Steely traditions behind restored classic Kenworth

By: Warren Caves, Photography by: Warren Caves


The aura of the W-model is alive and well and living at the family-run Metal Transport Industries in the NSW Illawarra region

Metal Transport Industries' classic Kenworth W-900

Illawarra-based Metal Transport Industries (MTI) finds value in holding onto and maintaining its Kenworth fleet for the long-haul. From its beginnings in 1979, MTI serviced the scrap metal industry almost exclusively for the best part of 25 years before pivoting toward the direction of heavy equipment haulage in search of increased business opportunities and profit margins.

Brothers Dave and Kev Murada are MTI’s co-managing directors. Dave gives OwnerDriver an insight into how the business began 42 years ago.

"The old man had machinery, bulldozers and the like and then got involved with excavators in the scrap game. It was Dad that got myself and my two brothers, Kevin and Peter, involved in the scrap metal transport game," Dave says.

Under the MTI banner, the three brothers (triplets by the way) began carting scrap metal for companies such as BHP, Metal Recyclers and Simsmetal, first with one truck then, shortly after, increasing in size to four trucks.

"In those early days we did everything ourselves, from organising the loads, driving along with all the maintenance and breakdown work. It was just what we had to do," Dave explains.

"It wasn’t until we got big enough to employ a mechanic that I found enough time to focus on the operations side of the business, enabling further expansion."

Jarrod Murada caught the Kenworth bug from his father Dave

Things went along nicely for the three brothers for a while until a loss of some contract work saw the fleet size reduce back to a single truck around 1984. It was at this point that brother Peter decided to pursue other interests, leaving the business to be carried on by Dave and Kev. This downsizing of fleet was only short lived, with the remaining two brothers soon sourcing new opportunities within the steel transport game.

Interstate work was soon secured carting ‘pig iron’. Pig iron, also known as crude iron, is an intermediate product of the iron industry in the production of steel, which is obtained by smelting iron ore in a blast furnace. This work would see MTI transporting the iron between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide for many years.

Kenworth connection

Throughout these productive years a long-standing relationship formed with the Kenworth brand.

"We have had other makes come into our fleet from time to time but other brands just don’t compare," Dave says. During the first 10 to 15 years of the company’s operation, Kenworth W-models and K100 cab-overs would dominate the MTI fleet.

During that first 10 years, the MTI fleet size hovered around nine trucks, working on both local and interstate duties carting scrap metal in tippers. In 1986, the company purchased its first float trailer to assist with machinery movements for their father’s business. Unbeknownst to the brothers at the time, this type of equipment purchase would eventually provide the mainstay of MTI’s current business model.

MTI-7813.jpg

The interstate work was continuing well and new contracts carting scrap steel from steel food can manufacturing facilities in Melbourne, Kyabram, Wodonga and Shepparton saw MTI establish a depot in Melbourne employing a sub-contractor to pick up the scrap and bring it into the Melbourne depot for interstate transfers back to Sydney by the company’s trucks. This increase in workload saw the fleet size at one point total 36 trucks, but the winds of change were already starting to blow.

Annual rate increases well below minimum requirements for profitable operation and contract losses by being undercut by major companies encouraged Dave and Kev to look for alternate opportunities.

With a further breakdown in rate negotiations with prime contractors, even backed by an independent consultant being engaged during the negotiation process, additional rate increases in line with costs were not forthcoming, so MTI advised they would see out their existing contracts but would not be renewing future contracts. As a result, 18 of the company’s scrap metal trucks were sold off to another local carrier in 2007. This decision would form the catalyst of change for the company’s future direction.

As it would turn out, the timing was quite prudent indeed.

"We already had a couple floats running around and that business was increasing," Dave says.

Left to right: Dave, Jarrod and Kevin Murada have long had a connection with the Kenworth brand. Photo supplied by MTI

"Fortunately for us, it was around this time that machinery imports were transitioning from the Darling Harbour site in Sydney to Port Kembla, this was to make way for the Barangaroo development.

"We were ideally positioned to take advantage of this local development. The machinery floating business really picked up for us and with our yard being located close to Port Kembla we would also have other float companies call on us to move machinery off the wharf for them if they couldn’t get there within the three-day allotted window for pick-up off the wharf."

For MTI, the lion’s share of the company’s freight is now carried on the back of float trailers, with just a few steel tipper trailers continuing to work, predominantly local. As for running the business as brothers, Dave says it has worked out great.

"We get along really well and have a lot of mutual friends. We have played sport together and ride our Harleys together. At work, we have never had a blue or bad word and we discuss everything to do with the business, except perhaps when I bought a T900 Kenworth for Kev to celebrate his, and mine, 40th birthday. I even got the guys at Kenworth to bring the truck down at night so he didn’t see it," Dave smiles.

Iconic model

As for this wonderful W-900, well let’s backtrack a bit to 1987, when MTI first got hold of it. Fresh out of Bayswater Victoria, this W-model was built in the last year of manufacture of the iconic Kenworth.

Powered by a 400hp (280kW) 3406 Caterpillar engine driving through a 15-speed overdrive transmission and 3.9/1 ratio Rockwell diffs, this specification would have seen the old, un-speed limited rig truly hold its own on the highway. A big truck for the time.

