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The Lame Duck.

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Author Topic: The Lame Duck.  (Read 196 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 11:05:59 am »

He was young and so wanted to get into the new adventure of long distance road transport. in Australia.
It was 1956 and big things were happening. The old tax had been abolished and it was possible to make a living now, still tough but better than it was before.
He worked on the dispatch dock where the freight was loaded onto those big monsters with 14 wheels and with the tarpaulins tied down they disappeared down the street not to be seen or heard of till they parked outside the delivery address in some far away city, days or even weeks later.
 That’s what he wanted to do .
Drive one of them monsters.
He grabbed all the overtime he could and saved all his money.
But these bloody big trucks were expensive. Not many around second hand and a new one was definitely out of the question.
Every Saturday he would scan the papers till finally one Saturday he saw a truck and single axle trailer for sale, the price somewhere  around what he could afford.
Sure it was a European make, not many in Australia at that time but it was the nearest thing he had seen which was in reach of his bank account. The asking price was a little bit more than he could afford but he had an idea. Throw all his cash at the seller and see what happens.
After a test drive around the block and it seemed ok, said he would be back Monday with the cash.
The seller asked for a deposit but was told that on Monday the full price in cash would be paid.
He nodded in agreement  hoping that the buyer would return on the Monday as there had been a couple of lookers but no real interest in the  truck as it was a bit of an “orphan.”
Monday came, the young buyer  went to the bank withdrew his money leaving enough to operate for a couple of weeks till the first of the money came rolling in…. he hoped.
Arriving at the sellers house he emptied his pockets of all his cash onto the kitchen table knowing it was about $500 short of the asking price.
 Now the seller with a sigh of relief  quickly counted the money, only too happy to have done a deal, any deal and  the papers were signed. Our young truck driver jumped in the cabin and took off not crunching too many gears.
He was in seventh heaven. According to him anyway at the time.
The seller breathed a sigh of relief and had a beer to celebrate his good luck at getting rid of it.
 There was enough left in the bank to insure the rig and expenses for a couple of trips.
 At home next day he rolled out the tarpaulins, two large ones and a long cap tarp that stretch from the front of the load to the rear. A few patches here and there but generally in good condition.
He then checked the motor, gearbox, differential and tail shaft, plus a full service.
 Everything seemed ok.
He arranged for his first load to Melbourne 1100 miles return.
 This was called the “School boy “  run by the regular drivers.
 Quite an easy run nothing too dangerous.
 The tanks were filled with diesel and a bottle of lemonade and a packet of boiled lollies for him and he was off on his first great adventure. Woohoo
He reached the town of Yass the first day, with no trouble. Gave the tyres a kick and bunked down for the night. Drifting off counting the money he was going to earn in the months ahead.
Now the second day was a bit different and was the pattern for the next long two years.
Australia is the driest continent in the world and the summer heat is quite fierce. It takes it’s toll of drivers and trucks.
 About an hour out of Yass he glanced down at the gauges and saw the temperature needle climbing quite quickly, too quickly. Something was wrong.
He pulled over onto the grass on the side of the road, with a frown. He could smell heat. You know what I mean that greasy, steamy, hot smell from a motor that says trouble.
The top radiator hose was the problem. Steam was puffing out of a small crack near the clamp. Luckily there was enough to slice that section off and still clamp the pipe up again, which he did then set off again.  Made it to the little garage at Colac and replaced it with a universal type hose as the garage didn’t keep parts of his make of truck.
In fact as time went on he found it difficult to buy anything for his truck anywhere, on the road always having to make do as best he could..
And man he needed parts quite often over the next couple of years.
It was a very comfortable truck to drive, soft ride, heater in winter, good seat adjustment but the bloody thing kept breaking down. Mostly little things like cracked copper fuel lines, the electrics had a habit of blowing fuses for no reason, filters would clog up even new ones, injector pipes would split and so it went on. He could never buy parts for it except in the capital city where he bought it. So he carried a tool box full of spares.
There were so many times he stood beside the road with a spanner in his hand, grease up to his elbows looking with envy at the trucks grinding past while he tried to fix another problem on his “lame duck” off the road in  the grass. Then shaking his head and with a sigh rolling under the truck muttering to himself about his own stupidity buying this heap of “nuts and bolts” and then making a face thinking of the dispatch manager warning him not to be late again this time, which he was   usually.
One day in early summer of the second year, while in Melbourne he was offered a run to Perth…he laughed loudly, Perth was the most isolated capital city in the world. ( If you doubt this, look at a World Atlas)  He had enough trouble running Sydney Melbourne. The school boy run.
 In fact he only took one load to Brisbane in all that time as it was such a tough run 600 miles to the north up and down the New England high country and Perth was 3000 miles away across a desert of a over a 1000 miles that was a dirt track. There was nothing out there except kangaroos, scrub turkeys, rabbits, wombats and snakes. No towns or people except for the occasional aboriginals, which no one knew much about anyway.
Having a drink or two with .some other drivers that night in the pub he mentioned the Perth trip. After much talk and many beers later he started wondering could he do it. that Perth run. At the end of the night he convinced himself he could. drive to Perth and back.
 It was very good money and the best bit, if he could get a full load back which was sometimes hard to do, it would make the trip a huge success money wise.
At the end of the drinking session he could see himself back from Perth, taking delivery of a new International 180.
His small bank account, would be swollen with the Perth money plus with  “nuts and bolts” as he called the Lame Duck as a full deposit.  Yes he said  to himself as he wobbled on his feet leaning on the bar…. Perth here I come.
And so it  happened.
 This trip across was like nothing the driver had ever experienced before. The dirt track into the heat haze was endless, it seemed.
The days dragged on stopping, repairing, starting stopping, bits fell off, water hoses split, pipes cracked, the exhaust fell off, that  track could shake your teeth loose.
 Decided to drive at night , not so hot, but the lights blew, so back to day travel constantly wiping his face with a towel , drenched in sweat.
 He talked to her all the time, encouragingly sometimes, but more and more angrily .as the days slowly passed and many troubles multiplied and had to be fixed.
 But he arrived there eventually ….. in Perth…. and late as usual.
He unloaded and did the rounds for a back load, anything, he wasn’t fussy.
Now just at that time Ansett Transport was advertising with a large colorful banner on a truck around the streets of Perth to send goods with them as they had a contract to piggyback trucks across the wilderness from the east coast on the Trans Australian Railways.. drive on drive off.
No dust no breakdowns, goods always on time . Bloody hell what next.
So after ten days it was clear there was no loading east for him. There goes the new truck out the window .and worse a rattling, shaking  drive back to the east all the way empty.     Damn.

