TOWN AND COUNTRY

In Tests, April 2021, DAF33 MinutesBy Dave McCoid

Look at most fleets and you’ll find trucks pitched at specific roles. And then there are those jewels that can jump in to help out whoever’s under the pump. Rainbow Park Nurseries has just added a new CF-410 Euro-6 6×2 DAF to its operation, and its intended destiny is to be that all-round hero. The questions are: has Rainbow Park gone out on a limb, and is there truly such a truck?


A crisp sunny Sunday morning and we’re inside the gates of Rainbow Park Nurseries in the South Auckland semi-rural hamlet of Ramarama, at the base of the Bombay Hills.

The best way to describe the nursery is essentially 10 hectares of vibrant, happy, green life. New Zealand Trucking encountered the owners and admin staff the week before, and our immediate impression was “happy people, happy place”. Jenny in reception greeted us at the desk, and she was like a sunflower, and then we were introduced to founder Peter Tayler, who after enquiring about what it was we wanted, then got really excited. He, in turn, pointed us at his son and general manager, Andrew Tayler, who was even more enthused. As it turns out, he’s in charge of the fleet because he has a closet enthusiasm for trucks and the fleet that distributes the nursery’s beautiful products.

Anyway, back to the present, and here we are in the dispatch building, and who’s loading greenery into the rear of the company’s brand-new Euro-6 DAF CF-410? None other than Rod Gunson.

Readers who have been with us for a few autumn prunings will remember the road test ‘Addo’ and Trev did in the February 1988 issue on Rod’s Hino FY 50.36, set up as a specialist unit to cart horses. And no, you read right, this is not the son or nephew of that Rod Gunson. Some 33 years later, this is Rod himself at 75 years old (going on 35), still trucking strong, still with a pair of striped rugby socks pulled up to mid-shin.

“This is a bloody retirement holiday this job,” he laughs. Yet another happy ‘Rainbower’.

We’ll investigate the detail of the Gunson recipe for longevity later. But, for the moment, our first impression as to why Rod believes driving for Rainbow Park Nurseries is a retirement holiday was the smell. This has to be the loveliest- smelling load of freight we’ve  ever encountered.

What’s more, the lovely scent emanating from the load isn’t likely to be impinged upon by the belching behemoth beneath the floorboards of the truck delivering it.

Nestled between the rails under Rod is DAF’s 10.8-litre MX-11 motor in Euro-6 trim. A modest wee motor by today’s big-truck standards and sporting a tail-pipe cleaner and more pristine than any human can boast.

The last truck in this league we sampled was the MAN TGS 26.440 driven by Richard Seeley for The Moving Company. It was a 10.5-litre and popped out a robust 324kW (440hp), running at weights of about 36 tonnes. The MX-11 in the Rainbow DAF produces 308kW (410hp), but it’s available as a 330kW (450hp) if that’s your buzz. Gross weights in Rainbow’s case sit about the 33-tonne mark on a heavy day — suffice to say Rod’s running a shade lighter than Richard, generally speaking. If we take those numbers as a yardstick, Richard runs at about 9.0kW (12.1hp)/tonne, and Rod 9.3kW (12.5hp)/ tonne; if two of the happiest blokes in linehaul ever met on the Taihape Divi, she’d be game-on in the battle of beds and sofas vs begonias and snapdragons.

The DAF in a sea of life. Photo: Southpac Trucks.

Plant it!

But the two trucks do diverge when it comes to the purchaser’s intent. The Moving Company’s Mark Pitcher bought his Büssing lion (MAN) for line haul, plain and simple, whereas Andrew Tayler hasn’t quite finished tending his truck garden yet. The CF’s weekly agenda is a line-haul run to Otaki on a Sunday with product bound for the South Island. There, Rod swaps loads with South Island growers at a shared depot. The load home is usually a mixture of plant material and the occasional bits and pieces of horticultural and rural freight for delivery on the way back up on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are filled in with metro and regional deliveries around Auckland, Northland and the Waikato. On Thursday and Friday, he normally heads for the BOP and Taupo, with a dash over the hill to Napier and Hastings. There are six trucks in the Rainbow fleet, so it’s a dynamic schedule based on demand; he could just as easily end up in Taranaki if needed. (We didn’t ask if he’s taken flowers to Tikitiki on the far East Cape, where he got the ponies from in the mag all those years ago, although we suspect not.)

