After dessert across a desert
Dinner in Melbourne leads to a Simpson Desert crossing in a Scania 6x6 truck
WE ARE in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne.
The pasta is great, the ambient light is low and the second bottle of a good red is breathing.
I’m with Tim Rowe, a friend who unfortunately passed away a year ago.
But in 1988 we were both full of life. Tim handled marketing and public relations for Scania.
With the second bottle of wine, the truth will out, the corporate platitudes forgotten.
“I’ve sent me out a 6x6 body truck and I don’t know what to do with it,” Tim said, referring to his corporate masters in Sweden.
Bellies full, the tide halfway out in the bottle of wine and I said “Do I have a deal for you”.
Two months later I’m with Tim Rowe in Alice Springs.
The “deal” I suggested was that we drive the Scania across the Simpson Desert, but not to follow the Rig Road, the route used by heavy trucks to get drilling equipment into the desert for oil exploration, but follow the French Line which, for a heavy truck, would be far more difficult.
Rowie agreed and the truck was floated to Alice Springs where we met, loaded supplies into the back of the funny little tray, and we were ready to go.
Rowie was in the cab looking around, getting settled in the passenger seat, and said, “Where are the maps?”
“We don’t need maps,” I said, “I’ve crossed the desert many times. Just head east, if we run into the Pacific Ocean we know we have gone too far.”
Like a fox out of the hen house when he sees the farmer coming with a gun, Rowie was out of the truck and off to find the Lands Branch office and 20 minutes later I watched him returning with his arms full of rolled maps. We were on our way.
We had the option of heading south following the swales between the sandhills until we cut the Rig Road.
We headed south to Abminga on the old Ghan railway line and turned east, out through the ruins of Blood Creek Station and the Federal Homestead where the skeletons of old vehicles and piles of bottles surrounding the stone ruins told of shattered dreams of would-be pastoralists setting up in good times to have those dreams smashed with the coming of drought.
At Purni Bore, out in the sandhills, there was a misshapen turkey nest that you topped up with hot water from the bore and could have a glorious warm swim.
The bore has since been capped, but back in the 80s there were few 4WD tourists and the water ran free to create its own ecosystem that attracted birds and camels for their once a week “fill up”.
The sandhills of the
❝a There was
turkey nest that you topped up with hot water from the bore and could have a glorious warm swim.
French line are not clayed, and the truck was starting to work, plugging through soft sand.
It was all six-wheel drive work now. We climbed the first hill with live sand, with all diffs locked the truck went straight over, ploughing through the soft sand.
We had let the tyre pressures down to 50 psi all round. Things were looking good.
Finding the right gear with which to hit a hill was the secret, fast enough so that the momentum carried you over, yet not so fast that torque was lost as the revs came back.
Then there was a big one. I let the truck go up in fifth gear.
It ran up the track, bucking over the rough patches chewed up by previous four-wheel drivers.
The truck slewed and stopped in the soft sand 10 metres from the top.
I reversed and ran it again, making a few metres, and so established a routine that was to be carried out many times over the next few days.
Run a hill, make a few metres, reverse and try again.
When the truck was a few metres from the crest it was possible to engage bog cog and the truck would slowly churn itself over.
Well into the French line, every sandhill was now a new challenge. We crossed salt lakes and climbed red sandhills.
In the morning of the fourth day of the crossing Big Red loomed ahead.
I was pretty sure the truck would not make it up this giant of a sandhill without a lot of work, but felt I needed to give it a try.
A fast run at the climb, and the truck churned to a stop, all diffs locked, all wheels driving, about halfway up the sandhill.
Well you have to try. We crossed at an easier crossing and then an easy run into the remote town of Birdsville and a cold beer.
A DESERT BEDROOM: The Scania 112 6x6 was probably the first 20-tonne truck to cross the French Line, as opposed to the Rig Road.