by Martin Phippard


While the development and refinement of B-Trains continued cross Canada and in a few isolated parts of the United States through the 1970s and early 1980s, other countries around the world started to sit up and take an interest in the idea of the B-Train. In South Africa the concept was introduced as the ‘interlink’ and indications are that the earliest examples were built in 1981 by the South African trailer manufacturer Henred-Fruehauf. These fairly basic combinations were built for Norman’s Van Lines and used for the transportation of bottled drinks. A year or two later other trailer builders including Busaf Industries from the Transvaal and CI Trailmobile launched their versions of platform interlinks suitable for carrying either deck-loads or two 20-feet containers. Permitted overall length of interlink combinations behind a 6x4 cabover tractor at the time was 20-metres (65-feet 8-inches) and maximum gross weight limited to 47-tonnes.

One combination of particular interest was that designed by Stuttaford Van Lines of Cape Town for long distance furniture moves. The combination consisted of two drop-frame box vans of equal length, the first having a tandem-axle set up and the rear a single axle. The rearmost trailer was equipped with a small crew area containing cooking and washing facilities. The combination was hauled by British Foden 4000-series single drive tractor unit which, because of local legislation at that time, was powered by a South African-built diesel known as an ADE 422T and driven through a locally-built Astas 16S190 gearbox (a licence-built ZF). An increase in volume of 25% was claimed for this interlink when compared to earlier doubles combinations

South African Interlinks

This next group of pictures came from Klaus Werblow fof Berlin, Germany

Beginning in 1990, interlinks operating in South Africa could extend to 22-metres (72-feet) overall and gross 56-tonnes on eight axles with a small tolerance on gross weight of about three tonnes provided individual axles or axle groups were not overloaded. Current interlink trailer sets include platforms, curtainsiders, tanks, skeletal container carriers, fridges and even furniture vans.

The most advanced interlinks in use are without doubt the dual-purpose ‘platypus’ units known as General Freight Liquid Tankers or GFLTs. Designed and developed by Peter Bennetto of Cargo Carriers, these all-aluminium trailer sets offer significant advantages in the crucial areas of stability, payload, safety and versatility yet are rugged enough to operate in countries adjacent to South Africa where road systems are not necessarily as well developed. They were introduced to haul fuel from South African ports to land-locked countries and then deck loads such as sugar or timber on the return trip. .

GFLT Interlink with deck load

South Africa’s neighbour, Zimbabwe, is today in dire straits with Westerners virtually unable to travel unescorted in safety. However, in the years immediately following independence in 1980, the country was an interesting place to visit and B-Trains, or interlinks, were evolving there at about the same pace as those in South Africa. However, the major difference was that Zimbabwe had fewer engineers, (many having fled the country during the civil war in the previous decade) a very limited number of manufacturers and critically, far less funding than South Africa. Nevertheless the merits of the configuration were quickly recognised and it was not long before the country’s transport operators looked to ways of moving into the new twin-trailer technology.

One of the first was Ian Strachan from Harare whose early interlinks were almost certainly over-engineered and which, interestingly, featured a tri-axle bogie at the rear rather than in the centre, beneath the fifth wheel, as is more customary today.

Ian Strachan NET Tank Interlinks behind Foden tractor

Subsequent Strachan interlinks, operated in the fleet colours of NET, were built primarily to haul fuel from the port of Beira in Mozambique into land-locked Zimbabwe. The trailer sets were essentially ‘skeletal’ trailers designed to accommodate demountable fuel tanks or even three 20-feet ISO containers. Measuring 22-metres overall, the rugged interlinks were built by More-Wear Equipment of Harare (previously Salisbury). Tractor units (still referred to as ‘horses’ in Zimbabwe) used at the front end of the interlinks were either British-built units from ERF, Foden or Scammell or Europeans Mercedes and Scania. All of these heavy-duty units were modified to accept long-range fuel tanks mounted vertically behind the cab and featured impressive Australian-style bull-bars and stone-guards.

Strachan Foden Container Rig Scania B-Train curtainsiders operated by Kimon Raftopolous of Harare

Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions imposed in recent years, little is known about Zimbabwe’s internal transport system at present. However, a visit to Beitbridge on the busy Zimbabwe/South Africa border in 2000 showed that the interlink system is still the most popular configuration for long-haul work although, because labour is cheap, platform trailers are often used rather than curtainsiders. Legislation dictates that combinations do not exceed 22-metres in overall length and weights are limited to 55-tonnes gross mass.

Many other countries in Southern and Central Africa including Mozambique, Botswana, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia also use interlink systems and as far back as 1986 Henred-Fruehauf Trailers in South Africa were building six-axle tri-tri interlinks for White Horse Carriers in Botswana. These were heavy-duty platforms designed to haul trailers northwards into Zaire and return with deck loads of zinc slabs. These combinations were hauled by Scania 142E tractors fitted with 2,000-litre (440-gallon) long-range fuel tanks.

These trailers were actually tankers disguised as curtainsiders to discourage high-jackers.

This picture of the lead trailer of a South African B-train set clearly illustrates the long neck and the fifth wheel for the second trailer. Klaus Werblow Collection. Nice picture of a South African B-train tank set with a Perterbilt 362 cabover at the front end of one combinationa and an International 9800i in the background. Klaus Werblow Collection. Excellent picture of a South African B-Train hauled by a Swedish-built Scania 6x4 tractor. Klaus Werblow Collection.

These photos were added on September 13, 2008

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