Martin Phippard Collection - Droms


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The dictionary defines a Dromedary as "a thoroughbred, one-humped Arabian camel."

The American Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHSA) meanwhile defines a drom as "box, deck or plate mounted behind the cab and forward of the fifth wheel on the (chassis) frame of the power unit of a tractor/semi-trailer combination." Swedish truckers often refer to a drom area or indeed a drom tractor as a "rucksack" or "rucksack truck" while New Zealand’s truckers describe the same area as a "hungry tray."

Examples of drom tractors can be found in areas as diverse as Australia, Sweden, Canada and the U.S.A. but the concept is thought to have originated on the West Coast of the United States around 1950. At that time operators hauling semi-trailers built to the dimensions of the day, cottoned on to the idea that the overall length laws allowed bigger outfits than they were actually using. The answer, in some operations, was to install a drom box. This enabled companies to stick with their existing trailers but to haul additional freight aboard their long wheelbase tractors. Meanwhile in Europe at about the same time, the French circus owned by Buglione Bros., was using forward-control, Lend-Lease Autocar tractors left over from World War Two and one or two were equipped with a drom tray or short platform to haul circus equipment around the country.

The American trucking giant, Pacific Intermountain Express (PIE) adopted the idea early and may have been the first to use droms. A Peterbilt sales brochure from about 1951 famously depicts a Bubble-Nose Peterbilt cabover in PIE livery, complete with what must have been at the time, a very avante garde dromedary box. PIE went on to become the world’s largest trucking company in 1956, but despite their huge size, remarkable servicing programme and innovative thinking which included the manufacture of their own XD-30 dromedary tractors in the 1960s, the company eventually went into Receivership in 1990 following a series of disastrous acquisitions.

There are many reasons for utilising the drom configuration and these include the ability to haul a mixed load (say dry goods in the drom and frozen in the trailer) a need to employ the extra space as living accommodation (as demonstrated so successfully by the long-haul furniture movers known as "bed-bug haulers" in North America) or simply to haul more revenue-earning freight while staying with standard length trailers.

In some cases the drom concept was employed purely for reasons of practicality. Cattle haulers in the Western states of the U.S. sometimes used a drom area to cart the hay and straw used for feed and bedding on the longer trips from the farms to the meat processing plants in centres such as Chicago. Meanwhile distributors of beer in kegs, or bottled "cooler" water - as used in offices - used the extra space provided as a convenient location in which to haul the empties back to base. The trucking company Lee and Eastes ( 1 - 2 ) used drom box Freightliners in the early 1950s to carry empty bread trays and this idea is still commonplace today with several large bakery outlets located in Portland and Seattle.

Although the earliest droms appeared on 6x2 or 6x4 tractors and in the U.S. and Canada were confined to an area West of the Rocky Mountains, it was not long before some of the larger and more innovative companies such as Navajo Truck Lines ( International 1 - 2 ::  Freightliner 1 - 2) and Ringsby Freight Systems (Freightliner - Peterbilt ) developed even more ingenious ways in which to maximize payloads. The result was the emergence in the1950s and ‘60s of some of the most spectacular drom tractors ever to hit the highways with International, Kenworth and Peterbilt all building specials in the form of long wheelbase 8x4 tractors, some with the sleeper pod mounted on top of the cab in an attempt to gain a few extra inches of revenue-earning load space. These massively impressive units were a real handful on the mountain passes, but the twin-steer set-up at least provided an extra margin of safety. However, on non-stop, long-distance runs where driving teams were used, the ride in the "penthouse" sleeper pod used by the off-duty driver was said to have been "better than a roller-coaster" and was certainly not considered the most restful sleeper on the market!

More recently the Alaska-based company, Alaska West Express used tri-drive, twin-steer Freightliner 10 x 6 drom tractors for the difficult runs in the far North of the state while their 8x4 freight-box droms are amongst the largest of their type ever seen. Many Swedish drom boxes or tanks are mounted aboard 6x2 or 6x4 tractors, but examples of 8x2 or 8x4 units are in evidence where there is a danger of overloading a single front axle. A long wheelbase four-axle tractor unit also benefits the driver by providing a much smoother ride and twin-steering means greatly improved handling, particularly on icy roads. When it is remembered that most drom-equipped tractors belong to owner-drivers, one begins to understand the practical reasons behind the choice of four-axle units.

