LOVING THE LOADSTAR | CUSTOM & CLASSIC-Cooma Sand and Concrete

History and nostalgia play a role today with Cooma Sand and Concrete – Words by Warren Caves, images by Torque it Up.

If you started working for Cooma Sand and Concrete today as a driver in the company’s latest truck, you would be treated to such luxuries as a Cummins ISL 9.0-litre, 360 hp diesel engine, matched to an Allison automatic transmission and with heated power mirrors, electric windows and effective cabin insulation to keep your working day at an audibly acceptable level. Add to this spec air suspension, an FM radio, EasyRider 11 air suspension seats, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustments and LED dash lights, all of which are contained in the latest Freightliner CL 112, low weight, high strength aluminium cabin.

Had you landed a job as a driver with Cooma Sand and Concrete back in the early seventies, you probably would have been handed the keys to one of its two 1967 International Loadstars.

With this truck you would have been treated to a 392 cubic inch V8 petrol engine, delivering a whopping 191 hp @ 3600 rpm, with a 5X3 transmission (five speed main gearbox and a three-speed joey box) operated via the twin gearsticks.

Fortunately, all that cog-swapping while trying to keep the 20.4 tonne gross weight truck moving would keep you warm, as there was no heater or demister to keep the windows from fogging up on those cold alpine runs. The mirrors would also constantly fog up, unless you were game enough to wind down the windows in sub-zero temperatures to clear them with that oily rag from under the sprung bench seat, so luxuriously covered in vinyl.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. In the summer I’m sure you would be toasty warm from the ambient day-time temperature blending together with the heat emanating from the floor pan and firewall, devoid of any real insulation properties.  Ahhh, the good old days!

Gino Revelent, the founder of Cooma Sand and Concrete, started out working for Ready Mix Concrete back in 1963, carting sand to the Cooma concrete plant, until the closing of the plant in 1971. Gino then took a lease up on the plant in early 1972 and ran it until 1978.

The site of Cooma Sand and Concrete was built by Gino in 1979, and this is still the current base for the company’s operation today. Shortly thereafter, Gino opened another batch plant in nearby Jindabyne to cope with demand. Mobile batch plants were also widely used during this time, both within the local alpine areas and further afield.

Gino’s son Marco Revelent is today the company’s general manager and recalls that when setting up the Jindabyne plant it financially stretched Gino quite a bit at the time.

“The plant was successful for a while, until competition moved into town in the form of another batch plant operated by Boral. Unfortunately, Jindabyne was only ever going to be a one-plant town, so the operation eventually wound up,” Marco explained.

Marco took on the role of general manager after the passing of Gino Revelent some 11 years ago. The business currently operates a fleet of six agitator trucks, and one tipper and dog combination. Two of the agitator trucks are fitted with quick-release bodies, allowing the fast swapping of bodies from agitator to tipper, to water cart, to prime mover. Marco says that the design allows fast and efficient transition of equipment to suit demand, and, with two operators who know what they are doing, the body swap can be accomplished in as little as 15 minutes.

Adding to the agitator fleet is the Freightliner CL112 8X4 truck, which was purchased through Chris Smith of Stillwell Trucks in Milperra six months ago.

“We have purchased our last three Freightliner agitator trucks from Stillwells and we seem to purchase a new truck about every two years,” said Marco.

“The 8X4 configuration on Freightliner’s own Airliner suspension has the perfect articulation we need for the sites we regularly go to. Other suspension systems we have used in the past, like camelback springs, don’t seem to yield the same level of articulation when the going gets rough. The 7.0-cubic-metre capacities of the barrels are well suited to our particular rural operation, and frontal vision is also excellent,” he added.

With a GCM of up to 40,000 kg and a light tare weight, thanks in part to the aluminium cab design, the CL112s are a solid choice for those wanting to maximise payloads without going down the mass management or PBS pathways.

“We have worked on major freeway and road projects throughout the state on a contract basis, where we supply our trucks and drivers, who stay away for the contract period. We also do a lot of work locally and in the ACT,” said Marco.

Wanting to show how the company and concrete transport in general has progressed over the years, Marco wanted an old Loadstar to remember his father’s early days in the business. While this truck featured here is not one of the original company trucks, it is of the same specification.

“I did locate the original truck, but it was way too far gone in terms of rust to even bother restoring. This Loadstar was purchased from Queensland, and to get it to where it is today it only needed some minor rust repairs and a paintjob. We also did a carby overhaul and the re-racing of the Joey box, as it kept jumping out of gear,” said Marco.

The truck has been painted in the company colours, and the names painted on the sides are in recognition of the company’s early employees, Stan Collman, Westy, and Gino himself.

Stan Collman was Cooma born and bred and had great local knowledge. He spent his early days with the company driving the Loadstars and can be seen here in the photos in front of the Cooma Creek Bridge, built with concrete delivered by Stan in one of the Loadstars back in 1974.

Marco also recalls his father telling a story of a day when Stan Collman was driving a loadstar tipper with a cargo of very wet river gravel (which one might have said at the time could have been substantially overloaded), when he drew the attention of the “scalies”. With the only available means of weight checking being located at the local railway station, Stan was directed there. At that time there were two ways to the railway station, one went a little further along the road, with a left turn onto the street to the station. The alternative route was not quite as direct as the route suggested by the “scalies,” but it did conveniently pass by the concrete plant.

Not surprisingly, Stan took his preferred option and quickly unburdened the Loadstar of its consignment before rolling into the railway station with an empty truck. Marco remembers his father saying, he could hear the yelling nearly a mile away, as Stan was berated for his cunning. Marco is quick to add, “Those days are long gone”.

Kenny West or “Westy” was another long-standing employee of some 25 years’ service with Cooma Sand, later buying a truck from Gino and subcontracting to him. Ultimately, ill health forced the sale of the truck, which, interestingly, Gino bought back from him. Westy passed away around 20 years ago. His son, Greg “Bull” West, can be seen in the photos on his behalf.

The modern-day truck driver’s environment has changed a lot over the 50 years that are spanned by these two trucks. Comfy air-suspended seats instead of coil springs in the seat base, and complete control over the climate in the cab, make for a much easier day at the office.

Drivers of today (myself included) complain that we have it tough, and at times we do, but the challenges are of a different kind. In 1967, concern about how many kilometres per litre you were achieving was not relevant. You just grabbed another bucket of petrol and threw it down the throat of the Holley carby. You thanked your lucky stars that you didn’t tear a rotator cuff trying to steer these heavy, often overloaded trucks, without power-assisted steering, and prayed that the mechanical handbrake held long enough for you to find the truck in the same place where you had parked it.

If it’s all the same, I’ll stick to the modern Freightliner thank you.

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