The CT-660 comes with a setback steer axle. A CT-680 with a set-forward axle is due out later this year.

The CT-660 comes with a setback steer axle. A CT-680 with a set-forward axle is due out later this year.

When reviewing a product like the Caterpillar CT-660, there is no replacement for getting the opinion of the people who have been using it day in and day out.

“The drivers love it,” said John “Dick” Jones, president of Jones Fuel Co. in Columbus, Ohio, talking about the fleet’s first in-service dump truck. So far the 16-wheeler has suffered only “teething problems” that are to be expected of a brand-new model, he said. I got a chance to drive it soon afterward.

It's one of three the fleet ordered. Jones and his vice president and partner, Jack Fink, liked Cat's vocational-only approach with the product, and appreciated the promise of good service from the local dealer.

Most trucks in the Jones’ 50-unit fleet are Sterlings, a brand that disappeared during the Great Recession.

With Sterling out of production, the recession receding and hauling activity picking up, their investigation of possible replacements led them to Cat and its local dealer, Ohio Caterpillar.

Cat does not sell over-the-road tractors, so a Jones truck will never wait in line as vehicles from ‘ big national-account fleets get priority attention — something Jones and Fink were afraid would happen with other truck brands.

The truck

When you approach a Cat truck from the front, you're visually slammed by its distinctive, big and chromey nose, and you hardly notice the aluminum cab as being from International's PayStar.

The interior is nicely appointed  with east-to-use controls and legible instruments.

The interior is nicely appointed  with east-to-use controls and legible instruments.

Inside, the steering wheel, dashboard, instrument and control panels, and everything else had an upscale look and feel. Most surfaces were padded with nice-looking materials in muted grays.

The gauges and switches were handsome and legible, and the many switches were fairly easy to identify and use.

The CT's combined speedometer-tachometer might be unique in on-highway trucks. A single circle surrounds two arcs made by the meters, which are still plenty large enough to read while leaving room in the dash for other gauges. Easy-to-comprehend rotary knobs control the heater and air conditioner.

Like other dumpers in the fleet, Number 203, Jones's first operational CT-660, is a 16-wheeler with three steerable, liftable pusher axles to comply with Ohio's bridge formula law.

Some operators here run 18-wheel super dumps with four pusher axles, but Jones sticks with three. They're enough to add capacity and stability without further stretching frame length and wheelbase, the bosses explained.

The setback steer axle suits this operation because it enables a tight wheel cut and a rather short turning circle, which I noticed while leaving the yard. (Later this year, Cat will begin offering a CT-680 model with a forward-set steer axle for users in stricter bridge-formula states, primarily in the West.)

The chassis toted a 21-foot Bibeau steel dump body installed by Jones's own shop. (Jones Fuel Co. also sells and services the Canadian-made units). The truck was washed, loaded and ready for me to try out.

The auxiliary axles stayed down for all forward movement. Adjusting pressure in their air springs results in each carrying varying portions of a load, which can go to 20 tons and more, Fink explained. Valves for them are between the seats, adjacent to the control box for the dump body.

When the truck stops and the transmission is shifted into reverse, the activated backup light circuit orders them up, which occurs amid soft popping of relief valves as air leaves the suspension bags and a second set of air bags pulls up the axles. The tandem and steer axles are built to shoulder all the load at low speeds. When taken out of reverse, the suspension bags are replenished and weight is again borne by the pushers. This happened a number of times as I maneuvered the truck in the yard.

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On the road

At Cat's demonstration of the then-new CT-660 about a year and a half ago, we press guys were restricted to an off-road course, but this time I could go where I wanted. Brad Zingre, Cat's regional representative, accompanied me as I ran the truck onto nearby streets and highways for further assessment.

Steering was steady and the ride was typical of a multi-axle dump truck. There was a buoyant feeling as the aux axles help support the poundage of the truck and its load, in this case about 20 tons of sand in the tarp-covered bed, along with significant vertical jounce as the big leaf springs over the 20,000-pound front axle flexed in response to pavement irregularities. There were a lot of those in concrete roadways, which showed years of freezing and thawing, and some, too, in usually smoother asphalt.

My air-suspended seat got a workout and Zingre hung on as his solid-mounted perch bounced with the floor. The ride for me was actually pretty good for a short, heavy truck.

