For the Woodhouse family of Ulverstone, a Legend 900 is the perfect tool for logging – Words and images by Ed Higginson
If trucking runs in your blood, you can’t help but get excited about seeing Kenworth’s Legend 900 at work. Although present-day development is focused on major advances in autonomous and electric trucks, catching up with a Legend 900 shows passion is still an essential ingredient for trucking business stalwarts.
On a recent trip to Tasmania, I caught up with the Woodhouse family in Ulverstone to see one of the three Legends that made their way across Bass Strait.
In stunning black livery and coupled to a red Elphinstone logging trailer, the Legend looked and sounded like the perfect trucking solution.
The Legend 900 was launched at the last Brisbane Truck Show in 2017 and took the headlines. As a “limited edition” model, Kenworth took the unusual approach of confining orders to a single day. If you were serious you needed to get in quickly, with just over 260 buyers doing just that – the Woodhouse family amongst them.
The business was founded by Ross Woodhouse at the start of the 1950s and is a true family operation with Ross and Jan’s two sons, Paul and Luke, taking care of operations, whilst daughter Sarini looks after the office along with daughter-in-law Sarah.
Sarini explains: “Dad started the business when he was 19, starting with a panel van to run bread around Ulverstone in 1950. He then got into concrete, running Accos with agitators on them, before moving into logging with his brother George and an old Fiat 697 MP.
“When we left school, our parents really emphasised that we all had to have our own trades before coming to work in the trucking business, just in case anything happened. Paul became a boilermaker, whilst Luke went to Caterpillar for six years and then to Mack as a diesel mechanic, while I studied administration.”
The logging industry in Tasmania has had its challenges in recent years, so it’s great to see a small family business band together and ride it out until things pick up again.
Sarini says: “It wasn’t always plain sailing. It started to slowly get worse about 10 years ago when the industry fell all of a sudden through the defeat of the Gunn’s Tamar Valley Pulp Mill project. We had to put our 13 guys off and sell most of the trucks. At this point we just had three trucks for Dad, Paul and Luke to do general freight, which was a bit different from the logs, but now we are into our fourth year with the new logging company, Firco, and we are back to where we were.”
Although the business is still based in Ulverstone, just up the road from the family home where it all started, Woodhouse Transport now works across Northern Tasmania, mainly moving logs in the North-West. “We have our own harvesting crew which keeps us busy, plus we cart for some of the other harvesting crews and also cover some tow-only work for the likes of Toll,” Sarini says.
After riding out the tough years, adding a truck to the fleet as special as the Legend 900 is a great way to celebrate. As Luke explains: “The Legend is a nice retro-looking truck and great to drive. I missed out on the Legend 950 because we didn’t know it was coming until it was too late, so I’m really happy that we got one of the 900s.”
There are many things that make the Legend 900 special. As with the original T900, it’s designed as a tough working truck that is more than capable of running through the forests all week, then, after a quick wash, head to the truck show on the weekend.
Featuring the Cummins X15 engine, which is painted black with a red rocker cover to stand out, it’s rated to 525 hp (391 kW) with 1850 foot-pounds (2508 Nm) of torque driving through an Eaton 18-speed manual transmission with 46,000 lb. differentials, which fits well within the Woodhouse fleet.
To give the Legend a few extra touches of retro class, Kenworth included traditional doors and handles with airlift windows, a traditional flat dash, chrome gauges with white faces and traditional bug toggle switches with backlit graphics, along with a four-spoke leather steering wheel and leather seats.
On the outside, the 900 gets a split-screen windscreen, bullet-style cab marker lights and side-mounted exhausts, including a wraparound cover just like the old T900s. With exposed chrome elbows and seven-inch pipes, they make the Legend stand out even more.
With Luke being a trained Mack mechanic, it’s understandable that the fleet was mainly Mack when the boys joined the business, with Ross explaining: “We had a lot of them over the years, CH and Superliner models, which were all good. Luke said he’d come home if he could get his own truck, so we bought him a Mack Superliner in 2003 along with a new set of trailers and both are still going strong.”
Luke adds: “Then Dad wanted to try Western Star because we had an old 4900 Heritage model with a Caterpillar, so when he wanted to replace it in 2007, we purchased another one.
“Initially I was a bit reluctant to trade in my Mack, but soon realised the Western Star was a good, comfortable ride. It was running a Signature Cummins with 620 hp (462 kW), although when my brother Paul was looking at upgrading his truck, they were only offering the EGR motor.
“As we’d had experience with one previously, we didn’t want to buy another EGR, so he went with a Kenworth running the E5 engine using AdBlue in 2013. We haven’t looked back because the engines have been great, reliable and give us great fuel economy.
“We now have eight Kenworths, which includes the Legend 900, two T909s, a K200, a 409SAR, then three T409 8×4 twin steers.
“We only buy trucks fitted with Cummins, then spec 46,000 lb. rear Meritor axles fitted with full driver controlled lockable diffs, plus the 22 series manual gearbox because we try and spec them tough.
“This game must be one of the hardest on the gear. The forestry roads are harsh, which is why we like the Kenworths.”
With both sons highly skilled on the tools, it’s no surprise that the business has a fully kitted-out workshop for maintaining all the equipment.
“We do all our own maintenance,” Ross says. “We have a full-time mechanic onboard, and as Luke is a qualified mechanic he gets stuck in when needed, plus Paul is a boilermaker so great at welding.
“Chris Saltmarsh at CJD Equipment is fantastic, too. He’ll call in if we are looking for another truck and will always help out if we need something.”
Luke adds: “In the workshop we always run with Castrol, and use Hankook tyres with super singles on the single steers, then 295s on the twin steers. We are also looking at fitting GPS so we can monitor the fleet better, and fleet management tablets for the drivers.
“In terms of logging trailers, we only use Elphinstone and Kennedy trailers. Elphinstone makes the Easy Loaders that wind-up, making it good to use with standard trucks so I can then drop the log trailer and connect to anything else. Kennedy has the fold-up trailers that sit up on the rear of the prime mover for easier access, but there is a lot of framework already fixed to the prime mover which gets in the way if you want to tow normal trailers.”
Although Ross and Jan are still involved in the company, with the three kids and their daughter-in-law looking after the operations, they can now enjoy semi-retirement to go travelling. With Ross already planning for his 70th birthday, he isn’t ruling out marking the occasion with another special truck.