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A Comet came to Earth

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Author Topic: A Comet came to Earth  (Read 207 times)
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« on: October 12, 2010, 09:52:42 am »

      About 1956 I left Mercury Transport and went to work for McNealy and Debney. They had a contract with Goodyear Tyres for delivery of new tyres to Melbourne from the Sydney factory. They operated  International 180’s and one British Leyland diesel all with 32 ft. semi trailers.
 Loading tyres one at a time by hand, took all day.  Car and truck sizes all mixed, usually between one and two thousand, stacking them row after row higher than the gate sides that were fitted to the trailers at that time. Each gate from the top centre rail was anchored to the tie rail on the opposite side tie rail with a double hitch like a big X to stop them bulging out. Then at the end of the day a couple of hours had to be spent tarping and roping down the high load. Twenty five to thirty ropes needed with triple sheep shank knots.  Even with the gate side it ended up a high, floppy load needing tying down as tightly and firmly as was possible.
Now old McNealy was a cunning old man he would send a new driver off on the run to Melbourne then wait 20 minutes to half an hour and follow him in his car.He knew how long it should take the driver to get to Razorback Mountain outside of Sydney, allowing for the traffic at that time of day or night. He would then expect to catch up with him before the mountain, all things being equal. If he caught up with the truck before or at the bottom of Razorback Mountain then the driver was a steady driver and that was acceptable. If he had to climb the mountain to catch the truck then that meant the driver was maybe a little fast and that could be a problem as a load of tyres was very unstable.He would remind the driver to be extra careful. Take it steady. Don’t rush just get it there.
McNealy would hand the driver some paper work that was left behind, so all looked ok.
I took one of the 180’s the first trip and was exactly where he hoped to find me, at the bottom of the mountain. It was usual to pull over a couple of times in the first 100 miles or so, to tighten all the ropes but once that was done they seldom  needed looking at again for the rest of the trip.
Because I had years of experience on diesel trucks, a few months later after the Leyland driver left, I was given  the Leyland  to drive as most of his drivers were not familiar with driving a diesel powered truck. They were only experienced with petrol motors, not familiar with a motor that had a governor fitted and no 2 speed button on the gear lever. 
Trips and months went by and one day out of the blue, time and events came together.
   It happened on a usual trip on a lonely stretch of road  on the way to Melbourne, I was roughly on time, nearing the Victorian border at about midday, cruising along, coming up to a bend in the road, not very sharp, just a gentle correction of the steering wheel needed when I noticed this car coming the other way, travelling very fast and seemed to be taking up too much of the road. In fact as we approached each other my heart started to race as he was heading straight for me on my side of the road making no attempt to take the bend. I quickly moved over a little more but he was still coming.
 I moved further to the edge kicking up the dirt on the side of the road but he was still coming straight for me and worse the road was raised a little and that worried me. Tyres were a high load, inclined to bounce around, not very stable. Within mini seconds it came time to either go down the bank for the bush to try and dodge him, or try and take the bend which automatically a driver tries to do. That is stay on the road. It was then at that second the car driver swerved sharply and shot down past me with about 12 inches to spare between us. How he missed the back trailer wheels beats me but he did and kept going.
Had the driver fallen asleep or what?  That was the least of my worries at this point.
The adrenalin was pumping and my eyes were probably as big as saucers.  The high edge of the road was crumbling away with me trying to gradually turn a little into the bend and stay on the road, hoping everything would stay upright. But I was just too far over, the drive wheels were digging in and slipping down the embankment. The whole load of tyres started to lean more and more. I could feel her going. I didn’t have time to panic, just held on and then there was a huge bang and the trailer turn table pin let go and the trailer parted company and tipped over on its side skidding to a halt off the road in the grass like a Wild West covered wagon chased by the Indians.
This caused the prime mover with me holding on like grim death to half flip up in the air and down again on her wheels and fish tail a little. The one and only huge gum tree that grew on the side of the road around there was suddenly directly in front of me. I was bouncing up and down hitting my head on the roof but managed to wrench the wheel in time, just enough to glance off the tree, skidded across the highway onto the grass on the opposite side of the road, and there we came to earth, foot jammed on the brake in a great cloud of dust The trailer was 30 feet back on the opposite side of the road showing her underside to the world.
Pulling a face and rubbing my elbow, as the dust settled I glanced over to her in a state of shock. This was a truck driver’s ever present nightmare.
