Special feature: Ace Heavy Haulage

By: Editor, Photography by: Supplied

Ace Heavy Haulage recently used four ex-Australian Army spec’d 6X6 off-road recovery winch rigs to recover an excavator from a steep slip

Mack supplied over 900 MC3 models to the Australian Army from 1981

Working from bases in Auckland and Hamilton, Ace Heavy Haulage is a vehicle and machinery towing, salvage, and recovery specialist, whether that be by transporter, tow truck, or winch.

The Bartle family, a name connected to towing companies in Tāupo, Rotorua, and Tauranga, originally purchased one heavy recovery truck in the mid-2000s from Ace Towing Company and expanded their recovery business footprint into Auckland.

After building up the Ace Heavy Haulage division, the business eventually found itself in the hands of family member Che Bartle.

"The business was originally based in Auckland and Whangārei," says Che. "I took it over fully about 10 years ago and subsequently moved the Northland heavy equipment to Hamilton to take advantage of heavier traffic flows."

Since then, the business has grown and when combined with the other family-owned businesses has some 120 trucks at its disposal, 20 of which are heavy recovery trucks of 6x4 configuration and larger.

"We’ll winch anything, anywhere in the country," says Che. "We have excavator winch attachments, swamp mats, winch tractors, winch excavators, telehandlers, skid steer loaders, and other specialised machinery — pretty much everything that’s needed to recover almost anything."

Excavator recoveries

Ace Heavy Haulage has resources to tackle complex recoveries

While truck breakdowns and accident jobs feature high on the bread-and-butter work for Ace Heavy Haulage, excavator recoveries also frequent the call-out list.

"Some of the recoveries can be quite interesting sometimes," says Che. "The digger might only be slightly stuck, but the owner has freaked out and called us. They’re the easy jobs."


When things turn more serious, there are a number of other issues an excavator owner has to contend with, including notifications to authorities such as WorkSafe.

"Often in cases where third parties, such as insurance companies and WorkSafe are involved, the owner will step back to avoid any further issues and hand it across to experts such as ourselves to ensure a safe completion," says Che.

100 metres of winching nears completion

"The other thing is that not a lot of people have big gear sitting around for recovery work. Gone are the days you hit a mate up for a set of rusty chains and a half-seized winch block. This can be dangerous and not worth risking your life."

Bring in the Macks

This machine was 100 metres down a steep slip

One of the more recent recoveries was the complex salvage of a 25-tonne excavator down the side of a large slip in Awakino, some 100km northeast of New Plymouth.

Access was limited for the four trucks to winch from

As the story goes, the operator was re-establishing access into a Cyclone Gabrielle-damaged forestry block when the slip occurred, and although seriously injured, by all accounts was lucky to escape with their life, considering the excavator came to rest some 100 metres down a steep embankment.

It was about five months before the insurance company-led recovery was ready for Che to head the task of salvaging the excavator, who, in turn, called on his brother Brooke and other specialised crew who work closely together on these complex jobs to provide additional equipment.

The four MC3 Macks prepare for the big job

The ideal trucks for the job were their ex-Australian Army Mack MC3 recovery units — or heavy wreckers as they are otherwise known outside New Zealand.

The trucks have been seen regularly around the North and Central North Island region in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, winching bridges and recovering other equipment.

"I have two 6X6 Macks (as well as numerous Unimogs) and my brother has two," says Che. "My two are road legal and the other two soon will be, so his ones were transported to the job site."

Each truck has two x 16-tonne winches

Based on a 6x6 Mack R-Series commercial chassis, the army cab and chassis are designated RM6866RS. The recovery system consists of two x 16-tonne hydraulic winches with 97 metres of cable each, a Palfinger PK9501 crane, and a towing hitch. The truck has a range of approximately 1000km on first-class roads at a maximum road speed of 100km per hour.

The trucks are designed for off-road work, with just over 900 being supplied to the Australian Army from 1981 in varying configurations, including the four that are now owned by Che and Brooke.

The recovery job

Two machines prepare the base prior to winching

One of the biggest issues for the recovery was the stability up on top due to rotten rock and clay being the base for the trucks to winch from. "We had to cut big logs to use as a base for the truck stabilisers, as there was nowhere to secure a deadman (anchor point) to winch from," says Che.

The two-day winching started with the removal of the track motors, with the intention of standing the excavator upright and reducing further damage to the machine.

"Unfortunately, vegetation had jammed the tracks and as we winched, the machine came right side up, but the inability for the tracks to move meant that as it was winched up the steep incline, the sliding machine would follow the contour of the ground and eventually the excavator was back on its side; fortunately, it was on the damaged side once again.

"The lack of room to reposition the trucks meant we just had to let it do its thing and work from there," says Che.

As the machine neared the top, it was once again positioned upright and the awkward task of getting it over the lip onto the level platform was completed.

"The tricky part getting it over the lip was the excavator kept wanting to bury itself into the soft ground," says Che. "We sorted it by bringing the machine across the face on an angle," says Che.

The machine was winched across on an angle to prevent it digging into the lip of the platform

With another successful recovery for Che and Brooke’s crews under their belts, Che says big jobs like that shouldn’t be underestimated.

"For me, it’s important to visit the site and spend a few hours working through different scenarios," he says. "Sometimes, these jobs require us to assess the situation at different times to ensure a safe plan is going to be implemented.

"People will often say, it’ll take a few hours or in the instance of the digger down the bank, some said to allow a day. I estimated the recovery would take two days winching and it did.

Winching is the fast part; it’s setting up the rigging that takes time," says Che. "It went exactly as planned."

For more information, visit aceheavyhaulage.co.nz

Mack MC3 Specifications

Operating Weight 18,860kg
Engine EM6-320 Maxidyne series, six-cylinder, intercooled, turbo
Power 238kW(320hp) @2100rpm
Torque 1360Nm@1500rpm
Transmission Eaton Fuller RTXF-14710 10-speed overdrive
Overall Length 9500mm
Overall Width 2500mm
Overall Height 3265mm

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