HISTORY IN THE MAKING | REVIEW LOPEZ BROS TRANSPORT

Technology has not necessarily improved efficiency, and, for those with long memories, today’s experts could learn a lot from yesteryear – Chris Mullett.  

Before we all got so terribly techno-efficient, preferring to stare at an iPhone than look someone in the face, people found it normal to communicate by talking to each other. The post took one day to arrive, rather than a week, voicemail didn’t exist, and newspapers contained news, rather than gossip.

December 25th, 1938, H.W. Crouch Pty Ltd, the NSW distributors of Federal Motor Trucks, published Volume 4, Number 11 of the Federal News. This Christmas Day issue led on page one with the “Sylvan Beauty of Bathurst”.

Never mind that World War II was looming ever closer, the importers and distributors of Federal Trucks published Federal News on the 25th of each month to inform Federal Truck owners of news and progress as a service and courtesy, and it was therefore duty bound to publish on Christmas Day.

The lead editorial feature on page two was titled “Federal Fleets Grow” and announced proudly the receipt of an order from Messrs. Lopez Bros. of Victoria Road, Gladesville, Sydney, for its eighth Federal Truck – this latest one being a two-tonner:

“In this particular instance, the first Federal Truck purchase was made as far back as July 1929. The second order came along in August 1935, and the third in April of the following year. In 1937, Lopez Bros. purchased three more Federal Trucks, and this year (1938) they have purchased two. A fleet of eight Federal Trucks is a splendid advertisement for the enterprise and industriousness of the Lopez Bros”.

Based in Detroit, Michigan, the Federal Motor Truck Company manufactured its products between 1920 and 1959. Federal outsold Diamond T in 1927 and 1928, but thereafter lost the lead to its rival and never recovered, dropping sales to just 1300 units in the depression years before picking up during the war through US Defence Force purchases.

In those days it was impressive to speak of truck engines managing to produce 90 hp at 3000 rpm from a 4.3-litre, six-cylinder hauling a GVM of 7.7 tonnes. But while the name of Federal Trucks is a passing memory, its staunch supporter at that time, Messrs. Lopez Bros., still exists today, hauling containers and general freight with its fleet from its base now in Enfield, and run by Phillip and Anne Lopez, joined in recent years by their son Ben.

PowerTorque caught up with Phillip’s brother John Lopez and his son Danny on a winter Saturday morning, not to reminisce, but to discuss Danny’s 2007 Western Star 4800, the focus of attention for a photographic feature by Steven Foster, who, as well as heading the MMMG graphic art team, is also acknowledged for the high quality of his creative photography.

John Lopez explained that the family had always been involved in trucks, and, with a history dating back to 1929, the link between those early days of the company and today is how the company maintained virtually its exact livery through nearly 90 years, complete with hand signwriting of the Lopez name and scroll work.

“In those early days my grandfather started off doing general freight, and in the war years they used to cart the entertainment around for the soldiers. My grandfather died when my father was just 15 years old, and even at that young age he then joined the company. In those days they used to do engine rebuilds at the side of the road and had a wide range of skills that nobody seems to possess today,” said John.

“When you look at the ways trucks were loaded in those days, the idea of load restraints was virtually unknown. The yard was in Gladesville, and as housing and shops encroached on the yard they restricted the available space to such an extent that the decision was made to move to Enfield, where the company remains based today,” John added.

John still fills in occasionally for driving duties, but, predominantly, runs a property in Yass, NSW. Meanwhile, his son Danny runs country NSW and occasional interstate runs mainly on drop-deck work hauling farm equipment.

With his 2007 registered Western Star 4800FXB, resplendent in the Lopez Bros. company livery, Danny has notched up over 1.4 million km without any major rework, with the exception of a new camshaft and followers.

Opening the door of the Western Star, now some 13 years old, gave a good indication why the truck with its Detroit Series 60 was performing so well. The interior could be considered to be as new, an amazing tribute to the way the family looks after its assets, and, in particular, how Danny looks after his truck.

The fleet totals some 12 vehicles, with 4 prime movers being Western Star for the longer haul work and UD for use around town hauling containers to and from the Sydney ports. The Western Stars have a variety of engines, including the Cat C13, the 12.7 Detroit and a DD13, and the 14-litre Detroit Series 60 in Danny’s truck.

Maintenance is handled in-house with the assistance of a mechanic. Oil is always BP, as John believes an engine benefits from the use of the same lubricants through its life.

“We’ve been with BP for over 20 years and we run our oil drain intervals at 15,000 km. The other benefit we have noticed is with the Eaton Auto Shift transmission. When we change the oil there’s never a hint of metal in the lubricant. We standardised on the automated manuals some years ago and it’s been an ideal choice,” said John.

“For tyre choice the Western Star 4800 runs Bridgestone 150s in 295/80R22.5 on the steer axle with Firestone 11R22.5s on the drive axle. The Firestones are performing well with tyre life of around 100,000 and 140,000-150,000 km on the steer tyres.

“In terms of fuel economy, we regularly get well over 2.0 km/litre, although some days running over the mountains if the weather is bad we may drop to 1.8 km/l with the drop-deck,” commented John.

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