Easy as pie

Sonia Straface

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It’s not every day you get to hop into a real-life transformer truck and show a Las Vegas audience how it’s done.

To be fair, it wasn’t the legendary Optimus Prime I had to transform from a Western Star 5700XE truck to the mechanical movie character, but nevertheless, when you climb your way into the 6900XD MBT-40, multi-body transformer, and are asked to remove the water tank attached to it and pick up and attach a combination flat/dump deck, it can put some out of their comfort zone a little bit.

Visiting the Western Star outdoor display during the World of Concrete show in Las Vegas Jan. 18, Mark Neale, account manager for Carco Industries gave me the full tour on the transformer truck, how it was made, what it can do and how a single operator can do it.

Mark Neale, account manager for Carco, right, and Shane Foreman, product support sales rep for Klein Products, say Western Star’s transformer truck is a true multi-purpose vehicle.

Carco’s role in the construction of the truck is to start with a bare chasses from Western Star and install and integrate the hydraulics, control system, installation of the Palfinger G68 hooklift, as well as other body upgrades to make the vehicle fully functional.

Neale said the Palfinger G68 is the currently the largest hooklift on the market, able to lift 68,000 lbs off the ground.

I used this hooklift to discard a Klein 8,000 gallon water tank, which was attached to the truck, and pick up and attach a J&J Truck Bodies’ general purpose combination deck/dump truck deck.

But we’ll get back to this in a moment.

“There’s a standardized format for the mounting,” Neale said. “So the long sills that you see in the front A-frame is built to a standard and you can attach almost any body that you want onto that.”

The 6900XD MBT-40 has two power take-off (PTO) packages: one mounted off the transmission that operates the hooklift portion and another that supplies the hydraulic power to the body.

“Because this thing here is like the Swiss Army knife of trucks, we need to be able to handle hydraulic and electrical requirements for anything from a huge side dump trailer to a water truck,” Neale explained. “We’ve set it up with an intelligent harnessing system so that when you plug the body in, the truck recognizes the body that’s on it.”

The goal of the transformer truck is simple: keep things as easy and uncomplicated as possible. During the design process, they wanted customers to be able to use the truck for several different applications with various attachments and operate based on what the body designer had engineered it to operate on.

“You’re not going to buy this package just to run a water truck,” Neale said. “You’re going to buy this if you’re going to use the water truck part of the year or part of the day, and you’re going to haul gravel with it.”

An example of keeping it simple? Depending on what attachment is on the truck, whether it be a water tank or dump truck, an overlay is placed on top of the switch box to indicate what action each performs.

But there is a lot to the transformer truck.

It boasts a Detroit Series 60 Tier 3 engine or a Detroit DD16, Allison 4700/4800off-road series transmission, 110,000 lbs planetary rear axle, 28,000 lbs planetary front axle and a front engine skid pan.

“The MBT-40 package is a game changer in construction applications for its ability to be multiple pieces of equipment in one chassis,” said John Tomlinson, XD and vocational sales manager for Western Star. “The development of this platform was all about finding better economic ways of filling needs for our customers. Off-road chassis equipment can be expensive to buy and maintain and new emissions levels are making the investment even more costly.”

Neale said there is also a fifth wheel option on the tractor, which can be bolted down to the frame and pull a 200,000-250,000 lbs trailer.

“You’ve got a really versatile and multi-purpose piece of equipment here,” said Neale. “What’s unique about this is that once you plug it in and once you connect it, you have a fully-operational truck. It goes from a professionally-functional water truck to a vacuum truck…so the truck is basic power source for the body…you don’t have to spend hours making connections or bolting things on.”

When it was my turn to get behind the wheel, I thought what I was getting was a demo on how the truck worked, but to my surprise, Neale let me take control and see how it worked first hand.

Dumping the water tank was easy. Push a few levers to move it from the attached position, down onto the ground and detach the Palfinger hooklift.

But then I had to move the truck forward and reverse into a tight enough spot that the Palfinger hook was placed right underneath the fastening bar of the dump attachment. All this without backing up too far that the hook smashed into the dump bin.

My first go, I was a little off, maybe a few inches…or feet, but who’s measuring?

So after a slight readjustment I got it positioned bang on and hooked that dump apparatus perfectly, lifted it up and put it in place on the back of the truck. Easy as that…from a water truck to a dump truck in what couldn’t have been more than few minutes…maybe 10, but again, who’s counting?

Neale said during testing, the average swap over time from a water truck to a dump truck was around 10 minutes, so let’s go with that. Transforming to a fifth wheel takes a bit longer, as the operator must bolt down the fifth wheel, which takes around another 10 minutes.

It’s a pretty impressive piece of machinery, I must say. If your humble narrator can make it look relatively easy, anyone can.


Sonia Straface

Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data