Alan Lever remembers one million miles and some interesting stories along the way – Words by Chris Mullett
Talk to any of the older and wiser gentlemen of the trucking industry, and at some stage you’ll hear a reference to the “good old days”. It’s not until you dig a little deeper that you find the days referred to, while highly memorable, were full of hard work, long hours and a considerable amount of financial and physical discomfort.
These days we take reliability as pretty much guaranteed. And for anyone living in the city there’s always the telephone to call for help or to find out how to fix a problem. But just 50 years ago, life on the highway was fraught with all sorts of problems for anyone trying to get their load from the east to the west coast.
It’s been my privilege to know Alan Lever of the Wollongong area for at least some of the more recent years, during which he piloted his Peterbilt 379 as an owner operator. But it was only this year that I was able to learn more about the history that he has experienced at first hand, driving to the West on roads that didn’t really exist.
Many of the trips to the West Coast were at the time of great construction projects, such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. But in Alan’s case, one of his tasks was to supply the teams of Italian workers brought to Western Australia for specific projects.
Alan started his truck-driving career back in 1964, when at the age of 19 (some even say perhaps 17 years) he climbed behind the wheel of his first truck, a Mack B61 B-model.
“A year later in 1965 I bought the first C-Motor Mack in Australia. In those days Mack Australia didn’t exist and the brand was brought in by the Anderson family in Toowoomba.
“The C-Motor was fitted in a Flintstone model and it took me eight days to do the first trip to Adelaide as it just kept breaking down. Bernie Carroll was flown out to meet me and the truck in Overland Corner in South Australia, and his plane landed on the roadway. He put another pump on the Flintstone and then headed home.
“Bernie never got as far as Hay, and I never got to Adelaide, as it broke down again. This went on for seven months, and the truck never completed the trip without breaking down – seizing the gearbox on one trip and the engine on another.
“Max Evans was the engineer for the Anderson’s and nobody in the company could tell me why the truck was so unreliable. It had them stuffed. I told them they could repossess it because it was costing me too much. The only way I kept going financially was because I was still able to run my B-Model. That was the best model I ever owned. The B61 put money in the bank and it carried the other one during these problems and it kept me going.
“Curly Anderson told me to get the Flintstone with the C-Motor back from Adelaide at his expense and he could replace it with a red R-Model 600 Flintstone he had available without anyone’s name on it. This was a long time before they started making them in Brisbane.
“I told Curly that I didn’t care what colour it was as long as it went. It had reached the stage that the fruit packers wouldn’t even load me as the truck never made it to the market.
“In 1967 Curly Anderson went guarantor for me as I was the youngest buyer they had sold a truck to. He arranged at the bank for no payment for three months and no penalties.
“We collected the red truck and from that point on it never stopped. My brother Doug and I drove it, and through its life we put some big loads on it but it never missed a beat.
“The size of the engine was 240 hp and originally it came with a five-speed gearbox. In those days nothing had enough power to get up Mount Victoria without hooking onto another vehicle for a tow. The same applied to going down the other side as you often needed to couple up again to avoid running away down the hill.
“Alan Doherty was doing the trip for me on one occasion and we had to chain the truck to my B-Model just to get over the hill. This was embarrassing for me so we set about finding a quad box for it.
“Although people said at the time you couldn’t put a quad box in it, Curly Anderson reckoned you could as long as you were careful when changing gears.
“We got a contract to carry high-tension power cables from Port Kembla to Port Augusta as part of the building programme to put electricity through to all the towns. Until that point all the towns were powered by generator up as far as Oodnadatta.
“These were interesting times as there weren’t any roads where we went. We just followed a bulldozer track until we came to a work camp where they were erecting the stanchions. All the workers were Italians and they worked tremendously hard in very poor conditions. In some cases their camp was just a ruined shed or house with a tarp thrown over what had once been a roof.
“Unloading the cables was also interesting as there wasn’t a crane in sight. They used to turn up with a 6×6, dig a hole and we’d back the trailer in. Then the dozer would chain up to the coils and just pull them off the trailer and then drag them away across the paddock to the stanchion.
“There was certainly no air conditioning in any of the camps. You had to be there before 6:00 a.m., because after that the workers had left to go to the next stanchion.
“I remember the Italians saying that when they signed on for the work, Transfield had shown them photographs of Bondi Beach and good-looking women and paid for their fares out here. It was certainly different when they arrived in SA,” said Alan.
Through the period from 1967 until 1972 Alan ran the R-Model 600 Flintstone until selling it to Ray Hutchison. The intervening years have seen Alan own a variety of makes and models, from a Mack F-Model, the first Coolpower version brought into Australia and fitted with a twin turbocharged Mack 340 hp engine and six-speed transmission, through to Kenworths, and his last on-highway truck the Peterbilt 379.
Having lost track of the whereabouts of his 1967 R-Model Flintstone, you can imagine his amazement when his wife Joy presented it to him as a surprise Christmas present.
“As soon as I saw it I knew it was my old R-Model. When you’ve driven something for a million miles you know it instantly. It had been sitting in the shed for 15 years and I had been driving past without ever knowing it was there,” said Alan.
“When we picked it up, every time we changed gear it blew a tyre. It has a huge history with my family. My son was brought up in it as a baby. We put a cot mattress on top of the seat and that’s where he went for many miles.
“The truck underwent a major refurbish during which we put a Mack engine back in it, but we have kept it very original, including the company logos on the doors. We added a trailer that we acquired from Robb Earthmoving, and now it is able to take part in the annual Nowra Convoy for Kids as well as the Hauling the Hume event each year.
“I’ve met some wonderful people through my career and I would like to specifically thank Don McGlinchie of Richmond who took two years to restore the truck, and Stuart from Stuart Coaches. My thanks also to Doherty Transport, Grahame “Tex” Frost, Bede Gallagher, H.A.R.S, Kerry Balgowan, all of whom were supervised by Bertie the dog, plus Geoff Cuthbert, Brian Sheargold, the MacRae family of Bowral Tyrepower, Thomas Creative and Ben Weckworth,” said Alan.