Seven-axle milk tank truck boosts productivity for Neitzel Trucking
Sep 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
FACED WITH aggressive weight and size enforcement in southwestern Wisconsin and the need to maximize milk payloads in dairy farm pick-up operations, Gerry and Tim Neitzel went looking for a new approach that would make it possible to achieve both objectives. They found their solution in a specially configured seven-axle tank truck.
Put into operation in June, the tank truck weighs 26,320 pounds, including fuel and a 210-lb driver, and is capable of a maximum gross weight of 80,000 pounds. The Neitzels expect the new truck to generate at least $25,000 in additional annual revenue hauling two loads a day. It also is one of the most stable and maneuverable farm pick-up tankers they have ever driven.
“We paid some hefty overweight fines during the past several years, but that's just part of the reason for developing this new milk tanker configuration,” says Gerry Neitzel, who owns Neitzel Trucking Inc in Alma, Wisconsin. “Dairy farms keep getting bigger, which means our farm pick-up trucks must haul larger loads. It's all about productivity.
“My son, Tim, and I began studying options for larger payloads about three years ago. Tractor-trailer rigs were a consideration, but they have too much difficulty in the hilly terrain along the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin. Tank trucks remain the best choice for farm pick-up.”
Neitzel truly is an expert in the business of hauling milk from the farms that dot the region to local dairies. He started in the business in 1961 as a driver for another milk hauler. When a route became available a year later, he applied for it, and launched his own operation.
$50 annual permit
“At that time, dairy farm pick-up routes were controlled by the state, and a permit cost $50 a year,” Neitzel says. “I also had to buy a tank truck. A local dairy co-signed on my bank note, and I was up and running.”
That first route had 39 farms, and Neitzel picked up 800 pounds of milk at each stop. On an average day, his one truck would haul a total of 17,000 pounds of milk and would earn $26. Bach in October 1961, Neitzel was getting 15 cents per hundred weight hauled.
How things have changed over the past 42 years. Neitzel Trucking now serves 175 dairy farms, down from a high of 385. “A lot of the smaller farms have sold out,” Neitzel says. “Dairy farms have to produce a lot of milk today to survive.”
More and more of the dairy farms in the Alma area are adding 6,000-gallon milk holding tanks. Average holding tank size is 2,500 gallons, but many farms now have more than one tank, some of which are supplied by Neitzel Trucking.
With milk production rising at the farms, the tank trucks had to get bigger. “We have to be able to collect all of the milk in a holding tank, including those with a 6,000-gallon capacity,” Neitzel says. “Wisconsin dairy regulations state that we can't split a load. If we can't pick up all of the milk in a holding tank, it must be discarded.”
Neitzel Trucking consists of seven tank trucks, and they haul a combined total of 780,000 pounds of milk a day during the busiest times of the year. Trucks pick up two to three loads per shift.
“We're averaging 7,700 pounds per stop,” Neitzel says. “At some of the bigger farms, we make three pick-ups every two days. It keeps our drivers busy. Typically, we have three drivers for every two trucks, and they work eight days on with four days off.”
The tank trucks assigned to the drivers keep getting bigger. The seven trucks in the fleet have milk tank capacities ranging from 5,700 gallons to 6,400 gallons. Recent purchases favored five-axle units, but the newest addition to the fleet is changing all of that.
“We can't always put a full load on some of the trucks in our fleet,” Neitzel says. “It's hard to make the axle weights. However, we believe we've solved that problem with our new seven-axle truck. This truck is the way to go for the future.
“We can haul a maximum payload of around 47,000 to 49,000 pounds with most of the trucks in our fleet. In contrast, the new seven-axle tanker can legally handle a maximum payload of 53,500 to 54,000 pounds. That's an additional $25,000 in annual revenue.”
Developing an 80,000-lb-gross-weight milk tanker capable of hauling the maximum legal payload may have started with Neitzel, but it didn't end there. The project became a team effort involving a wide variety of people, including members of the Wisconsin State Police.
An early supporter was Tom “Fuzzy” Krajewski, sales representative at La Crosse Truck Center Inc in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The dealership sells Sterling trucks and has made significant inroads with farm pick-up fleets in the La Crosse area. The dealer even keeps a couple of milk tankers on hand to loan out as spares when customers need to bring in their trucks for service.
