With its Globetrotter cab, leather upholstery and 330 bhp diesel, the latest addition to the Brooking Hire fleet is no ordinary road sweeper

By Scott Ireland  •  Photography Martin Phippard

“Come on now, admit it!” exclaimed our host for the day as he climbed easily down from the cab. “I bet you never imagined a road sweeper could look like this!” He was right of course. An assignment to put together a story featuring a machine which trundles about at the kerbside brushing up litter is hardly likely to set the pulse racing. But this rubbish collector was very different, and we were already intrigued. A Volvo road sweeper with a Globetrotter cab? This was certainly something we hadn’t expected.
James Pickersgill is employed by Brooking Hire Ltd from Totnes in Devon, but on the day of our visit he was working at RNAS Culdrose, the Royal Naval Air Station near Helston in Cornwall. He has been with Brooking for ten years or ‘almost from day one’ he told us and still enjoys the work. Now we were even more intrigued. Volvo Globetrotter or not, what was there about driving a sweeper that could be considered appealing? Owner Martin Brooking answered the question by explaining that there was a group of drivers which just gravitated naturally towards the job and that he even had a father and son working in his team. “It’s an unusual situation,” he said. “This is not a typical road sweeper driving job. Our drivers are often away from base for long periods. But, the work is steady and the pay is pretty fair. And I like to think that we’re nice people to work for,” he added cautiously.

It’s personal
When asked if there were any problems finding and recruiting drivers, Martin surprised us by admitting that applicants often just phoned in and were sometimes offered a job without the two parties even having met. “At lot of this business still depends on personal recommendations and word of mouth,” explained Martin’s son Ben who looks after the vehicles in the company’s spacious workshop. “A few of our drivers come from the Gloucester area and we rarely see them,” he added. “But these lads are well known in the sweeper business and have a good reputation for doing the job right so we had no hesitation in taking them on.”
Clearly the Brooking sweeper business is not a run-of-the-mill municipal operation where drivers leave a city-centre depot in the morning and return to base mid afternoon. In fact 90 per cent of the business is not related to refuse sweeping at all. The Brooking operation is primarily one in which the vehicles are used to ‘tidy up’ after a road resurfacing job and covers an area which is bordered roughly by the M5, the M42 and the M3.

In some respects the job at RNAS Culdrose is unusual in that James and his shiny FM have been working there since March 2012 and expect to remain there until the end of the year. The airfield’s main runway, two taxi-ways and extensive perimeter track are all undergoing refurbishment and the FM is kept busy tidying up after the road planer and when the fresh tarmac surface has been laid. James lives in Plymouth but spends his week away from home in the FM returning at weekends for the obligatory change of clothing and a little rest and recreation. He is extremely proud of his Volvo and likes to keep it in tip-top condition.


The enthusiastic driver reports that he is ‘more than pleased’ with his Volvo and that in general the vehicle performs exactly as he would wish. The Left Hand Steer driving position doesn’t pose any real problem out on the main roads thanks to a ‘really decent set of mirrors’ and he reckons that the automated I-Shift is ‘the best thing since sliced bread.’ That having been said he does feel that its ability to creep along at tick-over speed could be improved slightly. “With a manual box and the right gearing it’s possible to engage first gear and simply allow the vehicle to pull itself along at idle speed without the need to touch the accelerator at all. But with the I-Shift you have to keep your right foot just lightly on the pedal and this can be tiresome if you are doing a long sweep at slow speeds,” he said. The subject of overall gearing is one we had raised earlier in the conversation when James confirmed that most sweepers are fitted with a slow speed drive axle ratio for obvious reasons. But the Brooking sweepers are fitted with ‘normal’ road-going diffs because when moving over long distances from one job to another as is often the case the sweepers have to be able to cover the ground at the same speed as other trucks. This inevitably calls for some sort of compromise in the overall gearing. Martin Brooking confirmed that ‘that there are a few concerns’ about the suitability of the I-Shift for the slow speed work which sweepers perform but that Volvo was looking at a new software programme which would solve the issue. “All things considered it’s a fairly small thing, but it would be good to get it sorted,” he added.

In terms of the specification finally agreed by Brooking Hire, the Truck and Bus Wales & West salesman Justin Fisher and a sales engineer from the Volvo HQ in Warwick, Martin Brooking has only praise for the manner in which the business was conducted. The Brooking business was started in 2002 (Happy 10th Anniversary! – Editor) with a second-hand Iveco sweeper and today boasts a total of 13-vehicles including Leyland, DAF, Scania and Volvo.


No compromise

“Originally it was our intention to mount the latest sweeper gear on a second-hand chassis”, explained Martin Brooking adding that ‘this was common practise in the sweeper business. However, finding a suitable used chassis always involves some sort of compromise and it is usually necessary to either shorten or lengthen the wheelbase and to change the rear axle ratio by installing a different (slower) crown wheel and pinion.

Twelve of the 13 Brooking Hire vehicles are fitted with Johnson sweeper equipment and Martin Brooking confirms that he enjoys a good relationship with the Dorking-based manufacturer. The problems arise when a used chassis is delivered for new superstructure and Johnson are then required to carry out extensive modifications in order to get their equipment to fit. “When we looked into it, by the time we had bought a used vehicle, modified it to our specification, tidied up the chassis-mounted gear for Johnson and then added on all the cosmetic extras we like to add it was not a great deal more expensive to purchase the new Volvo, which was built at the factory exactly the way we wanted it,” said Martin Brooking.

The bodywork is a Johnson VT800 package comprising a 1700-litre water tank and an array of brushing and suction gear. The FM chassis on which it is mounted is plated for 18-tonnes gross weight but the complexity of the gear cuts the payload down to about six-and-a-half tonnes. Payload is not an important consideration because the nature of the work means that vehicles do not have travel far in order to tip off the waste material.


What is far more important is the reliability of the chassis and the sweeper equipment.

All the Brooking Hire vehicles are maintained in-house by Ben Brooking, who confirms that he looks after the servicing and repair of the chassis and the bodywork. Ben served his time with a local bus fleet before joining his father in the sweeper business and admits that his ability to ‘find his way around’ the complex superstructure is all self-taught. “The bodywork costs more than the chassis initially and is a lot more expensive to maintain. But of course there are a lot more parts to wear out on a sweeper as you can imagine and we’re not just talking about the bristles on the brushes,” commented Ben. “Our work is a lot different to council-operated sweepers which are picking up fag-ends and bits of paper,” said Martin Brooking. “Stone chippings and such like are very abrasive and so items such as the suction tubes and rubber seals really take a beating. You need to keep an eye on these things all the time,” he added.

In most sweeper operations, mileages covered annually are low, meaning fuel consumption and prices are not at the top of the agenda when it comes to cost control unlike the situation in general haulage. Records are kept in hours rather than distance and miles-per-gallon figures are not even considered.


Martin Brooking confirmed that the average life for a road sweeper vehicle is about five or six years and that after that maintenance costs become unsustainably high. He admits that in general the chassis will outlive the bodywork but now feels that in most cases it is not cost effective to install a new body on an older chassis. His current approach is to acquire one or two new vehicles every 18-months or so and to fit these out with brand new Johnson bodywork. And he says that in all probability the new chassis will be Volvo FM. “The build quality is definitely there,” he states boldly. “And almost all of our drivers now want to drive the Volvo. As you can see appearance is very important to us and we think that the FM Globetrotter looks the part as well as having driver appeal. It’s one of those rare ‘win-win’ situations,” he concluded.