News and re­views

Deals on Wheels - - Contents -

High­way 31: Driv­ing down Mem­ory Lane: The Ver­dict

Crawlin the Hume: 235+ his­toric trucks rum­ble along the old Hume High­way

High­way Rocker: Peter Thomp­son’s 379 Peter­bilt pulls for rock­ers AC/DC

Bell Amuse­ments eye-catch­ing 2010 Freight­liner Ar­gosy

Fuel doc­tor on the case

The trucks have been parked and the com­par­isons have been made. Now is a good time to re­flect on driv­ing down the old Hume High­way and a jour­ney into yes­ter­year, Matt Wood re­ports

Like many who’ve been bit­ten by the truck­ing bug, my in­fat­u­a­tion with heavy haulers started early. I blame Weet-Bix ac­tu­ally.

In the early 1980s, ce­real com­pany San­i­tar­ium was putting truck swap cards in ce­real pack­ets. Ev­ery new box was ea­gerly ripped open at the wrong end in a mad scram­ble to find the lat­est card fea­tur­ing a Ken­worth, Mack, White, In­ter­na­tional, or if you were un­lucky, a Bed­ford.

This will no doubt only serve to con­firm sus­pi­cions amongst some that I re­ally did get my truck li­cence from a ce­real packet!


It was in many ways a golden age for the im­age of truck­ing. The movie Con­voy and its sound track had been a pop cul­ture hit, CB ra­dios were wide­spread and op­er­ated like a prim­i­tive ver­sion of the in­ter­net.

Bert Reynolds ran with the stereo­type in the Smoky and the Ban­dit movies and who could for­get the rather bizarre con­cept of a truck driver and his pet chim­panzee in the TV se­ries BJ and the Bear.

Wide open roads and the truck driver rid­ing on the edge of so­ci­ety had ro­mance and al­lure; the driver as a re­source­ful hero.

So, with my freck­led nose pressed against the side win­dows of the fam­ily wagon, I gazed at the road-go­ing be­he­moths that loomed out of the dark on long coun­try trips fas­ci­nated with the sight and sound.

A cou­ple of decades later it was me be­hind the wheel and by then trucks and truck­ing had al­ready evolved into very dif­fer­ent beasts.

With the ex­cep­tion of a cou­ple of Internationals, early in my ca­reer, vir­tu­ally all of the heavy haulers I drove pro­fes­sion­ally used elec­tron­i­cal­ly­con­trolled en­gine man­age­ment by the time I was be­ing paid to make a mile.

Load­ing dock and road­house yarns spoke of a mytho­log­i­cal time when trucks were tough, drivers were tougher and truck­ing was a re­spected part of the na­tional econ­omy. The gen­eral con­sen­sus al­ways seemed to be that truck­ing was so much bet­ter back in the 70s and 80s.

Had I missed out on the boom times in trans­port? Or was it just the sepia toned rem­i­nis­cence of a faded youth that I was hear­ing?

Just how far have trucks and the job evolved over the last four decades? I thought I’d at­tempt to visit those times and per­haps gain an in­sight into what truck­ing was like back in the 1970s.


The West­ern Star brand emerged from the ashes of the White Mo­tor Com­pany. As White drifted to­wards in­sol­vency in the late 1970’s Volvo stepped in and bought the ail­ing truck maker to gain a foothold in the US mar­ket.

White dis­ap­peared from view leav­ing West­ern Star and Au­to­car as the re­main­ing lega­cies of the once size­able White truck sta­ble.

And that’s where the 1975 White 4000 be­long­ing to Trevor Ell­wood comes in – the re­sult of a lot of pride, pas­sion and hard work over a two-anda-half-year resto. It’s a truck­ing time warp from an­other era. And it was the per­fect ve­hi­cle to visit the past in.

The White uses a GM Detroit 8V71NA for power, all 318 horses in fact. And the 9-litre two-stroke V8 works very hard in­deed to cre­ate a mere 800lb/ft of torque.

That power is de­liv­ered in a rev-hun­gry frenzy that has the su­per­charger scream­ing to pound as much fuel and as much at­mos­phere as it can ram down its throat with ev­ery turn of the fly wheel.

So while I roll along rem­i­nisc­ing about where truck­ing has come from, this 4900 rep­re­sents the present and fu­ture of North American truck tech­nol­ogy.

A 15-speed over­drive ‘box han­dles gear chang­ing du­ties.

It’s a truck that de­mands com­mit­ment to drive. To mir­ror my look down the high­ways of yes­ter­year I thought it would be use­ful to also look to the present in the shape of a West­ern

Star 4900. This truck is the di­rect ances­tor of the White 4000, the mod­ern-day in­car­na­tion of the White.

And be­hind those tra­di­tional looks, this gleam­ing prime mover has also been loaded up with the lat­est in giz­mos avail­able from the Penske sta­ble.


Be­hind the gleam­ing King Bars bull bar is a 560hp Detroit DD15, and be­hind that is an 18-speed Ea­ton Ul­traShift-Plus au­to­mated trans­mis­sion.

