It’s Aussie know-how and production quality for Hobart Towing Services – Words by Warren Caves, Images by Torque it Up.
The heavy-vehicle recovery business is fast becoming rather an exclusive club, where the expertise required to handle either a breakdown or a major accident involving trucks and trailers is restricted to those operators that have made the significant investment required to handle every expectation.
High traffic volumes on our major road networks require recovery vehicles that are sufficiently versatile, with highly skilled operators, so that traffic obstructions can be cleared quickly and efficiently before a city heads into total gridlock.
The towing and recovery specialists have moved on a long way from when an old Bedford with a hand-cranked winch could sort the problem. Today’s highly specialised top-of-the-line recovery units hit the road with a price tag that often approaches or exceeds the one-million-dollar mark and if you don’t have the right level of equipment, you don’t get the work.
The extremes of weather experienced in North America and Canada, particularly in winter, have driven design and innovation from these countries in the development of heavy-duty tow trucks or “wreckers “as the yanks like to call them, for many years. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that a lot of the heavy-duty tow trucks in Australia are based on American and Canadian designs.
Unlike highway trucks which are turned over every five or six years, heavy-duty tow trucks tend to be more of a long-term investment over, sometimes 15-20 years. This long-term investment equates to low numbers of units within Australia being commissioned each year, so leveraging manufacturing and design from higher volume overseas markets seems logical.
Jerr-Dan can trace its manufacturing origins back to 1959 and the company is now part of the Oshkosh Corporation, headquartered in the US state of Maryland, with Jerr-Dan manufacturing in Pennsylvania.
Kent Collision and Kustom, based in the south-west of Sydney, has been the exclusive Australian distributor for Jerr-Dan products since 2008 and recently completed a fit-out of the latest JFB body series, 35-tonne tow truck for Hobart Towing Service, a division of Hobart Truck Spares.
Based in Moonah, Hobart Truck Spares is a family-owned business providing commercial bodywork repairs and the towing of light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles. The company has also diversified along the way, handling container and site-shed transportation, machinery and forklift movements. It’s also well known for its expertise in the more specialised side of towing that requires unique equipment capabilities when recovering or transporting motorhomes, camper vehicles, and buses and coaches where underslung towing is required.
Proficient in medium and heavy-vehicle bodywork repairs, Hobart Truck Spares can also handle major paint resprays, thanks to its 15-metre heated spray booth.
The company’s working relationship with Kent Collision and Kustom actually dates back to 2008 when it took delivery of the first Jerr-Dan tow truck to be supplied by Jaimie Kent and his team in the Australian market. This was fitted to a Peterbilt 6×4 unit, which remains active in the Hobart Towing Service fleet.
Jaimie Kent credits his own introduction to Jerr-Dan equipment from his time spent living in Canada, working alongside his father Ray in the family’s truck-wrecking yard.
“In those days we would always have around 30 truck wrecks in the yard at any time and many of the local salvage contractors used Jerr-Dan equipment,” explained Jaimie.
The completion of the new Western Star is testimony to the quality of fitment and finish for which Jaime and his team are renowned, which is also evident in the condition of the Peterbilt that was completed some 12 years ago.
Prior to the fitment of the Jerr-Dan equipment and bodywork, the short wheelbase Western Star was modified by Jaimie and the team, extending the chassis to achieve a wheelbase of 7.36 metres prior to the fitment of the latest JFB recovery unit.
“We see about 50 percent of our customer base supplying the truck chassis ready for body fitment. For the remaining 50 percent we perform a turn-key service, handling the whole job at our workshop facility at Ingleburn, south of Sydney,” said Jaimie.
“We get a feel for what our customers want in a tow truck, where it needs to fit within their business and what they hope to achieve and go from there. It can take around 12-16 weeks for the Jerr-Dan body to be ready, ex-factory, with the average turnaround of a complete build being about six-months.”
For Hobart Towing Service’s Western Star, the Jerr-Dan equipment selected was in the form of a 35-tonne recovery/tow unit featuring the latest user-friendly JFB body. Modular in design, the JFB body series is manufactured from high-impact resistant polypropylene for maximum weather resistance, durability and longevity.
The tow truck features two 35,000 lb (16,000 kg) winches with two-speed planetary gearing, and an extended reach, 147-inches (3730 mm) coach boom underlift which enables greater reach for set-back front axles. The maximum lifting capacity of the unit is 22,000 lb (9980 kg) extended or 70,000 lb (31,750 kg) retracted.
Where the latest JFB body really comes into another dimension is in the ease of operation. Manufacturing truck recovery bodies for some 47 years, with some 25 world-wide patents for innovation to the company’s credit, Jerr-Dan has drawn on extensive industry knowledge to make the job easier and safer for operators.
The modular design provides a completely customisable storage system for containing hooks, chains and all manner of rigging and associated equipment in a safe and organised way. In short, a place for everything and everything in its place.
The build process starts with the base body, which is available to suit either a bogie drive or tri-drive chassis. The modular sections (tunnel boxes) are then selected and added to suit the individual requirements of each customer and the equipment carried.
“We can work with the client to position shelves and storage in virtually any position or spacing, depending on where they want to carry their equipment. Everyone is different,” said Jaimie.
The main base unit houses all the lifting, winching and lighting controls with dual-operating levers and switching which can be independently controlled from either side. All controls are also replicated and can be controlled through the remote-control unit which offers proportional control operation, not just simply an on/off switch. Whether on the ground or in the cab, all functions are readily available.
The modular units are set up to house batteries, lighting boards, air fittings and all manner of rigging gear in almost infinite configurations within the available space. A clever patented chain carousel houses chains and hooks tidily in the segmented storage box, offering uninhibited access.
Trucks work night and day and often recoveries are carried out in inky darkness. The Jerr-Dan JFB bodies incorporate a lot of thought in the use of advanced LED lighting systems to improve safety and visibility in what can be dangerous, roadside working conditions. Lighting switches can be activated and de-activated individually, if need be, from both sides of the unit or from the remote-control and even enabling the turning off of a rotating beacon light on the side you are working to reduce glare affecting your vision. LED strip lighting illuminates the storage tunnels and there are even small LED lights above the rear access steps to improve safety.
Cameras have been installed on the under-lift arm for in-cab vision when backing up to a vehicle and a standard reverse camera sits at the rear of the body. Both cameras can be viewed in dual or single-view format from the in-cab screen. A camera is also positioned to yield vision on the screens situated on both sides of the main control unit, of the winches and cable operation, allowing monitoring of the cable-winding process and tension-plate adjustments.
Further focussing on driver/operator safety is the use of roller-shutter doors. According to Jaimie, this design greatly improves access to the operating controls but additionally – and perhaps more importantly – the open doors don’t extend the operating dimension of the vehicle, allowing operators to remain closer to the relative safety of the side of the truck.
Solid design, quality of build and clever options to safely and efficiently store equipment should put Jerr-Dan on the browse list for potential tow-truck purchasers.
At the time of PowerTorque’s visit, some 12 years after the first delivery, Jaimie was preparing to drive the Western Star to Port Melbourne for the final leg of the build journey across Bass Straight to its new home in Hobart. All part of the high level of personal customer service for which Kent Collision and Kustom is renowned.