The uphill journey.
Transport Magazine

The uphill journey.

An Arocs 2663 transports a mega-sized dumper to the Alps.

A job in Tyrol: a team from Wacker GmbH transports heavy-duty loads to above 2,000 metres altitude.

Alexander Pfänder looks up at the mountain: “This is not an everyday job, that’s for sure.” He is referring to the huge dumper body of an opencast mining tipper truck which has to travel up the hairpin bends. It is the last load of a job for which Wacker GmbH from Filderstadt has been transporting dumper bodies and chassis from Bremerhaven to the South Tyrol. The chassis and the dumper body will be assembled back together when they are at their destination at a height of 2,000 metres.

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At the car park down in the valley, where Pfänder is just standing, the convoy will make the last stop on its journey before embarking on the final mountain ascent. Now, in the middle of the week, it is empty. With a cross between an old-style filling station and a fast-food restaurant, the service station is reminiscent of an American diner. The wreck of a vintage car performs its last services here as decor. It’s a popular meeting place for bikers.

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“The truck has to deal with a lot of strain, of course. We need an extremely robust vehicle here.”

Alexander Pfänder, Scheduler for Wacker GmbH

Six hours later: the lights of the convoy bathe the car park in orange light. Driver Tobias Helbing checks his load once again. The 200 kilometres he has just driven on the motorway were straightforward. Escort vehicles ensured that the vehicle combination always had enough space. “We have the two lanes just to ourselves – the motorway isn’t really a problem,” says Tobias. But now strong nerves are required.

On the 19 kilometres to the destination, there are sections with gradients of up to 16 percent, plus villages and hairpin bends. The journey is really tricky. “For all of us, high concentration is needed all the time, and that goes particularly for the driver,” says Pfänder the scheduler, who is now sitting in one of the escort vehicles. “The truck has to deal with a lot of strain, of course. We need an extremely robust vehicle here.”

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meters is the altitude the convoy is heading for. It’s an easy task for the Arocs 2663. Nonetheless, man and machine have to do a tough job of work.

The Arocs takes the first bend at walking pace. In the second bend it is even slower. It’s good to hear the OM 473 working – the 460 kW of power is anything but silent. The symbol of the turbo retarder clutch lights up in the display in front of Helbing. This will be used quite often in the next 40 minutes. The vehicle combination crawls round the left-hand bend in manoeuvring mode. The steep wall which lines the road is now so close that it occupies the entire view out of the cab. The steering wheel almost at full lock. One of his colleagues from the van radios to him just how much space there is at the rear right to the stone wall. There are just a few centimetres at the front … Helbing grins: “That’ll fit. We managed it last time.” As if things were always that easy.

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It is absolute precision work that the team does with each freight transport. The dumper body is almost six metres wide, 18.50 metres long and 4.30 metres high and it weighs 55 tonnes. And there is always something else on top. Weather, darkness, new obstacles … at least the weather is OK today; it’s almost summer. Helbing says: “When we did the first trips up here it was a lot tougher. Snow and ice don’t make things easier. Even wind can make a difference because the dumper body has such a large surface area.” 

The convoy reaches the next village. This is another critical part of the trip: it gets steeper again. The roof of a house juts out over the road. This is precision work down to the last centimetre, and progress is at walking pace. Then immediately afterwards, a 400-metre obstacle course awaits the team, with trees, road signs and natural stone walls.

At the end of the village the truck finally stops altogether. The fence at the edge of a cow field has to be removed temporarily. It is too high. The load has a ground clearance of 1.10 metres. With a width of 5.90 metres, it protrudes well over the edge of the road that is narrower here. 

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They carry on up the tightly winding roads, mile after mile – and sometimes down steep downhill gradients too. Helbing says: “Here again it’s a situation for the turbo retarder clutch. I don’t need the brakes here.” 

At the end of a hard day’s work, the seven-axle vehicle combination reaches the car park where in the next few days the dumper body will be mounted on the chassis. A cool wind blows in through the open window. It’s a good ten degrees cooler up here than down in the valley. There is even still snow on the slopes.

Tomorrow they will uncouple the load. Alexander Pfänder thanks the team. Their mood is good and they have done an excellent job of work. He speaks briefly with Tobias Helbing about the week to come. He will need him and the Arocs in north Germany. Then he goes into the hotel. He’ll sleep well tonight.

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Photos: Mathias Aletsee
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau