Dump Trucks Are Winners
Regardless of climate, temperatures, working conditions, or weather, dump trucks have evolved into glamorous vehicles that help keep bids profitable.
Years ago, dump trucks tended to be rather simple machines. Their task was to haul away waste from projects. Drivers had to contend with lack of comfort, reliability, slow getting-up-to-speed, and safety. Dump trucks were frequently over-weighted, relatively smaller vehicles carrying waste to the dump site or sand and gravel to the work site. But that was years ago. Today’s dump trucks are much more comfortable, much more reliable, and much safer and legally carry much larger loads. In fact, today’s dump truck often plays a key role in ensuring on-time completion of the company’s share of day-to-day work and special projects. Also, thanks to these improvements, there is a lot more competition among drivers to be the ones who get to do the hauling.
|Drivers of new trucks can look forward to less shifting. |
Dealing With Extreme Differences in Sunlight and Temperature
Take for example Knelsen Rock Products up north in Grand Prairie, AB. For Knelsen, daylight peaks at 19 hours in the summer in this fairly flat country. Yet, even without mountains to interfere with sunlight, it takes until 9:30 a.m. to get light in the depths of winter, with darkness hitting around 5 p.m. Temperatures can range from 40 below on the Centigrade scale (also –40ºF) during winter with about a week and a half reaching a high of 20°C to 25(60ºF to 78ºF) in the summer. “At our busiest time we’ll have about 55 employees,” explains Ed Krahn, aggregate manager for Knelsen.
He notes these dramatic changes in light and hours make for a strong demand for dump truck drivers in warmer weather, with a reduction in force of about 20 people in winter. “We’re the largest company in the region to deal with municipal contracts. We pour concrete year-round. Last year we had six trucks, this year 30. This is an example of how fast we are growing,” Krahn says. But so is the region. Four years ago there were $60 million in building permits issued, but last year’s total came to $600 million.
|One consideration is the type of road a truck will be used on most often.|
A small fleet of Kenworth T300s helps his company keep up with this change of pace for the seasons as well as the dramatic growth of work won during an open bid season. Dump trucks play a strong role in helping Knelsen handle city contracts that include subdivision, complete with sidewalk construction and asphalt laying.
Speaking from 30 years’ experience, Krahn remembers how sluggish dump trucks were when he began operating them. Even on the flat terrain there was a lot of shifting, as well as much more time to reach legal speeds or even handle slower speeds at the construction site. He adds that today’s dump trucks are more agile than the older models.
“When we buy a new dump truck we look first of all at capacity, with maneuverability, visibility, driver comfort, and gear-ability also important factors. But keeping vehicle maintenance up to schedule is vital because we’ll put on 50,000 kilometers [31,500 miles] in a given year.
“Problems with driver error, such as cutting tires on a site, are low because we have a very good crew of drivers, and visibility is much improved when compared with older models,” Krahn says.
He notes that aftermarket equipment includes air conditioning and block heaters. “Midline Manufacturing supplies the box for our dump trucks. Kenworth handles all those details. When we get a new vehicle it’s ready to go to work. It comes with safety equipment, including beacons, proper backup alarms, flares, fire extinguishers, and first-aid equipment. We’ve never had a problem that required use of extinguishers or first-aid equipment, but we are prepared in case it happens.”
Theft is not a problem; simply locking the door on dump trucks is all that’s needed. A greater concern is getting seasonal drivers and keeping the turnover of year-round drivers at a minimum. “Our reputation makes it easy to get—and keep—good drivers. We get a lot of them because of driver comfort, good hours, and being home every night. Those factors also ensure drivers are in peak condition for the work, no matter what time of year it is,” Krahn concludes.
|Remember: Dump truck specifications depend on what area of the country you're working in. |
Advice for Spec’ing a Dump Truck
Brian Lindgren, vocational market sales director for Kenworth Truck Co., offers some principles to follow with buying a dump truck, regardless of the brand. He comments, “If you’re in the market for a dump truck, remember that specifications are very regionalized. What works in one area of the country may not work in another.”
First is the need to find length and weight limitations so you can take advantage of those laws to maximize payloads. Western states also have to comply with the Federal Bridge Formula, which greatly influences how the axles are set up and spaced. Where that federal requirement isn’t in effect, contractors can spec shorter and heavier trucks, which are more maneuverable on job sites.
Look also to the loads you expect to haul. You will need different chassis specs when hauling sand, gravel, or asphalt than if your company’s focus is on removing demolition debris. You also should consider whether the new dump truck will be negotiating rough job sites or doing most of its hauling on smooth gravel and sealed roads.
