IN Glen Campbell's 1969 No 1 country music classic "Wichita Lineman", a mythical service man perpetually drives the main road searching in the sun for another overload.
Fast forward to Australia in 2006 and a real-life service personality and his fleet of 4wds face an even tougher assignment as they roam the Queensland outback to ensure vital water is delivered to the parched countryside.
For 20 years, Albert de Ruiter, of A and M Civil Contracting, has been responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the 1,800 kilometres of pipe, pumps, reservoirs and tanks that supply customers of the Glamorganvale Rural Water Board in Queensland.
Albert’s tale of man and machine is relevant to all those who depend on work vehicles in rugged country areas, because there are few roads, just bush tracks and rough forest country along most of the system's mains.
If something breaks down Albert, who is on-call 24-hours a day, has to head out regardless of the weather or access and repair the problem.
Just like the farmers, electrical technicians, building contractors and mining and pipeline maintenance staff who venture out under all conditions, he has to rely absolutely on the suspension of his vehicle to handle all environments.
"I have to take half a tonne of tools, a 5Kva generator, fuel, spare parts and, sometimes, welding gear,” he said. “Often, I have to tow a two tonne trailer as well.”
“Most of the time my ute has to crawl in low gear along extremely rough tracks to reach the fault. It is harsh country and tough on vehicles.”
"I've found that only Toyota's Landcruisers can stand up to the work over a long period of time but even their heavy-duty leaf springs suffer from the punishment. Then, six years ago, I discovered air bags."
After discussing his problem with the national air suspension specialist Airbag Man , Albert de Ruiter fitted Ride Rite air-bags to help his standard Toyota rear leaf springs.
The standard Toyota Landcruiser 4WD cab chassis weighs about two tonnes unladen and is rated to carry about 1.3 tonnes. It has two 90 litre fuel tanks feeding its 4.2 litre six cylinder turbo diesel motor.
The A and M Civil Contracting Landcruisers are fitted with strong steel trays, two steel tool boxes and a 300 litre tanks for fuelling the JCB excavators used for trenching.
"We often are forced to push the limit of the recommended operating weight for the vehicles of 3.3 tonnes and this is where the air-bags are really helpful," Albert said.
"The Ride Rite system enables us to keep the vehicle level and greatly reduce stress on the springs. We had absolute proof of the benefits recently when we upgraded two of our fleet of Landcruisers from Series 78 to the current Series 79 models.
“The two old Toyotas were standing side by side and my son noticed that the one that had been fitted with air bags was standing three inches higher.
“The leaf springs of the one without the bags were no longer as resilient. Load stress had changed the molecular structure of the steel and the springs were sagging!
Albert is now fitting Firestone Ride-Rite air-bags to all the company’s utes.
Albert says the beauty of air suspension is that you can adjust pressures to suit the load and maintain a set ride height.
"When we went to Double Island Point on a holiday this year, I took all the work gear off the Landcruiser's tray and hooked on our pop-top, off-road caravan.
“I adjusted the air bags for the trip and, after we unloaded the trailer at our destination, I deflated the air-bags, as well as the tyres, and went beach fishing!"
When the Glamorganvale Water Board was established to bring untreated fresh water from Lake Wivenhoe to farming properties south of the dam in the 1960s, mostly galvanised steel pipe was used in the system.
Albert de Ruiter has been replacing this rusting pipe with polythene and PVC piping during the past 20 years and has installed a wireless-based computer control and management network.
"I can check the level of tanks, open valves, monitor flows and detect emergencies from my lap-top computer anywhere in the world," he said proudly.
The de Ruiter family has a long history of water management. Albert and his family migrated to Australia from Friesland in Holland when he was only seven.
"My grandfather and his father before him used to operate a windmill that pumped water from the lowlands. The windmill is on ruins now but the locals are raising funds to restore it so maybe I'll lend a hand," he added.
The Airbag Man orgnisation consulted by Albert de Ruiter designs and manufactures a broad range of air helper and full air-bag solutions to counter problems with conventional suspensions in all work and recreational vehicles. These rugged suspension systems improve vehicle safety, steering, braking and comfort.
"Our Ride-Rite air-bag helpers for leaf springs and On-Air full air suspensions are keeping all makes of vehicles flat and level despite heavy loads, uneven side weights and when towing," said Airbag Man, Richard Clamp.
"The premium quality Firestone air-bags used in both systems are fully adjustable. By simply adding or removing air, owners can maintain their vehicle's height under different loads and optimise ride, performance and safety."
Fitted between the chassis and leaf springs, Ride-Rite air-bags adjust to the load so that cause vehicles do not sag or lean dangerously. They also help control wear and tear on the vehicle's tyres, suspension and frame.
On-Air suspensions extend the benefits, replacing the factory-fitted front or rear coil spring suspensions with an infinitely-variable, more efficient system.
"Both types take the load tension off existing leaf springs; preventing sagging and helping them last longer."
Vehicles can be fitted with in-cab controls and on-board compressors enabling drivers to dial the ideal suspension setting for the road conditions without stopping.
Airbag Man supplies coil replacement and air helper springs for many vehicle applications including:
* Utilities carrying uneven loads for tradesmen, couriers, manufacturers and government and private service industries
* Delivery vans, including retail, electrical contractor, engineering and transport industries
* Recreational and work vehicles in uses ranging from farming and mining exploration to camping
* Towing and specialist vehicles like ambulances and computer delivery vans
* Buses and trucks.