As you can see, it’s a mixture of town and country. But shortly to arrive is the last piece of the puzzle —the line-haul specialist. There’s a CF-530 Euro-6 in the wings that will take the bulk of the line-haul work. It will have the 13-litre Euro-6 at 390kW (530hp), is a 6×4, and sports a bigger house. That’ll leave the 410 to assume the ‘I’ve got this!’ sweeper roll, or, I guess you could say ‘groundcover’ to use nursery vernacular.

   Left: Approaching ‘The Wall’ on the desert road. Right: Rod Gunson in his office.

13’s a lucky number if you’re 11

The greatest asset the 11-litre has is actually its big brother — the 13-litre. What we mean by that is people like Southpac salesman Mitchell Redington can sell his client Andrew Tayler the 11-litre powered truck, pitching it right at jobs where it’s going to blossom, leaving the bigger jobs for its bigger brother. Before you counter with arguments like Mack’s Maxi, Thermo, and Econodyne family of engines all coped on the big jobs at 11-odd litre displacement, don’t forget a loaded 5-axle HPMV trailer now weighs not a hell of a lot less than the entire unit did back in the day. As we and many have said before, there’s something in displacement. A 13-litre feels and does things differently than an 11-litre, and the 15-16 litre big-boppers are their own thing again, even if on paper the power and torque numbers look similar-ish.

If you think about it, in the era of HPMV, the 13-litre today is the motor the 11 was 40 years ago.

Our belief is if you are going to poke 11 litres at today’s bigger weights, we reckon not signing a maintenance plan is as risky as a cactus La-Z-Boy.

The Oxygen-liner

Rod’s loading his new interim gig when we arrive. Many people would have a face like they’ve just smelled a fart in an aeroplane about working on Sunday, but not this trooper. We were intrigued to know how plants are transported, and as we approached, there certainly weren’t any chains, twitches or AusBinders lying around.

It turns out that plant people seriously have their act together. Essentially, securing the load is similar

to the old Foodstuffs trolley cages, although they have a full complement of wheels with no need for a wheeled ‘jigger’ to get the solid end moving. The trolleys have fully adjustable and relocatable shelving, so tiny, small, medium, big, and ‘Wow, that’s a doozy’-sized plants can be accommodated.

But wait, there’s more. The back of the truck is a cross between a curtain- sider and a reefer. There are double the number of poles to what you’d usually find in a standard curtain unit, and there are cross-bars that run across the deck from side to side as well as ones that link the side poles. It all forms cute little pens that the cages sit in. Funny, no matter what the living thing is, in a truck, you put it in pens.

We’re still not done either. The system is not proprietary to Rainbow Park; it’s a NZ Plant Producers Incorporated industry solution known as the NZPPI trolley system. It runs on the old one-for-one, meaning deliver five full ones, take away five empties. They also collapse, so they take up a lot less room on the homeward journey.

What all this efficiency means is we were out of ‘Dodge’ at 9.00am, under an hour and a half after arriving, even though the staging lanes with Rod’s load seemed to have a fair bit in them. That loading time included loading some pallets with plants too big for the cage system. They just get treated to a light plastic wrapping, which as we know is the truckie’s best friend.

Looking at the load on the deck before Rod pulled the curtains was inspiring — the Oxygen-liner you might say.

Out the gate and all roads lead south, and the power- to-weight was instantly  apparent. The CF-410 rolled south with ease and looked fantastic. The Rainbow Park Nurseries livery is a classy, well-thought-out affair. Until recently, there was a lot more white and lighter green, but the new edition gets a dark slate colour dominating the lower half and white the top, with green leaf motifs on the cab and body at the junction of the base colours. Then there’s the ‘Enrich with Nature’ and ‘Rainbow Park Nurseries’ logos in the white sections. It all looks great and speaks to the relationship between earth, plants and sky.

