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The Ghost at General Motors Gate.

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Author Topic: The Ghost at General Motors Gate.  (Read 189 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 10:58:31 am »

They were two mates back from the war.WW11 Don Barnard was an air gunner and Phil Cooper was in the army. Neither occupation, lended itself to a peace time career that they could see.

Now in Australia ‘the sunburnt country’ there is a high mountain area that straddles the border between New South Wales and the state of Victoria. From there the Murray River flows westward across to South Australia and the ocean. This long river forms the border between the states of N.S.W. and Victoria. It would resemble in a bit smaller way the Mississippi in size and importance..

It was decided to dam the river up in the mountain area to control the use of the water which for a 1000 miles was used for irrigation and farms etc. Paddle wheel steamers used it, probably not quite as big as in the U.S.

This mountain area which is covered in snow every winter is called, wait for it, the Snowy Mountains.(very original) and those that go skiing down there refer to it as "the Snowy" ( what imagination!)

I had better get on with this as I fancy I hear the clicks as readers depart this site muttering boring. Well the Dam job took years, no not the damn job, the Snowy Mountains dam job.

Here we go, Don and Phil bought an ex army blitz truck between them sharing the driving, as the work went on 24 hours a day. They made a bit of money and bought another so they had a tipper and flat top.

The Snowy scheme started in the late 1940’s and Don and Phil had made enough to look further a field by the early ‘50’s.

By this time we in road transport were into another war. This one, was between us truckies and all the state governments, who were trying to outlaw us, from carrying goods interstate.

They wanted it all for their railway monopoly.

Phil and Don sold the trucks on the Snowy river scheme and hi tailed it for Sydney pockets bulging with money.

Time had marched on, it was about 1954 and Mercedes Benz had entered the truck market in Australia. Their currant model was a 315 bonneted model or as some others would say a hood. Stylish for its day, very comfortable to drive a huge ivory coloured steering wheel, quiet, smooth gear change, it seemed to cover the miles effortlessly.

But it was made for Europe. not the "wide brown land" it had a dinky little blind in front of the radiator that went up and down accordingly to regulate the water temperature so it didn’t freeze.

Freeze! We had trouble keeping them cool. It didn’t take long for the little dinky blinds to seize up and be clogged with rust. from so little use. There were only a few places on the eastern mountains where they would be of use and that was only in winter. That’s when it was found out that the twin heads were very susceptible to cracking with a variation of temperature of not much more than 5 degrees. Mercedes Benz wouldn’t listen at first to the tales from Australia that their product was not robust enough for our country. The factory finally sent a man out from Germany to investigate the cracked s cylinder heads ‘fairy tale’ because as the factory said no one else has problems with them only you out there. You must be doing something wrong.

The gentleman from Germany went for a trip with a driver from Sydney to Brisbane only a round trip of 1300 miles not cross country from east to west 3000 miles. When he climbed down from the cabin back in Sydney his comment was ….

"Germany has no idea of the primitive conditions, the heat, and the distances you drive out here. We will get to and fix the problem immediately. We will have to fix it if we want to sell trucks in Australia." And they did. I’ve wandered off again haven’t I? Well its good occasionally to have a bit of history and geography isn’t it? OK here we go.

Phil and Don sat down one night and with a lot of scrimping and saving, arranged and bought two old tandem trailers 32ft long. They would just be inside the legal length.

With the trailers as deposit and some left over cash they bought two spanking brand new Mercedes Benz 315 prime movers or as some of you say tractors. Now strangely enough they were a very light grey colour, identical twins, Most new trucks from the factories back then were red, blue, or green. Grey was an unusual colour. Being the only two available, colour didn’t come into the equation. It was important not to be able to tell them apart.

Now came the problem, they had only enough money to register one truck.

They were "skint" broke, penniless, without any ‘where with all’ no cash, except enough to pay the fuel for one trip for both trucks...

Now Australians are noted for being gamblers. They would bet on two flies crawling up a wall or the toss of two coins. Anything, for a dare.

A scheme was hatched by one of them. I have never learnt which one but it was brilliant for back in those frontier days. A ghost truck one that didn’t exist.

They registered one truck, everything spot on and legal. Very proud they were. Weighed it, measured it, paid the money (and it was a little bit more than they thought) Then took the two brand new number plates and the registration sticker for the windscreen home. The plates were fitted, the rear trailer well lit by the double number plate lights and at the front, the registration sticker according to the instructions of the transport office was very carefully pasted to the lower glass corner of the windscreen as required by law. Great mate.

Now was the tricky part. Two quick trips were made, more fuel money in the pocket, while the ghost hid at home. They needed a couple of weeks before going back and asking for a replacement sticker, the story was going to be, the other was lost with a broken windscreen. It was very common for replacement stickers as rocks were always going through screens on the narrow roads back then. Therefore within a couple of weeks they had one legal truck with a front number plate lost. Plus the ghost truck with the same front number plate missing. Both had the same registration stickers and rear trailer plates. They were identical twins, couldn’t tell them apart. Only the engine number could tell the true story and that was something no one looked at back then.

Both trucks have plates on the rear of each trailer. If night time travelling all looks legal from behind. Rear lights on and number plate bright and shiny, where it should be. Good.

If either truck was pulled over the only thing wrong was a front number plate missing

Presumed fallen off somewhere last night or yesterday and " yes must get a replacement. Officer .when I get home."

