ray joined the queue at Eastland Port and, sadly, that was our lot on this occasion. Ruaumoko, like his East Coast brethren, is far more than just a log truck. They’re not simply carrying a load, but a promise – a promise made by wise men and women long ago. Tutu and Raewyn and so many of today’s contractors are living descendants of that promise.

The northern East Coast is no place for over-complication. The customers up here demand ability and endurance from their equipment, and that’s normally the result of straightforward equipment being operated by exceptional people. I say exceptional people over drivers because here it goes beyond the immediate skill; there’s an understanding of the why, and the who, not just the how.

It’s little wonder then that a Western Star-Patchell union finds a happy home here. Theirs, and products of their ilk, had their genesis in places, and from people, just like those of the North Island’s northeast corner.


Thank you to Tutu, Raewyn and family for letting us tell your story, and eternal thanks for the wisdom and everything else that came with it.

Ray Feki, thanks so much for letting us tag along, and for your incredible accommodation of our needs. What a top bloke.

Thanks to Mark Ellerington at Penske NZ, and Kate Luck at Patchell Industries for all your help and information. Good people make business easy.


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