Cat Truck Scores With Premium Qualities

By Tom Berg, Truck Editor | January 25, 2013
Cat Truck Scores With Premium Qualities

One feature seldom sells a truck, so the people running Jones Fuel Co. quickly singled out at least two. “Service,” said president John “Dick” Jones, when asked why he chose Cat when he resumed buying new trucks following the Great Recession. The other was “quality,” like that shown by Cat wheel loaders his crews use and how well they’ve been backed by the local dealer, Ohio Caterpillar. Well aware that the Cat trucks are assembled by Navistar International, Jones said that Cat is involved enough to make a difference he likes.

So they ordered three Cat CT-660s and are just putting them into service. Thus far they like what they see and “the drivers love it,” he said of the first one to go to work. Like most trucks in the fleet, it’s a 16-wheeler with three steerable, liftable pusher axles favored by Ohio’s bridge formula law. It totes a 21-foot Bibeau steel dump body installed by Jones’s own shop, because the company also sells and services the Canadian-made units and believes in them for their strength and versatility.

Cat CT660 Specifications

Truck: Caterpillar CT-660, conventional daycab vocational dump, BBC 116 inches, GVW 69,000 lb.
Engine: Navistar/Cat CT-13, 430 hp at 2,100 rpm; 1,550 lb.-ft. @ 1,000 rpm
Clutch: Eaton Fuller Easy-Pedal Advantage
Transmission: Eaton Fuller RTO-16908LL 10-speed manual, double Low with overdrive
Front axle & suspension: 20,000-lb. Meritor MFS-20-133A, on taper leafs
Lift axles: three 13,500-lb. Hendrickson SCT Ultra steerable
Rear axles & suspension: 46,000-lb. Meritor RT-46-160P, w/ locking axle diffs and 4.10 ratio, on Hendrickson HMX-460-54 walking beam mechanical
Wheelbase: 274 inches
Front tires & wheels: Goodyear 425/65R22.5 on aluminum discs
Rear tires & wheels: Goodyear 11R22.5 on steel discs
Fuel tank: Single 100-gallon aluminum
Dump bed: 21-ft., 12-14-yard Bibeau steel

“With steel, you can haul asphalt one day, stone the next and sand after that, not like you’re limited with aluminum,” Jones said.

Jones and his vice president and partner, Jack Fink, related past experiences with other truck makes and dealers that supported the vehicles. Most trucks in the 50-unit fleet are Sterlings, a truck they’ve come to like but one that disappeared during the recession. “I was sick,” Jones said, when he learned that Daimler Trucks had cancelled the Sterling program. He bought them from Graham Ford in Columbus, which still provides quick and effective service when needed.

Three other trucks form an uneasy trio: They’re good trucks, but the local dealer takes too long to get them in for work. “Call them up and tell ’em you have a problem and they say, ‘Bring it in next Wednesday,’” Fink said. Long waiting times constitute a serious issue throughout the industry, especially as trucks and their components have become so complex and dealers have become more involved in working on them. And vocational truck users feel that more populous over-the-road tractors are given priority by dealers, which is why Jones and Fink passed on a couple of other truck makes and instead picked Cat.

Ohio Cat has prepared a large sales and service facility dedicated solely to Cat trucks, according to truck account manager Jim Hoobler, who handled the Jones sale. The Cat product is strictly vocational, so there’ll never be long-haul truckers jumping to the head of a line at the shop. Hoobler has long experience selling other nameplates and has high hopes for the success of this program. Ohio Cat’s first orders were for three Cat trucks and tractors for its own use; they deliver rental machinery and otherwise support the dealership’s activities.

Hoobler and Brad Zingre, Cat’s factory representative for this Midwest region, recommended Jones for this story because of course it’s a happy customer and also because it’s an interesting company. Jones Fuel was begun in 1924 by Dick Jones’s grandfather, who sold coal to industrial and residential customers. “We started by using hard rubber-tire trucks back then,” Dick said while pointing to a photo of early vehicles on the wall behind his desk. Another photo from the ’60s shows a fleet of about 20 trucks all lined up for the camera; most are Diamond Reos, a make that was the victim of another recession, in 1975.

