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A Night for Guns.

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Author Topic: A Night for Guns.  (Read 303 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 11:10:04 am »

I had loaded out of the Goodyear factory in Sydney  a full load of car and truck  tyres for Melbourne 550 miles away down in the state of Victoria.
In the 1950’s we used 32ft trailers with removable  gate sides .about 8ft tall that slotted into the trailer’s gunwale. When not in use they could be stacked under the trailer on a frame welded to the trailer chassis.
 It took all day to load by hand one tyre at a time, making tiers of tyres up over the gate sides , slowly working away to the rear of the trailer.
Then the side curtains had to be tied on and then the long cap tarp run the whole length of the truck from front to back at the end of the day. When finished it looked like a large covered wagon  with uneven top profile, unmistakably a truck with a load of new tyres.
This all took time. Loading started at 8 am and finished about 5:30 pm.
Tarping and tying down took another hour or more.
Finally all set to go.
No…  not back to the depot or home but off into the cold dark night. There was no time for niceties like a shower or a meal. I had to be at least a hundred miles down the road before I could think about a meal or even a couple of hours sleep. I would need all the next day and part of the next night to arrive the second day on time in Melbourne.
The 1950’s were a tough time for .long distance road transport. It was all new.
Permits to carry goods more than 50 miles had to be paid in advance and carried each trip in each state. The unfair tax each mile included the weight of our truck each trip
At any time, any where, day time or midnight a car full of transport inspectors could be waiting to pounce on the unlucky driver who had decided to ‘run hot’ with no permit. These inspectors ranged the roads unceasingly turning it into a battle ground, us against them. They had nearly as much authority as the police, who also treated us as “fair game”
Looking for any excuse to pull us over and find something wrong.
  No freeways or super highways just a thin mostly sealed road wandering through country towns between capital cities. Up and over mountains and down over streams, steep climbs and fast down hills where the brakes faded quickly, which they always did. Some trucks on some hills like “One Tree Hill” needing a tow over the top.
 Nothing open anywhere, cafes, shops or service stations all closed about nightfall, .till about 8:30 am the next morning.
Lurking around the edge of all this were the Hijackers, looking for easy money.
A load of new tyres was a very desirable catch, quick and easy to sell.
.As there were very few trucks on the road in those early days it was always great to see a truck outside a café when you pulled up. It meant someone to chat to and find out any “scuttle but” that was going on down the road.
No cell phones, CB, Navigation systems etc,  …nothing. Even the radio in the trucks, if they had one and many didn’t, were very low powered and primitive by to days standards.
 After a few miles it was always fiddle fiddle with the radio knob looking for something, anything to keep you company. More often than not, there was nothing but static. The country radio stations were low powered and their signal quickly dropped out.
These old  trucks with not much power plus the dangerous narrow roads, travelling  long distances with  heavy and awkward loads were fighting a tough battle. As well with restricted speed limits and police patrol cars hidden up dirt tracks in the night hoping to catch the unwary. or careless driver.
 Then .on the perimeter of all this, the occasional criminal, the Hijacker wanting to steal the load.
 What a lot a fun for not much money.
 But you know, it was a bloody exciting time.     It really was.
 It was all new, the Glory Days of road transport in this, our wide brown land.
Us against all of them……cops, inspectors, hijackers.
A small band of adventurers, defying all the odds.
I loved every minute of it .
Ok you got the picture      Now  back to this trip.
Leaving the bright city lights, plunging into the darkness of the night, the headlights  bouncing ahead lighting up the narrow road, I pushed as hard as possible, swapping cogs and giving it to her  to get up and over Razor Back mountain and up to the little town of Mittagong on the highlands. If I was lucky the Greek café would be still open, the only one in that part of the country that just might be open and I was bloody hungry.
I knew that another load of  tyres from the Dunlop factory would be around on the road somewhere , maybe behind and then perhaps in front and even better he may be at the café and we could keep each other company on the dangerous climb up Cuttaway  to the higher plain on the way to the town of Goulburn, where it was a safe resting place for a few hours sleep.
With force of habit I continually checked the small rear vision mirror, looking for a following vehicle that might be a sign of trouble. No east west mirrors in those days just a little round one bolted to the edge of the cabin about as big as a woman’s compact mirror.