Joining Neitzel and Krajewski in the design effort were Dan Wentland, sales representative with Brenner Tank LLC; Randy Knadle, owner of Michael's Truck Equipment Inc; Ted Siegle, regional sales manager for Watson & Chalin Manufacturing Inc; and Stan Backhaus and Derrick A Backaus with Stainless & Repair Inc.
Starting with a Class 8 Sterling LT-9513, they explored various ways to achieve an 80,000-lb gross weight. “Gerry (Neitzel) wanted to carry an additional 5,000-lb payload, and he had a tare-weight target of 26,000 pounds,” Krajewski says. “We came in very close at 26,320 pounds full of fuel and a 210-lb driver. Gerry is an innovator, and he overcame a lot of doubters in making this project work out. This tank truck can operate legally in Wisconsin and should have considerable appeal for other milk haulers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.”
Many factors contributed to the success of the seven-axle tanker, but a new steering lift axle from Watson & Chalin Manufacturing Inc was particularly important. The new Tru-Track Super Lite steerable lift axle was developed, in part, for the Neitzel milk tanker project, according to Siegle.
Total weight of the lift axle, including tires and wheels, is only 895 pounds. That is 374 pounds lighter than a comparable lightweight lift axle from Watson & Chalin. Contributing to lower weight are 17.5-inch wheels and tires, a first for Watson & Chalin Tru-Track fabricated suspensions. Weight savings also came from a new imported 325mm × 100mm (13"×4") brake from ArvinMeritor.
Three of the new Tru-Track Super Lite lift axles were used on the Neitzel tanker. The truck also was specified with Sterling 20,000-lb-capacity steering axle, Meritor 40,000-lb drive tandem, and a Watson & Chalin tag axle at the rear that was specially built just for this truck.
“One of the biggest challenges we faced was arriving at the right axle configuration and positioning,” Krajewski says. “Each axle has to carry a minimum of 8% of the load to meet bridge requirements. We also needed a nine-foot bridge between each axle or group of three axles. Lastly, we needed a workable wheelbase.
“To find the right axle configuration, we looked at and ruled out numerous options. Twin steer trucks wouldn't work in this application. We tried four steerable axles in front of the tandem, as well as two in front and two in back. With four in front, the truck couldn't turn well, and we couldn't get the correct axle weights. Putting the lift axles at the rear created handling problems, and we couldn't get the truck to scale properly. The best arrangement was a group of three steerable lift axles ahead of the drive tandem.
“Working out the axle weights was a time-consuming process, but it was made much easier through the assistance of the Wisconsin State Police including Don Dionne, a retired state trooper. They allowed us to use one of their truck scales to verify weights.”
Finding the lightest lift axle was just a part of the weight-savings effort. Many other truck components contributed to the low tare weight, including Alcoa aluminum wheels, aluminum hubs, front and rear aluminum alloy bumpers, 50-gallon fuel tank, and a specially built driveline.
“We pursued weight savings wherever it was practical,” Krajewski says. “For instance, we even cut off the ends of the 112 Huckbolts on the chassis for a savings of 12 pounds. We also cut off the ends of the U-bolts.”
However, driver comfort and power were not sacrificed in the push for a lower tare weight. While Sterling's optional aluminum cab was specified, Neitzel selected the Prestige interior. Cab fittings include an air-ride driver seat, standard passenger seat with toolbox, tilting/telescoping steering wheel, radio, and air-conditioning.
The Sterling LT 9513 was spec'd with a 435-horsepower Mercedes-Benz engine and Fuller 10-speed transmission. “That Mercedes engine provides plenty of pull on the hills,” Krajewski says.
Light milk tank
Behind the cab on the chassis is the first of Brenner's new lightweight sanitary cargo tanks built for a truck application, according to Wentland. Constructed of 12-gauge Type 304 stainless steel, the tank has a 6,300-gallon capacity.
Reduced-weight features include a Betts five-lug sanitary manhole cover, 24-gauge bright stainless steel jacketing, three inches of polystyrene foam insulation, single stainless steel ladder, and aluminum fenders. The deckplate on top of the tank was eliminated.
At the rear of the cargo tank is a standard stainless steel cabinet. Inside are a 2½-inch Jabsco pump and 35 feet of two-inch dairy-grade hose.
In the short time that the new tanker has been in operation, it has proved that it is a valuable addition to the Neitzel Trucking fleet. It's not likely to remain the only one in the fleet.
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