When the going gets tough, equipment hauler Kos Oilfield Transportation turns to massive Foremost Industries Commander C trucks to pull through the slop
When the going gets really tough during rainy Alberta summers – as in 4-foot-deep-clay-mud tough – crews at Kos Oilfield Transportation fire up their massive Commander Cs to get the job done.
Even in an industry where large and powerful equipment is common, the four Commanders – made by Foremost Industries LP – are men among boys. Aided by super-sized rubber “terra tires,” which are 5 1/2 feet tall and 43 inches wide and inflated to 25 psi, the Commanders can easily haul more than 60,000 pounds of gas or oil field rig equipment through otherwise impassable terrain.
“They’re big boys, no doubt about it,” says Ron Allan, the health, safety and environment manager for Kos (a division of TransForce Inc.). Based in Drayton Valley, Alberta, Canada, the company mainly moves oil field rigs for drilling companies throughout Alberta, plus parts of Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
“The Commanders are our mud trucks,” he continues. “We have extensive rains every summer, and knee-high mud is common. We work our Commanders all day, every day for three or four months. It’s the only way to get those rigs moved.
“Without them, the rest of our fleet of trucks would be sitting at home,” he adds. “Depending on the size of the move, the Commanders support 10 to 25 other trucks that would all be sitting idle without them.”
How big is a Commander? It’s 51 feet, 8 inches long, 11 feet wide and just over 12 feet tall, with a fording depth of 5 feet, 5 inches. Powered by a Cummins 485 hp engine, the Commander’s gross vehicle weight is 138,000 pounds, with a payload capacity of 60,000 pounds. Top speed? Nearly 22 mph.
One of the four Commanders Kos owns is a tri-axle model; the third rear axle provides a longer deck while still maintaining a low ground pressure of 18 psi. On the tri-axle model, the gross vehicle weight jumps to 168,000 pounds and payload capacity increases to 80,000 pounds.
The Commanders are so big that they’re outfitted with three cameras – one in back and one on each side, mounted under the bed and near the cab – that transmit images to a cab-mounted monitor so drivers can see what’s going on. In addition, the vehicles aren’t allowed to run on public roadways. Instead, they’re loaded onto a 48-wheel combination-transport rig that consists of a tractor cab, a 16-wheel jeep trailer, a 24-wheel lowboy flatbed trailer and an eight-wheel booster trailer.
Allan’s favorite features are the Commander’s all-wheel drive and the articulated steering.
“The all-wheel drive locks right up so you can spin every tire,” he explains. “And the articulated steering makes it much easier to spot (position) the load without moving the truck. Just moving the steering wheel moves the load from side to side … and when it’s in position, we just lower the winch and let it down.
“This is great when we have to spot, say, a heavy rig substructure an inch over to hit dead-center,” he says. “If you don’t spot it right, they won’t hit the right spot when they stand the derrick up – you need to have it bang-on at the start. With a regular truck working in two feet of mud, it would be almost impossible to spot it, because every time you try to move the truck, it always slides back into the deep ruts.”
Allan also lauds the trucks for improving job site safety. Not only are the trucks stable compared to a conventional truck trying to operate in deep mud or soft ground, but they also rarely require towing.
“Anytime you do less towing, it’s safer,” he says. “If a big-bed truck gets stuck in a three-foot-deep rut, they need to bring in a Cat (Caterpillar bulldozer) and use cables, which can break. Anytime you don’t have to pull or tug, it’s a safer work site.”
Allan drives a Commander every so often and says it’s a thrill.
“It’s a blast – I love them,” he says. “It’s extreme … the little-boy-playing-in-the-mud thing. It can be a little frightening at times if you get one leaning with 80,000 pounds on the back. They’re not infallible, but they’re about as good as it gets.”
The cost of a Commander – about $1.2 million – is as outsized as the tires that allow it to “float” through deep mud. “They’re a pretty pricey toy,” Allan quips. So are repair and maintenance expenses, which add up quickly because the trucks labor in such extreme conditions, Allan says.
“We recently brought one in for a brake job and it cost $32,000,” he notes. “On another one, we’re going to spend $50,000 to $60,000 to take the rear suspension apart for routine maintenance.
“The wear-and-tear and maintenance costs are huge because these trucks play in the mud all day,” he continues. “But that doesn’t reflect on their quality. They put the rest of our rig-moving trucks to work. They’re fabulous machines.”
Especially when the going gets tough.