Versatility clears the driven snow

By: Steve Brooks

Karl Stadelmann's road maintenance and snow clearing operations in the Snowy Mountains continues to prove, year after year, that a good MAN is definitely worth keeping. Sadly, this article was written barely weeks before Karl passed away.


It was the Spring of 1979 and an unseasonably heavy snowfall had dumped on the Snowy Mountains. Unseasonable or not, the dump was ideal, for two valuable yet vastly different reasons.

First, as the relatively new staff writer on the formerly formidable Truck & Bus magazine, I was heading to a Department of Main Roads (DMR) depot deep on the New South Wales side of the Snowy to do a story on a batch of MAN off-roaders bought for their versatility to operate as a snow plough, tipper and crane truck. Obviously, the more snow, the better the conditions to see the trucks doing their thing.

Second, with absolutely no experience driving cars, trucks or anything else on snow or icy roads, but loaded to the limit with the heavy-footed folly of ignorance, it was perhaps inevitable that the spanking new Ford Cortina staff car would slide off an ice-coated curve and drop nose-first into a table drain filled with freshly ploughed snow. Ironically, as I was soon informed, snow ploughed by one of the trucks I was heading to see.

Cold as a Tassie trout after scratching snow from around wheels, it wasn’t too long before a local in a Land Rover stopped and with a glare as frosty as the countryside, hooked a long strap around the axle, snapped the Ford back onto the road, fired a volley of acetic advice into ears that wanted to hear nothing but the hum of the car’s heater fan, then rolled up his strap and drove off.

Anyway, valuable lesson learned and gratefully, no harm done so no reason to mention it to anyone.

But as is the way of such things, word travels fast. The blokes at the DMR had already heard a Cortina had been pulled out of a snow bank a few kilometres back but only now, as the car rolled sedately into the depot, did their wide grins confirm the coming embarrassment. ‘How was the detour, mate? Did a bit of ploughin’ yourself, did ya?’

Ego battered and bruised, it was small comfort to hear such events happen regularly to ‘outsiders’ when the weather turns frozen white. Okay, I get the message, but can we now talk about the trucks? Please!

Built for Purpose

The NSW Department of Main Roads was, of course, the predecessor to the NSW Department of Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) which, since 2019, has been absorbed under the umbrella of Transport for NSW.

Karl Stadelmann pictured with a MAN 8x8. His preference for MAN stretches back many years

Whatever, back in the late 1970s, the authority then known as the DMR decided the time had come to replace its Magirus Deutz-powered Rolba snow blowers, logically based around the NSW snowfields, with something somewhat more practical.

It’s not that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the snow blowers, or that they were worn out. Sure, they were 16 years old or thereabouts, but these air-cooled Swiss specialists worked only in the winter months and sat idle for the rest of the year except for those rare occasions when unseasonal weather suddenly turned the Snowy, snowy. In short, annual utilisation levels weren’t particularly high.

Thus, in what must have been a moment of some official brainstorming, someone or some group of people within the DMR decided after 16 years that having highly specialised machines standing idle for at least half a year was, well, a tad impractical and, without putting too fine a point on it, fiscally flawed.

So, tenders were called for truck suppliers capable of supplying four trucks to be fitted with snow ploughs, but also fitted with things like a tipper body and self-loading crane to perform a multitude of maintenance tasks in warmer months.

A 1975 MAN stops for some maintenance work at the Stadelmann base. Reliability of the all-wheel-drive MAN continues to be exceptional

Not surprisingly, a number of prominent truck brands threw their hats into the tender process but it was MAN which won the deal, based in large part on having the products and engineering expertise to meet the DMR’s exact requirements. Plus, no doubt, an established history and enviable record of supplying government departments and public utilities with purpose-built models for specialist roles.

After a long and exhaustive process, made even longer by the wait for specialised aftermarket ‘cold weather’ components, the 1975 model trucks offered and chosen were 4x4 MAN 15.280 models – signifying a nominal 15 tonnes gross mass rating and around 280hp – consisting of two single-cab units and two double cab configurations. Obviously built long before the introduction of automated manual transmissions, each truck drove through a 15-speed overdrive Roadranger transmission.

By the Spring of 1979, the MANs had several seasons behind them and the general consensus of DMR managers and drivers was highly positive. As one experienced DMR snow plough driver commented at the time, "They’ve got plenty of power and one of their great advantages is that they can maintain a constant ploughing speed.

