By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

New Terminal Tractor Energizes the Market


The new Kalmar Ottawa T2 terminal tractor is a redesign of the company's respected line of yard tractors. Photo courtesy of Kalmar Ottawa.

The ubiquitous terminal tractor, found at trucking companies, container yards and cargo terminals worldwide, is getting a breath of fresh air with the introduction of the newly designed Kalmar Ottawa T2.

Although redesigned from the wheels up, the new tractor still offers all the same reliability and ease of use as every tractor produced by the Kansas assembly plant since 1958, when Ottawa Steel Products developed the first yard tractor suitable for quickly and efficiently "spotting" trailers in the yard when they came in off the highway. The new design was a "purpose built" tractor for efficiently moving semi-trailers in a freight distribution yard by means of a 5th wheel mounted on a hydraulic lifting boom attached to the chassis. This lifting boom eliminated the need to manually raise and lower the trailer landing gear with every move.

The basics of the Ottawa chassis and the cab have evolved over the years, with the last revision having taken place in 1993. The new tractor is more than a revision or upgrade – it's a dramatic change in concept and assembly.

The new truck began with product research, and included bringing customers to the factory in Ottawa, Kansas to participate in focus groups.

More than 60 drivers, maintenance technicians, safety directors and management people from the 25 top companies in the industry shared their thoughts on how the new truck should be designed. The company also reached out to sales, service and parts professionals from Kalmar's own dealer network.

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The result was a list of key features for the new tractor, including durability and reliability, serviceability and ergonomics.

While previous models used a welded box design, the T2 uses an open C-channel frame rail chassis concept very similar in design to those used in class 8 over-the-road trucks.

Frames are pre-punched and then powder coated prior to assembly, leaving no metal surfaces open to corrosion, and offering service and application flexibility. For example, a previously welded-in standard taper rear cross member can now be easily and quickly changed to an extended beavertail type rear cross member, with no welding, if a particular operating site with softer ground dictates the change.

The front suspension is a 3-leaf, parabolic taper leaf design that not only provides a smoother ride but also requires no maintenance. Like the modular frame, this is a design from a class 8 truck not seen on a terminal tractor before.

The new frame design also allows the mounting of the newest DOT emissions equipment in the space created inboard of the frame rails. Previously, the scrubbers and urea tanks were mounted in a box on the outside of the right side frame rail, while the single fuel tank was mounted on the left rail. The new design allows for a second 50-gallon fuel tank or other equipment.

Strong, Wide and Safe

For corrosion resistance, the entire steel cab frame and skin assembly is immersion dipped in a 17-step "E-coat" corrosion proofing and sealing process. Undercoating improves thermal efficiency and reduces interior noise levels. New features, exclusive to Ottawa, are standard roll over protection certification and optional falling object protection – the latter designed to protect the driver from an object falling on the cab, such as a container twist-lock.

The roomy new cab is 5 inches wider, taller at the front for driver headroom, and 5 inches deeper, allowing for driver gear stowage. With a door opening that is almost 4 inches wider than the previous Ottawa, entry and exit is much easier for drivers of all sizes. Another development is the rear-opening door. In previous models, the driver had to exit the cab and climb down to the deck, then climb up to connect or disconnect air lines, climb down again and back up into the cab. In a typical shift, a driver in a distribution operation will make 75 or more moves per shift, translating to 150 moves in and out of the truck to connect and disconnect air lines. All this up and down adds to driver stress and fatigue and increases the danger of a fall injury. The new design moves the door to the rear of the cab, which allows it to be 20 percent wider. Behind the cab is a non-slip, flat surface for the driver to stand on while he connects or disconnects, eliminating the up and down travel for most operations.

Another feature of the new design is the accessibility of most routine maintenance checks. The T2 allows the driver to check engine oil and transmission fluid while standing firmly on the ground. He can also fill windshield washer fluid from the ground, and perform other visual safety and maintenance inspections without the need for climbing or ladders, thereby eliminating the chance of slips and falls.

For service technicians, the front access panel is larger and allows access to the cab system and engine side components. Through this opening there is quick and easy access to the cab fresh air filter, the electrical bulkhead connection, the engine air pre-cleaner, and HVAC components – all with the technician standing safely on the ground.


From 1958 to 1968, the company built roughly 500 tractors, or 50 a year. As customer demand and manufacturing efficiency increased, so did production. In 2011, Kalmar delivered its 50,000th terminal tractor. This brought the average rate of production to just less than 950 per year.

Over the years, Kalmar Ottawa has been the first to offer machines with an automatic transmission, a rear door entry, integral air conditioning units, power cab tilt and ABS brake systems. Ottawa terminal tractors were also the first on the market to receive DOT/EPA certification allowing operators to move trailers via public streets and roadways.

Ever-increasing demand, along with the efficient new modular design, has allowed the company to dramatically increase production, while maintaining a strict adherence to quality. Last month Kalmar Ottawa announced the delivery of their 60,000th tractor – a new T2 for Averitt Express in Cookeville, Tennessee.

An important factor in the efficiency of the operation is a happy workforce. Many of the company's 300-plus employees at the Ottawa factory have been supporting the company's yard tractor business in manufacturing, sales, parts and service for decades, and many workers are second, third or fourth generation Ottawa personnel. There are husbands working with their wives, as well as sons and daughters working alongside parents on the company's assembly floor.

Over the years, terminal tractors haven't gotten much respect, either in the way they are used and abused, or what they are called. In the company's focus group testing for the new T2, one of Kalmar Ottawa's clients described the terminal tractor as a tool, and likened it to a hammer.

"I want a tool I can use, like a hammer, that I can pound with all day, then put it back in the toolbox. The next day, I want to be able to pick it up and start pounding again."

The new T2 seems built to fit that description.

A rear-mounted door, grab rails and a flat work surface make connecting and disconnecting trailer air hoses much easier and safer. Photo courtesy of Kalmar Ottawa.


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