 Through the cloud of dust I could see a couple of the trailer wheels in the air were still slowly spinning. The tarpaulin had ripped and there were tyres scattered everywhere all over the road, the grass, and some had crazily bounced even through the farmer’s fence and out into his paddock, hundreds of feet away. As I looked, the last one fell over in the paddock hidden in the grass.
I was seething with anger and feeling guilty at the same time, disappointed that I had not been able to keep her on the road and upright and wanting to murder that car driver if only I could find him.                                                     
  I took stock of myself flexing arms and legs, only had a sore elbow; it must have flicked against the inside of the door. I was ok physically but mentally I was gutted at what had happened. No No No.
 I slowly climbed down from the cab and inspected the damage. There was wood from the tree jammed into the wheel nuts of the front wheel where I luckily had glanced off the tree and a few bruises and buckles to the cabin... not too bad there.  Very.. lucky. I could have been killed by that stupid car driver. If I had hit the huge gum tree head on it would have been the end for me. I still have a few feet of  8mm movie film of that days disaster that I took of the tree, the damage to the cabin and the trailer on her side 50 odd years ago. I look at it sometimes and still wish I could find that car driver.
The prime mover was well off the road and the trailer was sort of sideways down the slight bank but would not interfere with traffic. The renegade car was well and truly gone; all I could see was the empty road disappearing over a slight rise into the trees. I didn’t even have time to see the driver, all I remembered was a blue Studebaker that missed me by a whisker... a big help.
It was a time back then after the Second World War that shortages were common and many commodities were unobtainable or on short supply, causing what was called a “black market.”  Meaning, people were willing to pay twice as much and even more for hard to find goods and not ask too many questions where the goods came from. This encouraged the “ungodly,” the criminal types to run rampant stealing and reselling anything that could make “black” money for them.  Tyre’s were near the top of the list. Some of these professional “black marketeers” were rough and tough. Even local people at accidents back them thought overturned trucks were free game for them to steal what they could get their hands on.
The tyres were a problem, I would have to gather them and stack them near the trailer away from the roadside. They were called “black gold” in those days, hard to get and easy to sell. These then would be good pickings if I couldn’t protect them... it was going to be a long night kid.
I trudged up the road and started to bowl tyres over to the back of the trailer from the road so that they couldn’t be seen from any motorist driving towards the bend and coming the other way the trailer was on a slight angle for them not to be seen too easily stacked close to the overturned trailer.
 When I finished I was in a lather of sweat. It took me about four hours to be satisfied that it was as good as could be. All the loose tyres were stacked in a heap where I could see them beside the trailer.
I gave some money to the one car driver that came along while I was stacking the tyres and asked him to ring the boss and tell him where I was and what had happened. As the day progressed some of the few cars on the road slowed down and had a sticky beak, no one bothered to ask was everything ok or how was the driver. Just looked briefly and drove on.
Toward late afternoon I laid out a refrigerator cover I kept in the cabin and laid it under the gum tree. It was like a sleeping bag all padded we used for slipping over the refrigerators to cart them without having to crate them. I slipped my .45 pistol inside and laid my 25.20 Winchester rifle on the top of the cover. I knew I was not going to have any sleep tonight. Gathered some sticks and bits of wood so I would have a fire going all night, near where I had made my camp and another down near the tyres about 30 feet away. It was early spring and still very cold at night. In fact I predicted there would be a frost in the morning and there was.
As the hours slipped by the couple of trucks on the road that afternoon pulled up to see if they could help, were thanked and continued on their way. Time dragged on. I knew it would be next morning before the boss would arrive. It was a 400 mile run from Sydney to where I had come to grief.
 With darkness came the cold.  I heaped the fires with more wood that I had collected during the afternoon and changed into warmer clothes and over the top pulled on a leather jacket.
About 8 pm a couple of cars cruised up slowly and quietly, I had that uneasy feeling they knew I was there and what had happened. A sort of feeling they were up to mischief if they could. I watched as the two cars gently stopped on the other side of the road and five or six figures climbed quietly out in the darkness.
Up to that time I had been lying down near the fire but as the doors of the cars clicked open and shut, I slowly stood up. The Winchester in my right hand, at the same time I leant back against the tree, and cradled the rifle in my left arm, a bit like a modern day Davey Crockett. I positioned myself against the tree so that I could see them, their cars  and the tyres without moving.