"If weather and traffic conditions permit, you can stay in one gear, both uphill and down, pushing a good load of snow."

Likewise, and remembering that this was the late ’70s, there was plenty of favour for the comfort and driver convenience in the European conventionals, not least the fingertip electric-over-air controls which meant, "… you don’t have to stop or slow down to engage the diff lock or change ranges in the transfer case.

"They’re the ideal vehicle for this application," as one eager MAN fan exclaimed.

Highly specialised Rolba snow blower operated by the NSW DMR before the arrival in the late 1970s of a batch of four MAN 4x4s to work all year round. The blowers only worked in the winter months

However, none of these impressions in 1979 would have come as startling news to a man over the border in the Victorian snow country. In fact, when it comes to ploughing snow, specifically with MAN trucks, there’s perhaps no greater knowledge and probably no greater advocate for the brand and the business than Karl Stadelmann.

Indeed, among those in the know on the subject of pushing snow, it was Karl Stadelmann who first brought to Australia the concept of a snow plough attached to a truck. It took time and a lot of enterprise on Karl’s part to influence government decision makers, but the message finally soaked through.

It also took time for three of the four MAN 4x4s bought by the DMR all those years ago to ultimately find a welcoming home in the company called Stadelmann Enterprises.

Man to MAN

Nowadays, and with his 85th birthday done and dusted, Karl concedes he isn’t quite as active as he once was, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s out of action altogether. Not by a long shot.

As he quickly explains, Stadelmann Enterprises has evolved over many years to become a snow ploughing, road maintenance and construction, and quarrying entity, first created when it became apparent after 25 years with the Victorian government authority which would later morph into VicRoads, that the best way to get ahead was to go your own way with what you know best.

For Karl, that initially meant venturing out with his own bulldozer and gradually adding more machinery as opportunities arose.

A 1975 MAN 15-280 twin-cab model still earns its keep for Transport for NSW in the Snowy region. Versatility as both an effective snow plough and road maintenance unit remains the key to MAN success in the Snowy Mountains

Nowadays, the business operates from its original base in the Victorian town of Bright and from Jindabyne in NSW. While Karl looks after the snow ploughing operation out of Bright, the bulk of the business including snow ploughing, road construction and maintenance operates largely from Jindabyne under the control of son, Harald.

In many respects, the Stadelmann story is reminiscent of so many Europeans who found their way to Australia’s Snowy region and ultimately forged a remarkably rewarding life.

In Karl’s case, it all started in 1955 at the age of 18 when he immigrated to Australia from his native Austria, utilising the heavy machinery skills learned from his father to gain a job as a grader driver with what was then Victoria’s Department of Main Roads.

What surprised him though, was that road graders were then the accepted machine for removing snow and ice from roads. "It was," he said in an earlier report, "an extremely slow way of doing it, with graders operating at five to 10 kilometres per hour."

However, back when many high country roads were gravel, graders at least had the benefit of grading the road as they went. It was a different story as more alpine roads became sealed, with grader blades being less than gentle on bitumen surfaces. There was a better way, and Karl knew it.

Late snow in the Victorian high country. The German maker’s reputation in snow clearing operations is unsurpassed

In the often snow-bound extremes of Austria, snow ploughs mounted to the front of trucks historically provide the best of both worlds – faster snow clearing and less road damage. A proven and accepted practice.

Yet convincing some Australian road authorities had its own challenges, as did convincing some local truck suppliers (notably MAN and Mercedes-Benz) that demonstrating the advantages of a truck-mounted snow plough had the potential for considerable commercial merit.

As Karl found though, importing the right plough from Europe was one thing, but it was something else to demonstrate the advantages of a snow plough without a truck to carry it.

Again, and perhaps frustrated at the lack of interest by local truck suppliers, Karl’s European background and individual initiative led him to buy a used MAN and from then on, the message started to materialise as he conducted demonstrations to various authorities, proving beyond doubt the advantages of a truck-mounted snow plough. In the right hands, of course.

