Farm Truck Nostalgia

By: Steve Skinner

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For many truckies traversing the Olympic Highway on one of the main tracks between Melbourne and Brisbane, these old workhorses would have evoked some fond memories

from left to right an old Bedford, International, Ford, miniature Daihatsu; Austin, cabover Ford, cabover Dodge and cabover Bedford
From left to right an old Bedford, International, Ford, miniature Daihatsu; Austin, cabover Ford, cabover Dodge and cabover Bedford

My first job out of school was unloading wheat trucks and loading wheat trains at the silos at The Rock, a lovely small town between Wagga Wagga and Albury in southern NSW.

It was 1980 and nearly every farm truck which trundled in was a small rigid built in the 1960s, with a grain bin perched on the back. Unloading involved opening usually very stiff old side chute doors.

So it was quite a novelty and a relief when the very occasional semi-trailer tipper turned up.

Fast forward several decades and of course the grain game has got much bigger in every way, but on country roads you can still see the occasional ancient old rigid with a grain bin or livestock crate on the back, usually poking along much slower than everybody else would like.

And of course there are plenty of them to be seen nicely restored at vintage truck shows and hot rod meets.

But it’s rare to see a single collection in "original" condition like these 20 old classics. Deals on Wheels spotted a group of old trucks in a paddock while on the move between Wagga and Melbourne in May and went back for a closer look more recently. Ironically, this truck "graveyard" is bounded by the highway and a local road which leads to the local cemetery.

The aspect that stands out is the absence of Japanese trucks – they didn’t start their domination of the rigid market in Australia until the late 1970s or so.

Instead there are long-gone American truck brands such as Dodge, Fargo and Ford; and extinct Brits like Austin, Commer and Bedford.

There were no air bag suspensions to be seen on any of these old bangers, which were often horribly overloaded in their heyday. And there were even a couple with spider wheels, something you never see on rigids these days.

The famous International brand once dominated global truck and farm machinery manufacture. This bonneted beauty was built in the late 1950s.
The famous International brand once dominated global truck and farm machinery manufacture. This bonneted beauty was built in the late 1950s.

WORKS OF ART

This set of vintage trucks has already been sold to a single buyer for parts by Wagga and Uranquinty general antiques dealer John Gilfillan, with a new batch expected to arrive from farms and clearance sales soon after the time of writing. Both pick-ups and deliveries can be organised via tilt tray or low loader.

John says nostalgia is a big factor in the antique trucks game, and his favourite type of buyer motivation.

"If someone started driving a truck when they were 18 or 19, they want it in their backyard when they hit retirement age," he says.

"Another group are farmer’s sons who remember the truck on the farm when they were growing up."

However, there’s also a buying segment who just want a cheap truck in running order to use on their current farm. I remember seeing an old Bedford "fire tanker" on a farm which had just enough boards left on the tray to support a massive water tank, which was so heavy on the poor chassis rails that a clear bow could be seen in the middle of the ancient unit. The seat was an old milk crate.

On the supply side of things, John says a lot of older farmers might have bought a truck new 50 years ago or more and can’t part with it, whereas a lot of the younger generation and corporate farmers are more likely to just want to clear everything out of the shed.

John describes himself as an "artist at heart", and enjoys what he calls these "sculptural" objects. "A truck could be as ugly as sin but sometimes they’re more beautiful when they’re ugly," he reckons.

Wish I was that young again: an old Fargo watches a modern grain carter roar up the Olympic Highway
Wish I was that young again: an old Fargo watches a modern grain carter roar up the Olympic Highway

GOOD PLACE FOR A SPELL

Uranquinty sits between Wagga and The Rock on the Olympic Highway which runs for more than 300 kilometres from Cowra in mid-western NSW to just short of Albury in the south. It’s a popular route for trucks doing line-haul between Melbourne and Brisbane, and Melbourne to Sydney via Wagga.

During the afternoon of Deals on Wheels’ visit, we saw many B-doubles belonging to big north-south refrigerated players rumbling through Uranquinty -- including Lindsays, Nolans and Blenners rigs. Trucks from big line-haul players with yards in Wagga – Crouch’s and Finemores -- were also well represented.

Uranquinty is a nice little town, and not a bad place for trucks to pull up. The main street parking on the northbound side opposite the shops is particularly good, and right next to 24-hour public toilets. Across the road is a Caltex which serves hot food from 4-8pm on weeknights; the Uranquinty Hotel which puts on dinner between 6 and 8.30pm Wednesday to Saturday; and the well-known Quinty Bakehouse which is open Mondays to Saturdays from 7am-4.30pm.

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