The group sauntered across the road into the fire light, all young and tough looking except one that was an older man.
“Had a bit of trouble” the older one asked. He was a tough looking character also.
“Nothing I can’t handle”, I replied as I worked the Winchester’s lever action with a flourish.
The young ones were more interested in eyeing the tyres. Two had moved over quite close bending down for a better look trying to read the sizes. But at the sound of the rifle being cocked they quickly straightened up and turned around to look back at me.
The whole group stood stock still staring at me, no one moved.
“The cops are patrolling the road” I announced loudly.
“Out this far?” the old guy asked with a surprised look on his face while eyeing me, up and down.
“Yeah they know I’m here” I replied.
He then looked directly at the Winchester and quickly turned on his heel ....calling out,
“Come on boys”. The rest followed him quickly back to the two cars out there in the darkness. They sort of huddled around talking briefly amongst themselves for a minute or two then the car doors opened and shut and they drove off quietly back they way they had come. I am sure they were up to no good, but who knows, they certainly didn’t offer any help, just took off into the night.
They may come back later was my next thought. Better stay awake. I let out a sigh and cleared the rifle.... Yeah ...a long night ahead.
The funny part was I hadn’t seen a policeman all day. I was just bluffing.
Very seldom did the Highway Patrol come out this far into the bush. They mostly, stayed around the town perimeters or just a few miles out.   
About 10pm I heard a motorbike coming from the direction of Albury the town down on the border I guessed it was the police. Somebody must have finally told them of the overturned truck out in the bush and I was right. With a roar a police bike skidded to a halt and a Highway Patrol Officer idled down to where i was sitting by the fire. They were called the Safety Bureau in those days, the ones on bikes. Helmets goggles etc. They rode Triumph Tiger 100’s, very fast, clock over 100 MPH.
This was the first chance I had to tell anybody what happened besides the call to the boss which I hoped the car driver had done.  He switched the bike off, pulled it up on the stand, and raised his goggles, peeled off his gloves, walked over to where I was now standing and said. “Bit cold isn’t it?” “Yeah” I replied. Looking casual and glancing down at the cover checking he couldn’t see the .45 pistol. He asked what happened, I told him, he nodded and then he immediately sat down on the cover by the fire and put his hands out  to warm them, and,  he had to sit exactly on the lump in the cover that was my .45 pistol, didn’t he?
“eh “ he said “ must be a rock” and moved his bum over a bit. I swallowed and didn’t say a word. He pointed to the Winchester leaning against the tree. “Had any problems?”
“Not really, a couple of car loads of young bucks pulled up a couple of hours ago and looked around. They eyed the tyres but went quietly when they saw the rifle.”
“Well you seem to have everything under control. It’s cold out here and I’m off home to bed”
With that he walked over, kick started the bike, adjusted his goggles and with a nod in my direction disappeared into the night.  Very helpful, was my next thought and there were no return visitors. Two trucks pulled up during the night the only traffic on the road, wished me well and hurried on. That was the sum total of any interest by anybody to my predicament on the Hume Highway that spring day and night back in 1956.The boss arrived next morning, we transhipped the load, arranged for the truck and trailer to be towed to Albury and be repaired. In all the 40 years on the road driving long distances from the 1940’s to the 1990’s it was trees that were my nemesis. It is 2009 now, writing about this and I have had a driving license for 62 years. I have never touched another vehicle or person while driving...just trees.
A couple of years earlier I had come to grief dodging cattle on the road one rainy night with no trailer brakes and had ended up in the trees, then this one bouncing off the big gum tree beside the road, and little did I know that years later my co driver in a Kenworth, all up weight over 35 ton, would lose it on a bend and we went bush at 50 miles an hour demolishing forest trees for 200 feet or more before he could get it under control and ended a few feet from a huge gum tree that could have killed us.     I was petrified just hanging on and looking .....It was then I decided... that’s it.... enough is enough.  Funny thing, I never had an affinity to wood. At school my woodwork teacher would throw my sample for end of year grading out the window telling me to take it to the drycleaners and get all the glue off so he could see what it was supposed to be; I  had packed my dovetail joints with glue to hold them in shape.   I was hopeless with wood.  Now with metal, give me a spanner... I’m great...can I help you... what do you want fixed?  By the way the model of the British Leyland truck I was driving that day was called... lol..a..” Comet.”

Copyright               Ray Gilleland              16th December 2009 
From his collection of memories for his new book. 
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