 So far so good, I thought as I felt for my .45 Colt Pistol on the seat beside me. Good its there, then a quick glance to see my Winchester 25/20 rifle on the back rest of the seat. Another check rearwards nothing, no headlights everything black …ok.
 I settled down to do some serious driving pushing her all the way.
At last I topped Alpine Hill and there were the lights of Mittagong .straight ahead.
My only thought then was … please let the café be open, my tummy was rumbling.
Off throttle, relax a little, glide past the Bowral turn off and yes it was still open, the lights inside glowing in the night out onto the road, a beacon in the dark.
 Better yet there was a truck outside and it was the Dunlop truck across the road  from the café with room for me behind it.
I climbed down, and walked across the road seeing the driver inside eating by the window. It was the best table, as the trucks were always in sight under the one street light across from the café.
 I’m in luck I knew him.
“G/day Mac how ya doin” I called across to him, pushing the door open, as I made my way to the counter.
“Could be better” he replied with a long face.
I ordered a mixed grill, pulled my gloves off and sat down with him.
“What:s the matter  the truck playin up?” I asked
“Nah that the least of my worries”
I would have been surprised if he had said yes as the 180 International with the Black Diamond motor,he and I  were driving was a great all round truck.
“Not the truck. then .what’s wrong?” a slight pause “ I know… girl troubles.”
“Yeah I wish” he replied.
It was then I noticed as he was eating he kept glancing out the window at his truck.
He looked around the room and lowered his voice.
“You see any vehicles following you in the last hour, anything strange on the road “
I instinctively looked out the window as well at the two trucks over the road.
“ No the roads deserted” I replied.” Havn’t seen a thing     why?”
“I think I’m in a bit of trouble”
“Like what”
“They want to pinch the truck”
“What…….who?...  who wants to steal your truck?”
“Mac  start at the beginning mate,     what’s goin on”
“Hang on” he said “ here comes a car”
I could see headlights reflecting off my truck and getting brighter.
A small car went past, looked like one person in it driving .I looked back across the table at Mac. He was intently watching the car going past then as it disappeared into the darkness he looked at me .
“They want the tyres.” he said nodding his head towards his truck
I looked blankly at him then frowned.
“Ray its true mate they want to steal my truck for the tyres, probably sell em on the blackmarket.”
“You mean there is someone out there waiting to steal your truck?”
“Yeah…somewhere…. out there”
“Mac ya giving me the jitters…hang on I’ll be back in a minute.” I felt a cold tingle down my spine. With that I bolted out the door yelling at the cook “Back in minute.”
I ran across the deserted road anxiously swiveling my head from side to side looking up and down the road in the dark as far as I could see. Opened the door and reached over and grabbed my .45 Colt pistol from under the towel on the seat.
From force of habit, I checked the magazine was full and nothing up the spout, safety catch on and jammed it into the top of my pants and quickly pulled my jacket over it. I then strolled back slowly across the street, again glancing from left to right, trying to penetrate the darkness as far as I could see for anything unusual.
It was not as if I was used to this sort of situation, but with “Betsy” in my belt I knew no one was going to steal MY load of tyres too easily.
“What’s up” said Mac as I sat down again glancing out the window.
“Nothing ,  now tell me all about it. How are they going to steal your truck without you getting hurt?”
“This morning at smoko I went to the cabin to get my cigarettes.. There was a type written note on the seat. Have a look.” He  handed me a crumpled sheet of paper.
I smoothed it out and started to read.
                             LEAVE YOUR TRUCK UNLOCKED
                            WHEN YOU STOP TO EAT   
                            WAIT AN HOUR TO REPORT TRUCK MISSING 
                             IT WILL BE PARKED ON A BUSY STREET
                             IN 2 DAYS UNHARMED   
I slowly raised my head and looked at Mac.
“Is this for real Mac or someone playing a joke?”
“Don’t bloody know but it’s a worry isn’t it… what to do.”
We both looked out the window again as lights flickered on the rear of my truck. I had started my meal but put the knife and fork down to reach under my jacket. The feel of “Betsy” was more worrying than comforting.
The car, a small canvas top, just motored past, indifferent to our anxious faces looking at it from the Café window.
“Have you told the police?”
“No what can they do, its too vague, doesn’t say where or when, its nearly 600 miles to Melbourne and through two States ?.”
I finished my meal or as much as I could eat under the circumstances.
