Written by Lang 1985 when he and Mick Reynolds were living and working up in Bowen while in partnership in their marine construction business East Coast Marine
There is a law in the North of Queensland which says “All old vehicles can be found parked under a Mango tree.”
And I have found this to be infallible during the last few months.
I was working in Bowen and decided something needed to occupy my time on weekends, so a little hunting for a suitable vehicle was in order. On a previous trip I had spotted an old British Army Crossly 4×4 which was the ugliest truck ever built with all aluminium castings and brass fittings – a unique vehicle and real antique if ever there was one. So one rainy Saturday off we set and spent an exciting time going through the hills south of Charters Towers. Covered in mud we arrived at the pub where Cecil (the truck owner) spent his days only to find he had fled some creditors the day before and would not be returning until things quietened down. We longingly looked over the old Crossly once more and headed back down the mountain with the Jeep utility in 4WD and going regularly into 360 degree circles in the mud which was pretending to be a road.
In reserve was a 1943 Ex-Army Chev 15cwt Ute which I had talked my partner into restoring as his first attempt. This Ute had the cab removed from the windscreen back and the driver sat on a wooden board, Mick was keen on the vehicle so a carton of beer changed hands and we hooked up (under a Mango tree) and set off from Home Hill to Bowen in the pouring rain and failing light. My torch with a red plastic bag made a good tail light for the Chev but Mick was having trouble seeing in the rain with no windscreen even at 60 kph he was soon like a drowned rat with a sandblasted face and uncontrollable shivers. As his eyes were like roadmaps he decided to put on sunglasses for protection which immediately gave him the same view of the world as Ray Charles. Luckily the Jeep was fitted with a flashing yellow light on the roof for wide load escorting so I turned this on and Mick followed a flashing yellow glow in a back tunnel for 100kms. Luckily the front spring-like bumper on the Chev fitted just nicely against the tow bar of the Jeep so Mick in his black and yellow wet world (with no brakes) knew the Jeep was slowing when his aiming light started to get closer. A sudden stop was indicated by his nose impacting the steering wheel. Arriving home about midnight (still raining) I lifted Mick out of his pride and joy and carried him to a hot shower.
The next target was a truck for me, so I got hold of another prize, spotted several years back – a 11/2 ton Chev 4×4 tipper which had been sitting (under a Mango tree) for nine years. By the time we arrived it was getting late in the afternoon and almost dark by the time I got it going. The plan was to drive it the 150 kms home but we had our doubts as the tyres were all whitewalls (fabric on the outside of the rubber) and the tubes had all decided to look at the world through holes in the tyres up to 50mm across. Anyhow we got rolling and the first gear change resulted in no clutch at all. Crawling underneath, I found a family of mice had built a home in the bell housing. So after removing handfuls of straw, plastic bags and several mice, the clutch was again in working order. Once again we had the trusty red torch on the back and one head light operable. The tyres gave the impression I was driving along a railway line.
Unfortunately we had to pass through a large town, so we hooked a rope up to the back of the Jeep and turned on the flashing light to give some impression of official approval. As the Jeep was not strong enough to tow the Chev, this was kept moving under its own steam on the end of the rope.
Just as I thought we were home free the last set of traffic lights turned red and Mick slowed down in the Jeep (the hand brake in the Chev worked so I did not have to crash into him) I glanced across and there on the footpath were three police cars and five or six coppers.
As the lights seemed to freeze on red I rolled to a stop three metres from the concentration of the law. With six pairs of eyes staring at me I nonchalantly struck up a whistle which they couldn’t hear over the roar of the straight out exhaust. Realising this, I decided to beat time on the steering wheel as the door had fallen off they could see this display of relaxation quite clearly. Only later I remembered that they could see the cement block covered with rags which served as a seat.
At long last the lights changed and in the excitement of the moment I stalled as Mick let out the clutch. The headlight had drained out the battery and the engine was not about to respond but Mick was not to be deterred from getting away from this constabular concentration, so with the Jeep wheels spinning and clutch slipping and me desperately trying to get a tow start we kangaroo hopped through the intersection and fled into the night. The crowd on the corner rushed to pull up a little old lady who had flashed through their radar at 5kph over the speed limit. Each man obviously deciding we were an apparition and not game to mention it to his mates.
The remaining 100kms home was uneventful apart from the torch which replaced the headlight, giving a rather limited view of the road ahead.
Both Chevs are well under way to full restoration.
