MAN Truck & Bus

Kühe auf der Alm

The alpine truck arrives

09/11/2020

The idyll is deceptive: Every trip to collect milk from mountain pastures is risky. Steep ascents, narrow gravel roads, 1,600 metres height difference and 15,000 litres of milk await the driver. Fortunately, he’s able to rely on his truck when manoeuvring at the cliff edge. The MAN TGS 26.500 with HydroDrive is his life insurance. 

Roland Aicher im Fahrerhaus seines Almtrucks.
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Steering artist Roland Aicher, who previously worked in the BMW racing team, now calmly steers the tank truck serpentine by serpentine to the Hochalm.

Metre by mountain metre, the dairy’s MAN TGS 26.500 winds its way up the narrow gravel path towards the Kitzbüheler Horn. Farmer Thomas Bachler’s cows will have already returned to the barn that’s located a little below the prominent mountain peak by then. “It’s much too hot for them during the day,” says the father of four in his Tyrolean accent. “By 10.00 in the morning at the latest, they’re already queuing up to get back in.” He and his wife Uschi start milking the cows at half past four in the morning so that the animals can get out on to the alpine pasture by six at the latest: the dairy animals really enjoy the cool morning air in the mountains at 1,200 metres above sea level.

Roland Aicher, on the other hand, turns up in his ‘alpine truck’ on the mountain pasture with the fabulous views of the Wilder Kaiser up to the Watzmann at 12.00 o’clock on the dot. Neither the midday heat nor the most demanding trip on the entire dairy cooperative’s milk-collection round, which passes through the municipality of Reit im Winkl in Bavaria and takes the ‘Milli Driver’ across the Austrian border to the alpine pastures in Tirol, make him break out in a sweat. Three mountain pastures await Aicher on his trip on which he collects a total of around 15,000 litres of milk. His trips always end with the alpine pastures. The Berchtesgadener Land dairy purposely scheduled the trips this way in order to remove any time pressure on its dairy truck drivers. Because none of the three alpine pastures are located below 1,200 metres above sea level. They all sit on different mountains and all of them can only be reached on narrow roads with tight bends. Mountain bikers and hikers love the steep ascents up the gravel roads that reward them with breathtaking postcard panoramas. But collecting the mountain farmers’ milk is always an extreme challenge for both man and machine on any day.

A hell of a trip

Farmer Stefan Lindner’s alpine meadow has already caused many a driver to bottle out – even when they weren’t themselves behind the wheel of the 500 HP milk-collection truck. “There are currently three of us who do the trip,” says 43-year-old dairy-truck driver Roland Aicher. And it’s not something that can be taken for granted: Another driver refused to do the trip after a few practice runs. “He couldn’t get to sleep when he knew it was his turn to drive up to the mountain meadows. Fear and sweaty hands on such a route doesn’t help anyone.” That’s the way that Bernhard Pointner, who’s managing director at the dairy cooperative, also sees it. No-one is ever forced to do the trip into the alpine landscape – that’s what we’ve always said from the start. “We made the decision with the local drivers last year to collect the milk from the mountain farmers up there. We wouldn’t have made the decision without the men’s consent because they’re the ones who set out every other day to tackle the mad route – with a liquid load to boot.”

Roland Aicher, who used to work in the BMW racing team, now calmly steers the tanker around snaking wind after snaking wind up to the mountain pastures. "It usually turns out all right. But it’s only possible because of the extremely short wheelbase on the MAN TGS.” And sometimes even that’s no help in getting around the extremely tight bends at the first attempt. That’s when Roland has to manoeuvre the ‘alpine truck’ back and forth on the narrow gravel roads: a 28% gradient and just 40 centimetres of space for manoeuvring. The view straight ahead is of the mountain massif against a white-blue sky, the view down is of a green slope criss-crossed by sandy snaking winds. Aicher turns the wheel one way and then the next: once, five times, eleven times. He’s been driving up to the Kitzbüheler Alm, the Hochalm and the Moseralm in Tirol every other day since May. He knows his way by heart, when the next exposed tight spot is around the bend, for instance, by how far he has to turn the wheel and how much space he has for reversing without driving his truck off the mountain. Carelessness on the mountain won’t just scratch the vehicle’s paintwork. A mistake on the mountain will mean crashing down. “It's safer not to wear a seatbelt because you might need to jump out,” explains Roland as an aside and quite calmly. The dairy-truck driver’s nerves of steel and driving skills meet MAN’s all-rounder truck – an assured combination on dangerous routes.

