It has just gone 8.30am and Craig Radford works his way up through the gears as he heads out of the little town of Benambra in a remote corner of the north-east Victorian alpine region, with another long day hauling timber on the schedule.
More commonly known to all and sundry as Womby, Radford drives a twin-steer Kenworth T659 for ANC Forestry Group, with the company just having commenced a large-scale hardwood harvesting contract based out of the mountainous country between Benambra and Corryong.
The timber being harvested is all salvage hardwood which was affected by the massive bushfires which swept through the area at the start of the year, and with the bush tracks once open again and the winter weather gone the race is on to get the job done.
The smooth travelling on the blacktop is short-lived as the dirt begins and Womby engages the cross-locks to help give the Kenworth a bit of extra bite as he starts to tackle the climb up the range on the Buenba Road.
“It’s a bit like putting your hubs in on a four-wheel drive, you might as well have everything working for you…coming up the Buenba side it goes up pretty quick, you climb 600 metres in altitude in just a couple of k’s,” he said.
For Womby, who makes his home at Trafalgar in Gippsland, the die was cast from a young age in terms of an occupation, with his father, Kevin a logger around Noojee and Powelltown for many years.
“One of my earlier memories was of Dad’s 1418 ‘Benz carting billets of wood, it was all short stuff back then…I learnt to drive around the back paddock when I was around ten and started hauling timber with a Mack Super-Liner and jinker at 21,” he recalled.
With the first lot of rationalisation within the timber industry in the 1990s the family took a package bringing their operation to a close which consisted of the Super-Liner and a Mack Value-Liner, which at the time was the first V8 Value-Liner to be sold into Victoria.
After a spell on a road sealing team the lure of the bush saw Womby work for Cable Logging, which became part of the ANC Forestry Group in 2006, firstly steering a Western Star for six years, then a twin-steer Kenworth T409, before stepping into the new T659 in 2019.
The Cummins under the bonnet, which is rated at 550 horsepower, provides the soundtrack as the truck makes its way up and then along the range towards the logging coupe kicking up a plume of dust along the way.
With a Kennedy tri-axle skel trailer folded up on the back of the prime mover the truck is compact and makes easy work of the twisting corners and the ride is fairly smooth given the road has seen a fair bit of recent truck traffic.
Womby reckons the view out the windscreen has changed quite a bit over the years when comparing the Kenworth to the 1980s era Super-Liners and Western Stars.
“The 409 was good to see out of with its short bonnet, when I got into the 659 it took some adjustment with the air cleaners and so on but they are a lot easier to see out of than the old Super-Liner where you had a footy field out the front of you!” he said with a smile.
“The 409 was the first twin-steer truck ANC bought and I did nearly a million k’s in it before getting into this one….they ride that much better with the twin steer I don’t think I would get back into a single-steer truck.”
With their headquarters at Morwell, the ANC harvesting gear and trucks are scattered across a large part of Victoria deployed on contracts for both hardwood and softwood timber, therefore giving the company drivers a variety of work hauling to a number of mills and processing facilities throughout the year.
“In the winter-time generally we go back on the pine as the hardwood is more seasonal, with jobs like this we will probably run from late October through to the end of June – it doesn’t really matter what you cart, you still get your hours up in the day,” he explained.
Running along the top of the range the damage caused by the fires is severe with only tinges of green starting to come back to the forest with the views out to the NSW Snowy Mountains on one side and the Victorian Alps out the other highlighting how far and wide the fires burnt.
“About the only good thing now is you can see where abouts all the other trucks are on the road further around the hill,” Womby says grimly.
With all road traffic using channel 40 and the log harvesting crew running channel 39 there is a steady stream of chatter over the UHF and with all the ANC trucks tracked by GPS and all loading data sent electronically he can see which coupe he will be loading out of and where it is destined for.
The truck also runs four cameras which capture each corner of the truck, which Womby reckons is handy to have when negotiating the windy roads when running at full length.
Today he will be doing a couple of loads off the range down to the log dump which has been established just to the south of Corryong in the Nariel Valley, and depending on the grade of timber there will hopefully a load back to one of the mills in Gippsland at the end of the week on his way home.
Pulling up onto Dunstan’s Road at an altitude of around 1300 metres the air is a little chilly and Womby pulls up for a break and checks the truck over, with a flat tyre on the trailer going to come in for a bit of on-site attention up at the coupe.
Content with doing the bush work, he no doubt will be adding a few more kilometres to the T659 over the next few months as the salvage work continues, and he reckons with his truck and trailer tailored for the job he has some pretty good tools to do it with.
“She drives well, she pulls well and with the Kennedy on the back it’s just a good set-up all round.”