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The Ringing of the Bell

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Author Topic: The Ringing of the Bell  (Read 217 times)
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« on: October 12, 2010, 09:54:21 am »

     Les Harris was a big tall solid fellow; he sort of looked down from on high, if you know what I mean.  About forty years of age, a great sense of humour, always ready for a joke, ex navy and a good shot with a pistol.
  About 1958 soon after the new weighbridge operated by the Victorian Country Roads Board was opened at Seymour about 60 miles north from Melbourne, Les was wandering down the road from Sydney to Melbourne.  It was called the Hume Highway. Sounds impressive  doesn’t it but it was just a narrow sealed road that meandered from town to town that eventually reached Melbourne, nearly 600 miles away. Les had a legal load and stopped for a chat here and there checking what was going on down the road. That was the only way we knew what was around, talking to drivers coming the other way. No luxuries like telephones CB radio etc back then and that’s when Les heard about this new weighbridge and how it operated.
It was a cement block building with bullet proof glass windows and  heavy steel door located on about a quarter of an acre of land, well back from the road. It was intended to use all the area when putting a blitz on, shutting down the highway completely and directing all trucks in for search and inspection. It was a few miles north of the town of Seymour and if you were coming south it was at the bottom of a slight hill.
We learnt later that if we switched our headlights off and coasted down the hill we sometimes could slip past if they were busy with a few trucks in line being weighed.
 Stopping at Joes Service Station at Wodonga on the Victorian border and having a cup of coffee Les got talking to a driver that had just arrived from Melbourne and had been a candidate for the new weighbridge, and so the story unfolded.
  The driver was instructed to drive his truck onto the weighbridge, stopping first to weigh the front axle and then when the weighbridge operator rang a bell and only then the driver drove forward to stop with the drive axle to be weighed then the bell again to move on and stop with the trailer axle on the scales. If an axle was over no bell rang but the operator would walk around to the front of the truck and call the driver to come into the weighbridge office and view the scales and see how much he was overloaded on that axle while they booked him.
  Les wasn’t worried as he was legal this trip and there were no warrants out for his arrest at this time. He hadn’t been a bad boy for quite awhile.
The story you are reading about was nearly 60 years ago. The Australian state governments owned all the railways and had a monopoly of moving all freight long distance. All trucks were taxed on the weight of the truck and the load each and every mile. We objected to this; wanting to pay tax on the goods carried only. So there was war between us and them till we won free trade between the states 10 years later.
 Anyway back to the story.
Time and miles slipped away, the night’s darkness descended around him and nearer and nearer Les approached this new weapon that the enemy had added to the fight between us and them for the freedom of the roads. 
Sure enough as he approached Seymour he was advised by the blinking of headlights that trouble was waiting up ahead.
  One driver going the other way turned his lights out momentarily and pointed to his wheels as he flashed past.
 Les thanked him by turning his own lights off quickly twice and continued unafraid into the “Spider’s Web” up ahead.
  His main thoughts were maybe I can have a bit of fun.
  Sure enough as he approached the new weighbridge he saw the lights on in this new building, a wide area to pull over, with a couple of figures moving around inside the building.
 He was waved in to be weighed by a uniformed figure at the side of the road that he recognised.
Stopping a short distance on the approach to the weighbridge he leaned out of the window as Charley Sinclair the Sergeant of Police attached to the C.R.B. walked up to the cabin  and explained the procedure of weighing vehicles on this new weighbridge.
Now Charlie was an understanding guy, what you would call “a good copper” but he was still a policeman and on the “other side.” He was in charge of all arrest warrants, keeping a small filing cabinet in his car plus he had a good memory for faces and names. You never knew when Charlie was going to show up in his unmarked Ford as he wandered all over the state.
 “You are to place each axle on the weighing platform one at a time and when the operator is satisfied he will ring a bell and you the driver will move the next axle onto the bridge and so on and so on,  got it?  It’s a new system and how all new weighbridges will operate in the future so get use to it.
 As the instructions continued, Les leant out of the cabin looking down with the motor ticking over, a hand cupped around the ear, over acting a little, nodding here and there as Charley standing on the ground shouted up his instructions about this new system with the bell.
  When the bell was mentioned Les looked vaguely down at Charley,
“Bell ! what bell .. where’s the bell... I can’t see a bell anywhere?”
While he is asking this question Les is looking out past Charley’s shoulder around the wide cleared area as if looking for a school type of bell, on a wooden tower somewhere out in the darkness.  .
