Ride the High Country
Smart investments are imperative for subcontractors who operate commercial vehicles in construction for major transport organisations. Dean Carr, a veteran of the concrete sector, understood this when he recently purchased a new Western Star prime mover which has had an immediate positive impact on his business.
In summer when the fierce northerly takes hold, locals in Bacchus Marsh don’t mistake the swirling sand above the quarries for smoke despite the threat of bushfire.
The area is parched to a cinder and as the gusting wind is playing havoc with the dust visibility is reduced.
Low lying properties located flush against the encroaching bushland stand little to no chance in the path of a fire front should one spark in the Lerderderg Gorge. Most locals, in light of this recent heatwave, are aware of this as the threat for now persists.
The region, as dry as it is this time of year, is perhaps better known for its market gardens and orchards, and for Dean Carr, a subcontractor at Hanson, it’s long been home.
After sandpits were discovered along Gisborne Road during the 1970s most of the big players in concrete and construction, names like Boral, Mountain View and Hanson, soon followed with operations.
Each maintains excavations at sites nearby, an hour journey west of the city for those coming from Melbourne.
Huge loads of sand are destined for civil engineering and infrastructure projects in the metropolitan region where Dean, who has purchased a Western Star 4800FXC tipper with a BTE aluminium body, will often find himself dispatched.
He has had the Western Star just over a week. It’s his first.
The three-axle dog trailer is built to PBS specification and the sloped bonnet houses a Detroit DD-15 inline six-cylinder engine.
Previous to the Western Star he owned another American prime mover for close to 11 years.
Having arrived at the decision to purchase a new commercial vehicle required weighing up body builds, engine warranties and a host of other pros and cons.
Eventually, as passed by the Westar dealership in Derrimut – a location familiar to him after hundreds of trips over the years – he ventured inside.
“I’d been told by two colleagues that Western Stars were very good trucks and that at the very least I should have a look at one. So I did,” Dean says. “They seemed to be a superior build, put together probably how trucks should be put together.”
Despite sacrificing some payload on the heavier Western Star, the exterior components have, for those like Dean actively pursuing greater longevity in their equipment, been assembled and fitted with robust design.
“You can see it in the plumbing. A lot of thought and care has gone into all the major airlines. Everything is bracketed up well,” he says. “There’s just that superior finish that my last truck didn’t have. There’s a difference in price but at the end of the day the Western Star stands up to the task much better.”
When Dean, 59, decided he still had a few good years left as a driver, he was left to determine whether it was worth keeping up the good standards of the old truck or whether he invested additional capital to insure it had some resale value. A new truck, it was decided, would see him out.
“I’m sacrificing payload to ensure when it comes time to sell it, it’s basically the same unit just with more kilometres,” he says. “The end of life of this product is a long way off.”
As it required a 4.5 metre body, the Western Star 4800 was sourced from Sydney. With the longer wheelbase it measures, according to Dean, at 5.6 metres in length making it substantially larger than his previous ride.
But it’s no less manoeuvrable, if anything, he gets into the tight spots better, with vehicle access sacrificed often at concrete plants in the interest of maximising facility capacity onsite.
“We cart finished product into subdivisions for Hanson’s on behalf of their customers. At first, I thought manoeuvrability might be compromised with the longer wheelbase given some of the places I have to get into but there was no problem,” he says. “Concrete plants aren’t known for their generosity of space for tipping but given the agility of the Western Star that hasn’t been an issue at all.”
Although employed as a long-time casual for Hanson, Dean works most days notwithstanding a major downpour of rain, which will affect the schedule given the nature of the material he is working with.
“They keep us going every day and they are very good to work for,” he says. “It’s been five years now.”
According to Dean diesel is in the blood. His father, Bob Carr, also worked in concrete, having operated a tipper for many years.
Dean got his start with Don Watson Transport, a major interstate transport company, working his way up to operations manager before entering construction. He was officially 18 when he drove his first truck.
Unofficially, like many others raised in and around the road transport industry, he got to learn about them in the yard and through the other drivers as a teenager, the type of exposure envied by newcomers to the industry in this day and age.
“Don Watson was a great ambassador for young drivers and incredibly supportive to me when I was learning about the industry,” Dean says.
The first truck he was driving was a Ford 700 with single axle tip trailer.
Although Dean has driven an array of commercial vehicles, he has a special affinity for American prime movers.
In order to facilitate the extra payload on the Western Star 4800 FXC he needed to get it approved by Performance-Based Standards.
He currently has the permit but is waiting to get access on the network of local shire and council roads.
A general access permit, he says, will allow him to increase payload to 49.5 tonne.
With dual stacks, the Western Star according to Dean is discreet even when fully loaded, working between Werribee and the Hanson quarry in Bacchus Marsh.
“Even without having the sleeper on it I reckon it would be super quiet,” he says. “With the windows up you can hardly hear it running.”
Dean approves of the in-cab vision which he considers exceptional. Quaking under heavy load is minimal.
“In some trucks when you look into the passenger mirror you can’t see anything because of the vibration. There’s no squeaks or rattles in the vehicle. I’m not on the highway all the time and getting into some of the crossovers can be pretty rough,” he says. “The suspension works a treat. It’s been spec’d with cross-locks and diff-locks on all axles.”
Despite calling himself a “casual” driver who avoids, where he can, having to put too much effort into operating the truck, Dean opts for a manual gearbox.
The Detroit engine naturally suits his style as it less thirsty down low.
“I’ve got one thing in mind and that’s to get as much out of it as possible with fuel economy,” he says. “My thinking is long term. I don’t want to have to do anything to it over the weekend if I can help it where you might have to fix something.”
Dean says he was attracted to the Detroit engine and the market-leading warranty package that came with it.
It’s an extremely competitive offering for a subcontractor in his position with little interest in the mid-life cycle of a bigger engine which might mean a heavy outlay of capital on an extended warranty.
“Even with a few kilometres on a Detroit motor I know operators who have sent them to Penske Power Systems to have some work done on them and, when it’s ready, Penske will just hand them the keys, no squabbling. It’s done,” he says. “Detroit has a good name and I know a lot of people with Detroit engines who swear by them.”
He adds, “That swayed me a fair bit.”
Since he bought the Western Star, he’s had in his own words, “a heap of people have climbed over it” to examine the interior. He’s rapt with the finish and the build provided by BTE.
“I’m really pleased with it. It looks great. I’ve received a lot of enthusiastic comments about it. Most ask how long I’ve had the truck for and where I got it from,” he says.
While working with Hanson it’s important to have a vehicle up to speed. Most modern outfits require new equipment to the latest performance and safety standards. Dean expects it will be his last truck.
“I think it will see me out. But when I sell it it’ll have plenty of years of work left in it,” he says. “I didn’t have any second thoughts on buying it.”