At the forefront: on tour with the new Actros
A job for drivers with a vision: Gerwin "Gerry" Engert transports glazing. His work involves tight delivery deadlines and requires a good dose of level-headedness, not to mention a new Actros.
It's a scene as if taken straight out of a guide book for the Upper Franconia region. Shining in the evening sun on the right-hand side is the Baroque-style Banz monastery with its stunning façade and twin towers. Directly opposite, the twin towers of the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers rise high into the sky, as if beckoning to pilgrims. The broad valley below both of these cultural monuments from the 18th century is also home to the river Main. Just a few kilometres away, the A73 motorway runs parallel to the river and we're soon in Bamberg whose historical centre is unique in Germany and worthy of an entire chapter in a guide book.
"Yes, I notice how beautiful it all is here," says Gerwin Engert, taking his foot off the accelerator of his new Actros 1845 as he notices the traffic slowing up ahead. He lets it roll instead of braking. "But my main focus is, of course, on the road and on the task at hand." He's already covered 370 kilometres. From Bamberg heading in the direction of the north east via Franconian Switzerland and the Franconian Forest right into Vogtland in Saxony and then all the way back home. The route wasn't planned by a travel agent, but by a logistics planner at the Elflein Transport & Logistik company. And Engert, known to his friends as "Gerry", has the task of reliably delivering the goods to the customer.
The 46-year-old started today's shift spot on 7.00 a.m. He loads his vehicle at Saint-Gobain Glaskontor GmbH which is just a brief ride from the Elflein yard in Bamberg's harbour. His load: isolated window panes, which he secures against shocks onto a dozen transport frames. They completely fill the body and trailer of his 40-tonne drawbar combination. Using steel clips, Gerry fixes the frames in place on the load surface. "It's quite an easy task for me because I mostly transport glazing, principally for window manufacturers," explains the Bamberg-born driver. Many of his colleagues are under way around Germany, as well as in the Czech Republic and Benelux – some are transporting car parts, others paper, and some even foodstuffs. Gerry's glazing customers are predominantly located in the southern half of Germany. He often has to drive to the areas around the Rhine or Moselle rivers. And today he's travelling through his native Upper Franconia and onwards into neighbouring Saxony.
It's precisely 114 kilometres to the first unloading point in the small spa town of Bad Steben. The customer, Therma-Fensterbau, needs the glass urgently, so we shouldn't take longer than one and half hours on our journey through the Franconian Forest. However, Gerry doesn't let himself be tempted by overtaking everyone. "I'm not a fan of overdoing it on the speed." He sees it as a waste of fuel and a way to increase wear and tear unnecessarily, not to mention the fact that it brings with it an inherent rise in the risk of having an accident. "And it's just so much more stressful! Plus, I often experience people overtaking me and blazing off into the distance. Then I come to a motorway junction and see them again; it just doesn't bring them any further."
With his relaxed driving style, Gerry still manages to make good progress – and brings the truck punctually to a halt on the paved yard of the customer's premises. He instantly heads over to the bright red forklift truck attached to the rear of his trailer, unlocks it and lowers it onto the slabs below. He picks up the first frame and reverses the forklift, turns around and then heads down a ramp into the basement of the company's building. Meanwhile, huge raindrops splash down onto the yard. After having unloaded half of the cargo, Gerry places the empty frames on the now free load surface. Here, too, every gesture is perfect. After around an hour, Gerry fixes the forklift to the trailer and, back in the cab to avoid the torrential downpour, he signs the delivery note. No time for a banter with the guy from Goods In, despite the two already knowing one another. Off we go to the next stage of the journey! Grünbach in Vogtland is the next destination and is around 70 kilometres away from our current location.
"Holy Moly!" says Gerry with a grin on his face a few minutes later on the A72 motorway, heading in the direction of Saxony. According to him, the forklift is more complicated to control than the new Actros. "Seriously, it's a top truck – and it has a very clear dashboard layout, for example. All of the buttons seem to say: 'Hey, I'm here, press me!' Their layout is so intuitive." Another plus point is the straight 6-cylinder engine. Not just because of its power and economy but also because of the sound. "Even after a long day at work, you don't go home with a headache. The whole vehicle just makes me feel comfortable." That's because the flat cab floor means you can stand upright between the seats and put on or take off a coat without having to duck down. "That's also helped by the light and friendly materials used."
Gerry's boss, Rüdiger Elflein, also considered these points. After all, for the 36-year-old, it's truly important that his drivers can complete the often tightly scheduled tours in the best possible conditions. An equally important decision-making factor from a business point of view is the question as to how economical a truck is. The result of the considerations led to a crystal clear decision in favour of the new Actros. Since January, Elflein has taken delivery of a massive 40 vehicles, now bringing the family-run company's fleet to an impressive 165 vehicles. All of the trucks feature the particularly aerodynamic StreamSpace cab. This ensures that the already low fuel consumption is reduced yet further. The fleet's younger and older trucks alike are all equipped with FleetBoard. Power is delivered by the powerful 330 kW engine with Euro VI specification. A conscious decision here, too. Rüdiger Elflein is convinced that the Euro VI powerhouse is not just the exhaust gas emissions technology of choice today, but also for years to come. Driver Gerry agrees. "I love the fact that our boss is so resolute."
Meanwhile, we're just short of Bamberg. The customer in Saxony has taken delivery of their insulated glass. The third and thus last delivery of the day at Hof in Gattendorf was also unloaded on-time. Gerry passed his HGV licence just five years ago. "For years I was a working freelance in gastronomy," explains the father of a now adult son. But as a real petrol-head, he enjoys nothing more in his free time than to get behind the wheel. "Plus I was also open to trying something completely different." Accordingly, the logical option was to take up a new career as a trucker and he passed with flying colours.
Gerry doesn't romanticise his work, though. His job is no bed of roses. "After Winter draws to a close, just as the weather gets better and the roadworks start re-appearing, we experience a peak for window pane transport jobs." Throughout the whole year, there aren't many days that start in the early morning like today's, rather they begin in the middle of the night.
And then there's the odd annoyance or two that can be experienced. Such as other truck drivers who don't appreciate that Gerry and all of the other Elflein drivers drive at a constant speed and thus, in their eyes, too slow. "It often happens that I get overtaken and shown a middle finger."
Less than a minute later, a driver of a van blasts past Gerry's new Actros, undertaking him in what can only be described as a dangerous stunt. All Gerry wanted to do was move into the outside lane to let the van onto the motorway. But "Holy Moly", no reason for panic! Just a few kilometres left until we're home. Thereafter, maybe he'll have time for a quick bike ride – there are apparently a number of scenic routes in Upper Franconia.
Photos: Michael Neuhaus