Does a load of hot liquid asphalt need to be pulled in such style? That thought flitted through my mind as I approached the handsome two-tone-blue Kenworth T800 that was hitched to an insulated aluminum tanker outside a shop at Athens, N.Y., on a warm, sunny, summer morning. The rig and the facility, which hugs a channel of the Hudson River, were owned by Peckham Materials, a distributor and producer of construction-related chemicals and supplies south of Albany, New York’s state capital.
Peckham, a family-owned firm now in its third generation of management, has about 35 operations up and down the Hudson Valley and a fleet of trucks, tractors and trailers to keep them running. “We’re not a trucking company,” said the fleet’s supervisor, Larry Fingar, over supper the previous night. “We run trucks to support our companies.” For example, Peckham has contracts to spread calcium chloride for dust control on dirt roads and building sites, and supplies asphalt for road paving of roads and parking lots. The liquid asphalt was produced in the Midwest and shipped by rail car to a nearby yard, and was loaded into the tanker early that morning by Jack Mirando, the driver assigned to the Kenworth.
Kenworth T800 Specifications
- Tractor: 2013 Kenworth T800 SH (short hood) daycab, BBC 114 in., GVW 58,000 lb., tare weight (fully fueled) 18,650 lb.
- Engine: Cummins ISX15 Linehaul, 500 hp @ 1,800 rpm, 1,850 lb.-ft. @ 1,200 rpm, w/ Jacobs Intebrake
- Transmission: Allison 4500RDS (Rugged Duty Series) 6-speed double-overdrive
- Front axle: 12,000-lb. Dana Spicer E1202I on taperleafs
- Drive axles: 46,000-lb. Dana Spicer D46-170HP, w/ 4.78 ratio and locking diffs, on Hendrickson Primaax EX462 air ride
- Wheelbase: 209 inches
- Tires and wheels: H-rated 11R24.5 Bridgestone R280 front, M726EL rear, on Alcoa polished aluminum discs
- Fuel tank: Single 120-gallon aluminum
- DEF tank: 18 gallon
- Brakes: Bendix Air Disk front, Dana Spicer ES 16.5 x 8.625 S-cam drum rear
- Fifth wheel: Holland FW35
- Trailer: 45-foot 2008 Etnyre ARA aluminum asphalt tanker, 9,000-gal. capy. on Hendrickson 46,000-lb. air ride w/ 16.5 x 8.625 S-cam drum brakes
The KW is one of a pair that Fingar ordered late last year, and it has some strong components needed to handle heavy loads. By special permit, New York State allows a five-axle tractor-trailer to gross as much as 102,000 pounds if its axle groups are spread far enough apart and its chassis components are strong enough, he said. That of course includes beefy axles, suspensions, brakes, wheels and tires, as well as a strong powertrain (see specifications box). Fingar likes weight distribution to be 10,000 pounds on the steer axle and 46,000 on each of the tandems. One or two extra axles allow more loading, and in the yard were a couple of brand-new three-axle tankers that will allow a gross combination weight of 107,000 pounds when they are licensed and operable.
Etnyre in Oregon, Ill., made these and most of the other trailers, and they are stout and durable—important because Peckham keeps its equipment a long time. There is no planned trade cycle, so they are maintained regularly and repaired as necessary and just keep working. The same is true of power equipment. In the yard were 1990s International 9900s with Detroit Diesel engines that still run every day. The oldest tractor dates to 1971, and it now shuttles trailers around the yard.
Fingar said he put a lot of thought into choosing and spec’ing the KW tractor. The fleet, which he joined as a shop mechanic in 1995 and became supervisor soon after, runs a variety of power units—Macks, Internationals, Peterbilts and so on—but has not owned KWs before. It now does because he was impressed with the dealer, Kenworth of Buffalo’s Albany branch.
“Their attitude from the start was: ‘Tell us what you want and we will build it and you will have it by February,’” Fingar said. “They have gone out of their way to accommodate me and solve any problems. Not just the dealer, but Kenworth also. I had a tech question and ended up talking to a rep at the plant in the state of Washington. She told me who could answer my question, but he was out and she would have him call me as soon as he was available. I hung up thinking, ‘Yeah, right.’ Forty minutes later my phone rang and it was a KW engineer who handled the issue without giving me the feeling that I was taking up his time needlessly. I like that.”