Sounded good, should get by with that one, worth a try no big deal.

Ok next.

Now they had two things in their favour, as long as they kept apart. There were no permanent checking stations built at this time, they were five years into the future. Only roving car loads of Inspectors, wandering everywhere. The odds were good..

Number plates were the same for car or truck, yellow with three black letters and three numbers. The plates they had paid for was AHT 868. The next plate AHT869 might be a sedan or sports car, could be any type of vehicle. Distinctive plates for trucks came out years later. So the plates blended in with other road users.

A toss of a coin and Don was the driver of the ghost.

Last but not least each truck had to keep as far away as possible from the other truck. If together and pulled up their cover was blown. Far apart nothing could happen. You must remember no cell phones, no computers, no eye in the sky, no radio cars or bikes, out of sight out of mind. When a truck left with a load no one knew where it was till it drove up the street at the destination, two days, three days, a week later.(they were the good old days) 20th century covered wagons, slow but sure.(but still quicker than the bloody government rail system.)

Now Don and Phil were really good guys, just a bit poor starting off. They only wanted a few runs no trouble and the second twin would be registered. Everything legal.

That’s how it happened except for one upset that nearly brought them undone.

Thanks for your patience reader because here is the little funny bit.

The first few weeks, one went north and one south, no problems A OK.

Didn’t see a Highway Patrol or run into any Transport Inspectors. The **** was paying off. Nearly there. One last trip and the ghost would disappear for ever.

That red letter week Phil loaded for Melbourne down south and Don loaded the ghost for Adelaide south west.

Phil expected Don and the ghost to be out of Adelaide on the Friday and on the way back to Sydney, its last "hot run". After unloading, Phil was offered a load from Melbourne west to Adelaide to be there the following Monday. After a little hesitation, Phil thought the coast would be clear, the ghost well gone and it would be safe for him, even though this was the closest they would be since they started.

Well to put the cat amongst the pidgins Don had to wait over till the same Monday to finish loading at the G.M.H. plant. He arrived early and was checked through the gate by security to way down the back of the plant. Phil unloaded and arrived at the G.M.H. plant just after lunch. Don was loading crates of spare parts but Phil was only able to load a couple of truck bodies which took no time at all. He was in and out in a couple of hours checked out at the gate and off to Sydney.

At about 4 ;30 Don rolled up to the gate and the second shift security guard came to the window to check him out, then went to open the gares.. As Don prepared to take off the first gateman rushed out with a clipboard in his hand and looking up at Don in the cabin exclaimed,

"What’s going on—your not here you left over an hour ago."

"What are you talking about I’ve just finished loading" Don replied.

"Oh no you haven’t, I booked you out at 2:45 " he said. "with three car bodies for Sydney. Its now 4:30 and your coming out with another load. What’s going on – I think you’re into some kind of racket. Where’s the truck bodies? Step out here driver and lets have a look at you."

Don stared down at the gateman and then looked glassy eyed out into the street where the other gateman was slowly shutting the gates on him, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. It’s Phil… it must be bloody Phil—he’s been here thinking I’m gone last Friday. Oh boy. Doesn’t even know I’m here with the ghost. Last trip damn.

What to do---what to do, quick think of something? What what I know, try this…

"AHH yes that’s my partner you booked out. The trucks are identical twin, you cant tell them apart except for the "rego" number. We often have this problem"

His number is AHT968 and mine is AHT868 "

Don couldn’t let on the truck was unregistered or there would be hell to pay and the load was critical for the bank balance. His mind was running at a thousand miles an hour.

By now the other gatekeeper was back and they both scurried around to the back of the trailer and yes the driver was right. It read AHT868 it really was.

Don kept the momentum up – he leaned out of the window and shouted " He was a blond guy about 35 years old, wasn’t he?"

The two gatekeepers walked back around to Don, checking the label on the way while talking to themselves, shaking their heads, muttering away.

"Come on fellers I want to catch him before he gets too far, he was supposed to wait for me outside the bloody gate." called Don, "he’s got the fuel money to get us home," This with tongue in cheek hoping they would take the bait.

"Go on then" sighed, the first gatekeeper, walking back to open the gate. The second gate keeper still wasn’t happy .he didn’t usually make mistakes.

Don slipped into gear and eased out onto the busy road. Looking back he could see them both staring intently at the rear number plate on the trailer.

One was thumping his clipboard with his finger and shaking his head, while the other looked backwards and forwards between the clipboard and the back of his truck with a puzzled look on his face.

Don’s heart beat faster, are they going for the ‘phone to call the cops? then he relaxed as they both turned and walked slowly back inside the gate, still arguing, but not in a hurry.

And so as the sun set in the fair city of Adelaide, Don and the Ghost melted away into the busy traffic, and on into the night, chewing up the miles on her last escapade home.

The second Mercedes Benz 315 was registered and both trucks were good and faithful servants for many years for our air gunner and ex army man No more plain grey trucks, from then on, it was ‘Cooper Barnard Haulage.’ in large letters on the doors.

As for the boys?…. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, they were once again and for ever more honest and upright citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The years rolled by, Phil went first, a heart attack Don followed some years later, cancer..

Both are still driving I bet, legal now way out there somewhere, far far away,

Real names, real people. . I was proud to be their friend.

From "My Way on the Highway"

Copyright 2005

Ray Gilleland.
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