The 3406 Cat engine has been well maintained over the years

MTI placed the new truck in the capable hands of driver Gary Boyce to operate on interstate work, which he did for around 10 years or so. By all accounts, Gary was a bit of a character. During my interview with Dave, some stories were told of the good times Gary had during the years with this truck, but I feel these stories are best left for telling around the fuel bowser. One thing is for certain, Gary loved this truck and looked after it really well during his time behind the wheel.

After making its mark on the highway for 10 years, first with Gary at the wheel then Kev, the 3406, although now opened up to 425hp (317kW) to try and keep up with more modern advancements, was feeling a little left behind in the pony department so the truck was unceremoniously relegated to local duties.

One of the truck’s last roles saw it placed within the ASMS facility at Port Kembla, dragging 30- to 40-tonne loads of steel slag around the site from 2011 up until 2016. It was this harsh environment that took its toll on the cosmetic appearance of the old W-Model, eventually seeing her baring more than her share of working life scars.

"I could literally fit my fist through a hole in the firewall of that truck," Dave remarks.

During the course of its working life, however, the truck had been well maintained and looked after with a bit of a freshen up to the engine and the old unyielding torsion bar suspension being tossed aside (where it belongs, just ask my chiropractor) for a more supple air suspension system and aluminium wheels.

It may not be environmentally friendly, but the old Kenworth looks great when it’s simply smokin’

Dave and Kev certainly have a soft spot for Kenworths, evidenced by the length of time they remain in service for the company (Dave still drives a 2003 T904). According to Dave: "It’s easy to find a driver to drive a well looked after 10-year-old Kenworth."

With that in mind, in 2016 it was decided that this W-Model had well and truly earnt her keep, accumulating an odometer score of somewhere between 3.5 to 4 million kilometres. As a reward it would be treated to a makeover.

The truck was stripped down to bare chassis rails for what would be a near three-year restoration. It’s at this point we should introduce Jarrod. Jarrod is Dave’s son, who has also shown a keen interest in this truck since the age of 15, when he would come home from school with a few mates and start to remove components for the truck’s ultimate revival.

"The dad of one of my mates drove the truck for a while, so he was really interested in getting involved as well," Jarrod says. This enthusiasm of youth seemed to spur things on enough to allocate one of MTI’s mechanics to get things moving a little more quickly.

Mechanically the truck was largely left as it was, testament to the maintenance it had received throughout its life. It is still running its original engine and transmission, but new Rockwell diffs were put in as a whole rear end replacement when the air suspension went in. The interior is in original condition and remains untouched.

The W-900’s interior has easily stood the test of time

While there was no real timeline planned for the job, Dave said they wanted to do it right, so the truck was completely rewired.

"The truck was at our electricians for months," Dave says.

Cab repairs and painting were done by Kent Collision and Kustom before the truck returned to Signs, Lines and Scrolls so that Dennis Swinnerton could work his magic brush to hand paint the line and scroll work on the cab to exactly match the way he had done it some 35 years earlier.

With the truck now finished, the historic plates signify a leisurely life of show patronage and classic truck rally runs.

"Jarrod really loves the old trucks and he takes the W-model to all the shows and has driven it on the Haulin’ the Hume truck run," Dave says.

"He goes to the shows and sleeps in the truck; he’s been driving it since he was 20-years old. He loves it.

"I learnt to drive on 18-speed Roadrangers, so the 15-speed overdrive transmission with its ’round the corner shift means I really need to concentrate when I drive it," Jarrod adds.

It’s not all beer and skittles for 22-year-old Jarrod though. He has served his time as a mechanic, working both outside and within the MTI business and is now learning the ropes from Dave and uncle Kev to gain first-hand knowledge of driving and floating large machinery and equipment with plans of taking over, eventually.

"Kev has a son also, he is a fitter by trade, and we would really like to maybe one day see him take part in the business as well," Dave says.

"But, for now, he is living in Canada and has met a girl, so we are not sure how that will go. It would be great for the two of them to take over someday."

Unlike the other MTI fleet of Kenworths, the W-model’s runs are restricted to truck shows

Learning from the ground up, Jarrod drives the scrap truck and is building on the experience already gained by riding ‘shotgun’ with Dave on school holiday trucking adventures. He has also done dolly jobs to the Snowy-Hydro project travelling with other drivers, gaining invaluable experience in the adverse conditions encountered on that job.

It’s good to see training and mentorship being given to young drivers in line with their experience. Learning the ropes from the ground level surely results in a greater understanding and appreciation of the task with fewer mistakes along the way.

Someone wise once said to me: "Listen to the old blokes [drivers] when they offer advice, they have probably made the mistakes you haven’t even thought of yet."

In our ever-increasing throwaway society it’s nice to see some nostalgia at play when it comes to long serving trucks. I know these old trucks have poor emission standards (as evidenced by the big Cat sooting from the chimneys in some of these photos), but as an occasional show cruiser, surely the historical and nostalgic factor is worthy a few diesel particulates in moderation.

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