Lindgren agrees. “If you will be going off-road a lot, you need heavier-duty suspension and more articulation. But if you’re hauling long distances, you need to consider the tradeoff between the ease of dumping and the ability to haul more load per trip.”
He adds that one common mistake is spec’ing too much power. “You should get just enough horsepower to do the job. Generally, 350 to 400 horsepower is plenty. Extra horsepower just uses more fuel, puts more strain on the rest of the drivetrain, and adds to the price. Also, if you go with a smaller 12-liter block, you can save as much as 700 pounds over larger blocks,” he says. That, of course, means 700 pounds of extra weight can be used for the payload.
When it comes to transmissions, it’s best for smaller trucks to rely on simpler ones, those that have low enough gears to get out of a hilly job site yet have a high enough top gear to attain decent highway speeds. “But if you are hauling over 90,000 pounds, you should consider an 18-speed because you get much closer splits from bottom to top,” Lindgren advises.
For transmissions, he emphasizes axle ratios should be matched with the transmission so that engine speed is around 1,600 rpm at highway speed. Side-to-side differential locks make for better traction.
When operating off-road, proper air filtration is another must. The more expensive external air cleaners provide excellent filtration with low air restriction. “But, if you’re purchase-price conscious, go with an underhood filter with a pre-cleaner to remove large particles and much of the dust before they reach the filter,” Lindgren says.
He adds that when it comes to vehicle weight, weight savers may add to the purchase price. “You need to balance that against the gains you expect to make hauling more payload,” he says.
Other recommendations include using dual small gears for best turn performance and road feel. “Try to spec as much glass area as possible and plenty of mirrors. Large convex mirrors help you see around the truck in traffic, while adjustable flat mirrors make backing into a crowded job site a lot easier. Plus, most fleets replace at least one windshield side per truck per year. Two-piece flat-glass windshields with roped-in seals can be replaced in half an hour and can save thousands over the life of the dump truck,” Lindgren says.
The final consideration is to make sure the cab is driver-friendly. Plenty of cab space as well as reducing in-cab noise can cut perceived noise by almost 50%. “These options can dramatically reduce driver fatigue, which increases performance and safety when on the road or on the job site,” Lindgren concludes.
|Today's dump trucks are legally allowed to carry more than their predecessors. |
When it comes to dealing with many tasks—including pulling lowboys, operating mixers, performing construction dumps, mining, completing asphalt applications, and even snowplowing—a versatile dump truck can help keep costs down and improve the range of tasks contractors can successfully bid on.
“Our Work Star comes in seven different models,” says Vince Cerni, severe service marketing manager for International Truck and Engine. Models range from 33,000 to 80,000 gross vehicle weight. The lineup offers three different engines.
However, Cerni reports contractors may want to investigate International’s PayStar, which is a line of Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles. “This dump truck is good for heavy haul over the road yet can handle work in logging, oil field hauling needs, or simply placing Dumpsters where needed, and then hauling the full Dumpster and replacing it with another,” Cerini says.
As with other dump truck manufacturers, Cerni knows that visibility, heavy class windshields that offer improved visibility, a wide-track front axle that offers an improved cut, and dual power steering make for more safety and more comfort.
He notes, “International offers one of the largest cabs ergonomically designed to ensure drivers are comfortable. Our air-ride cab makes for a smoother ride, and we offer one of the fastest defrosters in the industry.” Air conditioning helps drivers keep cool no matter what the outside temperature is. He comments that the company’s dump truck security systems are so designed that when an unauthorized person attempts to make off with the vehicle, it simply shuts down. This means that individual can’t go anywhere—except possibly to the police station.
New on the Market
Perhaps the newest member of companies that include dump trucks in their manufacturing operations is Sterling. Company material explains that Freightliner LLC founded Sterling in 1998. That makes it a subsidiary of a well-known on-the-road brand of trucks hauling other things besides debris from the job site or bringing in material needed on the job site.
After less than nine years in operation, Sterling’s dump trucks can be found in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Right-hand drives are available for Australia and New Zealand.
Two dump truck lines that Sterling touts are its L-Line and the Acterra. The company reports the first line maximizes payload, uptime, durability, and driver comfort. The aluminum cab helps lighten the truck so the box can move more material around the job site as well as make maximum use of allowable gross vehicle weight. The L-Line is designed to meet the Federal Bridge Formula.
The Acterra is a medium-duty dump truck designed to handle big jobs. It includes a 350-horsepower engine and features options such as 120,000-psi frame, 46K tandem axles, and engines rated up to 350-horsepower.
Meanwhile, in California
For many, California’s relatively mild weather gives the state a great reputation. It doesn’t have the low temperatures of northern Alberta. It’s a place where rainfall is welcome—unless you’re on deadline for hauling off 500 loads of debris. Just ask Rob Varga, equipment manager for Ferma Corp., headquartered in Mountain View.
