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Rocking Sheep.

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Author Topic: Rocking Sheep.  (Read 210 times)
werkhorse
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« on: October 28, 2008, 10:42:36 am »

                                                          1953
                                                Truck:  A.E.C. Regal

I had loaded refrigerators for an urgent run to Adelaide about a 1000 miles..
 It was a Monday afternoon in early summer.
The boss sort of ‘asked’ could I be in Adelaide Wednesday 7am as there was a ‘special’ being put on by the store for that day and they didn’t have enough stock.
Well that’s what I was paid for, a quick truck for the emergency runs like this.
“OK” I said,thinking, there goes any plans for to-night.
“You will have to leave now to make it on time” he said.
“Yeah what ever you say.” I replied.
 I had just arrived in from Brisbane and still had some clean clothes and with a bit of luck I would be back Friday with a new Dodge truck cab and chassis  as quick back loading and have the weekend off, maybe, unless some body else is in trouble.
The boss handed me a fistful of cash to buy fuel, a pat on the shoulder and a gruff “good boy”
I was paid per week the equivalent of $40 a week and $5 for meals on the road. It was quite good money in those days. I was on call at any time. I had a weekly wage, meal money, and the fastest long distance truck in Australia.
 Now for a youngster, what more could you want.
 Besides, there were many men looking for work, it was hard times and they would give their eye teeth to have my job. I was very obliging I can tell you.
I ran down the stairs from the office to where the ‘bus’ was parked, she was called the ‘bus’ because she was actually a bus chassis with a long tray. It was over length by 1 and a bit  inches. The state of Victoria wouldn’t let it operate in their state till the front bumper bar was removed. To conform with their regulations.(They were always safety conscious).Never mind the mobs of sheep and cattle and horses that we had to share the roads with.
The horse had right of way according to law. If we met a horse or horses on the road we were obliged if necessary to stop and or switch the motor off if the horse looked to be agitated or if had a rider that was having trouble controlling it. There were always mobs of sheep or cattle on the road with a drover or two on horse back wandering along behind.
I climbed in through the window, the doors were not the type that could be opened.
Doors that don’t open ??  That’s right. You couldn’t open them.
 They had been welded to the cabin to stop them falling off on the road. True….   they kept falling off. When they fell out onto the road they would skid along  like a low flying Frisbee. Our roads were very rough. Before the doors  were welded in, at one time I had to run a rope around the cabin and put two or three hitches in to stop them falling off, plus  added to that, I hadn’t any glass in the doors since the first fall out.
 (not atomic fallout, door fallout.)
It can be quite startling at 50 mph to be bouncing down off a long grade and suddenly like a James Bond movie, the door next to you suddenly goes whoosh and disappears.
No seat belts in those days…  just a white knuckled hold of the steering wheel. Then gently feathering the brakes (they were never much good) and wondering can you find the door when you walk back. Having a bit of an idea roughly where it took off., but where it ended up was any ones guess.  I might add try carrying a truck door three or four hundred yards down a highway and see how heavy it is. The only way, was holding it like a shield in front of you as if you were a Roman centurion and that entailed a few rest periods before the way wood Frisbee was returned to its rightful place.  Then you had to lift it up and try and jam it back in where it had escaped from. The metal hand signal arm usually needed some coaxing back into some sort of shape and the small rear vision mirror was usually missing altogether.  All in a days work back then.
Anyway, on with the story.  Sorry reader so much to remember I keep getting sidetracked.
 I hid the fuel money in the fridge cover draped over the metal engine cover to try and deaden the noise from the motor beside me. Pressed the starter button down beside the seat on the junction box for the electrics and away I went. There weren’t a lot of gauges to confuse a driver in my day, only a large speedometer flanked by a small oil gauge one side and air pressure on the other.
All this might sound a little primitive, welded doors, motor beside the driver, no glass, etc. but could she fly and that suited me, in those days I was “10 ft. tall and bullet proof.”
I made it to Yass late that night and stopped for a short sleep.
 Now to do this I had to have an extra fridge cover folded on the passenger seat to try and bring it near the level of the slightly curved engine cover and balance my bag of clothes on the drivers seat with a folded blanket on top to bring it near level and behold if you lay flat on your back it was only wavy. But if you tried to lay on your side . .forget it. At least it was better than a pillow on the steering wheel. Then again there were times when I wondered. .Sometimes in certain places I could take the fridge cover out on the ground, they were like a double sleeping bag, and lay in the grass beside the truck if I was well off the road.