Now this tale is taken up by Peter
A driver of another firm that had watched the youngster  over the last two years working on  “nuts and bolts” having its innards tampered with by greasy hands , nearly every trip. He had even helped the kid now and then feeling sorry for the young driver.

Enter Peter. As he continues this tale   
 I was driving west over the Nullarbor Plain to Perth one early summer day, it was hot, damn hot and the dust was drifting  forward over the cab like in a vacuum. The track was that rough I had been in second gear all morning and couldn’t out run the dust.
But I was used to it as I had been doing the run for a while now and the money was good.
About late afternoon with the sun in my eyes and the cracked screen sending splinters of bright light into my eyes the dust cleared for a bit and I thought I could see smoke on the horizon.
 Bloody smoke, that was a worry.
 The low scrub in these sections sometimes caught alight from the odd lightening strike or even the sun on a broken bottle and that could be trouble. It could become a mile wide front and no where for a truck to escape. Nearly impossible to turn around  and if the wind increased would overtake a slow truck anyway.
I squinted into the sun with all these thoughts racing through my brain hoping like hell its just some ones camp fire.
 After a couple of minutes, yes well, it wasn’t a scrub fire thank goodness for that, not wide enough, coming from one spot only, it looked near or on the road ahead.
Rattling up closer I could see a truck on fire, hell yes it was a truck , the smoke billowing under and around it and a figure appeared to be running and jumping in and out of the smoke probably trying to put it out with sand from the track. Poor  bazztarrd.
 There was Leyland Beaver truck 300 miles back that had caught fire a year ago, its remains still sat on the track.
I pulled up about two trailer lengths away .and grabbed my little electrical fire extinguisher from under the seat and ran into the thick smoke towards the burning truck.
It probably wasn’t much good but something’s better than nothing. Just then a  figure loomed out of the smoke running  fast, away from the truck. I hesitated thinking the fuel tanks were going to blow up.
Then I instantly recognized the figure, it was the young driver I had seen so many times, black with oil and grease on the side of the road repairing his truck.
He scooped up some loose brush and twigs and started to run back into the thickest part of the smoke
“Get more wood” the figure yelled.
“I’ve only got a small extinguisher… where’s the worst bit “ I yelled,  the thick smoke starting to make me cough and bring tears to my eyes.
“Throw that bloody fire extinguisher away mate.       don’t just stand there.
 Get more bloody wood   I’m burning the bazztarrd” he shouted.
.Then he disappeared quickly into the smoke coughing and waving his arms.
A cracked line had been pumping fuel all over the exhaust for some time and when it burst into flame it was too late anyway by the tine he stopped.
 The “lame Duck”  was beyond saving.
I saw him about 3 or 4 months later driving a new Red 180 International  with a new trailer  out of Melbourne  he waved to me with a grin from ear to ear, thumb in the air.
Written in bold letter on the front was   “FLYING HIGH”
Often wondered how he done it ?

    Copyright      Ray Gilleland         May 2008

    For second book release date  2009  hopefully with luck on my side.
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