“Last June we had the contract to haul the debris from the teardown of Stanford Stadium, which was built in 1921,” he says. The task was removing 500 loads to help haul away the remains of the old 85,500-seat football stadium that was downsizing to 50,000 seats for an estimated cost of $90 million. Ferma won the contract, but it had to finish the work in two weeks. This was so Stanford would have the new stadium ready for grand opening scheduled for September 16, when the university and the Navy would settle on who is better at football.
Varga says, “The first week we worked from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on two shifts. With demolition you get a variety of debris that has to be sorted into wood debris, metal debris, and concrete debris. The dumping site was 15 miles away. Metal went to a yard, wood to a landfill, and concrete to a recycling place.”
Ferma is considered one of the leading demolition and general engineering firms in northern California. It has been in business since 1963, and has 125 employees. As with other successful operations that include dump trucks, the company keeps up with proper maintenance and has a system for replacing older dump trucks with new ones.
Photo: Knelsen Rock
|In the market for a dump truck? Consider capacity, maneuverability, visibility, driver comfort, and gear-ability.|
It also has a system for making the changeover more affordable. When the new dump truck arrives ready to go to work Ferma sells the older machines. Principal buyers are other contractors. “We get around $150,000 for Class 6 trucks and $300,000 for Class 8 trucks. But these are relatively new trucks because they average 35,000 miles and are just four to five years old. We try to keep up with the latest engine technology,” Varga says.
Varga adds that driver care coupled with the newest in technology helps keep them on the job instead of in the court. “Using the latest in technology helps with bidding.” Because Ferma tends to work in high-traffic areas, another goal is to do what it can to improve driver safety. “It’s in the vehicle we buy. Driver visibility is a big factor so we buy dump trucks that offer great visibility. This is one reason why most drivers have been with us quite a few years,” says Varga.
Varga reports the company has no aftermarket equipment. That’s because it decides what else is needed and orders the dump trucks accordingly. Once the trucks are in the fleet, the dealer comes out and adds in the desired equipment. Safety devices are part of the transaction. So are anti-theft devices such as LoJack, which functions as a global placement system. That device alerts the police department when the vehicle has been stolen. The receiver lets them know whether the vehicle is still on the work site or whether it’s heading down the highway.
He explains that the only vehicle Ferma has ever lost was over a Mother’s Day holiday. It didn’t have the clip, which typically is installed out of sight somewhere on the vehicle. On the positive side, that loss has made everyone in the company aware of the need to have all wheeled equipment to carry a clip. “They take just 15 to 20 minutes to install. It’s not an aftermarket item because part of the purchase price is to have the dealer come out to install them.
“We’ve been using clips for five years now, and theft prevention has helped us recover the expense of getting the LoJacks, which run $500 to $700, depending on the vehicle being fitted,” Varga says.
Still, theft prevention or not, the company had a lot of work ahead of it in order to make the hauls necessary for Stanford University to get prepared for the coming football season. This is where Kenworth comes in. In order to get 500 loads of debris hauled in 14 days, the company used 17 T800s, which were equipped with Caterpillar C15 and C1 435-horsepower engines, 13-speed transmissions, and 36,000-pound rear axles. The newest dump trucks come with 475-horsepower engines. Because the company works in tight places and contract size varies, the lineup includes three T300s, including two service vehicles and one flatbed.
Helping make the most out of the short time on the contract, Kenworth’s larger trucks pulled Ferma-designed debris trailers hauling from 65 to 70 yards of concrete per load. Varga emphasizes, “Another goal with our dump trucks is to improve carrying capacity with lighter cabs and frames, yet still handle the jobs we’ve taken on.”
That, along with hard work by everyone involved, is why Ferma figured hauling some 500 loads in a week would be no problem. Then three days after starting the haul the storm struck.
“The storm made things a little more difficult,” Varga admits. “Soil at the stadium is kind of a silty clay, which tends to hold water.” But, instead of seeking an extension on the project, Ferma changed its hauling strategy. The weatherized asphalt track around the perimeter of the stadium was still in place. So the dump trucks used the tracks to reach the debris. The last debris to be hauled out was done so three days ahead of the deadline. That made for a happy customer, and the only way for a company to stay in business is to have a base of happy customers.
The construction work followed the footprint of the older stadium. This helped the university see that it would be finished in time for the opening game. But even with the new stadium, the grand opening wasn’t so grand for the Stanford team. The Navy beat them 37 to 9.
Author's Bio: Journalist Joseph Lynn Tilton specializes in land and building issues.