Moving it further, faster
JCBs Fastrac is one of a
breed of fast tractors which
doubles as field workhorse
and transport machine.
Geoff Ashcroft sought the
views of a contractor whose
Fastracs each cover about
50,000 miles a year hauling
FROM Slad Farm, Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, Kear Fuller operates a contracting business which involves hauling and spreading slurries and biosolids from water treatment plants in the area.
It is a business which has grown rapidly following the development of the high-speed tractor – in particular the JCB Fastrac – which, with a high road speed has proved a useful improvement over Mr Fullers Massey Ferguson tractors. With the ability to travel at up to 40mph with the Fastracs, his business has undergone considerable development, and he can now move more material faster and over a larger working area.
Using six Fastracs, a Unimog and 16,000-litre vacuum tankers, trailers and muck spreaders, his business extends to shifting about 55m gallons of waste each year.
"For what we do, the Fastrac provides a perfect solution. We can travel at up to 40mph and not hold up traffic on the roads, and we also have the ability to go off-road with our Fastrac/tanker combinations," explains Mr Fuller. "We cannot do the job with lorries, because they are useless in fields."
But staying within the law has seen Mr Fuller treading a careful path through road transport legislation. He sees his business as being tractor-based and not a commercial haulage business in the same sense as truck operators and as such, he falls short of some of the road haulage industrys legislation.
"The tractors clock up about 2500 hours a year, which works out at about 50,000 miles a year," he says. "Despite spending about 90% of our time on the road, the nature of our business demands the use of tractors."
Using agricultural machines for the task essentially means road tax remains at the current agricultural rate. But the fuel situation is approached somewhat differently. "We need to operate on white diesel because of the distances travelled," he explains.
Surprisingly, Mr Fuller says legislation calls for little else – in the eyes of the law he is operating agricultural machines and, as such, does not need tachographs and MoT certificates, nor does he need to conform with specific driving hours in the same way commercial drivers do. But by choice, he has fitted tachographs to all his Fastracs.
Used as a management tool, he finds the recorded information a useful aid to resolving disputes with customers when it comes to charging for work done.
"All my drivers undergo safety training to make them aware of what they are driving and the circumstances they are working in. They do not need special licences – a full car licence will do."
"We have taken the Fastracs to a ministry testing station, but because it is an agricultural vehicle, we cannot be issued with an MoT certificate," he says.
"And as it is illegal to pull conventional hydraulically braked tankers and trailers at 40mph, we have our equipment built to commercial specification with commercial axles, air brakes and lorry tyres, so we can safely gross at 24-tonnes. Because the tankers and trailers are up to commercial specification, they are tested annually.
"I work at keeping my business safe and legal, so tractor and tanker maintenance is recorded and this can avoid lengthy discussions in the event of a legal dispute," he says.
All this is on top of an intensive maintenance schedule which sees Mr Fuller service and inspect his own equipment every six weeks, with an independent maintenance inspection carried out every six months. He even keeps a defect book which requires drivers to report any vehicle faults with rectification carried out at the earliest convenience.
"We are not cutting corners or doing the job on the cheap," he says. "Our operating costs are not unlike those of the haulage industry, simply because we want to do the right thing."
And in an effort to stay ahead of legislation, Mr Fullers next project is to have his replacement tankers and trailers equipped with disc brakes.
"We are probably a bit over the top, but in view of the mileage we cover and the amount of time spent on the road, we need to ensure we have got the job covered," he says. *