On the other side of the world in Australia droms are confined primarily to the state of Western Australia where axle-weight legislation favours the use of twin-steer tractor units even at the front end of multi-trailer road trains. Consequently several fine examples, many being equipped with tanks for the transport of milk or fuel, have been used over the years.

Undoubtedly the most spectacular of all the Western Australian drom outfits are the five-axle Kenworth K-100G 10x6 tractors operating in the colours of Shell Oil from their depots in Kalgoorlie or Geraldton. These astonishing machines haul no less than four trailers in a quad-combination comprising two A-trailers and one B-double and can legally gross 177.5-tonnes on 23-axles!

Built by Tieman of Melbourne, the tankers haul an incredible 153,000-litres (33,660 imperial gallons) in the 2AB tanker set AND a further 5,000-litres (1100-gallons) in the tractor-mounted drom tank. The unit features alloy wheels on all 23-axles and thanks to its lightweight construction is able to haul an additional 13,000-litres (2,860-gallons) more than its predecessor. The outfit was christened "The Big Kahuna" by drivers when it first hit the streets and is guaranteed to make an impression wherever it is seen.

In Canada the best-known drom operator is Manitoulin Transport, whose three and four-axle Freightliners and Peterbilts are known throughout the country as Super Trucks. Manitoulin started their drom operations in the 1979 and have stuck with the system ever since. They operate both drom boxes and drom tankers, the former loading and unloading from the rear rather than the side as is the case with most Swedish and modern North American drom boxes. At the company’s terminals, special loading bays allow the tractors to be reversed so that the rear axles and the fifth wheel pass underneath allowing the box to line up with the edge of the bay.

Another solution to the problem of unloading or loading through the rear of a drom box is to employ a mechanism that winches the drom rearwards to the end of the chassis. This system is obviously necessary wherever standard unloading bays are encountered and although both complicated and expensive does guarantee that the load can always be accessed.

Manitoulin currently operates three sizes of dromedary combination. The smallest is a 6.2-metre wheelbase 6x4 fitted with a drom box measuring 3.3-metres (10’ 10") and the most common a 7.7-metre wheelbase 8x4 push-axle unit with a huge 5.6-metre (18’4") long box. However, because of concerns in the areas of traction and axle loadings, the latest tractors are tri-drive Freightliner Argosy cabovers with a 4.38-metre (14’ 4") box. These outfits are coupled to 53-foot long semi trailers, which makes for a pretty imposing combination. The company is also one of the few North American operators currently purchasing cabover tractors, just about all others employing conventional or bonneted units.

Whatever the origins of the drom concept, it is encouraging to see that more than 50-years after their introduction, they are still being used today.

