Johannes Metzger is happy about continuous revenues with the Unimog.
A vocation, not a job – that's how Johannes Metzger sees his winter work during the cold months of the year. He really enjoys clearing the roads around his home area of Lenzkirch. And one of the reasons for that is without doubt the fact that the self-employed municipal services provider has the right tool to handle his salt-spreading and snow-clearing jobs: a U 427.
Saturday early afternoon in Lenzkirch in the Black Forest.
It has snowed half the night. The area around the Schluchsee lake is covered by several centimetres of fresh snow – but all the roads have been long been cleared, and are easily driveable. Two partners who have been at work for hours are taking a well-earned break. Johannes Metzger has parked his Unimog right next to the local shopping centre. It's quiet there at the moment, which is fine by him, because it means his lunch comes quicker. There's no saying whether he might have to dash off to work again at short notice. It's shortly before 2 o'clock; the weather is clearing. The Unimog is in the depot being topped up with diesel and Adblue. There will be time to top-up the salt tank afterwards. Every now and again he checks the weather radar. There's more snow forecast for the afternoon. His mobile phone rings; timings are decided, potential necessary work discussed. "Tilo's going to be doing the second shift. I’ ve had enough for today," the born-and-bred local says.
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The day starts while everyone else is still sleeping.
He has been at the wheel since 4 in the morning. Owing to the heavy snowfall, he has driven his two assigned routes several times, clearing the snow and spreading plenty of salt. The two routes the selfemployed contractor is assigned to cover are lengthy, and it's his job to make sure they stay clear and safe to drive on. The first route heads from the B 500 through Raitenbuch to Lenzkirch. Metzger's other route is equally long, starting in the settlement of Schluchsee, on to Faulefürst, and then through Grünwald, at an altitude of 1050 metres, before joining the B 315. "That's 40 kilometres of road to clear, meaning I have easily covered 200 kilometres by noon," he reports. He has had to top-up the salt tank in-between runs. Metzger has set the salt spreading rate on the rear-mounted spreader to 16 grams per square metre, to deal with surface freezing on the road. The cold and the snow lying on the surface were not too extreme, and so quick and easy to deal with. "When the ice is densely packed on the road, it can take more than 30 grams to thaw it. And if you set the maximum rate of 40 g/m², the entire two cubic metre capacity of the rear-mounted tank is obviously soon gone."
The versatility of the Unimog assures full order books.
Johannes Metzger, Kommunaldienst Metzger
Recent winters have been milder – but that is all changing.
The last two winters necessitated no more than 50 days of winter road clearing work in total. And it took barely four hours to get the roads back to condition. But things might change again – who knows.
"The winter before was different again. We had 80 to 100 days' work. Some years it's been even more. And when it snowed during the evening or at night, it was often necessary to be out clearing and spreading until as later as 10 o'clock." But winter road clearing work doesn't just involve sitting in the cab. There are lots of ancillary jobs to be doing – clearing ice from buildings and driveways, and ensuring safety in all weather conditions. "It is also important to clear away walls of snow at the roadside using the snow-blower. And snow nets need to be installed on steep slopes. Last but not least, when the winter eases we have to repair any damage caused by our clearing work, and remove all the snow nets and salt boxes again." The contractor is not currently earning a great deal from his winter service work. That's also connected to the conditions in the last two winters however. Metzger regards keeping the roads clear as a top-up to the jobs that he and his staff of around a dozen people are busy with during the rest of the year, and which make the business profitable.
Although Metzger also operates other vehicles in addition to the Unimog, the 272 horsepower U 427 handles two main tasks along-side winter road clearing. One is transporting machinery by towing a low-loader. The other is mulching and routine mowing, starting after the winter work in late April or early May. For three years, between 2006 and 2009, Metzger did not have a Unimog. He had sold his U 1600, and tried to handle all his work, including transporting small machinery, using forestry tractors. It was often more difficult, and took a lot more time, with more effort and complex operations involved. He soon realised what he was missing.
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"The Unimog is many times more cost-effective per operating hour."
A Unimog U 400, fitted with power hydraulics as standard, but nevertheless described by Metzger on a trade fair visit as a "Playmobil Unimog", was what ultimately led him to change his mind. Put into service in 2009, it made the work easier, and did many things better than the tractors. "We also carried out an operating cost analysis, comparing the performance data and cost of the U 427 against the tractors. Many people thing the Unimog would be more cost-intensive. But we calculated that each operating hour of the U 427 working on our jobs was over 30 percent cheaper than when using the tractors. The key reason is that the state-of-the-art Unimog is so flexible, thanks to its power and superb features, such as the EPS electro-pneumatic positioning system and the EQR reverse shuttle," as Metzger explains. Metzger has so far spent about 30,000 hours running all his Unimog vehicles. As he admits: "I initially found the new 100 series a bit different. But I soon got used to it."
Johannes Metzger, 52, drove his first Unimog at the age of 18. He is not only a fan of the versatile workhorse, but for years has been enjoying and appreciating the technical qualities of what is currently the best machine in his fleet. His depot employs a dozen full-time staff. His business is a varied one. In addition to municipal services, he and his staff also carry out forestry work, landscape maintenance and winter road clearing. Metzger's specialisms also include felling problematic trees, particularly along water courses and close to power lines. The rest of his fleet is also impressive. He operates a number of specialist machines for tree care and roadside maintenance – all transported to their work sites by the U 427 towing a low-loader. Metzger employs specially trained staff to carry out work on electricity substations, and is a partner to the two local power companies Energie Dienst and Schluchseewerk. He has been a member of the local council in Lenzkirch for many years, and since 2015 has also been the town's deputy mayor. "All the business people in Raitenbach are keen to help and support each other. The winter road clearing service is part of that," he explains.
Indeed, everyone who operates a Unimog comes to appreciate how its engineers have made the "universal motor machine" ever more practical, efficient and user-friendly in the last 70 years. "With the VarioPilot® right/left variable steering system for example. It makes it much easier to handle roadside mowing and trimming work by enabling the complete steering column assembly to be quickly switched to the other side, meaning that a single operator can keep a close eye on everything without need of a second crew member. So you can keep a perfect line with the mower, and avoid zigzags. The hydrostatic unit allows you to move on to the next location, maybe a mile or two away, as soon as a job is done – travelling at 50 km/h, without having to make any major modifications or switch lots of gear over. That saves a huge amount of time," the skilled contractor explains.
Employee Tilo arrives, and gets behind the wheel. It's got colder now. And it's been snowing again for the last half hour or so. The six-cylinder engine rumbles while idling; the plough moves a few centimetres up. The depot's electrically operated door opens, and the vehicle number "FR-JM 1127" in its rich sap-green livery heads out to the nearest salt store at Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald – and probably not for the last time this weekend.
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