Community Spirit

22 November 2023
Gabbi Trailer Hero

14 February is long associated with Valentine's Day. But the impact of cyclone Gabrielle in 2023 has forever altered that fanciful connection. The turmoil affected many, including the crew behind this month’s Top Truck.

On the night of 13 February, in worsening conditions, the Prestige Building Removal (PBR) team of Horotiu, a little north of Hamilton, gingerly made their way across the Napier-Taupo Road. On the move, that night was one of the company's Kenworth T610SAR tractor units, paired with a near-new TRT four-axle ESS house-removal trailer. Manager Rangi Joyce was at the helm of the loaded rig, and assisting with clearing a safe passage for BGMAH1 were pilots Keirod Saussey, David Greer, and Harmonie Moke-Pouwhare.

The aftermath of Gabrielle: pure destruction. Here, the extraction of the TRT ESS house trailer gets underway with welcome assistance from the locals.

The journey for the brand-new Advantage Designer Home of Horotiu was destined for the Wairarapa. It involved a two-night shift, with a pause midway in Napier. As the team approached the Esk Valley, the wind began to have a dramatic effect on proceedings, so the decision was made to park the house and trailer in a lay-by area at the base of the Esk Valley rather than the location of choice alongside the Bayview Causeway. Of real concern for the crew was the stationary unit being blown over, as sustained gale-force wind gusts were predicted to hit the exposed Hawke’s Bay coastline. A quick disconnect of the trailer in the pouring rain, the team made for Napier to warm up and rest.

The following morning, the news was sobering. The Esk Valley had been hit hard by extreme flooding in the wee hours of the morning. The team immediately headed into the disaster zone to check on the trailer and load. Their worst fears were realised; the new ADH house was all but completely gone, with the trailer half buried in silt, laying on its side entwined within what was left of the Gizzy railway line.

The TRT ESS house trailer is designed to simplify building transportation by utilising the best modern hydraulic technology offers.

It was a shocking sight, but standing around looking at the devastation was not an option for the team. An immediate and concerted effort was required to save the state-of-the-art TRT trailer. The call went out for assistance with the lift to retrieve the trailer, and among the turmoil, the locals rallied the troops and got the required help on the way. First, a solid pad was formed to work from. Then, a pair of large mobile cranes were moved into place, one at each end. It was extremely slow going because of the railway lines and the fact that all care was being taken not to further damage the trailer.

There were challenges but working tirelessly, the PBR team completed a successful rescue mission. Once free from the clutches of the floods, the trailer was given a once-over to ensure that it was mechanically sound for transporting, then it was hooked up and off to TRT in Hamilton for a top-to-toe inspection and overhaul could be actioned.

The return trip was a mission. With the Napier-Taupo Road completely closed, the only way home was down to Woodville and up and over the saddle. Upon arrival at TRT, it was straight into the manufacturing facility for a thorough examination of the damage. Although directly in the weather’s line of fire, the trailer's structural integrity was still intact.

The ensuing refurbishment process included a complete strip down of all hydraulics, electrics, pneumatics, power pack, axles and suspension – an intense and meticulous undertaking that required specialised expertise from several TRT departments. Mechanical Services, Repair Bay, Crane Service, Manufacturing, Assembly, and Paint Shop all played a part, with Trailer Sales managing the customer relationship throughout the repair process.

“TRT was committed to getting this trailer back to fully operational condition as soon as possible for PBR,” says TRT marketing and content coordinator Dayna Rae. “Our team really got in behind this one. There were many hours of overtime put into it, weekends included. It was awesome to see; a real joint effort by everyone.”

Straight into the operating theatre once back at TRT in Hamilton.

The process took the TRT team just under three months, with no stone left unturned. Now fully re-commissioned and delivered back to PBR, GABBI, as the TRT ESS house-removal trailer has become affectionately known, is again an active member of the fleet, and no time has been wasted getting her straight back to the coalface doing what she does do best – effectively and efficiently transporting homes.

She is now teamed up behind IPBRI, one of a pair of new 4864 Western Stars in the fleet, a combination that certainly makes light work of house removal, especially when you look under the hood and find Cummins X-15 engines set at 447kW (600hp), coupled to 18-speed Roadranger transmissions, and a set of Meritor RT50-160GP axles riding on Neway AD-246 air suspension sets.

Prestige Building Removals director Jason Barnes explains how the decision was made to order the Western Star pair. “Yeah, we looked over the Stars and, spec for spec, we could easily get them with the gear we needed in house removal. Western Star is a well-respected brand in North America. You will find them working in the bush on all the tough stuff, so they are well-proven. Resale is also strong; they hold their value, and the drivers love them. They really are good on the road, and they also look the part, especially with their King Bars bullbars. You can easily customise them.”

PBR’s Western Star 4864 pilots, Tom Worrall and Keirod Saussey.

Penske account manager Mitch James says working with PBR on these builds was a rewarding experience. “This pair of Western Stars were absolutely 100% bespoke custom-builds for Jason. Between the chassis rails lies some heavy-duty gear that will definitely get the job done for the PBR team. They certainly have a presence on the road. The big King Bars were a first for us at Penske to fit on this model. They really top off the builds.”

We could not agree more – most definitely house-moving pedigree.

Thank you from PBR

Jason Barnes and the PBR team would like to sincerely thank all who came to their immediate aid in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“We were up against it, and the immediate support and assistance from the locals that came our way was outstanding – Nui and the team at B.R. Satherley, Chris Diack and his team at Diack Cranes and the entire team at TRT in Hamilton. Everyone was just amazing, dropping everything in among complete mayhem to come and help us out. We are absolutely blown away with all that you did for us. Thank you for everything to everyone.”