It takes some pretty heavy equipment to haul coal out of the mines of mountainous Utah. Over the years, Salina, UT-based Robinson Transport has perfected the specs of its tractor-trailer fleet to be certain the job gets done right. The Robinson family has plenty of experience with coalmines, too, having been one of the original owners of a mine back in 1946.
Kim Robinson, the company's current president, says his grandfather sold out his portion of the mine once the trucking end of business had grown to the point of becoming a full-time job. Kim's father Art began hauling coal for his father when he was just 14 years old.
The Arch Coal Company, as it is known today, is Robinson Transport's main customer. It mines about 7-million tons of coal per year.
The fleet also hauls coal for other smaller customers, in addition to gravel in the summertime for construction companies, and salt used for spreading on roads in bad winter weather to ensure the trucks are always kept busy. Hauls are kept to within a 100-mile radius of Salina.
The fleet is made up of 60 power units, all W900 Kenworth models. “Our application requires that we spec our equipment heavier than your average over-the-road truck would be spec'd,” says Kim Robinson.
To handle the heavy load weight and the steep grades the trucks often have to climb to get to the mines, they spec Caterpillar 475-horsepower engines with Eaton 10-speed transmissions and 46,000-lb.-capacity rear axles. The trucks also have a 200-in. wheelbase and GVW of 129,000 lb.
The Kenworths pull 32- and 36-cu-yd. Rocky Mountain double Beall bottom-dump aluminum trailers. “Beall designed the trailers to our specification. Coal carrying trailers were new to them, but with our help they were successful in overcoming initial hurdles, like fine-tuning the design to reduce stress points so the trailers wouldn't break and perfecting the clamshell gates for bottom dumping,” Robinson relates.
At the coalmines, an overhead hopper loads 43 tons of coal into each trailer in just 45 seconds. The trucks are loaded in a continuous process five days a week, for a total of 900 truckloads.
Robinson Transport has 125 drivers who work in two ten-hour shifts.
From Salina, the drivers travel 32 miles to the coalmines, subjecting the trucks to elevations varying from 5,000 ft. to as high as 9,000 ft. through the Coal Cliffs to reach their destination. They also must negotiate sharp turns on the mine roads.
Robinson says the trucks run about 250,000 miles per year. They are normally traded in at 700,000 to 800,000 miles.
“We have eight mechanics and do our own repairs in Salina,” he notes. “Our maintenance facility operates 24 hours a day.”
The trucks are pulled into the shop once a week, some time during the four-hour window that they are idle each day. Equipment is greased and inspected for anything that needs repair.
A customized computer maintenance program is used to keep track of when each truck is due for service. Engine warranty work is handled by the Cat dealership located in town.
Robinson Transport purchases its power units from Kenworth Sales and Service, which is just 150 miles away in Salt Lake City. It orders 20 new trucks per year (or five per quarter) on a regular basis. In fact, Robinson says he just took delivery in mid-July of seven new 2005 model-year W900 Kenworths.
“We have a haul that goes through Salt Lake City regularly, so we can schedule a truck in for anything that needs fixing under the warranty. Having an all-Kenworth fleet simplifies a lot of things and helps us save money, especially in our parts inventory,” Robinson reports.
“Since we service our trucks regularly and keep close records on them, we get a high resale for them,” he adds.
“We also keep them looking great. The trucks are washed at least once a week. It helps keep up our pride and image. Many people who see our trucks on the road don't even realize they are coal-carriers because they look so good.”
DEALING WITH THE UNEXPECTED
Robinson Transport hauls 3.5-million tons of coal a year under a long-term contract with its largest client. “We depend on them. If the coal isn't mined, we have nothing to haul,” Kim Robinson advises. And production is limited — the mine has only a 30,000-ton stockpile.
“If there's a breakdown on their belt lines or anything else that prevents them from getting coal out of the mine, then we're put on hold,” Robinson says.
“Since our drivers are paid by the load, it's a bad situation for them, too,” he adds. “Fortunately that doesn't happen too often. But just like a sudden truck breakdown, nobody can predict when it will happen. That's probably the biggest challenge of being a coal carrying company.”