The Navistar-made 12.4-liter diesel is painted Cat yellow. It does not have urea injection, but future engine will have selective catalytic reduction systems.

The Navistar-made 12.4-liter diesel is painted Cat yellow. It does not have urea injection, but future engine will have selective catalytic reduction systems.

Under the big hood — which by the way was surprisingly easy to raise and lower — was a 12.4-liter Navistar diesel painted Cat yellow and called CT instead of MaxxForce. This one's rated at 430 horsepower and 1,550 pounds-feet, plenty for this kind of duty and probably the one that most dumper users would pick, even if a bigger engine were available.

The CT-13 may be the largest engine in Cat's custom-made trucks, because Navistar is dropping the 15-liter MaxxForce diesel that was supposed to come soon. There's a question as to whether Cat will use the Cummins ISX15 that Navistar has begun offering instead. An announcement on the 15-liter question is supposed to come soon.

The engine in this truck was a pre-selective catalytic reduction model, with no urea injection equipment, which will add about 400 pounds to each one that will soon get it.

The transmission was an Eaton Fuller 8LL, a three-range 10-speed that's highly popular in dumpers and mixers.

Only about 1,300 miles showed on the odometer, so the linkage was a bit stiff, but I was still able to change gears with little or no crunching.

I never needed Low gear and certainly neither of the low-low ratios, but used the eight upper ratios in moving away from stoplights and getting to road speed. Sixty and 65 mph were good cruising speeds, with the tach showing 1,600 to 1,700 rpm.

Cat offers its own CX-31 fully automatic transmission, but Jones said he couldn't bring himself to spend the nearly $20,000 premium for it. He said he doesn't know enough about Eaton's less costly automated mechanical transmissions to consider one.

Time was short for me this day and so was the run, at about 50 miles. But it was enough to appreciate the CT-660's premium features and to respect Jones and Fink for their choice.

If the initial truck's pleasing performance and reliabil ity prove out in the long run, and Ohio Cat backs them as promised, then the Jones fleet might someday be mostly Caterpillar, just as it has with other nameplates in the Jones Fuel Co.'s long history.

From Coal to Topsoil in 86 Years

Jones Fuel Co., the owner of this Cat Truck, was begun in 1924 by Dick Jones's grandfather, who sold coal to industrial and residential customers.

“We started by using hard rubber-tire trucks back then,” Dick said while pointing to a photo of early vehicles on the wall behind his desk.

A photo from the ‘60s shows a fleet of about 20 trucks all lined up for the camera. Most are Diamond Reos, a make that was the victim of a recession in 1975. Sterlings now make up most of the 50-unit fleet, but after Daimler dropped the Sterling brand, good experience with Cat wheel loaders and backing by the local dealer caused Jones to turn to Caterpillar for its latest trucks.

Today, the company calls itself JonesTopsoil in local TV commercials because that's now a principal part of the operation. It also sells sand, gravel and mulch to small and large accounts, and does a lot of for-hire hauling. And it operates Jones Spring, which performs truck suspension and axle repairs, and installs and services French Canadian-made Bibeau dump bodies, with which all its dump trucks are equipped.

Dave Jones, Dick's son and corporate secretary, is the fourth generation of the family now involved in the business.

SPECIFICATIONS

Truck: Caterpillar CT-660, conventional daycab vocational dump, BBC 116 inches, GVW 69,000 pounds

Engine: Navistar/Cat CT-13, 430 hp at 2,100 rpm, 1,550 lb-ft @ 1,000 rpm

Clutch: 15.5-in. Eaton Fuller Easy-Pedal Advantage

Transmission: Eaton Fuller RTO-16908LL 10-speed manual, double Low with overdrive

Front axle & suspension: 20,000-lb Meritor MFS-20-133A, on taper leafs

Lift axles: three 13,500-lb Hendrickson SCT Ultra steerable

Rear axles & suspension: 46,000-lb Meritor RT-46-160P, w/locking axle diffs and 4.10 ratio, on Hendrickson HMX-460-54 walking beam mechanical

Wheelbase: 274 inches

Front tires & wheels: Goodyear 425/65R22.5 on aluminum discs

Rear tires & wheels: Goodyear 11R22.5 on steel discs Dump bed- 21-ft, 12-14-yard Bibeau steel

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