Monsters of the Outback… Road Trains

Have you driven Australia’s remote outback roads?

Long and seemingly endless, they’re bordered by an expanse of bush vegetation that imperceptibly changes until there’s a sudden realisation you’re driving through a different vegetation zone.

Image: Open road Australia

(More endless outback road images can be had in my Barkly Tablelands post ;) )

Some might call the landscape monotonous, but sitting back at the wheel of your vehicle of choice, free of any manic city traffic, it’s an amazing experience taking in the immense vast nothingness that lies ahead of you… falls away beside you… and disappears over that conquered horizon behind you…

*sigh*

Until, that is, when glancing up at your rear view mirror to enjoy that disappearing horizon line you’re confronted by the sight of…

this monster looming down on you.

Image: road train

Its only a truck, (you tell yourself) but it approaches like a tornado, feeling as though its tearing up the tarmac as it travels at the max, which for road trains in NSW, Qld & SA is 90 kph.

You on the other-hand are trundling along at 80 kph to take in the scenery and soak up the view ~ He’s at work, you’re at play.

There’s a bristling when next glancing up at the mirror -

Is he maybe trying to tell you something?

Image: Road train

Can he seriously get any closer without joining you in your cab?

Pulling a 6 berth motor-home over onto an outback gravel shoulder at 80 kph isn’t really an option, and applying the breaks (to slow down sufficiently to tackle this manoeuvre)  doesn’t seem like too good an idea either, with 100 tons of rolling stock sitting on your tail :/

So you focus on the road ahead to keep steady.

Gripping the steering wheel to hold the vehicle firm, you’re suddenly aware of a sucking sensation.

A feeling that the steering wheel is being taken over by a demon fighting with you to veer the vehicle into the opposite lane where out of the driver’s window the passing road monster has pulled level :(

Image: road train passing

Hanging on for dear life, you withstand the vortex that desperately tries to suck you into their space with mere centimetres separating you, as you both thunder at what feels like break-neck speed, when…

relief!

 

Phew! He’s gone ;)

 

With white knuckles regaining some colour, you settle back to enjoy the view that lies ahead of you… falls away beside you… and disappears over that conquered horizon behind you…

 

Road Train

 

While road monsters are found in some states of America, Mexico and Canada (known as  Long Combination Vehicles ~ LCVs), Australia has the largest legal limit – some topping 200 tonnes, although 80 – 120 tons is the norm. Some have up to four trailers, reaching 55 metres in length.

Rivalry in Australia for driving the longest road train started in…

  • 1989, when a trucker by the name of  ’Buddo’ pulled a record 12 trailers. in Winton, Queensland.
  • In 1993, ‘Plugger’ took that record with 16 trailers,.
  • Surpassed by a Darwin driver pulling a 21 trailer rig extending 315 metres (1,033 ft)
  • In 1999, Greg Marley of Merredin, WA made it into the Guinness Book of Records driving 8 km (5 miles) with a rig 45 trailers long, weighing 603 tons.
  • In 2000, Steven Matthews drove 8 kms in Kalgoorlie, WA with a road train made up of 79 trailers, measuring over 1,000 meters (1km) long weighing over 1,000 tons.
  • In 2003, the record was taken in NSW by an 87 trailer rig.
  • In 2004 the record returned to Kalgoorlie, WA when 117 trailers, 1,445 m (4,741 ft) long was pulled 1,500 m (4,921 ft).
  • In 2004, the record was broken by a group from Queensland pulling 120 trailers a distance of about 100 metres (328 ft).
  • But in 2006 70-year-old John Atkinson pulled 112 semi-trailers, weighing  1,300 tons, 1,474 metres (4,837 ft) long, for 100 metres (328 feet) in Clifton, Qld taking the current record for the longest road train [VIDEO link] (multiple loaded trailers) ever pulled with a single prime mover.
Image: road train

Road trains are most commonly used for transporting livestock, fuel and mineral ores 

They’ve played a significant role in the economic development of Australia’s remote areas where communities rely on being able to ship produce out to mainstream markets, whilst receiving regular supplies in to replenish stocks of food and basics.

Image: Road Train

 

Road trains are descendants of the old steam traction engines.

Designed to pull multiple wagons, steam traction engines were used in military manoeuvres as early as the Crimea war (1853 – 1856).

But it was not until the 1940′s that the South Australian Government introduced a fleet of 8 wheeled military trucks, pulling two or three 6 metre (20 foot) trailers to transport freight and supplies to the Northern Territory, taking over from the Afghan camels that had been operating the desert route since the late 1800′s.

Road train original

Photo from the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, Alice Springs

 

Australian Kurt Johansson, (pictured above in 2005) is recognized as the inventor of today’s road train.

The story goes that having transported 20 stud bulls to an outback property the station owner posed the problem of how to transport 100 cattle, five times the quantity, back out.

Inspired by the tracking ability of the SA government’s military wagons Kurt Johansson developed a system that had steering wheels on each trailer making them easier to manoeuvre the narrow bush tracks and creek crossings.

The Diamond T980 Kurt developed was called ‘Bertha’ and is now housed in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs.

National Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs

Photo from the National Road Transport Hall of Fame

 

Opened in 1995 the National Road Transport Hall of Fame‘s charter is to show the vehicles “as they were in their working lives, including the crude modifications and adaptations that “bush mechanics and engineers” had to undertake to ensure they could perform in Australia’s harsh working environment.”

Viewing their collection of outback monsters is a must when in Alice Springs.

Image: road train

 

But it still doesn’t make passing them any easier!

Is it just me being wussy?

Do you feel intimidated by these road monsters?

Do share your road train monster moments in the comments below :)

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7 thoughts on “Monsters of the Outback… Road Trains

  1. Pingback: How much does it Cost to Travel from Uluru to Cairns?

  2. Top post, Linda.

    The size of those things scare the living daylights out of me, especially on dirt roads! At least you can see them coming by the mountains of dust all those wheels kick up.

    I’ve always found the drivers to be courteous and clearly aware of the potential effects on other drivers. (I was going to write ‘impacts’, but that wasn’t quite what I meant!) But that doesn’t stop the white-knuckled moment when that multi-wheeled, triple-trailered monster appears in the rear vision window.

    • I so love it that you too experience that ‘white-knuckled moment’ Bronwen – Not that I’m wishing that feeling of fear upon anyone –
      Its just nice to know I’m not the only one who experiences that sensation of dread when seeing “that multi-wheeled, triple-trailered monster” looming in the rear view mirror ;)

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