Inland Tanker Freightliner circa 1978. The power unit was a 440 Detroit 8V92T and the drom tank carried 900-Imperial gallons. Black's Transport International has a sliding drom box outfit that carried diapers!
Volvo cabover, Series 2 FH12, with 460-inline diesel, 14-speed transmission, single drive axle and single-wheel lifting tag. It belongs to a company caled Nils Hanssons who operate throughout Southern Central Sweden.
Operated by 4P Transport of Helsingborg, Sweden, and driven by Micke Andersson. This Scania 4-Series Topliner is equipped with a drom box 4-metres (13-feet) long and 4.46-metres (14-feet, 8-inches) high from the ground. Swedish bridges generally have 4.5-metres clearance and Micke reports that you can feel the air pressure pushing the tractor down when he squeezes underneath them at 60-miles an hour! The 460-hp engine, which has been turned up a little, and this unit sounds fabulous!
This beautiful Scania 4-Series in the colours of ASG (Sweden's national road haulage company) is owner-operated. The reason several drom tractors are found on Sweden's South Western coastline is that Sweden's legislation permits the use of 24-metre long outfits (78-feet, 9-inches) the same as Canada, but most semi trailers are the standard European 13.6-metre (44-feet, 8-inches) so operators use the extra space for a drom box up to metres in length and capable of carrying 10-tonnes (22,000-lbs) on a twin-steer unit.
A British designed truck from the 1970s, the Ford Transcontinental. Designed in the U.K. it used a French Berliet cab, U.S. driveline (Cummins, Fuller, Rockwell) and was built in Amsterdam, Holland. Sixty-seven were sold into Sweden where several were modified from a short wheelbase 4x2 unit to a long wheelbase 6x2 tag axle tractor with a drom. Designation was the 5235 signifying a gross weight of 52 metric tonnes and 350 Cummins power. Standard European semi trailer of the period was 12.2-metres (40-feet) ans Swedish overall maximum permitted length 24-metres. The Ford Transcon cab also met Swedish "impact testing" legislation introduced to protect truck drivers involved in accidents.
1964 Scania-Vabis LBS 76S 6x2 tag tractor hauling cement spheres. Gross weight was 70.5 tonnes (155,100-lbs) and overall length 23-metres (75-feet 6-inches). Prior to 1968 there was NO LEGISLATION controlling the size and weights of heavy trucks in Sweden.
A modern 6x2 Scania 4-series Topliner drom operated by Dolly Transport of Kungsbacka in Sweden. In this model the bunk area is over the top of the windshield at the front of the cab.
An Australian Atkinson 8x4 tractor from the 1970s, used for transporting milk in bulk and probably powered by a Detroit Diesel 8V-92. Atkinson (a British manufacturer) was owned by International at the time and IH further developed the original glass fibre cab which was fitted to the Atkinsons built for the Australian market. These featured a double-skin that allowed air to circulate around the cab, thereby aiding cooling. The outfit was rated at 41-Imperial tons gross weight (91,840-lbs) with each of the steering axles rated at 4.5-tons (10,000-lbs) and each of the bogies at 16-tons (35,840-lbs). Twin-steer, double-drive tractors were and still are popular in the state of Western Australia.
Stunning Volvo F-12 6x2 drom tractor operated by Olssons Transport of Skovde, Sweden. This productive and unusual combination hauled sand used for Volvo engine castings at the Volvo engine foundry in the tanks in one direction and transported finished engines to the Gothenburg assembly plant in the curtainsider bodies. Volvo FH12 8x2 420-hp tractor equipped with drom tank is used in Central Sweden for chemical hauls.
Attractive Scania 3-Series 6x2 tractor awaits a drom box load. Unusual Freightliner B-Train with drom box caught at a truck stop in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territories. Note mud on the sides of the boxes from the mud thrown up on the dirt road. International conventional tractor with a drom box almost certainly used as living accommodation by the crew of this Allied rig filmed in Whitehorse.
Drom box tractors are popular with the Bed Bug Haulers who appreciate the extra living space when away from home for extended periods. Peterbilt 362 with massive drom box operating in Northern Alberta. Freightliner with living accommodation in the drom box.
Long wheelbase Peterbilt 6x4 in California with load of lumber aboard a drom tray or platform. The earliest droms were probably used in California by Pacific Intermountain Express. Inland Tanker Service Freightliner B-Train with drom tank.
Freightliner drom typical of the type used by the bakeries in Washington State. Older Peterbilt drom filmed in Seattle, WA, and used by a bakery. Colorful Peterbilt 362 is based in Portland, Oregon. Another bakery truck.
The drom box on this long wheelbase Freightliner is really impressive! Manitoulin Transport droms are perhaps the most widely recognized in Canada. Manitoulin’s 4-axle drom tractors look unusual enough. But when coupled to a platform trailer with a deck load, are even more striking.
Alaska West Express twin steer Freightliner FLB tri-drive with a tanker drom and tanker with a lift axle. These photos are courtesy of Lynden Transport Inc. Lynden Transport twin-steer Freightliner drom. Photo courtesy of Lynden Transport Inc.
In October 2004, Peter Connock and Martin Phippard travelled to Alaska to film these Alaska West Express twin steer Freightliner FLB tri-drive droms and tankers. Here are some of the fruits from their labor.
Freightliner Argosy curtain side drom for Downton's Transport based out of Red Deer, Alberta, taken in Surrey, BC in March 2004. Hank Suderman Photo. Blackburn Truck Lines International "Emeryville" Manitoulin Transport Freightliner