RELATED ARTICLE: The importance of wearing the right snow shoes

The short version of a long story is that today, holding contracts with road authorities in NSW and Victoria, Stadelmann Enterprises pushes around 90 percent of all the snow that falls on Australia’s high country roads. One of the few exceptions is on the Snowy Mountains Highway where Transport for NSW operates its own snow plough and road maintenance operations where one of the original 1975 MAN double-cab units still operates alongside its modern-day 4x4 and 8x8 successors, proving that MAN’s success in the high country has certainly stood the test of time.

Indeed, all four of those original DMR units ran for many years but when time came for three to be replaced, Karl Stadelmann says he didn’t hesitate in 2004 to give the trucks a new home, first buying the two single-cab units and later, acquiring one of the twin-cab models at auction.

Readying for the snow season

Those trucks are now more than 45 years old and it’s a tribute to the Bavarian brand’s build quality and engineering foundations, and obviously the maintenance standards which have kept the trucks in such good order, that they’re still viable and effective in an operation where reliability is absolutely essential.

Of course, Karl needs no convincing of their aptitude for the various functions in the Stadelmann stable. Sure, he admits, there’s some personal fondness for the brand derived from his Austrian heritage but that said, there’s no escaping his regard for a brand which has served his business so well for so long.

Admittedly, the all-wheel-drive trucks aren’t big mile-makers but after so many years working in often arduous and climatically challenging conditions, their reliability is unquestionable according to an adamant Karl Stadelmann.

"We’ve never touched the engines," he attests, "and with hub-reduction, the drivetrain is second to none for our work."

Explaining that there are both cab-over and earlier conventional configurations in the company’s model mix, including two relatively late model 8x8s, it is an unequivocal Karl Stadelmann who again asserts, "MAN is definitely the best truck for what we do."

Still, it’s not all plaudits and praise for the brand. Among the 16 MANs in the 20-truck Stadelmann fleet, there’s a 480hp TGA 6x4 model operating as a truck and dog tipper combination which he blatantly describes as, "… a lemon. Beautiful to drive but reliability has been terrible. If that was the only model they had, you’d never buy an MAN."

On the other hand, Karl isn’t shy about citing his approval for the company’s three Hino six-wheeler tippers and a lone Mercedes-Benz Axor 4x4. "They’ve all been reasonably good trucks," he says simply. "Actually, the Hinos have been very reliable."

However, with several Japanese brands now offering 4x4 models in various weight capacities, it seemed reasonable to ask, ‘Ever thought of a Japanese model for the off-road work, including as a snow plough?’

An answer came fast and firm. "No!"

Put simply, he believes bonneted trucks are fundamentally more stable in slippery conditions but most critically, Karl sees Japanese double-differs as "… just a two-wheel-drive truck with an extra diff at the front".

They lack, he insists, the drivetrain technology and functional finesse of the Europeans, even those more than 45 years old. "We know what works for us," he says with absolute certainty.


Yet things have changed in the snow plough business, Karl adds. Whereas it was once the driver’s decision on how much salt and grit were spread on the road to disperse ice and enhance traction, the process is now computer controlled with laser technology that reads the road temperature and spreads exactly the right amount of a salt and calcium chloride mix to disperse ice.

"We’ve come a long way," he reflects. "We don’t use grit at all anymore because when the snow and ice are gone, the grit remains on the road and that can become a problem for motorbikes."

As for the constraints of operating in this era of COVID-19, particularly given the disease’s hugely negative influence on ski resorts and vastly reduced traffic volumes on alpine roads, Karl says simply, "It hasn’t really impacted us because our job is to keep the roads open for everyone, not just the skiers.

"We’re obligated to keep the roads open, and that’s not always in the winter months. You can get snow anytime up in the mountains.

"But that’s just what we do," concludes an emphatic Karl Stadelmann, perhaps typifying that no matter what the age, it’s hard to keep a good man down. Pun intended!

FOOTNOTE: Karl Stadelmann passed away suddenly in Wangaratta Hospital after work on Monday, October 18. Karl emigrated from Austria at the age of 18 in 1955 with his young wife, two suitcases, 10 pounds cash and little understanding of English. Within the first week of his arrival at the Bonegilla migrant camp he had his first Australian job operating an excavator for the CRB. After 25 years with the CRB, Karl and son Harald set up Stadelmann Enterprises earthmoving, road maintenance and snow clearing group which now operates throughout  the alpine areas of Victoria and NSW. Karl’s last day was for him a typical 7am start workday in Bright. 

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