This is the next story of the third Chev that came back to Brisbane with Kaiser (the dog) Chevrolet number three.
Well, after finishing the 1 1/2 ton Chevrolet mentioned above (and bringing home a Federal 6×6 from Collinsville and a Blitz gun tractor from locally near Bowen) I had quite a collection of vehicles. Anyhow a young cockie noticed my car park and wanted to buy the Chevrolet.
I really love those Chevs, the nicest driving truck of the period you can find. As they say everything has its price and I knew where there was another one on a cane farm. So bye bye Chev and a 150km drive north once again.
This new one was much straighter than the old one but had the cab cut off in North Queensland style. Mick drove me up and we got her started and it ran as sweet as a song (these Chevs had the full pressure 235 motor not the splash feed 219 of the Blitz.)
No clutch (turned out the new clutch described by the farmer had been put in backwards, no brakes either hand or foot and no starter switch (normally on the floor but the lever had broken requiring a screw driver to push the solenoid in by hand). We pumped the almost new tyres up and I put it in first while Mick did the screwdriver thing under the bonnet and away we went.
It ran like a dream and the beaut Chev gearbox just slipped through easily without the clutch. I was well aware I was stuck in gear with no brakes going through Ayr and dawdled along ready to turn the ignition off if someone stopped in front of me. No incidents and back home to Bowen before dark. The headlights worked and I later fitted a proper tail light but they were never needed as all running from here-on was in daylight.
Unfortunately this was the last week of the job so Mick escorted our wide load trailers back to Brisbane while I with my good mate Kaiser set off to drive the Chev 1,500km home to Brisbane. Early in the morning I got the dog up on the back with my swag and standing on the running board did the in-gear start with the screwdriver, slammed the bonnet down and jumped into the seat before we had gone 20 metres.
Off we went cruising at about 70kmh. Each town was passed at about 30kmh with 50 metres between me and the next car with the key in my hand ready to switch off. In the badlands north of Rockhampton I stopped for the night rolled my swag out under the truck and my mate and I had something cold out of a can. It started raining about 1.00am but I was dry, that is until the bloody dog tried to get in my swag with me.
Next morning we were off again and I must say it was extremely stressful going through all the traffic lights in Rocky dropping to 5 kmh judging to get there on the green then speeding up to an uncomfortable speed to get through on time.
Another night on the road north of Nambour saw us home unscathed about lunchtime on the third day.
I did a good restoration on this one and it was one of the best military vehicles I have owned. Unfortunately about a year later we were funding a big project so the Chevrolet had to go.
Just to close off the whole Bowen period truck sagas.
About 3 weeks after Kaiser and I shared the Chevrolet drive from Bowen to Brisbane I had to go back to pick up a bit of gear we had left behind, Mick’s 1/2 ton Chevrolet ute project and of course the Blitz. Hooking my tandem trailer behind the Jeep ute I set off with my dad who had volunteered to be second driver.
We got to Bowen, loaded Mick’s ute and various construction equipment onto the trailer, got a permit for the Blitz (only had a handbrake but it was very good!) and getting a stack of torch batteries set up my red cellophane torch tail light system.
Now the old man had been in the car business all his life and had a number of very successful dealerships but his strength was management and sales and I always was worried he might poke his eye out if he used a screwdriver. Also very unusual for a car salesman he was scrupulously honest and was a stickler for the rules – he despaired of my cavalier attitude to rules and authority. So it goes without saying he was not comfortable driving the ute with a 1,500kg registered trailer carrying 2,500kg. Worse still I wanted him to follow me driving a Blitz with a dodgy permit, no brakes and a couple of torches taped on the back for tail lights.
Anyhow with him fretting we set out from Bowen for a night run. I always found travelling in the dark reduced the chances of attracting attention. A few hours down the road it started to rain. Naturally the wipers on the Blitz did not work, probably because there was no glass in the driver’s side windscreen, so I had to put a rain coat on backwards – lucky it was warm rain.
An hour later we stopped for fuel and a coffee. Back to the vehicles, still raining.
It is one o’clock in the morning pouring rain and here I am, soaking wet with no windscreen , driving a truck with no brakes and by now white torch tail lights (the red cellophane had melted), just about to let out the clutch when the old man appears at the door.
“We will have to stop. I have just checked the lights and the left hand blinker on my trailer is not working”
This was the only time in my life that I ever told my dear old dad to f…. off!