This ‘Star also fea­tures a four-cam­era blind spot dis­play, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, key­less en­try and push-but­ton start. Fun­nily enough, the old White also fea­tures push but­ton start!

A mas­sive walk-through Strato­sphere Starlight sleeper adds some acreage to the cab area which also fea­tures a leather-clad driver’s and pas­sen­ger seat.

Lib­eral doses of chrome and stain­less round out the pack­age, along with some cus­tom pipes. It’s a bloody nice look­ing rig.

So while I roll along rem­i­nisc­ing about where truck­ing has come from, this 4900 rep­re­sents the present and fu­ture of North American truck tech­nol­ogy.

I didn’t get to spend much time be­hind the wheel, but I will say that it does take a lit­tle while to ad­just to the key­less en­try and push but­ton starter.

Once the Detroit fired up there was a no­tice­able bark from the flash look­ing ‘Star through the cus­tom slash back pipes.

Ev­ery prime mover needs a trailer, so in keep­ing with the theme of moder­nity we got our hands on the lat­est auto hold, auto cur­tain, auto mezdeck drop-deck trailer from Freighter.

GM to DD15, tarps and ropes to au­to­matic cur­tains, man­ual gear­boxes to au­to­mated ones,

so much has changed in truck­ing tech­nol­ogy over four decades.

There’s an old-school cool about the old V8 White but it’s hard to ig­nore the new-age truck­ing state­ment made by West­ern Star with this 4900. Crawl through sleeper ver­sus walk through, man­ual ver­sus auto, horse­power ver­sus rpm.


The as­phalt ar­te­rial that is the Hume High­way has evolved into a di­vided free­way. Be­fore that, High­way 31 wound through the towns and vil­lages that dot re­gional New South Wales and Vic­to­ria. Ev­ery cor­ner and climb had a name in truck­ing par­lance.

GM Detroit, VT Cum­mins, Caterpillar all pro­vided a rau­cous sound­track to the fran­tic pace of heavy traf­fic along what many still call ‘Se­same Street’. A high-speed rol­lick­ing ride where ‘Happy Hour’ was an ex­plo­sion of sight and sound.

But were trucks re­ally bet­ter back then? Be­fore the ad­vent of big horse­power and B-dou­bles?

Many parts of the old Hume High­way re­main, though now it’s a tourist drive through Pic­ton, Bargo, Mit­tagong and Ber­rima. Other parts are on pri­vate land now.

I fig­ured it may be an idea to take Trev’s old White for a drive over Ra­zor­back and along the old Hume. And again, I asked Steve Brooks to come along for the drive. Steve reck­ons the past be­longs in the past.

So he got the keys to the new West­ern Star. I climbed aboard the White, com­plete with a pe­riod-cor­rect spread tri-axle flat top trailer, plus gates, plus tarp.


There’s just some­thing about hit­ting the starter but­ton on an old GM. You can’t help but grin when the V8 ex­plodes into life. It’s the raw in­gre­di­ents of diesel com­bus­tion writ large.

As Steve mo­tored up the Ra­zor­back range with the air-con cranked I had both win­dows down and a gear shift per­ma­nently welded to my sweaty palm. In an old truck like this you are never still.

With one ear on the ex­haust note you’re ei­ther about to change up a gear or down a gear de­pend­ing on to­pog­ra­phy. The tacho is just about su­per­flu­ous; it’s pretty much a case of hold it flat. That mas­sive steer­ing wheel is never still ei­ther!

The ear split­ting roar of the Detroit couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face. As I drove, my brain had fi­nally ac­cepted the “around the cor­ner and back to front” gear pat­tern of the 15-over­drive trans­mis­sion. Down a cog, up a cog, down a cog, re­peat.

Just how far have trucks and the job evolved over the last four decades? I thought I’d at­tempt to visit those times and per­haps gain an in­sight into what truck­ing was like back in the 1970s.

Given the pas­sion around the RSRT de­bate re­cently it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate to pause at top of the Ra­zor­back Range and re­call a time when owner drivers made a stand and won. These days it’s hard to pic­ture this road clogged with sta­tion­ary trucks, their own­ers de­mand­ing the re­peal of Road Tax.


Rolling to­wards Pic­ton I hit the jake switch as I came off the range. The re­sult­ing ca­coph­ony was akin to the sound a low-fly­ing Lan­caster bomber and a Gatling gun spit­ting lead.

A liq­uid-cooled in­dus­trial roar of de­fi­ance rag­ing in the face of progress ... and I was still grin­ning.

I let the GM bog down a lit­tle as I swung through the fa­mous Hole in the Wall at Pic­ton.

A quick blip of the throt­tle and a down change had that Detroit note re­ver­ber­at­ing off the blue­stone via duct, a cloud of fuel smoke erupted from the stacks mark­ing my pas­sage.

Steve wasn’t far be­hind me in the Star. I hoped he had his win­dows up and his vents closed!