“ No, no, not out there, its on the outside wall  above the door of the building “ said Charley pointing to the weighbridge office on the other side of the truck.
“I won’t hear a “tinkly” bell in here, with all the noise this bastard makes”
“You’ll hear it driver, now move onto the bridge and remember follow instructions exactly by the bell.”
Les then drove on to the weighbridge not stopping for the front axle but continuing on to put the drive axle on to be weighed.
 Charley had walked back behind the trailer and up into the weighbridge office before he noticed that Les had the drive axle on the bridge and not the front axle.
With a sigh of exasperation he stormed out of the office and around to the front of the truck and stopping under Les’s driving window, looking up at Les with a frown on his face, but before he could say a word Les yells down at him;
“I told you I wouldn’t hear a bloody bell above this noise.”
“‘I haven’t rung the bell yet “ said Charley.
“Well what the hell’s wrong now” said Les.
“You haven’t put the front axle on first for me to weigh it. Then, I’ll ring the bell”
“But up the road they never bother with the front axle, it’s impossible to overload it on a Mercedes-Benz 315.” Les replied.
I know that” snapped Charley” but I want an overall, all up weight of the whole load”
“Oh…Ok Ok “said Les with a resigned look on his face.
With a swoosh of released air from the trailer brakes Les very slowly reversed back to put his front axle on the weigh bridge. At the same time he turned his radio on and up high in volume seeking a station amongst all the crackling noise it made. Radios were never very powerful back then. A station with music was very hard to find.
The bell rang.. ring ring ..Les ignored it, fiddling with the station knob on the radio. The bell  rang again.. ring ring.
Next minute Charley is waving his arms at Les through the passenger window .then in a fit of temper, running around the front of the truck past the headlights to the driver’s door again shouting out louder now.
“Didn’t you hear the bell?”
“Eh.” said Les “Hang on” as he turned the radio down.
“What did you say?”
“Turn your radio off and listen for the damn bell and when you hear it,  move on to the next axle. Alright? .. I haven’t got all night to waste with you.” yelled Charley, starting to lose it a little , if you know what I mean. Charlie knew there were trucks slipping past in the darkness out there on the road and he wanted to weigh as many as he could.
You see during all this time trucks had been going past both ways up and down the highway and you can bet your sweet life there were plenty of sighs of relief as some skittled past going like the hammers of hell, thanking their lucky stars it wasn’t them on this bloody new weighbridge. Monday nights were always busy nights for freight.
Les being well aware of what was going on around him was trying to ‘milk’ this opportunity for as long as he could without going just that too far; it was something that he was a past master at.
Charley turned and hurried back into the office and after a moment sure enough the bell clanged
“Ring ring…ring ring.. Les put it into gear and moved the truck up to put the drive axle, the original one he had put on the bridge the first time.
 A short wait and the bell went off again.“Ring ring… ring ring.
With a smile  of anticipation  Les moved the truck forward to put the trailer axles on the bridge.
.Then a  short time later.
“Ring ring…. Ring ring.”…silence… then.     Ring ring    Ring ring   and the bell kept  ringing away and being completely ignored by Les.
 Relaxed, elbows on the steering wheel and cupped hands holding his chin, just looking past the headlights out into the night, listening to that bell ringing its head off and half smiling to himself, there sat our Les.
While all this was going on, the odd truck or two was still hurrying past, a driver here and there also breathing a huge sigh of relief.
 The next second Charley is around again underneath the driving window jumping up and down, waving his arms 
“Didn’t you hear the bell?” he shouted angrily with a frown on his face. He was livid.
“Yeah I heard the bell… but I’ve got no more axles have I?” said Les, turning his head very slowly and just staring down at Charley, a slight twitch of the mouth and  a blank look on his face.
A few seconds went by each looking at the other.
 One looking down and the other looking up, not a word said. But, each one aware what it was all about... this mind game.
Suddenly Charlie looked back over his shoulder as another noisy truck rumbled past on the highway, he looked back at Les, then nodding and with a knowing look and half a smile he jerked his thumb over his shoulder..... “Get going driver.”
Once more a swoosh of trailer brakes, a slight crunch of gears and Les with a huge smile on his face trundled down off that new Weighbridge at Seymour.
Watching Charlie in the rear view mirror, hands on hips standing in front of that new building with the bell, the opposition’s latest weapon in the war of our running battle of the highways, Les smiled to himself, at the same time knowing he would be a marked man for a while.
And so the “great game” continued between “us” and the “enemy.”

My good friend Les passed away some years ago but his story is here for all those that enjoy that little victory over authority that sometimes comes our way.

Copy right 2009    Ray Gilleland    from his new book.

“The Life and Times of the Nullarbor Kid.”
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