The Ultra-Tough Commander C Cargo Carriers Tackle Some Of Canada’s Muddiest Terrain

Under daunting conditions, heavy-duty Commander C terra-tired cargo carriers do yeoman’s work for Alberta oilfield hauler.
The Ultra-Tough Commander C Cargo Carriers Tackle Some Of Canada’s Muddiest Terrain
Northwell Oilfield Hauling owns two Commander C carriers from Foremost Industries. The all-wheel drive vehicles feature an articulated body for maneuverability and can carry 80,000-pound payloads.

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It may seem almost laughable that a 168,000-pound vehicle can “float” through 3-foot-deep mud while carrying a payload of 80,000 pounds. But that’s exactly what the Commander C heavy-duty, tri-axle, terra-tired carriers do for Northwell Oilfield Hauling Inc., based in Acheson, Alberta.

Manufactured by Foremost Industries LP, the Commander C safely and efficiently treads softly where most vehicles would sink like a stone. It’s especially useful for traversing the boggy “muskeg” that Northwell crews often encounter when hauling drilling and service rigs, construction equipment and other heavy cargo through remote areas of Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, says Blaine Brown, vice president.

One key to the Commander C’s remarkable mobility under what are often termed as “marginal conditions” is its eight 66-inch-diameter, 25-inch-wide tires, or “floaters,” as Brown calls them. Even while carrying a payload of 80,000 pounds, the tires exert ground pressure of just 14.4 psi at 3 inches of ground penetration.

“All it’s doing is dispersing ground pressure,” Brown explains, noting that in extreme cases, he’s seen Commanders negotiate 6- or 7-foot-deep mud flats. “It literally floats on mud in places where a pickup truck would go right down to the bottom. Imagine walking through deep snow in boots versus walking with snowshoes, and you’ll have a good idea of how it works.”

Two other keys to the Commander C’s muddy mobility: all-wheel drive (each of the three axles is equipped with its own differential) and its articulated body, which allows the vehicle – which is just under 58 feet long – to bend in the middle.

“Because it’s articulated, it allows drivers to get into tighter spaces and just move around better,” Brown says, pointing to the truck’s 53-foot turning radius. “Drivers also can manipulate the machine better to get through the mud a lot cleaner. They don’t have to go in a straight line all the time. If they get in a rut with an unarticulated vehicle, they can’t crawl out of it. But with a Commander, you can turn yourself out of a rut.”

The Commander C tri-axle units feature a 500 hp Cummins ISX diesel engine, an eight-speed Clark transmission, Primex tires made by the Alliance Tire Co., a heavy-duty oilfield deck, a main deck winch, gin poles, midship and rear live rolls, a front push bar and a hydraulically controlled rear push bar. They’re also equipped with rear-mounted cameras for safety.

Brown says his company has owned many Commanders during the last 25 years; the company currently owns two Commander Cs that cost about $1.4 million apiece. Overall, the company owns roughly 350 trucks and trailers, including eight-wheel-drive bed trucks (also equipped with “floater” tires) made by Western Star (a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC); 35- to 45-ton cranes manufactured by National Crane (a brand owned by Manitowoc Co. Inc.) and Weldco Hydra-Lift; Kenworth C500 bed trucks; and planetary-drive winch tractors made by Kenworth and Western Star.

But the Commanders, which must be hauled on trailers because they’re too wide to drive on roads, reign as some of the most critical vehicles among the company’s large fleet. That’s because for five months out of the year (they aren’t used during winter months), they keep the time-sensitive, rig-moving supply chain – a delicate, complex orchestration involving many, many parts and pieces – moving as efficiently as possible, Brown says.

“When we’re moving a drilling rig, each truck has its own job to haul a certain piece of equipment,” he explains. “It’s like an assembly line: If one truck fails, it affects everything down the line. If a Commander breaks down during a tear out or a rig-up, for example, we have a winch tractor sitting idle at $450 an hour. Plus there are crews waiting at the other end … [the ripple effect] just goes on and on. One breakdown can cost thousands of dollars an hour.”

As such, Brown praises the Commander Cs for their reliability, which is especially important because Northwell crews typically work in very remote areas where there’s no access to repair shops or maintenance personnel. He says Foremost “knows what works and what doesn’t” and points out he’s seen 20-year-old Commanders still at work out in the fields.

“They don’t get a lot of miles on them, just hours,” he says. “And since they’re expensive, it’s worthwhile to keep rebuilding them.”

In short, the Commanders in the Northwell fleet, as their name suggests, rule the terrain. “They’re the vehicles that put all our other vehicles to work. We can’t access most of the sites we work on without a Commander.”


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