The Bargo Pie shop used to be a 24-hour road­house back in the 1970’s. To­day there’s a house sit­ting on the block where the truck park­ing used to be. It’s hard to imag­ine any truck of to­day’s di­men­sions fit­ting un­der the old awn­ing where the pumps used to be. I tried to pic­ture this place in the dark with big en­gines clat­ter­ing and fes­toon lights glow­ing through the dust clouds raised by dumped maxi brakes. Now it’s a good place to grab a pie on a Sun­day af­ter­noon drive.


Park­ing both trucks nose to nose high­lighted the progress in truck tech­nol­ogy over the past 40 years.

The fam­ily re­sem­blance re­mains, but the West­ern Star looms over its ances­tor.

A com­par­a­tively mas­sive en­gine needs a big cool­ing pack­age and it also needs to get rid of all of the heat that 15 litres can gen­er­ate.

The cab sits higher off the chas­sis, the bon­net sits taller and the wheel­base is longer.

This 4900 is good for ap­pli­ca­tions up to 106 tonnes and can han­dle a num­ber of to­day’s multi-trailer com­bi­na­tions.

The 4000 was al­ways go­ing to be a sin­gle trailer propo­si­tion on the east coast.

The old GM has the ca­pa­bil­ity to block out the sun with its emis­sions, the DD15 EGR in com­par­i­son runs squeaky clean.

Climb­ing Ben­doo­ley Hill be­hind the wheel of the White be­fore roar­ing into Ber­rima saw me

con­stantly swing­ing the wheel of the 4000 over the bro­ken road sur­face.

Yes, I was still smil­ing but it ham­mered home just how big the job de­scrip­tion was back then. This road was no place for amateurs.


I could keep point­ing out the end­less ex­am­ples of how much trucks have changed over four decades.

There’s no doubt that the mod­ern heavy-duty truck is safer, more com­fort­able, more fuel ef­fi­cient, cleaner and more re­li­able. But I think the real rea­son for the nos­tal­gia sur­round­ing the past has more to do with the mod­ern im­age of truck­ing and per­cep­tions of truck drivers rather than the trucks them­selves.

Trev’s White is from a time when trans­port was val­ued rather than barely tol­er­ated.

Con­sumerism con­tin­ues to ac­cel­er­ate yet there’s a gen­eral dis­dain for the sup­ply chain and Aus­tralia’s de­pen­dence on road trans­port.

We want our goods, we just don’t want to be re­minded of the ugly task of de­liv­er­ing them.

The folk hero im­age of the long haul truck driver has long faded. The job, how­ever, still en­tails long ar­du­ous hours away from home.

Taut­lin­ers may have re­placed tarp loads, load binders have re­placed ropes, yet for the most part, the job is now safer.

We have safer load­ing pro­ce­dures and safer trucks, yet at the same time there seems to be less pride in the job.


A labour short­age in trans­port now sees many em­ploy­ers in a daily bat­tle to get bums on seats in a hurry.

The job has be­come eas­ier to com­pen­sate for a dwin­dling skill set. Many em­ployee drivers I’ve spo­ken to feel as if they’ve lost some own­er­ship of the job.

It doesn’t mat­ter how well you tie a rope or stretch out a tarp, or whether you know a dog from a chain. And it doesn’t even re­ally mat­ter how good you are at rev­ers­ing a trailer or two. Just get it there, safely.

That said, that gleam­ing new 4900FXT couldn’t help but fire some imag­i­na­tion as it sat in all its blinged-up glory.

It’s a com­mand­ing con­ven­tional state­ment that speaks of long haul high­ways and dusty hori­zons. A heavy-duty her­itage carved out of the Canadian forests and the Pa­cific North West.

How­ever, it’s old trucks like Trevor Ell­wood’s White 4000 that re­mind us of a time when a Weet-Bix eat­ing, freckle-nosed kid would give a truck driver a big thumbs up out the win­dow of the fam­ily sta­tion wagon. And get a blast of the air horns in re­turn.

It was in many ways a golden age for the im­age of truck­ing … Wide open roads and the truck driver rid­ing on the edge of so­ci­ety had ro­mance and al­lure; the driver as a re­source­ful hero.

Our 4900FXT had DD15 Detroit un­der the bon­net and was backed by an Ea­ton Ul­traShift-Plus AMT.

The White 4000 also used Detroit power, of the GM va­ri­ety. It’s a rolling trans­port time warp.




1. En­gine bays have cer­tainly be­come a lot more com­plex. 2. It didn’t take me long to find out what the switch la­belled

“Ja­cobs” did. It made lots of noise.

3. 560hp and 1850lb/ft of DD15 power, en­gines cer­tainly have

grown over the last four decades.

4. It’s cer­tainly a cosy cab by to­day’s stan­dards.

5. The 8V71NA GM Detroit in all of its 318hp glory.

6. Even to­day, the yanks still love their ana­logue gauges. 4



Time for a bit of re­flec­tion at the top of Ra­zor­back.

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