Dave Jones, Dick’s son and corporate secretary, is the fourth generation of the family now involved in the business. “I wish they had picked something easier,” he ruefully said of the often difficult trucking business and his ancestors who founded and pressed on with this one. Jones Fuel calls itself Jones Topsoil in local TV commercials because that’s a principal part of the operation. It also sells sand, gravel and mulch to small and large accounts, and does a lot of for-hire hauling, Dick Jones said. It also operates Jones Spring, which performs truck suspension and axle repairs, and installs and services the Bibeau dump bodies, which are made in Quebec.

Jones and Fink had No. 203, their first operational Cat truck, washed, loaded and ready for me to try out. It wore the fleet’s dark green paint punctuated by bright corporate and promotional lettering on the cab doors and large panels on the dump body’s sides. Some operators in Ohio now run 18-wheel super dumps with four pusher axles, but this fleet sticks with three because they’re enough to add capacity and stability without further stretching frame length and wheelbase, the bosses said. The 20,000-pound steer axle’s setback mounting suits this operation because it enables a tight wheel cut and a rather short turning circle. Later this year, Cat will begin offering a CT-680 truck with a forward-set steer axle.

At Cat’s demonstration of the then-new CT-660 about a year and a half ago, we were restricted to an off-road course, but this time I could go where I wanted. Zingre accompanied me as I ran the truck onto nearby streets and a couple of freeways where I could assess ride quality, steering and other attributes.

All were typical of a multi-axle dump truck: a buoyant feeling as the auxiliary axles help support the poundage of the truck and its load, in this case about 20 tons of sand in the tarp-covered bed, along with significant vertical jounce as the big leaf springs over the 20,000-pound front axle flexed in response to the numerous pavement irregularities we experienced. My air suspension seat had me a-hoppin’ but Zingre hung on as his solid-mounted perch bounced with the floor. It was not at all a rough ride for me, but there was some measurable vertical travel—not that I tried putting a tape to it as I kept both hands on the wheel.

The steering wheel and everything else inside the cab had a high-quality upscale feel to it, and there was little resemblance to the International PayStar on which the CT series is based. Most panels were padded with nice-looking materials in muted greys, and the instruments and controls were handsome, legible and easy to use. As far as I know, the CT’s combined speedometer-tachometer is unique in highway trucks; a single circle surrounds two arcs made by the meters, which are still plenty large enough to read while leaving room on the dash for other gauges. Most rocker switches are to the right, and easy-to-comprehend rotary knobs control the heater and air conditioner. It was a chilly, gloomy day, so the heat felt good.

Yellow Navistar diesel

Under the big hood—which, by the way, was surprisingly easy to raise and lower—was a 12.4-liter Navistar diesel painted Cat yellow and called CT-13 instead of MaxxForce. This one made up to 430 horsepower and 1,550 lb.-ft., plenty for this kind of duty and probably the one that most dumper users would pick, even if a bigger engine were available. Out in Peoria, Ill., Caterpillar executives seem resigned to the reality that this will be the largest engine in their custom-made trucks, because Navistar is dropping the 15-liter diesel that was supposed to augment the “13” and Cat won’t use the Cummins ISX15 that Navistar has begun offering. Or will it? An announcement on the “15” question is supposed to come soon.

The engine in this truck was a pre-SCR model, with no urea injection equipment that will add about 400 pounds to each one that will get it following Navistar’s reversal on the exhaust-aftreatment issue. Jones and Fink said they wish Navistar would continue avoiding selective catalytic reduction, but that’s not legally possible.

The transmission was a Fuller 8LL, a 10-speed that’s highly popular in dumpers and mixers. Only about 1,300 miles showed on the odometer, so the linkage was a bit stiff, but I was still able to change gears with little or no crunching. I never needed Low gear and certainly neither of the low-low ratios, but used the eight upper ratios in moving away from stop lights and such. Sixty and 65 mph were good cruising speeds with the tach showing 1,600 to 1,700 rpm. Cat offers its own CX-31 fully automatic transmission, but Jones said he couldn’t bring himself to spend the nearly $20,000 premium for it. And he doesn’t know enough about Eaton’s less-costly automated trannies to consider one.

Time was short for me this day and so was the run, at about 50 miles. But it was enough to appreciate the CT-660’s premium features and to respect these customers for their choice. If the initial truck’s pleasing performance and reliability prove out in the long run, and Ohio Cat backs them as promised, then the Jones fleet might someday be mostly Caterpillar, just as it has with other nameplates in the Jones Fuel Co.’s long history.

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