Since the converter dolly project came on the scene, it’s undergone extensive testing to see how well it performs. Now trials of the prototype have drawn to a close, with the final two operators putting it through its paces before it is sold.
The converter dolly has been tested, and tested again, in all manner of conditions, carrying all sorts of loads, in various types of combinations. But although the conditions it has been trialled in have been so greatly varied, what’s been consistent is the positive feedback that has come from the operators involved.
Now the prototype converter dolly has embarked on its last hoorah. After being trialled by the final two operators – Fennell Freightlines and Farfields Haulage – its testing days have drawn to a close and it’s ready to find its final home.
Led by the ATA’s Industry Technical Council (ITC), with technical and component support from MaxiTRANS, Hendrickson, Alcoa Wheels, Bridgestone, JOST and WABCO, the converter dolly uses a rigid drawbar rather than the typical hinged drawbar.
The prototype made its debut at the Brisbane Truck Show in May 2019. Over 60 converter dollies have now been produced and are out on the road.
That very first converter dolly has been all over the country, on some of the roughest roads. Improved handling, reduced tyre wear and better brake reactivity has been among the most notable feedback from operators who’ve had the chance to use it.
Based in Mount Gambier, Fennell Freightlines is a subsidiary of Fennell Forestry, which is a major plantation hardwood and softwood harvest and transport company. It got to take the prototype converter dolly for a spin last month, used in one of its three AB triple set-ups.
Two of the AB triples travel from Mount Gambier to Bunbury, WA; the other runs from Mount Gambier to the north of Perth. Both routes are roughly a 7000km round trip.
“We were having some issues with the dolly we were using winging a little bit and were looking at ways to eliminate that, so we took the opportunity to trial the converter dolly – and it certainly handled better than the traditional hinged drawbar dolly,” said Fennell Freightlines transport manager Brett Horton.
“It was MaxiTRANS that suggested giving the dolly a go, and it’s taken all of that swing out of it and made it handle a lot better. From all reports, it looks like tyre wear would be better too.”
Fennell Freightlines employs six truck drivers, and two of them had the chance to test the prototype converter dolly out on the road. “Their main issue was looking in the mirrors and seeing the back trailer doing a bit of a sway. They travel along a lot of outback roads – so that’s another issue, as road condition leads to a lot of handling issues too. Both drivers really couldn’t believe how much better it was with the fixed drawbar dolly. Going along at up to 108.5 tonne, you want everything looking pretty good,” Horton added.
So are there plans to add this type of converter dolly into the Fennell Freightlines fleet?
“It’s already in the pipeline to swap over from what we’ve got now to the fixed drawbar converter dolly. These trailers are quite new, so we are in negotiations at the moment,” said Horton.
For Barry Jungfer, owner of Farfields Haulage, the results were very similar, with reports from drivers of improved handling and reduced swing. Though he admits, he was quite sceptical when he first saw the design.
“About 8-10 months ago, I was actually at the MaxiTRANS yard in Adelaide and saw the dolly there. I thought the idea was ridiculous at the time, I didn’t think it would work. But then I read about it somewhere and figured I wouldn’t mind trialling it for myself. The more I thought about it, the more I could see some merit in it,” Jungfer said.
Specialising mainly in grain and fertiliser haulage between South Australia and Victoria, the Mount Barker based business was started by Jungfer in the early 1980s.
He had built his fleet up to 38 trucks but was ready to downsize. “I sold the bulk of them – 18 prime movers and 39 trailers – a couple of years ago. Then a few months later I sold the Viterra grain contract, along with another 11 trucks and 22 trailers. It just got too big. I’m 64 now and was ready to semi-retire,” he explained.
These days, it’s just the eight trucks in his fleet, with four to five of them doing the Adelaide to Melbourne run. On the trailer front, the business has three sets of B-double tippers, along with some tautliners and flat tops. The tippers are used for the grain and fertiliser work, while the other trailers do general freight.
Jungfer was also given the opportunity to trial the converter dolly for two weeks recently. It was used with one of the B-double tipper sets, which ran on 10 of the 14 days between South Australia and country Victoria, clocking up between 700-800km each day.
“There were two drivers who tried it out and they were both amazed with it and the way it towed. It didn’t get the same swing off the back trailer that you get with a conventional bogie dolly,” Jungfer said.
“I was in the silos watching on when one of the blokes tipped. I was really amazed with everything it did. I thought that maybe when it tipped, there would be too much of an angle, but everything the dolly did was spot on. We were just so impressed with the way it towed and the way it handled. It just did everything right. I actually didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.”