Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States

January  2001 - Volume 26 Number 1

 

 

Kenworth: 75 Years In The Woods & Still Hauling 

When the Gersix Motor Company was incorporated as Kenworth Motor Truck Company in 1923, the small Seattle truck manufacturer was producing 78 six cylinder, gasoline powered trucks per year. Today, the company annually sells more than 25,000 vehicles with production plants in the United States, Mexico and Australia. Many of those trucks go into service in logging operations. The tradition of using Kenworth trucks in Pacific Northwest forests goes all the way back to the debut of the first solid rubber tired Gersix - a forerunner to Kenworth developed in 1916. In fact, just two years after the introduction of the Gersix, the company developed a conversion kit to turn an automobile into a tractor, capable of hard work in the woods, hauling logs. 

These primitive "glider" kits were a far cry from the logging trucks of today, but this early experience in the woods during Kenworth's formative years helped the company develop a wide range of logging trucks. Soon after the glider kits were on the market, production logging trucks became commonplace at Kenworth through the late '20s. Primitive roads, steeper grades and greater payloads presented challenges for early loggers and for Kenworth's engineers. Kenworth's first true logger was developed in 1928 the Model J built specifically for R. Malone of Ellensburg, Washington. 

As the logging industry matured in the late '30s and '40s, Kenworth kept pace. The company developed a line of logging trucks dubbed the "Big Loggers, featuring four wheel drive power and side rails 10 inches deep and 35poundperfoot Corten Ibeams. These trucks could handle rugged terrain and were capable of hauling loads of up to 100 tons. They were true workhorses. Pacific Car and Foundry Purchases Kenworth In 1944, changes came to Kenworth when Pacific Car and Foundry purchased Kenworth. Production continued to increase and was further accelerated by the company's 1945 move to a new South Seattle factory. 

The new facility featured chain conveyors to move the line, which included new models of trackless trolleys, intercity buses and dump trucks. Twenty-seven new models were introduced between 1945 and 1950. The giant of the line, Model 888, was a chain drive vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of up to 110,000 pounds, built for construction or logging. The truck featured double back to back frame rails, whereas standard trucks used only one set. Loggers took full advantage of this offroad workhorse, often stacking it with as many logs as the lSfoot bunks could possibly hold. As the West Coast logging industry continued to prosper throughout the '50s, in harvesting in Alaska offered it own set of challenges. Because of severe weather, poor road conditions, and remote locations with little if any repair shops, durable logging trucks were needed, and Kenworths were chosen for the job by many northern logging companies. 

Kenworth's Model 524 became a stalwart off highway performer for Alaskans, reportedly hauling up to 13,000 board feet of logs per load (160,000 pounds gross vehicle weight) by the Scribner log scale. In 1964, Kenworth introduced what was to become the company's all-time best selling logging truck - the W900. Advanced for its time, this truck could be custom spec'd with virtually thousands of options for use in on/off road applications. In the West, as old growth timber gave way to second generation trees in the 1970s, the W900 became the truck of choice. "That truck became a legend unto itself," observed John Rempel, engineering manager for off highway and specialty trucks. "We took the W900 design further- making it stouter by beefing up the front suspension and cab mounting area." The heavy logger known as LW924 (L for logger) was hard to miss. 

A sheet metal hood and fender arrangement made it more conducive to offroad conditions, and the "hardboiled radiator," as it was called, featured an oversize steel top tank that became a structural feature of the truck. "It stood out nice and proud in the weather," noted Rempel. "That radiator didn't fail, and that meant the difference between getting to the destination and breaking down on the road." In 1971, sales reached 7,550 trucks. In 1973, Kenworth celebrated it's 50th anniversary. "Looking back, I think our roots along the West Coast and in Canada gave us a big advantage and helped Kenworth build a better truck," Orr continued. "Our engineers had to design logging trucks for service in extreme conditions and in remote areas. Plus our trucks had to be designed to haul oversized loads through mud and over difficult logging roads. So the bloodline of today's Kenworth truck is impressive to say the least." 


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