“Andrew loves the trucks and he’s fastidious with them,” says Rod. Yep, that shows!

The Euro-6 DAF adds to the classy look, too, mind. It’s a typical 2021 Euro sporting a dominating and deep grille. With the big aero kit, it might be better off with a slightly chunkier bumper just to balance the top’s visual weight, but there’s no question the new DAFs are light years ahead of their predecessors in looks.

   
Rod wheels an NZPPI trolley on board. Snug as bugs in rugs.

Shhh… DAFs at work

The above is a play on a sign we saw in a plant shop years ago, but the analogy is accurate. The CF-410 Euro-6 is one of the quietest trucks we’ve ever encountered, whether inside or out. Parked in Waiouru, we all stood around on a ‘balmy’ 8°C autumn afternoon, drinking coffee and looking at the idling truck. To be frank, you heard more from the random sparrows braving the wind- chill than you could through the grille. Somewhere in there was a little diesel burner barely making a sound as it ticked over. Inside, trundling along, it recorded a new low on the sound thingy at 63dB. The spec sheet says the cab is trimmed in a sound-absorbing inner lining… Yes, it is isn’t it?

“Yell out if it’s too noisy; I’ll turn it down,” said Rod in typical Gunson style. He then laughed out loud.

One thing DAF has retained in the new model is the sense of space. When we tested the Waitomo CF-85 back in November 2017, we commented on the brightness and airiness of the day cab, and that’s been carried over superbly. It’s an incredibly airy open cab for a low roof. You seem to sit low with the big screen affording fantastic visibility. Being a CF, the 410 has an engine tunnel protrusion at roughly seat- squab height. The fridge sits up in the middle, and the bed’s on top of that; mattress height is about halfway up the seat backs. Rod sleeps in the truck on Otaki nights by choice and says it’s more than comfortable.

The low roof means no standing room, but the 530, when it comes, will address that. Storage is limited, especially when line-haul duties call. There are no lockers in the top of the sleeper back wall; maybe one down the feet end might be handy? Stow shelves with net restraints are front and overhead, there is a caddy and cup holder on the engine tunnel, and under- bunk lockers, the left one accessible from the outside. You’re always on a winner with left-hand outside locker openings. In Europe, you can say it’s right there and handy for the driver. In New Zealand, you can say it’s a safety thing and keeps the driver on the shoulder of the road if he needs to stop in transit.

The trim and materials are fine, with a more fleet-spec feel than the Redington XF. However, they are still very classy in slate-coloured vinyls… oops sorry, ‘Dark Sand’ is the colour. The fascia front is grey and black plastic, and the floorcovering is in a durable vinyl compound.

The ride was as serene as you could make it. Funny, you think about how noisy, bumpy, crushed, and close air travel can be, and then you sit in here, and they argue flying’s glamorous? Give me a break.

We like the DAF dash, the flow, the lines — all in tune with the curvy nature of the truck. It’s a far better indoor/ outdoor union of design than the previous model.

There’s a binnacle/wrap combo with the binnacle housing the odometer and tachometer gauges and above them temp and fuel. DEF level is via a digital silo beside the fuel gauge.

There’s a readout related to speed controls under the odometer, and under the tachometer is gear selection stuff. Between the gauges is the trip, load, driver, truck, diagnostics, adjustable via a dash-mounted knob.

The smart wheel is furnished with phone and volume on the left and velocity management on the right. The left wand is the indicator, wipers and dip, and the manual shifter and auxiliary brake are on the right. To the right of the binnacle are the lights and to the left, the park brake.

The wrap has a standard tuner – no-infotainment – with switchgear in configurable clusters, climate management, oddment caddy, and our old friend the famous DAF ‘turny dial’ direction controller. We love that dial. Simple is good, isn’t it?

Interior light switches and other bits and pieces are on the end of the central console, and the old ‘Charlie Baker’ sits overhead of the driver.

It’s a DAF CF-410, so even Monty Python’s Black Knight could access the cab without an issue via the three steps, and there are enough grab handles to perform an Olympic pommel-horse routine on the way in.