Always ready to go

Safety is also a priority for Stefan Reiter, who manages the dairy’s fleet. He and his team look after almost 40 trucks, about half of which are used to collect milk. “The liquid load and the steep alpine routes up to our farmers on the mountains represent a very special challenge to our fleet. Everything has to simply work together.” The workshop team has all the trucks in the yard every day because the production location and the home base at ‘Berchtesgadener Land’ are one and the same. “But they’re all always in use: seven days a week, 365 days a year. So we always have to be flexible," he explains. Which is all the more reason why he appreciates having a good MAN workshop close by. And, thanks to vehicle digitalisation, the interaction between scheduled trips to the workshop and the punctual collection of the milk always runs smoothly.

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altitude meter

the milk wagon driver Roland Aicher must overcome to reach the high alpine pasture of the farmer Stefan Lindner.


 

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Alpine pastures per tour

await Aicher on his journey. None of the three alpine pastures is below 1,200 meters in altitude. 


 

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Liters of milk

Aicher collects on his entire journey across the three mountain pastures.


 

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Percent gradient

prevails on the narrow gravel road on which Aicher has to shunt with the "Alptruck".


 

Once he arrives at the 1,600-metre-high stop, Roland Aicher finds that the entire Lindner family is waiting to greet him. That’s generally not the case. But this time the three daughters have arrived to start their holidays while Aicher now faces the most difficult part of the trip – the descent from the alpine pasture. It’s so difficult because the liquid load literally pushes the truck downhill. The truck driver brakes, shifts gears at the steering wheel, turns. The TGS’ HydroDrive, the hydraulically driven front axle, provides the ‘mountain-pasture truck’ with the grip it needs to get downhill and the necessary traction to get up. It’s the life insurance for Roland Aicher when he’s manoeuvring his truck against the pull of gravity on the small hardly paved roads.

Once back down in the valley in Fieberbrunn, the driver pumps the freshly collected milk into a trailer, which he leaves behind at the bottom before his trip up the mountain. With no more weight in the tank, the ‘Milli Driver’ heads for the last of the three mountain pastures. He returns with the alpine truck, the trailer and the milk from high up in the mountains to the yard at the dairy in ­Piding in the early afternoon. Roland pumps out the collected milk, cleans the MAN tanker and looks forward to spending his evening in the garden. At the end of the day, the cows in the mountains are also starting to think about going out again. “They simply love the mountains’ cool fall winds in the evening. They don’t want to hang around in front of the barn and it’s sometimes difficult getting them back in,” laughs Thomas Bachler. The farmer loves spending the summer on the mountain pasture with the whole family. “Up here, you sleep very differently, really good – even if it is only until four in the morning.”

Almtruck fährt über eine Brücke im Berchtesgadener Land
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Difficult route The Alpine tour of the MAN TGS milk truck is the most demanding tour of the entire milk collection of the Berchtesgadener Land dairy. It leads via Reit im Winkl in Germany across the Austrian border to the alpine pastures in Tyrol between 1,200 and 1,600 meters of altitude.

From cows to fridges

The quality control and ­supply chain for milk are more efficient than ever. The trucks that the Molkerei Berchtes­gadener Land uses to collect milk are equipped with stainless-steel tank bodies and a computer-controlled suction system. The tank features several chambers so that it’s possible to transport each type of milk separately. The system automatically recognises the appropriate data via digital transfer when the process of filling is commenced. That includes the farmer’s supplier number, the quantity and type of milk (mountain-farm milk, organic alpine milk, conventional milk) and milk temperature.

A sample is taken from each type of milk collected. That allows the quality to be closely monitored even before the milk is unloaded at the dairy. The dairy’s milk-collection trucks transport around one million litres of milk to the cooperative’s headquarters in Piding every day. Information about the milk is automatically transferred to the dairy’s system using GPS. Each shipment of milk is processed by type and filled into bottles or cartons, depending on the milk product.

The dairy delivers its products to the Bavaria catchment using its own trucks while forwarders take the mountain-pasture milk to food companies in the north of Germany and the organic milk to Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece and the Benelux countries. The Molkerei Berchtesgadener Land has been organised as a cooperative since 1927. The owners are the approximately 1,700 farmers who live and work between the Watzmann and Zugspitze mountains along the northern side of the Alps.

Without the consent of the men who manage this incredible distance every other day, we would not have decided this.

Bernhard Pointner
Managing Director of the Berchtesgadener Land dairy

Text Susanne Wendt
Photos Molkerei Berchtesgadener Land

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