“Have you got a gun?” I asked.
“Yeah a .22 but no shells.” He replied.
I didn’t carry a .22 so I couldn’t help him.
“ I have a 25.20 Winchester you can borrow”
He looked at me with a solemn face
“ok… thanks…. Don’t know whether I want it.   You know…. what are we getting into here?”
“We are truck drivers Ray, freight movers. Its tough enough, fighting the government, the Police, and the Transport Inspectors for a fair go. We don’t need these bastards as well. Its not fair mate. Its just not bloody fair.  Don’t know how to handle all this”
He was silent for a bit…then.
“Damn it, give us a lend of the Winchester, bugger them, they are not going to get my tyres the bastards.”
“Ok” I replied “ tell you what, if we get going now we can make Goulburn in a couple of hours or so, if everything goes ok, park outside the Police station and get a few hours sleep. I’ll keep close behind you all the way. I don’t think we will have a problem to morrow in daylight. By then we should be well out of range of any Sydney” heavies What do you say? “   Mac nodded.
We both looked out the window again for about the twentieth time.
“Come on lets do it”
We paid for the meal, the owner ready to close and walked out onto the street. I kept half a pace behind Mac with my right hand tucked under my jacket firmly gripping “Betsy”.
We stopped on the edge of the pavement looking both ways out into the darkness.
All was quiet. Just us and our trusty chariots across the road waiting there in the cold and now a little fog starting to drift  in around the street light.
“ Come on “ I said running across the road  “I’ll get you the Winchester .and for crying out aloud  don’t shoot yourself in the leg or something ok? The Winchester is different to a .22.” I chuckled opening the door. His .22 was a bolt action, easy to work in close quarters..
The Winchester was a lever action needing a bit of space to lever and load it.
I opened the cab and pulled it out, showing him the action and warning him not to have his finger inside the guard as he might accidentally discharge it snapping the lever shut and blow his passenger side window to bits.
Another quick look up and down the street, a pat on the shoulder and he ran up to his truck holding the rifle at the ready.
I yanked “Betsy” out of my pants top and laid her on the seat on top of the towel this time .Pressed the starter button, switched the lights on and waited.
A puff of exhaust, Mac’s lights came on and away we rolled. I followed closely behind.
Just out of town was a very steep long climb called “Cuttaway” A low gear job from the bottom to the top. I eased in behind him nearly stopping and then we both started the grind to the top, up the narrow bit of sealed road that was called a highway in those days. We were not overloaded and knew we could make it without any trouble.
Unless trouble, came from some where else.
 With that thought in mind I felt down and touched “Betsy” again
 That slow climb was a nightmare, I couldn’t keep my head still from looking in both small  rear vision mirrors and watching I didn’t creep up on Mac in front. If I stalled it going up there then I would have big trouble attempting to get her going again. Probably snap an axle and wouldn’t that be great Ray.
A sigh of relief as we reached the top and off we went two 20th century covered wagons bouncing  through the forest, then out onto the open country, not about to stop  for no one or nothing..
It had been a long day and I was very tired but the adrenalin pushed me on, till the lights of Goulburn welcomed us with its glow in the sky.
We hadn’t seen a soul, not a car or a truck the whole way, It was with more relief we parked outside the police station that had a light on and I locked the door and promptly fell asleep.
Mac woke me at dawn and we had a cigarette standing on the road in the morning mist.
“What do you reckon?”
Then with a deep sigh looking up and down the road  I said   “Ok then…. lets make a mile “ Mac nodded, we both climbed into our trucks  and I hit the starter button.
As the miles rolled on so the tension seemed to ease away, the sun was shinning brightly and the dark night’s fears were yesterday.   
We stayed together all the way to Melbourne and never had a problem, nothing out of place.
 When unloaded we met at the Waterside Hotel for a drink that night.
The guns were safely hidden away back where they belonged and we wondered while having a drink or two what it was all about.
A joke or the real thing.     We never found out.
There were a few successful hijacks back then, so it was normal for us to be wary especially with such a rich haul as tyres.
Many goods were unobtainable at the time but could be bought on the blackmarket.
 Tyres were No 1…. known as “Black Gold”.
They tried once a year later with me but “Betsy” saw them off very quickly.
That’s another story for another time .
Copyright   Ray Gilleland      February  2008

From his second book    Release date  2009
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