Karl Skilton knows the deserts of the Middle East so well that he can find puddles in them to give his Scania 143 a wash. And Karl’s Scania is so at home in the desert, he once left it there under the sand for a year and a half.
Karl Skilton runs the Harleywood Haulage Company from a little village in Gloucestershire, England. He has six trucks, including two Scania R 480s and a left-hand Scania 143 from 1991 that has a 450 engine.
While he mostly transports silos and abnormal loads for construction work in the UK and Europe, he occasionally, “for a bit of fun”, makes the run to the Middle East on behalf of Astran. And for this, he always uses the Scania 143.
“It’s the truck for the job,” says Skilton. “I bought it about eight years ago. I’d always liked the 143s and I’d had a few of them before. This time I wanted a left-hand drive, with a three-axle air spring suspension. I used to do Eastern Europe on the steel suspension trucks and get shaken to death, so I definitely wanted air suspension. The 143 ticked all the boxes.
A left-hand Scania 143
“The 143s are a nice drive,” he adds. “They’re reliable and have plenty of power. They are also nice and simple on the electronics side. If you are going down to the Middle East, where there are not a lot of main dealers, it’s very helpful if you can keep it simple.”
Before the current situation in Syria, Skilton had made about 15 runs to the Middle East, transporting things there that were needed in a hurry for the oil or gas fields. “We used to be able to do it in about two weeks, via Europe, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and finally to Qatar. We used to have to go a bit.”
Skilton doesn’t know the exact mileage of his 143 but he thinks it’s probably getting on to about 4 million kilometres by now. “It’s on its third engine, so it’s done quite a bit of work,” he says. “But there have been no real problems. The gearbox blew once in Saudi Arabia and I had to get towed to Qatar. But apart from that, nothing major.
“I did a trip over to Qatar with it a couple of years back, and I couldn’t find a load to go back with, so I parked it in the desert for a bit, thinking I’d go back in a month or two. But it was about a year and a half in the end before I went back. When I did, I found it covered in sand. I jump-started it and then I drove it home. Every time I turned the heater on I got sand blasted.”
On another occasion, Skilton managed to find a puddle in the desert to wash the truck and, embarrassingly, got the 143 stuck in it. “My mate said, ‘How have you managed to find a puddle that big in the Saudi Arabian desert?!’ I said I was looking for it all day and I got there in the end.”
The Astran Run first started in 1964, when the eponymous English company pioneered deliveries to Afghanistan, before adding the Gulf States to its list of destinations.