Outback Adventures

A far western New South Wales cattle, sheep and goat station has invested in a new Kenworth T659 featuring Dana’s ultra-robust D52-190 drive axle set with a full-time lube pump on the forward carrier.

The weights are substantial, the distances vast and the sparsely vegetated desert landscape swelters under summer temperatures that can see the mercury reaching up to 50C.

The combination of these three factors can play havoc with a trucking operation that’s not suitably equipped for the task.

But for Nundooka Station near Broken Hill and their new Kenworth T659, specified with the heavy-duty complete Dana Spicer package – D2000F steer axle, D52-190 tandem drive axle with dual diff locks, SPL250 driveline and front and rear drum brakes – it’s all in a day’s work.

This is far western New South Wales where only the tough survive and home to Nundooka Station’s owner, Mark O’Connor, for his entire life.

“I was born and raised about 70km east of Tibooburra in the far northwest of the state where my father owned a block of land,” Mark explains. “Then we shifted to a property south of Tibooburra in 1973 and we bought Nundooka Station, where we are now, in 1982.”

For the average city slicker, the description of a ‘block’ of land might conjure up thoughts of a quarter acre, but seasoned outback dwellers like Mark O’Connor tend to have a vastly different perspective. Mark and his wife actually own three properties.

In addition to Nundooka Station, which covers 85,000 hectares (210,040 acres) north of Broken Hill, they also own two ‘small’ properties comprising an 8,903 hectare (22,000 acre) parcel adjoining the Bogan River south of Brewarrina where they run cattle, along with 750 hectares (1,853 acres) of farming land at Ouyen near Mildura in northwest Victoria.

With its relatively high annual rainfall, the Ouyen farm is used to grow hay for the livestock raised on Nundooka Station and at Brewarrina, with two Kenworths – a T658 and the new T659 – employed to cart the hay a distance of around 500km between the properties. Another primary duty for the Kenworths is stock carting – including cattle, sheep and goats – where the animals are transported in convertible 4×2 stock crates that can carry either two decks of cattle or four decks of sheep or goats.

“We subby for livestock haulier Yunta Transport in South Australia which is owned by Craig Dillon and this keeps our new Kenworth pretty busy,” Mark explains. “Craig also helps us out if we have more than one roadtrain load of our own livestock to transport at the one time.”

Mark owns two sets of B-double stock crates and a dolly which he says provides ultimate versatility as they can also be mixed and matched in a variety of combinations including double roadtrain and AB triple. As such, the driver of the new Kenworth, Mikey Brown, gets plenty of practice hooking and unhooking to form the various combinations.

“We have a Truck Art 4×2 B-double set that we bought new in 2018 and a Byrne set we’ve owned since 2005,” Mark says – adding that Truck Art did a great job of listening to what he wanted and providing exemplary attention to detail in the build.

Bernie, Mark and Lisa O’Connor.

Turning to the trucks, Mark says he has had a terrific run from his 12-year-old Kenworth T658 – also fitted with Dana 52-190 drive axles – which left him in no doubt that the new T659 should be similarly equipped.

Mark’s history with Kenworth trucks actually stretches back to a 1976 model SAR that he owned and drove in earlier times, and he believes the T65 series is a natural progression from the original SAR.

“Prior to buying the T658 I asked some Kenworth people their opinion on the best model to buy and they told me that of all the Kenworth models the T65s had the least amount of warranty work carried out on them,” he says.

“That model has been around since 1987 and considering the engineering and testing that has gone into it, I don’t think you can go past it.”

It’s a similar story with the Dana rear end, with Mark saying the 52-190 tandem drive set in the T658 has provided sterling service and he expects the same from the new truck.

He tells the story of deciding to replace the diff centres in the T658 at 1.6 million kilometres and being amazed that they still looked as good as new.

“We are the fourth owner of that truck and it had done triple roadtrain work for much of its life before we bought it,” Mark says. “But when we pulled the diff centres out, they looked as though they could easily do another 1.6 million kilometres. I think we wasted our dough changing them out, to be honest.”

The keys to such a trouble-free long life are in the design and metallurgy, both of which Dana has perfected over many, many years of building some of the most rugged rear axles to handle the toughest of applications in heavy-duty trucking the world over.

For instance, the D52-190 has extra-wide faced gear teeth and super-duty bearings for maximum durability in high weight/ high torque applications. It also comes with a selection of ratios proven to be ideal for Australia’s higher GCM applications, making the job easier, safer and more user friendly.

Mark chose the 4.78 ratio for the new truck as he and his driver were happy with that ratio in the T658.

“The T658 has 4.78 ratio diffs which puts the revs up a bit at 100km/h but because Mikey does some triple and a fair bit of double roadtrain work, we both agree this is the ideal ratio for that sort of hard yakka, and so we ordered the new T659 with the same ratio,” he explains.

Not all components on both trucks are the same though, and Mark mentions that the new truck rides on Hendrickson PRIMAAX EX PAX 522 (52,000lb) air suspension as opposed to the T658’s Six-Rod mechanical suspension.

“Stock carters love the Six-Rod suspension because it stands up well in the corners, but we reckon this Hendrickson airbag does the job just as well and we needed to go down the airbag path because of all the various road regulations,” Mark says. “It’s also a lot friendlier on the driver, truck and the stockcrate – a rough back end rattles the crap out of the gates, ramps and other movable parts on the crates.”

Other features of the new T659, that was delivered by Mildura Truck Centre, are a Cummins X15 SCR E5 engine producing 550hp and 2,050lb/ft of torque feeding into a manual shift 18-speed Eaton RTLO 22918B transmission.

The truck also has some ‘old-school’ cool touches including red spider wheel hubs with white steel rims and matching red painted cylindrical steel fuel tanks on both sides, blending nicely with the traditional looking white cab sporting a 50-inch high-rise Aerodyne sleeper.

Bendigo-based Trans Air & Electrics worked their magic on the truck, equipping it with an Icepack ES air conditioner, with the power unit mounted beside large upright custom toolboxes with twin doors on a rugged steel rack behind the cab. They also fitted a set of heavy-duty rubber roadtrain guards over the drive wheels and a water tank with a slide-out tap.

Inside the 50-inch sleeper resides a microwave oven in a custom-built cupboard, a TV, Bushman 50-litre upright fridge and a Redarc 2,000W pure sine wave inverter.

All up, Mark says he couldn’t be happier with his new Dana driven Kenworth and its complete Dana package with full-time lube pump.

He says he is keen to see how well this setup works keeping the front diff cooler during the forthcoming summer months, as it also incorporates an air-to-oil cooler in front of the radiator through which the oil is pumped in a circuit to and from the forward diff carrier.

Meanwhile, Mark’s son is getting close to being able to gain his MC licence and the plan is that he will drive the older T658 when this is accomplished. “I think Danas are very good diffs and the run we’ve had from our T658 is phenomenal,” Mark says. “They’ve kept that truck on the road doing what it needs to do – making us money – and I’m expecting a similar run from the new T659.”

Nundooka Station’s Kenworth T659 is tested regularly in rugged desert conditions.