Trucks – needed but not always liked!

Host: Hodgson River Station
Written by Jo Bloomfield – Owner, Hodgson River Station.

Like most properties we’ve never been able to warrant the expense of paying for new and shiny trucks, because the money could be spent looking after our cattle, so we’ve tended to make do with what we had or bought second hand ones.

If you don’t like a few swear words then don’t read this blog, sometimes there’s just no other way to describe a truck!

There is something about trucks; it’s a love hate relationship. When they go and work they are very, very good, when they break down or continually need money sunk into them, all you want to do is put a bomb under them and blow them up or hope they blow up. Unfortunately they are an absolute necessity, and just starting them up costs money.

#6.1 Bedford_edited-1 copyThe bitch, the truck that is. – Need I say more!

Technically this is a single drive, Bedford petrol body truck, a split differential, four gears but each with a high and low, unregistered as it only stayed on property, sometimes it had a clutch, sometimes the brakes worked, sometimes it would go fine, and then other times it simply refused. It was known to catch on fire on occasion. Inherited from the previous owners of the property this was my husband’s first truck.

This truck had an interesting starting mechanism, when the key failed, involved me standing on the bull bar tipping ‘just a little bit’ of fuel straight down the throat of the carbie to fire it up while Rob turned it over. Of course the back firing straight back in your face caused you to smack your head against the bonnet or at the least singe your hair. You soon learnt between a little bit and too bloody much.

It graduated to a panel truck at one stage, on which we would stack red cattle panels (not light like these cute light silver ones available now) standing up and tied to the front of the head board of the tray.

Unfortunately we had a massive sand hill on the property that rivalled the ‘big red’ at Birdsville. If you ran out of momentum getting to the top you either had to change to a lower gear and try to keep moving or try to hold the truck there with the brakes while someone hooked on to give you a tow. Most of the time the old girl made it over the hill. It required a run up from over a 1km around a bend, the engine absolutely screaming for mercy as you never dared to lift your foot, because it wouldn’t make it over.

We had the panels loaded, Pop took off up the hill, he just about got to the top and it started to stall, so he grabbed for a lower gear, this caused the truck to jolt and caused the panels to shift their top weight. This was enough to completely change the trucks traction and she stopped, 5m-10 from the crest, so Pete tried to back it down, it took off because the diff selector neutralised, it went very fast and increasing backwards. He had to spin it into the side of the road where it tipped over. He was unhurt but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Panels flew off everywhere and Pop had to climb out through the windscreen.

I don’t know how many times this truck made us walk, but it was a few. I recall one 12km trek because of the mongrel.

#6.2 Bedford carrying tank copyIn hindsight we did load her up with some pretty awkward stuff.

Our second truck was ‘Superman’, she had come from a family property and before we had got her had already done a colossal amount of work carting cattle and horses in very rugged country. A 1981 290hp Cummins International S-Liner . Someone had painted a massive superman ‘S’ on the back of the cabin. Brought brand new with a flat top bogie trailer for $60,000, in her time it was pretty flash.

#6.3 Superman_edited-1 copy‘Superman’.

We did all our internal carting of cattle with this old girl and while she has the double crate pictured most of our carting was with 2 single crates. She was also our town truck.

A lot of bogging issues were due to dry creek crossing in soft sand or bull dust. We would very nearly let the drive tyres down to only 10-15 psi and often this old girl would get enough traction to pull and climb herself out. A good basic truck that didn’t have the overkill of electronics and gadgets seen today.

That same sand hill that bought the Bedford unstuck was the bane of ‘Superman’ too. To get a run up to the sand hill we needed to cut across a tourist camp site, it was my job to make sure the tourists hadn’t pitched tents in the way of Robs run up. There was the odd occasion a tourist stood and took photos of the truck while it beared down on them not realising it was going to divert from the normal car road to go through the camp for a straighter run at the sand hill and over them. Most were fairly smart to get out of the way but the odd one or two were oblivious and copped a cloud of bulldust and a very close shot for their special photos.