Only one of these were ever made by PIE. Whitfield Transportation Kenworth. Photo by Joe Wanchura.
Ringsby Freightliner drom. Picture was purchased at a truck show. Carl & Craig Mantegna Collection. Ringsby Peterbilt drom. Picture was purchased at a truck show. Carl & Craig Mantegna Collection.
Swedish Scania 142 6x2 drom tractor with 13.6-metre semi trailer. Note extra lights on roof and lower grille. Swedish Volvo F12 6x2 drom leased to Magnussons with a Lomerts semi trailer in tow. Smart Scania 113 6x2-tag axle drom tractor operated by 4P Transporter of Malmo in Southern Sweden. Tag axle is equipped with single wheels only.
Interesting period photo of several Peterbilt 8x4 twin-steer drom chassis/cab assemblies with rooftop penthouse sleeper pods destined for Ringsby. Completed Peterbilt drom combination in Ringsby colours with 35-foot Ringsby Trailmobile semi trailer in tow Drom boxes were always popular with household movers as evidenced by this Kenworth cabover in Allied Van Lines colours.
Astro 95 SS drom in Mayflower colours. Kenworth K-series Aerodyne sleeper with drom box in North American Van Lines colours. Top sleeper (penthouse) on this Freightliner allows even more space for the drom box.
Transtar in Allied livery making time on open road. The Livlab drom box provides all the comforts of home with a built-in shower and small kitchen area as well as sleeping accommodation. Note the side or lake-pipes on this 362 Peterbilt cabover from California caught at St. Catherines, Ontario Canada. Weather-beaten KW 900 conventional with drom box from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Deck area behind the cab of this long wheelbase Peterbilt tractor was used to haul empty cases back to the plant. Early morning picture of International drom at work. Some drom boxes were moved rearwards along the frame in order to unload as demonstrated by this outfit used by Black’s Transport.
Britain’s highly restrictive length and weight laws have discouraged the use of most innovations, but a few unusual combinations did appear from time to time including this Atkinson twin-steer, single screw tractor with a demountable spherical tank. This drom tank combination was used in the 1960s. Arthur Ingram Photo. Although drom combinations were never popular in New Zealand, Heaton’s Transport of Auckland did use these 8x4 Leyland Ergomatics. Kerry Hill Photo.
In Western Australia legislation has always favoured the use of twin-steer combinations so long wheelbase tractors were sometimes equipped with drom boxes. This Australian-built Atkinson twin-trailer road train used to haul bulk grain was also equipped with an unusual side-dump drom box. Note the outback extras including the substantial bull-bar, roof-mounted air-con unit and big antenna for short-wave radio communication. Rufus Carr Photo. Masters Dairy of Kewdale, Western Australia used drom tank combinations such as this 1970s twin-steer Foden outfit. Rufus Carr Photo. International T-line 2670 cabover 8x4 drom tank outfit operated by Masters Dairy of Western Australia. Rufus Carr Photo.
The ultimate drom perhaps? This massive four-trailer road train headed up by a Kenworth K-series 10x6 cabover also features a drom tank on the tractor unit. The two A-trailers and the B-train set were built by Tieman Industries. The combination operates in Western Australia at gross weights of 177-tonnes (195-U.S. tons). Power is a 550-CAT and the Finnish manufacturer, Sisu, supplied the three drive axles. Think of having to polish those 84 Alcoas!
Prototype Freightliner 6x4 drom built by Fiba-Canning and operated by Tudhope Cartage features several interesting ideas such as central-tire-inflation, a night-vision scope and three lift axles on the semi-trailer. The seven-axle combination operating at 63,500-kgs can haul more fuel than a maximum-capacity eight-axle B-train.
Western Star drom caught in Kamloops, B.C. is used to haul the luggage for passengers travelling aboard the train operating between Vancouver and Calgary. The trucks collect the luggage from hotels en route and take it to the next overnight stop so that it is already waiting for the passengers when they arrive. The drom box is used to transport the luggage of those passengers who are travelling First Class! Freightliner drom used to haul passenger luggage as the Western Star.
Manitoulin Transport’s stunning six-axle 12 x 4 Peterbilt drom tanker with two lift axles, two steering axles and two driven axles. Argosy drom operated by Manitoulin.
New Manitoulin Argosy 8x4 cabover coupled to quad trailer. Peterbilt 8x4 drom tractor operated by Manitoulin
Thought to be the only drom tractor currently operating in Britain, this Volvo FH 8x2 tractor has a drom box that carries a large motor used to drive heavy-duty road and airport runway-jet washing equipment. The semi trailer carries tanks for both the clean and the waste water.
Underneath the skin of this unusual rig is a 1965 Crackerbox GMC with the original Detroit 6-71N inline motor. The owner is Dave Hiscox from Bow Bells, North Dakota and the outfit is used to haul household goods in large wooden crates throughout the whole of mainland USA. The outfit is technically over-length in several states, but special "Grandfather" rights and a letter from President Bush (Senior) mean that the owner can continue to use it "for the rest of its useful life." Who knows how much longer that will be? It remains to be seen which will wear out first, Dave Hiscox or the Jimme. The trailer was built by Dave from a dis-used citrus extractor found in Florida. The outfit was seen in Fife, WA.

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