I remember one night I did that and woke with a shock wondering who or what was roughly pushing my feet. I sat up quickly heart racing fumbling for my torch and pistol  in the cover beside me somewhere, finally found the torch  and switched it on to see a cow with its head through the wire fence licking the bottom of the fridge cover at my feet.
“Go way you stupid bazztarrd “ I said as I wriggled back far enough where it couldn’t reach me, then flopped back and promptly fell asleep again.
The only trouble in sleeping on the ground was you slept too long and that was a no no ..In the truck after a couple of hours your neck or your hips or your ribs woke you with aches and pains. So you didn’t oversleep and run late.
 That was the golden rule in those days, never wake a sleeping driver. If he was some one you knew, then pull in beside him and have a sleep too, you can have a yarn later or keep going and leave him be, he must need it. No restricted driving hours in those days, go till you drop or decide that’s enough for a while. My enough for a while at night was when I saw an old man furiously pedaling a bicycle just ahead of me he had a grey suit  and the coat was always flapping in the wind. and I was slowly but surely getting closer and closer, then suddenly he would vanish. I would shake my head and look for the next wide grassy area I could pull into and have a nap. Some times just sometimes I would think to myself
“I hope there is no true life old gentleman out to night on his bike on this road, because I won’t believe it”
Any way back to where I was, it was early summer time and not too hot, clear sunny days, cloudless skies and I made good time to Albury. Ok about 400 miles done. Fuelled up, and on my way, west from Benalla,. following the bitumen road zig zag across Victoria to join the Adelaide road at Dimboola.
 Well I’m driving along minding my own business not a care in the world. About on time although it will take me most of the night to make Adelaide by 7am the next morning.
 It looked like it was going to be one of those summers when the grasshopper plagues  were going to be a nuisance. I had stopped a number of times to clean their squashed bodies off the windscreen to-day. As they committed suicide the head wind would dry them into yucky yellow blobs that stuck like glue .Water was useless. Coca Cola was the only thing that would shift them. Shake the little bottle and squirt it all over the glass then wipe it off with newspaper. Sometimes it took two or three bottles to do the job and then a little water to finish it. A bloody nuisance.
It was now late afternoon and squinting into the setting sun didn’t help either .As well as the grasshoppers our windscreens were always cracked from flying rocks.
Around 4 or 5 pm, the sun, the squashed grasshoppers, and the cracked windscreen was starting to annoy me. I knew there was a little creek up ahead usually dry and just over the low bridge was a big gum tree. I decided to pull off and have a short nap with a pillow on the steering wheel, not long, just a little rest till sundown.
 Yes there was the tree, the bridge coming up, I slackened off and let her roll up and over  the little humpy bridge and that’s when all hell broke loose.
Suddenly I was in the middle of a huge mob of sheep. It looked like hundreds of them. Well probably 50 to 100. How ever many they were they had suddenly engulfed me.
It looked like the land all around was one vast quivering movement of wool on the move.
 Thump crash squeals baaarrrrr I had landed plop in the middle of them. They had surrounded me in a flash coming to-wards me, the creek had no water so the sheep were moving on a wide front up and down and across the creek bed and across the bridge where I came to a bouncing jarring halt.
“Bloody hell, where did they come from?” I thought. Damn sun, damn grasshoppers, damn cracked windscreen, I hadn’t seen them.
Because of the sun and the hump bridge I couldn’t see them earlier and they and I had met at the same time on the bridge over this dry creek.
My next thought was “this is a nice mess you’ve got me into Olly” there will be broken limbs and things on the sheep under the truck and some will probably need putting down and for once my guns were empty. I had used all my ammo for target practice coming back from Brisbane. Damn again.
 I climbed out of the window and jumped to the ground bouncing off sheep fleeing past the cabin, nearly getting run over as they still kept coming, pushing and  brushing past not looking left or right just straight ahead to where ever they were going.
 The truck seemed to be sitting on a bed of sheep, heads, legs, and wooly things poking out every where from under the truck. Lots of baarrring and the odd sheep squirreling its way out from underneath and rushing off without a backward glance, diesel soot and oil stains all over it, racing to catch up with the mob that was by now thinning out, some well and truly down the road in the direction I had just come spreading out even wider.
Well I thought uneasily peering underneath the truck. I have to get them out somehow. They were popping out from underneath everywhere as if the “bus” was giving birth to wooly youngsters. Out the sides, out the back, scrambling, and baaarrrring.
