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So, You want to Drive a Truck?

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Author Topic: So, You want to Drive a Truck?  (Read 208 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 10:56:10 am »

                                                    1948- 1952
When I was young one of the earliest driving jobs had a tough and unusual test. Part of the test was to be able to drive around the block and not spill a drop of water out of the bowl of water placed on the floor of the truck on the passenger side. No spillage or as least as possible. Remember these were trucks with straight gears no helpful synchromesh to cover a sloppy gear change, a driver had to be on the ball 100% all the time or there was a loud crunching noise and no forward movement.
It was close but I made it.
 If a driver didn’t know how to double declutch he wouldn’t be even be able to get out of first gear into second gear never mind trying to come down the box from top to low gear touching brakes in between.
Another test  was to be able to drive around the block using all the gears up and down and not touch the brakes (unless it was an emergency) and drive back to where you started,  roll to a stop and only then ratchet on the large hand brake.
 This sorted the drovers from the drivers.
 The trips back then   were long and took days and weeks to complete.
The shortest trip 550 miles the longest 3000 miles and every road had gravel sections.
No super highways, just a thin strip of road that zig zagged  from town to town and you eventually reached your destination be it a couple of days or a couple of weeks.
I could steer with my knees no hands on the steering wheel and keep the rig on a straight line out on the western plains on a good piece of road.
 In the early days of flying ‘planes it was said that you flew by the seat of your pants. In other words the pilot became part of the ‘plane. In 1952  I was a student pilot as a hobby but  ran out of time to get my full  license, but that’s how I and probably all the other ‘boys’ drove our trucks. We had a feel for them.
Every trip was an adventure continually chased by police and transport inspectors we were bucking the railway monopoly in each state and finally won free trade between the states for road transport. What stories I could tell you but couldn’t be printed.
 The truck became part of you. Not you steering a big monster. The right and left and the front and the rear, the whole truck was the drivers extended body. We could feel every movement, it was us moving along the road not us driving a separate mechanical monster. Hard to explain, unless you can feel it. You either had it or you didn’t.
 No blinkers or turn indicators in those days, all we had was a mechanical arm hinged and hanging on the outside of the door at the end of which was a metal shaped hand. The driver would pull the arm in over the window sill which would swing the metal hand up in an arc to the horizontal position making a stop sign with the fingers pointing upwards just visible on the outside of the load to any motorist travelling behind. If the driver then moved an inner rod in the arm while still holding on to the arm the metal hand would flick down as an extension of the arm to give a  signal meaning I am about to turn right all this while changing gears and braking and steering with  one hand.
 Sometimes of a dark and cold night when not to happy with the world, I would pull the hand signal arm up and down vigorously in the stop position emphasising with every word with an upward movement what I thought of the boss or the load or what ever in life at that moment had pissed me off.
No log books no driving hours, drive till you couldn’t keep your eyes open.
A favourite trick of mine  to keep going  was If you were tired in the middle of the night but had to keep going, then hang your arm out of the window facing forward so that the wind blew up your sleeve forcing the air down around your back and chest.
If this wore off then as you drove along start and take your top clothes off Jumper, shirt, singlet, shoes. socks one by one slowly not in a hurry concentrating on driving and only remove piece by piece as it could be managed without danger, this could take up to an hour depending on all the circumstances. Then when you went as far as you could go it was time to replace them piece by piece with the same care and attention to your driving. The above in some circumstances allowed you to drive an extra 100 miles or even more through the long night. Some nights from 11pm till dawn there might be only a couple of vehicles on the road. It could be quite lonely thinking you’re the only one awake and working in the whole world.
 It must be noted that the trucks were much slower, most steep hills needed low gear or maybe second gear and we were the pioneers, the roads were deserted at night.
 My favourite when extremely tired and grinding slowly up a long climb in low gear. I would note the second or third white post ahead of me on the left hand side of the road and close my eyes for a little rest. Keeping my left hand front wheel just on the bitumen, seeing how near to the post I could get before opening my eyes. I usually got about halfway and so closed the eyes for the second half. If the truck veered at all it would be to the left as the camber on the roads were quite pronounced. As soon as the front left wheel dropped off the bitumen you were immediately awake in a flash. The edges of the bitumen in most places along the road was much higher than the gravel edge and there would be quite a jar as the wheel dropped off the tar springing the eyes open and instant awareness.
 All the above fun and games were suited only to those bygone days of slow old trucks climbing long steep mountains in‘pit gear’ and governed to a very slow top speed on the flat.  Most times a good horse could run as fast or faster than us up hill and even sometimes on the flat.
I regularly read a book climbing up ranges mostly on the New England Highway as it had the longest climbs and once I was in low gear at just about walking pace it became very boring the same old road. I would say hullo to the familiar bushes and trees. In fact depending on the weight on the truck that trip, it was usually at the same tree leaning to the left or a familiar sharp outcrop of rock where you knew you had to change down a gear. We knew the road like the back of our hand, or even better.
The only time we ever went fast was down hill and that was usually not when we wanted to go fast but when we had been pushed by the heavy load, chasing up through the gears as it hit the governor, coming down off a steep mountain like the Moonbi Range or Bolivia Pass  running out of brakes, hitting governed speed in each gear till we reached our low governed top speed of 28 mph or 38 mph ( which ever diff. was fitted) some AEC’s had 42 mph (very fast) and having to slip the gear lever into neutral before the engine blew sending 20 tons or more of truck hurtling down hill ever faster, with useless brakes, our mouth wide open , blinking faster  than normal and hoping like hell no one was on the road ahead, using it all trying to somehow keep control of this runaway wagon.
Swishing down onto the valley flat, watching the speed bleed off and then popping it into top gear without the clutch. Drumming fingers on the steering wheel, staring blankly ahead wondering why am I here, taking a deep breath and searching for a cigarette. This was every trip.
 Back then I tended to think, that we drove mechanical covered wagons with invisible horses that occasionally stampeded on us.
 No wild west wagon master ever worked harder than us, to bring his runaway horses under control. All the above is true…. Warts and all.

 From the book   “My Way on the Highway”
    The Life and times of the Nullarbor Kid.
          Ray Gilleland    copyright 2005
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