Don’t, stop me now

“The trucks are 6×2, and that’s what we were advised originally, and we’ve always just stuck with that,” said Andrew Tayler. That’s great advice. Firstly you get more of your 308kW of power to play with because there’s only a single diff being fed. There’s less tare weight, less bits that can break, and that all adds up to higher payload, less rolling resistance, and hopefully, less fuel burned. It’s all a no brainer. James Shaw and Julie Anne Genter couldn’t be anything but over the moon.

Of course, the Europeans have known all this for years and think we’re a bunch of cave-dwelling loonies for our 6×4 obsession. But the coming 530 is a 6×4. What’s happened to induce a switch back to old and ‘out of date’ ways?

Two things, really. Pull- trailers and shit-house roads. We could have added light payloads, but that hasn’t been an issue historically in this company, so we’re not including it at the moment. Up until now, when the Rainbow trucks left port with a trolley in tow, it was an 8.5m simple trailer. Light payload or not, there was enough weight on the back of the truck from the trailer to allow the drive tyres to maintain speed and position. You might say the trailer was a helpmate to the truck. With the new truck came a ‘refurbished’ Fruehauf 10.5m pull-trailer to cope with the increasing volumes of work, and that’s changed the game a tad. Now the trailer just hangs off the back like a freeloader, and all of a sudden the 7-tonne payload spread along the truck’s length may not always be enough to facilitate progress in the drive department given the disgrace that is the state of the national highway surfaces.

We were lucky enough to have a demonstration on the Mangaweka Deviation southbound, evidently the third time it’s cropped up. Following a relatively clear afternoon, a skiff of rain came through the big cutting and sat on the patch-repaired/ overly smooth, warm road surface. Five minutes later, Rod came round the mountain as the song goes, and shall we say, forward motion was but for a moment ‘impaired’.

“We’ve never had it before, but the pull trailer creates a different dynamic. Suffice to say, the new truck will be a 6×4,” said Andrew.

Yep, we get that, but what stopped him wasn’t actually the truck or the trailer. The DAF was well up the climb when things went pear- shaped. What really stopped him was the surface, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, so it’s a case of simple trailers, guaranteed weather, or two diffs.

Into Otaki for the load swap with a Headford Propagators Isuzu that had come north.

“These insulated curtains are heavier than the singles,” said Rod.

Hang on. Insulated curtains? I thought we were full of plants, not popsicles. Yes, just like a flower, horticultural logistics is the gift that keeps on giving. The curtains are there more for heat than cooling, though. Plants are living things, and like us, they don’t like being too cold. When it does get a bit ‘brrrrr’, like us again, they want the heater on. Therefore, the DAF is fitted with a Webasto heater, a closed-loop water circuit and a couple of blowers, all to keep the occupants at their preferred 12°C, or above.

An overnight rest, and north we went. The DAF’s a lovely ride and very sure-footed. It’s got all the DAF ride characteristics of old that we liked — that Euro- US crossover thing, soft but slightly more communicative than some of the other Euro offerings. We didn’t quite get it in the Redington XFs; we thought they swung slightly more Euro than the previous XF did.

Rod said the big 385/55 R22.5 front feet improved the ride and handling over the CF-75 he drove previously and rates the front-end set-up of the new truck highly.

The MX-11 is a such a likeable engine. Peak power of 300kW (410hp) occurs at 1600rpm and the torque peak of 2100Nm (1550lb/ ft) runs between 900 and 1125rpm. As is seen with smaller motors the peaks don’t quite meet, but when the lines cross torque is a hair under 1800Nm (1328lb/ ft). At the weights Rainbow Park runs, it’s tenacious, and harking back for giggles and comparison, the Mack Econodyne (298kW) 400hp in the day had a peak torque of 1980Nm (1460lb/ft). So at cross over in the new truck it’s still pretty handy numbers.

Rod also lets it do its thing in terms of the engine’s relationship with the ZF-TraXon 12-speed AMT.

“No I just leave it in auto. Clever people put it all together. It gets along good as gold.”