I pulled a couple from under the fuel tank and they jumped to their feet and took off, and from where I could see all four feet were working ok. One was jammed under the tail shaft. I crawled under and grabbed a handful of wool and reefed with all my strength and out he came on top of me as I fell to the ground knocking the wind out of me and it ended up on top like a monstrously thick wooly blanket. I scrambled to my feet and it plopped over sideways not moving. I looked at it wondering what to do. Is it dead, I don’t know, how to make sure? Guns, no ammo. Damn.  Then while pondering what to do with it, all of a sudden it shook its head waved a couple of legs in the air and with a scramble and heave jumped to its feet and raced off at a million miles an hour looking for his mates. Suddenly another one scrambled from, I don’t know where and took off not even looking at me as if it did this every day.
“OK “ I thought “not so bad stupid, looks like you got off easy.”
 I then walked around the front of the truck and bent down to look underneath and there was one jammed under the front axle. Damn, the poor thing didn’t look too healthy at all. One foot was sort of quivering in the air .but nothing else was moving.
“Poor thing” I thought, have to get him out of there somehow can’t just leave it die.
I bent down tugging and pulling, pulling and tugging  then  suddenly I flopped  backwards  on the ground  as it came free and it ended next to me on the ground  eye ball to eye ball. The both of us were rolling eyes at each other by this time, me out of breath and him sort of, well I wasn’t sure.  I could tell it was alive but to me obviously hurt bad.
 I leaned on one elbow and tentatively wiggled a leg wishing I had stopped in somewhere and bought some ammo. for the .45 pistol even for the Winchester 25/20 rifle, but I hadn’t. Then at least I could have put it out of its misery.
 I was annoyed with myself and sorry for the sheep then looking around it seemed like he was the only unlucky one in the whole mob, all the others had fled.                           
What do I do? I looked around and saw a large round rock about the size of one of those old 17th century cannon balls. That will do I’ll brain him and that’ll be that. It’s the least I can do for the poor thing.
 I grabbed the rock and sat on top of him and started to bash him on the head, he baarred   rolled his eyes even more than before and I kept hitting him on the head yelling at the top of my voice
“Die ..die. C’mon .why don’t you die… I’m trying to help you,   .you stupid bazztarrd” bash bash. thump, thump.
Suddenly, right at that moment, I had that feeling someone was watching me.
Straddling this sheep with both hands in the air holding this rock above my head, I quickly looked up to my left and my heart skipped a beat .
There was the drover.
 I hadn’t even thought about a drover to this point. But there he was.
Sitting on his horse one leg draped over the pommel, quietly and calmly rolling a cigarette, Stetson casually on the back of his head, taking in the scene.
I slowly lowered the rock and very gently placed it on the ground beside me feeling my face go red with embarrassment, not knowing whether to be sorry or angry or what.
I just looked at him and scratched my head not moving. He lifted his right hand to his mouth licked the paper ,stuck the cigarette in his mouth, with a quick movement lit it, inhaled,  blew smoke out.  Then said
“Bloody tough ain’t they?”  taking another draw on his cigarette.
 Just at that moment, right then and there, the sheep between my legs gave a shudder, shook it’s head, rolled its eyes again, gave a sort of louder baaarr this time and with a heave threw me off sideways onto the ground and took off at full gallop, none the worse for my helping hand, chasing after the mob which had completely disappeared.
 I scrambled to my feet feeling a bloody fool and looking up at the drover on his horse, saw he had the biggest grin from ear to ear.
 I sighed, shook my head, without a word turned and gave the front tyre on the ‘bus’ a savage kick, (it hurt) climbed up through the truck window, pressed the starter button, put it into gear and slowly moved off.
The bruised big toe on my right foot from kicking the tyre was now reminding me with stabs of pain just how stupid I could be sometimes. But….  I was young.
The last I saw of the drover he was walking his horse through the dry creek bed, looking  back at me still grinning, completely unconcerned with the whole episode.
I in turn quickly ignored him, muttering to myself   “Bloody  sheep” and was once again squinting into the setting sun wondering what can happen to me next.
Yes I made Adelaide on time   Yes I loaded a dodge cab chassis.               
And yeah I did get the next weekend off. 


From the book    “My Way on the Highway”
                 The Life and Times of the Nullarbor Kid 
 Author;     R.G.Gilleland
Copyright  2005
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