Workers at KW’s Chillicothe, Ohio, plant assembled the two tractors in January and Fingar had them by February, as the dealer had promised. Mirando, a driving veteran now in his 15th year with Peckham, had put almost 15,000 miles on this one by July. “I wasn’t sure I’d like it. I’m used to Macks. But now I do,” he said. He invited me to climb into the driver’s seat so we could get started. Just sitting in the seat was pleasant due to the handsome, comfortable interior and nicely trimmed instrument panel. I fired up the engine, punched the Allison into D, released the brakes and moved out.
Then followed one of the easiest 220-mile round trips I’ve ever made in a big rig. More-than-ample power and no concerns about shifting gears meant I merely had to steer, control speed and watch traffic around us. I let the Allison do the work and enjoyed the ride.
It was apparent from the way the truck felt, and the firm pressure needed on the brake pedal, that we were heavy. Mirando, who’s been over these roads many times, coached me whenever we were about to enter a tight turn. I listened to him and backed off the throttle and applied the brakes lightly to slow. The rig didn’t seem all that top heavy, but none does until a driver goes into a curve too fast and finds the trailer going over on him.
Approaching a red light or stop sign is when our 51-ton weight invisibly showed itself, especially in the last 50 or so feet, where I pressed hard on the pedal. I didn’t watch the application gauge, but it probably approached 30 or 40 psi in these instances. Soon I began using the down arrow on the selector to downshift the tranny, which raised revs to 2,000 and 2,100 to increase retarding power from the Cummins-Jacobs Intebrake. I went as far down as 3rd on one stop, but usually only to 4th. Later Mirando said that he often did this all the way to 1st, which brings the rig to a stop with very little use of the service brakes. This is easy to do with an automatic but takes work and skill with a manual.
Even with the Allison’s double-overdrive, engine speed at cruise is relatively high, in this case 1,650 rpm at 65 mph. That is several hundred rpm higher than for an over-the-road tractor with a manual transmission, but close to what engine makers recommend for a vocational vehicle to keep performance always on tap with a heavy load. Fingar said he chose the 4.78 axle ratio as a compromise between startability and cruiseability. The info display on the dash showed that fuel economy on the loaded portion of this trip was 4.9 mpg, which seems reasonable given our weight and the many slow-downs, stops, starts and speed-ups as we passed through villages along two-lane highways. That mpg number slowly climbed during the empty return leg.
The Cummins ISX15-500 always supplied a lot of power and torque for acceleration and hill climbing. One hard pull on I-87 as we got into the Adirondack Mountains had the engine lugging down to about 1,250 rpm and 35 mph or so in 4th; it would’ve downshifted further but Mirando had punched the M button which put the tranny in Economy Mode that saves some fuel. But the big diesel was made to lug, and it never faltered.
We pulled into a Peckham asphalt plant north of Lake George Village and I backed the tanker to the off-loading point. Mirando hooked up a hose and activated a pump that took about 40 minutes to suck out the hot liquid. Twice he climbed a ladder on the tanker and peered into a manhole to check progress. Then he detached the hose, cleaned the fittings, capped and hung it up, and switched off the pump. We jumped in the KW, headed out and onto the highway and interstate, then back toward home.
As you can imagine, with the tanker now empty, acceleration was much more brisk and so was braking. To slow for the first village I stabbed the pedal as before, causing Mirando’s body to jerk toward the dash and him to laugh. Whoops! “Makes a difference, doesn’t it?” he said. I’ll say! Yet the ride quality was still good, showing that the suspensions worked as well now as when they were heavily loaded.
I had just two gripes with the tractor: touchiness of the TRW power steering, which I quickly got used to, as Mirando had predicted; and lack of leg room to the rear of the accelerator pedal. KW offers an Extended Daycab option, and it makes a big difference; but it sells for about $2,500, a dealer salesman told me, so Fingar elected to forgo it. Otherwise I’d be delighted to drive this KW every day. And I wish those who oppose higher weight limits for trucks on safety grounds would’ve been along to see how safely these rigs can operate.