Mirrorcam is spreading in the Deep South

Set in the heart of Southland’s dairying industry, the little village of Nightcaps and its rolling countryside is about as English picture postcard as you’ll find. It draws its name, not from a peaty single-malt, but rather the stunning view on a clear winter’s night as one gazes at the snow-capped peaks of the Takitimu Ranges to its immediate west.

Nightcaps is also home to one of the region’s – if not the country’s – slickest rural transport operations, Transport Services Ltd – TSL. Graced with wonderful rural carrying and service kit in the company’s simple-yet- striking red and white livery, the image TSL’s equipment projects is matched by the folk behind the doors of both its machines and offices. None more so than manager and company director Wayne Williams. He fits the mould of the archetypal rural- carrying boss to a tee. He knows his customers, staff, and machines explicitly. He respects and has the respect of customers and staff and hopes the machines will earn his respect through dogged service and reliability. Neither is he afraid to dip his toes in the water of innovation in the hope of improved efficiency – and margin. But if it fails dismally, he’ll cut the toes of whoever sold it to him off with a blunt axe… figuratively speaking, of course. So, if you’re Nightcaps-bound and excited about the next big thing you have to peddle, you’d better be sure of it.

Fleet No.23 is a 2020 Mercedes-Benz Arocs 1840 4×4 spreader… or sower as they say in these parts. It’s set up with 445/65 22.5 mud-grip tyres and central tyre inflation, so it means business. It’s also fitted with MirrorCam.

“When they told me it had the mirror tech, I said, ‘Oh F$%^! I don’t need that shit!” laughs Wayne. “‘How much is it going to cost me if I smack that off on a tree?’ I asked. They came back with a quote and said it’s cheaper than an existing mirror system. The picture we saw initially led us to believe the cameras stick out a long way, but when you see them, they actually don’t. Anyway, in that part of our business, if you find yourself with lots of obstructions around you that might knock gear off, it’s a case of just turning the spinners up.

“It’s brilliant technology. On an off-road, it’s a brilliant system. Everyone I know in and around trucks hates dust. With MirrorCam, you can leave the windows up in the dust and clearly see what’s going on. We all know that with a bit of dew or a light shower when the wind’s blowing from the rear, the mirrors get coated, and you have to drop them to clean the mirrors. You don’t have to do any of that, or at least not as often, and it’s a lot simpler. We supply the driver with a wee cleaner and, every now and then, he has to give the camera lens a tidy-up. Because the lens area is so small and recessed into the arm, the dust has to really get right in there to cause a problem.

1) Note the Williams grab-handle recessed into the guard.

“I’ve driven it on the road and all you have to do is glance at the A-pillar – you barely have to take your eyes off the road. It has distance markers so you can more easily judge backing into the trailer, and the blind spot alerts are brilliant.

“To my mind, it’s a great piece of technology but doesn’t go far enough. All of the separate camera systems on the truck – in-cab, reversing, load, forward – should come into the one in-house factory-fitted system, instead of employing third parties who have to tap into looms and all that crap. That would be one of the best packages they could do for simplicity, efficiency, and safety. Whoever does that first would probably get me looking at their brand really really quickly.”

The driver on the truck is Rodney Heenan, a Southlander who has spent his whole life in the farming and the rural industry with 16 years’ experience distributing growing media on the gorgeous Southland landscape. When we caught up with him, he’d been with TSL for three months.

2) MirrorCam copes well in low light and mist when out in the field.

No.23 is a big truck and will be close to two years old and have 2000 hours on the meter by the time you read this.

It’s a long way up to the driver’s seat. So much so that Wayne has had another grab handle fitted to the front mudguard so normal humans can actually get in. “It’s bloody ridiculous. Who the hell can reach them?” he says, pointing to the standard grabs prior our trip out with Rodney.

Rodney is your typical down-to-earth and welcoming Southland rural bloke and we’re off to a farm south of Nightcaps on the road to Otautau. It’s early spring and winter’s influence is still present on the paddocks, meaning it’s all guns blazing on the sowing front, but there are still soft spots lurking for the unwary.

The 1840 is a beast and easily clambers its way around the rolling countryside. “Yep, it’s a good machine,” says Rodney. “It’s a long way up, which is a bit of pain, but it goes well.”

Obviously, the truck sees the trickiest of situations in its line of work, and there are traditional forward-facing mirrors to cover bumpers on the off-side and front. Out back though, she’s all MirrorCam.

3) Driver Rodney Heenan’s been in farming his whole life, and gives MirrorCam a solid tick.

“The mirrors? Yes, once you get used to them, they’re great, especially in low light. They’re brilliant in low light – so much brighter than the ambient outside. That’s really handy down here.

“With less protruding, you don’t have as much to worry about in terms of clouting trees and things. And not having mirrors gives you more left-right clearance and more vision all around.

“The lines help you judge distances, but you also get a feel for it. The cameras are recessed into the wings, so you just need to give them a little clean-out now and then. But your vision is not as affected by dust and the like because the screen you’re looking at is on the inside with you.

“Probably the only thing is the flickering headlights on some cars. That’s probably it, really.”

The general consensus in rural-spreading in Southland, then? Toes still attached! MirrorCam is a pass.