There’s little argument the TraXon is one of the leading-edge European auto-shifters, and in the 410 it was a silky and slick as ever.

Out back is a solitary DAF SR1344 differential with diff-lock, and behind that a DAF air-controlled trailing axle. Rear suspension is proprietary 8-bag ECAS and brakes are disc.

When it was launched Southpac’s general sales manager Richard Smart said there’d be no compromise to the safety package in the new range so spec’ing your CF without the accruements of personal and public preservation is not an option. But that’s all good because Rod’s a hip and groovy 75-year-old and uses all that’s available, although he admits to being slighty unnerved the first time it stopped itself. (We all were mate, she’s all good.)

The only thing he doesn’t like as much in this machine is the engine/exhaust brake combo, and he says the 75 had a retarder, and there wasn’t really any comparison. Of course, that’s another area where the smaller engine won’t foot it and displacement counts. It’s one of those things you can throw tech at all you like, but physics is physics.

The first climb out of Waiouru northbound was tapped out at 1350rpm, in 10th gear, and 51kph. We had a mixed bag on from the South Island and were probably only 30-odd tonne all up. Further up the road, Hatepe was spat out the back at 1300rpm, ninth, and 42kph.

Self-pruning

Four days later, we meet Rod in the DAF’s other guise, which is quite remarkable. On Sunday, it looked for all the world like a line-haul truck, and because of loading and clever spec, easily able to keep its place in the SH1 Sunday procession south. Now, on Thursday, in the middle of Hamilton, it’s zipping to Mitre 10, Bunnings, and various garden centres, and you’d swear black and blue it was just another tail- gate-adorned metro delivery wagon. Only the sleeper would really hint at Bruce Wayne really being Batman.

The 6×2 configuration and great lock means Rod can zip and zap, tailgate up and down, and trolleys rolled on and off.

“I like talking to people as I do the drops. Generally, they’re helpful and enjoy a bit of yarn,” said Rod. Community in commerce, whatever happened? Oh, that’s right … compliance.

The truck’s fitted with a ZEPRO tail lift and the trailer a Dhollandia, this mismatch on account the trolley was a going concern at the time of purchase. It’s a wonderful set- up. Line-haul it, park it, back up to it, trans-ship it, deliver it. Done.

If you’re still on the fence about whether this cross-pollination of purpose in a modest payload environment using an 11-litre displacement thing works, then let us fire one more at you. How about 3.69kpl (10.41mpg) life-to-date average consumption? If you don’t receive the brown ‘windowed’ envelopes early in the month (actually, does anyone get those anymore?), then you’ll just sneer and move on. If you do, we’d imagine you’re reaching for the calculator and asking the other half if they still dream of an Italian holiday.

Summary

The DAF CF-410 Euro-6 at modest GCMs is a truck that’s equally as happy traversing the void between the main centres as it is in the guts of the CBD delivering and loading.

If you’re dealing with big payloads, it’s going to be close to impossible to do the town and country thing; you need bags of strength and oodles of thrust to meet ferries, booking times, and deal with our absurd driving hours law.

But specifying new trucks really becomes a head- scratch when the weight on the back doesn’t ‘rock the boat’. One look at Rainbow Park Nurseries tells you there’s no shortage of business acumen and thought at the top.

It’s therefore no surprise that this DAF works. The engine has plenty of power for purpose, it’s miserly on fuel, it’s as comfortable as a Club Med recliner, and you can poke it anywhere you like.

Yes, there have been some lessons learnt about trailers and traction, but we’ll argue to the end that if the pavement were fit for purpose, the 6×2 would probably be fine even with the pull-trailer, especially with such an old head up front who knows where weight should and shouldn’t be.

There’s no question the incoming 530 will swing the pendulum more toward the pure line-haul side in terms of fit, and although nothing will ever impede its progress, we can’t help but think that the little CF-410 will end its days as the truck that everyone loved. The truck that grew or self-pruned as required, got the job done, and cost a pittance to run.

That 530 — it’s going to have to be good!

Quick reads from the Test