Cover story: Heavy haulage driver Lynn Clark

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Lynn Clark

Heavy haulage driver Lynn Clark loves nothing better than loading up the transporter of her Kenworth with a massive machine and delivering it to its destination

Lynn, who works for Rotorua Forestry Haulage (RFH), has a passion for heavy haulage. The 54-year-old has been a professional driver since she was 19 and has steadily worked her way up through the industry in different roles. She drove a logging truck for 20 years, but it’s the heavy stuff she loves best.

"I like the big machines. I’ve got a thing about it. As well, I love the fact that it’s something women don’t usually do. I was the first woman in heavy haulage years ago. I was probably the only one in the country at the time, I think," she says.

Lynn at the helm

Heavy haulage is demanding and requires a meticulous and calculated approach. Check and double-check is what it’s all about. Lynn does all that and more to ensure her load is secure, that she knows the route ahead, and what she’s likely to encounter along the way.

Driving takes her all around the country.

"Our job is primarily forestry focused: shifting forestry gear around corporate forests and different woodlots. We also travel to the port and service a range of other clients."

The machinery associated with the forestry industry is diverse, and Lynn says she enjoys this. She’s required to load and unload "grapple loaders, harvesters, forwarders and skidders with big clunky wheels that pull the trees around the place".

"I do bulldozers, too. I love those. We also pick up new machinery from the wharf and deliver it to different branches.

"I enjoy driving big machines onto the transporter. Some operators will drive them on themselves, but I mostly do it myself. I drive lots of different machines; some I’ve never driven before, so you’ve got a short time for a practice beforehand to figure out your controls. I love that challenge."

Lots to it

Heading out on the highway having picked up a Sumitomo digger from Auckland Wharf

Lynn feels as if she’s a pioneer in the heavy haulage business.

"There are few women in heavy haulage, and when one steps up to do it, I am rapt. There are few of us in this area of transport."

So to those thinking of getting into it, she says the number-one factor is having lots of driving experience.

"You can’t just get into heavy haulage as a learner driver. Drivers need to have at least five years of driving experience, especially on the truck and trailers or articulated machines.

"Besides this, you’ve got to know your weights, same as the logging operators do. However, it’s slightly different for heavy haulage drivers; we have the added challenge of carrying different weights and loads. You have to know what each machine weighs and where you place them on the transporter; they have different positions, depending on how heavy they are.

"Also, if you’re going into challenging areas, you have to calculate that if I have my machine there, the unit could get stuck, so I will have to stop, take my chains off and run the digger forward towards the rear of the truck to have weight over the driver’s area. There is a lot of nutting it out, but if you’re passionate about it, it’s not a problem."

Route planning is another vital aspect of heavy haulage. To safeguard against any problems, Lynn plans it out beforehand.

"If I am going somewhere I haven’t been before, I look at my permits to check such things as bridge dimensions. You have to be aware of any potential hazards along the way."

Loading and chaining

A CAT 336 enroute to Taupo for tree clearing

When you look at massive loads coming down the highway towards you, think, ‘let’s hope that’s securely chained onto that transporter,’ and, of course, it has to be.

The big thing says Lynn is to take your time.

"You can’t be too fast loading; otherwise, you will wreck your transporter. There’s a lot of stress placed on those ramps. Mine, for example, being on airbag suspension, has nothing supporting it on the ground other than the wheels and the axles. So, I am careful because that’s the most stress you’re putting on your transporter. I take it slowly."

Deciding how many chains you’ll need has to calculated too.

"If it’s a 30-tonne load, each chain is five tonnes, and the twitches might be around four tonnes. If it’s a 30-tonne loader, I’ll need to have at least three chains on each track. If I am carting a digger, I’ll have one on each side of the boom as well. If there are three chains on each track and one across the boom on each side, it’s generally 40 tonnes of chain. If I have to place a chain and it’s hard, I climb on the deck and do it. For me, it’s way easy."

The truck and trailer

A crane used for building log homes is on-board for this run to Hunterville

Lynn drives a 2018 Kenworth SAR T610.

"It has a good field of vision; no air cleaners are sticking up, which allows you to see more. That’s especially helpful when you’re trying to back into difficult places. The bigger sleeper cab is more spacious than average. The only thing I don’t like is it doesn’t have any grab handles; they are inside, so when you want to wash your truck or climb up, you have nothing to hold onto. That’s my only grizzle.

"My previous KW was on heavy haulage suspension, which is rough, whereas this one runs on airbag suspension and is smooth. That’s helpful when you’re trying to back into difficult places."

The trailer, a three-metre fixed width, with top and bottom decks was built by Modern Transport Engineers (MTE) in Hamilton. The quad axle trailer has rear axle steers making it easier to back around corners

"It’s on airbag suspension, so when you’re loading, it doesn’t sit on the ground, as do the three rows of eight. You have to make sure you are level.

"I’ll admit I prefer three rows of eight wideners, but this one is good for doing 20 tonners and the smaller machines because you have no gaps in your deck, so it’s not going to fall through, but for bigger stuff, you want gaps in your deck so you can tuck your boom down."

A driving life

30-tonne TimberPro forwarder loaded up at the forestry skid site

Lynn credits a family friend’s transport business, Watchorn Transport in Awakere, as an early influence.

"I used to stay there quite a bit and help with the stock truck run. That’s how I learned."

Lynn’s first driving job after gaining her Class One licence was with Auckland contractors Smith and Davies. She drove a four-wheeler truck and progressed to larger trucks as she moved up through the different licence classes.

While there, she jumped at the opportunity to do logging and transport work. She then moved from Auckland in 1991, did 10 years on logs with various companies in the Bay of Plenty before returning to Smith and Davies on the transporters.

She also drove a tow truck for six years. In 2011, with house prices escalating, Lynn decided it was time to move back to Rotorua. So, it was back to working on a logging truck for RFH before making a move to heavy haulage.

Lynn enjoys stock car racing in her spare time and is part of a team called Sour Puss Racing. She likes the thrill of driving.

"It’s good, but it’s scary too. I plan to go to lots of different tracks around the country in the next few seasons"

Her future goals? "Go bigger," she says, without hesitation. And given her track record, Lynn will rise to that challenge for sure. She’ll tackle it with gusto.

Kenworth SAR T60 specifications

Cummins Engine X15 550hp
Eaton 18-speed Gearbox
Airglide suspension 400
760 mm mid roof sleeper
ABS Antilock braking system
Configuration 6x4

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