MAN Truck & Bus
It’s 7 am, start of work in Rødberg, and even though the sun is still tucked behind the mountains, there is a mystical Nordic blue light over a snow-covered valley. The Norwegians call this time of day ‘blåtimen’ – the blue hour – perfect picture-postcard lighting. But this enticing view is deceptive; the outside temperature is minus 34. Without proper winter clothing to venture out, even for only a few minutes, is to risk frostbite and hyperthermia.
“It is an abnormally cold winter this year. Usually it’s only around minus 20. But we aren’t complaining; the record is minus 43,” says Ola casually. The standard rules of play are thrown out the window when the temperature drops to such extremes. The locals start their cars up at the beginning of the day and leave them running, even when filling their tanks at the petrol station.
Yet Ola Andersen isn’t concerned: despite standing outside in the bitter cold all night, the MAN TGS 33.510 fires up the first time without complaint. But not all engines are so compliant. Visitors to the area are often unable to start their cars due to the oil becoming too cold for the engine to turn over. Ola has an unorthodox solution to the problem. “I had an old pick-up truck that refused to start in the cold, so we lit a fire under the vehicle. Worked a treat!.”
21-year-old Ola Andersen is already an experienced truck driver. After gaining his HGV licence at the impressively young age of 18, he has worked full time behind the wheel ever since. And driving trucks is in his blood: he drives for the family business Numedal Graving og Transport AS, which his father Ronny Andersen founded in 1996. During the non-winter months, the company focuses on road building, heavy goods transport, and construction services.
The Numedal region, where the tranquil Rødberg is located, is developing fast amongst those looking for an idyllic location for a cabin. Barely three hours drive south west from the capital Oslo, the local mountain terrain is easily accessible. In the summer, there are numerous fishing, hiking, and cycling opportunities. In the winter months, even more so with ice fishing, alpine skiing and endless miles of Nordic cross-country skiing tracks.
As the winter weather sets in, the business transforms. The mountain roads are not only a source for outdoor recreation but a lifeline for the local community. Ola is a critical player in keeping the roads open as the temperature drops to below freezing, and the snow arrives.
“Our responsibility is to keep the roads not only clear of snow but to a standard that’s safe for everyone to drive on”, explains Ola. The majority of cars from the city travel here without four-wheel drive and on normal winter tires without spikes. So it's a constant fight against the elements. “If the roads were to close even for only a few hours, then the impact on the community would be significant” says the young truck driver.
“We use two trucks for snow clearance: a MAN TGS 33.510 6X6 BB and a TGS 41.510 8X6 BB. They’re just epic in the snow. I can always rely on them, no matter how extreme the weather becomes.” Six-wheel drive, leaf springs front and rear, high and low series gearing as well as a differential lock might seem like overkill to many. But they are an absolute necessity in these Nordic extremes.
“A lot of trucks need to use chains when the conditions are at their worst. Having to mount tyre-chains in a snowstorm is no joke and loses us valuable time clearing the roads. With the six-wheel-drive TGX, we very rarely need them.”
The coldest temperature ever measured in Numedal
Average snowfall per month in January for the Numedal area
is the driving speed when clearing snow
Having reliable trucks is essential for pur business, the weather dictates our work hours and doesn´t wait for a truck in the repair shop.
Ola’s driving skills on the steep mountain roads are impressive. His ability to remain calm and without hesitation to navigate his truck on roads barely wide enough for two cars is mesmerising. He negotiates barriers and road signs with pinpoint precision while clearing hundreds of kilos of snow a second at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour. The 20-metre high snow plume generated by the plough is a spectacular sight. This level of steering with the left hand while continually adjusting the plough using a joystick with the right takes hundreds of hours of practice. Reacting to the rhythm of the roads and anticipating difficult situations has become pure instinct for Ola. Detailed local knowledge is also essential, however. “You have to keep your wits about you. There are hidden dangers everywhere. The cattle grids, for example, are buried just beneath the snow, and the warning signs are easy to miss. If I hook one of those with the plough, I risk getting a metal bar through the front window.” warns Ola.
At the highest point, Vastuland, 1100 meters above sea level, the weather can take a turn for the worst without warning within minutes. “During high winds and snowstorms, the visibility can be almost zero, and it’s very easy to become disorientated. If you don't concentrate, you can end up on the wrong side of the marker poles. That’s not a good place to be.”
Many truck drivers would consider the many hours spent alone in the mountains to be too lonely a workplace. But Ola thinks it's perfect. “I’m my own boss up here – I call the shots and I like the responsibility that goes with that. No days are the same and I never know what challenges I’ll face from one day to the next. This isn’t just a job – it's a way of life. We all have an essential role in the community, and I’m just doing my part.”
Numedal Graving og Transport AS has grown to almost 17 full-time employees since it was founded in the 1990s. Both Ola and his younger brother Lars work for the family business. Ronny Andersen's drivers are responsible for the 150 kilometres of local mountain roads stretching from Kongsberg's town centre to the popular ski resort, Geilo. “Having reliable trucks is essential for the business. The weather dictates our work hours and doesn’t wait for a truck in the repair shop,” says the boss and continues to explain. “We replace our trucks every four to five years and choose MAN every time. They are just so reliable, comfortable to drive, and easy to customise to our needs. And not just for the winter, but also for our construction business in the summer.”
Just as important as having reliable machinery, Ronny is also dependent on his employees' right mindset. “Even though we are often alone in the trucks, we have to work as a team. Everyone has to get their hands dirty, no matter the situation.”
Spectacular The snowploughs are restricted to a maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour. The plume of snow they create is a spectacular sight.
Father and son Ola’s father Ronny is proud to have his son Ola as a member of the family business. “Ola is a great worker. A real team player who just gets on with the job,” says Ronny.
Self-sufficient Spare parts are at least six hours away in this remote part of Norway. Ronny and Ola are both experienced mechanics and not afraid to get their hands dirty when needed.
Popular holiday destination The district of Numedal has ideal terrain for the Norwegian national sport – cross-country skiing. Keeping the roads open in the winter months is essential for local tourism.
Simply reliable Even though the two MAN TGS 33.510 stand exposed overnight in the bitter cold, the trucks start at the first attempt every time.
Entrepreneur Ronny Andersen founded the company Numedal Graving og Transport in 1996. He is also involved in cabin building, ski resort development and owns his own mountain hotel.
Even though the roads are cleared of snow, Ola's job is not entirely done for the day. Negotiating the 33-ton TGS on the steep return down from the mountain is not a job for the faint-hearted. But Ola remains cool and engages the snowplough mounted between the front and rear axles. Once again, the rear view mirror fills with a spectacular plume of snow against the mountain backdrop. The snowplough’s serrated edge roughens the road's icy surface, providing not only essential grip for the cars but also a safety net for Ola. “The resistance from the plough provides critical braking assistance when descending on ice. You can't defy the laws of physics. To stop a vehicle of this weight on the ice I need all the help I can get.”
Within a few hours, the sun sets behind the mountain tops. The temperature once again drops from a comfortable minus 17 to below minus 30. “The weather forecast is for minus 40 tonight. Maybe we’ll get a new record?” jokes Ola. One thing is sure. It will take more than the Nordic winter weather to prevent Ola from getting out on the roads the next day. “I love this job. Every day is different. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”