Still king of the road at 86
He started at 13 and is still behind the wheel
THERE is a saying in Kingston, South Australia, that Dickers are born with a steering wheel in their hands.
Perhaps that is why Howard Dicker started hauling loads for his dad’s business when he was just 13 years old back in 1945.
It wasn’t legal, but it was a different world then, with World War II causing a labour shortage.
“Then, when I was 16, I went down to the police station to get my licence,” Howard says.
“The policeman said: “I believe you have been driving without a licence. I could put you in the little rooms out the back (the cells)”. Oh God, I was petrified,” he recalls with a smile.
Howard didn’t need to worry; the policeman was just winding him up, at his dad’s insistence.
Now 86 years old, Howard was recently re-tested to make sure he is still competent behind the wheel. He passed, easily.
His old 2233 Mercedes-Benz is in good condition too and has just clocked up an amazing 3.5 million kilometres.
Howard retired in 2003 to spend more time with his wife, Shirley. When she died last year, Howard got behind the wheel again to keep himself busy.
“I can’t just sit around and mope,” Howard says.
He is happy in his old Mercedes-Benz truck.
“It is a terrific truck,” he says. “It just sits on the road beautifully.”
Howard has two sons who took over different parts of the business. Colin runs an earthmoving business and Angus farm, while Gary runs the transport and concrete side. Gary has now been joined in the business by his sister Pam, his two sons Nathan and Timothy, as well as two nephews, James and Marc. Now that’s what you call a family business.
The Dicker driving tradition started when Harold Dicker drove buses to Port Lincoln before the Great Depression and then, when the economy tanked, did everything from trapping rabbits to breaking up rocks for roadworks.
In 1935, he bought a second-hand Fargo truck to run fish to Adelaide and bring fruit and vegies back to the coastal towns of Kingston and Robe.
Howard marvels at how much things have changed since then, from the trucks they drive to technology in general.
“Our phone number was 32. That was how many phones there were in Kingston,” he says.
It’s a lot different now in the era of the smartphone, but H.F. Dicker and Sons is still hauling freight to the area from Adelaide.
The 1926 Fargo, however, is resting in the shed while a fleet of larger rigs, including a brand new Freightliner Argosy, does the work now.
Back when Howard started out, road freight was heavily restricted to protect the painfully slow railways.
“It would take three days to get cargo from Adelaide to here,” says Howard, who also explained that the load had to be swapped over at Bordertown because the track gauge varied between the states.
But the Dickers partly got around the restriction by opening a grocery store to sell the cargo, thanks to a loophole allowing people to cart produce they sold directly to the public.
During the 1950s, the rail protection was rolled back and road freight thrived, while the railway line to the area was pulled up.
The company delivered produce all over South Australia and Victoria, including wool to Geelong and wattlebark to Melbourne.
STILL TRUCKIN’: Howard Dicker started hauling loads as a 13-year-old in 1945 and is still going strong 73 years later.
When his wife died last year, Howard got back behind the wheel to stay busy.
Howard loves his old Mercedes-Benz truck.