It was a really big thing for us to buy the ‘Money Pit’; Rob had lots of sexy names for it that aren’t really printable because he reckoned it was a chick magnet. Married to me and two kids I don’t recall it being that! The Kenworth – a beautiful truck to look at and ride in. Only two pre-requisites I had before we bought this truck, air conditioning and it had to have a decent size sleeper cab to load in two kids who at that stage were still quite young. Town trips in the truck were often six hours one way, so we needed something they could comfortably sleep in, fight, have a picnic, and generally spread their books and toys to keep entertained, plus it had to carry the occasional worker and gear.

This one had a Cummins 400hp and that sand hill never blocked it once, though we bogged it plenty. It was 80km from the house to our northernmost bore and then the same distance heading south to our southern bores. We carted all our sale cattle back from the bore yards to the homestead to load them for sale.

#6.4 Kenworth_edited-1 copy‘The Money Pit’.

The Kenworth had ‘leprosy’, not sure if because of the good power, speed or good suspension, it was bloody fast, but things just fell off it. Truck maintenance just never ends; something is always breaking, wearing, or needs to be maintained.

On the way to town one day, we were going along a main dirt road just out of Alice and as we approached a well-known creek that was very steep sided but had a really nasty gully at the base, we hit it a bit too hard and the jolt of going down and then being flung up caused a bracket to break from the radiator and it went back on the fan and destroyed the fan, radiator and much of the gear in that region of the motor. We had to have the truck picked up and taken to town to be repaired. A new radiator from America took three months to arrive and $25,000 later we had our truck back. After it was finished, Pop was driving it out of town, the exact same creek crossing in which he went slower into but something went bang. We think a mechanic had left a socket on top of the engine and the ditch had caused it to bounce and you guessed it into the fan went the socket. Destroying the fan and then as it flew in parts destroyed the new radiator. For some reason the insurance company covered the 2nd mess, thank goodness. Was another three months to get another radiator? That creek was known as the ‘Kenworth creek’ after that and the Kenny as it had previously been affectionately called was titled ‘The money pit’.

Trucks are so bloody complex, they have fuel lines, oil lines, air lines, hydraulic oil lines, and then electrics, not to mention all sorts of moving bits, sometimes you can spot a problem and get to it to fix others need experts and special equipment to detect and find, not to mention a contortionist to get to. Now with computerisation I’m not so sure trucks are any more reliable, just scarier.

Tyres and more tyres and then some more for spares, chains for tying loads, chains for pulling, straps, jimmy bars, stiff bars, jacks, and all sorts of chocks and levers that might just might be needed, I haven’t even got to the tool box contents list yet! And you need to know what they are because you’re the spanner passer while hubbie becomes mechanic head down arse up in the engine bay somewhere. It’s like carrying a mini workshop around,

We sold this truck when we sold the property we then had.

We have a Scania body truck now, which if anyone is interested is for sale, guess what hubbies looking for another truck, we need to upsize, apparently!! Funny in writing this we haven’t really named this truck.

#6.5 05.07.2014 007 copyThe Scania.

The interesting thing about these trucks is I couldn’t drive one of them. I can drive a dozer, cars, and most machinery but those with a double clutch, split gear, changing gears only on engine revs, Jacob brakes, and trailer brakes, it has me absolutely wacked, I just can’t co-ordinate it all. Rob has tried to teach me, but honestly it was cruel to watch a grown man nearly cry as you smash and crash through the gears. He did genuinely try to teach me to drive, I could see him cringe and just about pat the dash board of his beloved trucks in sympathy because I was at the wheel. It was like seeing someone hit with electric shock every time I’d crash through another gear he’d go into spasm, clench his fists, look out the window in silent pray or try to tell me look at the revs, FEEL for the gears, blah, blah blah. I’d try to be more careful, so I’d drive slower and slower until that nearly drove him nuts too. “For godsake woman you drive a truck like you’re going to kill it” he’d say, I thought that’s what I was doing!

So I tended to be the support crew, gate opener, tool fetcher, which has probably saved our marriage in hindsight.